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Moving Advice From Someone Who Moves Too Much

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

05.04.17
6 Things I Wish I Knew About Moving Man Repeller 1

I’ve moved so, so many times. I moved to New York City in 2003. The city-wide blackout happened my very first week. While climbing 16 floors to the apartment I was crashing in with a friend, it hit me: This city could really grind you up and spit you out. But that’s another story entirely.

I eventually signed a lease with a roommate, but found myself on the hunt not a year later, after realizing he was the absolute worst and that, despite New York being “the city that never sleeps,” the Upper East Side actually did sleep. It went to bed super early, matter of fact. So I moved downtown, to a 200-square-foot, sixth-floor studio in a walkup building that I left after another year when I couldn’t deal with the cockroach/rat situation any longer. I moved again, and again, and again — a string of rent hikes, boyfriend breakups and, once, to flee from a building-wide bedbug infestation.

I’ve lived in 10 apartments in New York City — subdivided Bushwick lofts and Boerum Hill basements and LES cubbyholes and one horrifyingly blah Battery Park City unit — and have moved across the United States THREE TIMES; a triangle whose points are NYC, Los Angeles and Miami. In all of this moving, I have learned a great deal. Here, I will impart my hard-earned wisdom. Share your own in the comments please.

1. Stop relying on your friends and/or parents to help you move.

I spent so many of my formative NYC years extremely broke. Instead of hiring movers, friends and sometimes even family members would physically help me load and unload my U-Haul. This sort of thing might fly when you’re fresh out of college, but unless you always return the favor, it starts to take a toll on your relationships. Spare the people close to you and pony up some money for either professionals (ideal scenario) or a few strong people off Craigslist or Taskrabbit or whatever the kids are using these days

2. PURGE. But don’t wait ‘til you’re packing or moving to do so.

I don’t associate a lot of silver linings with moving, but Kondo-like purging is one of them. That is, if you do it correctly. Purging is a step in and of itself. Do not — DO NOT — attempt to organize and purge whilst moving. You need to be completely packed up and ready to go by moving day, soldier. All paper shredding and Beacon’s Closet donating needs to be done well in advance.

6 Things I Wish I Knew About Moving Man Repeller 3

3. Assume you have more stuff than you think you do.

I’ll pack up the kitchen morning-of. We don’t have a lot of kitchen stuff. Untrue. You have so much kitchen stuff. It’s multiplying in your drawers and oven (where I store pots) as I type this. Also, and this speaks to both this point and the above purge point, if you feel the need to put some of your excess stuff in storage, know that by virtue of that very decision, you’re deeming it unnecessary. Purge it.

4. Make sure your utilities (hot water, electricity, etc.) are set up before you arrive.

This one bit me in the rear when I moved to LA. Who knew that in LA, hot water wasn’t just available, that you had to make sure it was set up beforehand? After a long, hot cross-country moving-truck drive, dog mostly on my lap stress-shedding and panting, there was nothing I wanted more than a hot shower. Instead, I took a bracingly cold one and slept on a mattress on the floor. Don’t end up like me; do your utilities homework beforehand.

5. Unpack and decorate immediately or live among boxes forever.

Admittedly, this is not something I’ve excelled at in the past. I have been in my current apartment for over seven months now and I still have a few bags of random things squirreled away in closets and drawers. It is, however, a truism of life. This is a time to be aggressive. Push yourself like you’re on American Ninja Warrior. It’ll suck and then it’ll be over and you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor for a year — maybe even longer, if you are lucky and completely unlike me.

6 Things I Wish I Knew About Moving Man Repeller 4

6. Moving does not wipe away your problems.

New destinations can seem so romantic. Your current situation can seem so tragic. And though a move can improve some aspects of your life — career, access to natural light, few-to-zero termites (the scourge of Miami) — it does not, in my experience, fix the hard stuff. That boyfriend will not be less annoying just because you now have an eat-in kitchen, for example. Sunset views cannot cure your anxiety.

Some other odds and ends I’ve learned the hard way: Don’t bring plants into California. Get insurance on the U-Haul in case someone sideswipes you. Don’t cart trash bags or boxes full of old papers and pens from one city to another — you’ll hate yourself for it. Lift with your legs. Mark the contents of each box on three sides or so with Sharpie. Know that if you live above a restaurant, you will smell that restaurant morning and night. The person who was the life of the party in college is likely a terrible choice of roommate. If you can avoid it, don’t drive your belongings cross-country, especially with a romantic partner. It’s probably equally affordable or even cheaper to have someone move them for you, and much less terrible for your relationship.

And finally — most importantly — if you see one bug, there are many, many other bugs.

What are your moving commandments? Believe it or not, I’m on the brink of another move and could use all the additional help I can get.

Illustration by Juliana Vido; follow her on Instagram @julianavido.

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  • dietcokehead

    When you hire someone off Craigslist to move your shit for you because you think you might kill yourself if you have to move those goddamn boxes again, pick a backup to call if/when the first flakes on you or is a scam (and practice Craigslist safety; have a safe person with you for the meet). Also, duh, be vigilant about packing your overnight bag and putting it in the most accessible location in the vehicle, as with a secondary open-me-first bag/box with a shower curtain and sheets, stuff like that.

  • additionalmayonnaise

    I used taskrabbit for my last move and I can’t recommend enough. Two very strong, courteous and efficient men moved all my stuff from Brooklyn to Queens in under three hours. They wrapped/otherwise protected necessary items, set up/assembled my furniture, and were even kind to my plants. I never thought moving could feel easy or stress-free but it was. Best $500 I have ever spent. (I believe the guy’s name is Christian if you see his profile on taskrabbit).

    • PCE

      THANK YOU for this!

  • Molly D

    I moved 4 days ago and really could have used this. What I picked up:

    – Don’t bother keeping any dresses in hanging bags. All of the dresses will turn into balls. And that’s okay.
    – Don’t move lamps + shades. They are the biggest bitch to pack (after hangers) and who needs light anyway
    – Plan to wear pants every day the week after a move. My legs look like they got punched but really it was just repeated box grazing.

  • Nat

    Bunz FB group is a great place to post if your looking for moving help and a cheap price or even free if your willing to offer booze in trade for some extra arm and leg strength 🙂

  • CDC

    I am moving on Saturday, so this is so useful! THANK YOU.

  • Krusty the Kat

    Hire movers. There are many reputable companies that aren’t necessarily more expensive than the people on craigslist. I moved a studio apartment’s worth of stuff across town in Washington DC for $500, tip included. It took less than 2 hours start to finish. Best money I’ve ever spent.

    • Lori Wolter

      Care to share the name of the company you went with? Planning a DC move soon!

      • Krusty the Kat

        Hi Lori! I’ve had great experiences with College Hunks and Bookstore movers. Good luck!

  • Zarka Shabir

    ANY ADVICE ON HOW TO FIND ROOMMATES WHO ARE NOT THE WORST??? Is it a possibility??

    • Lyla

      I have had more luck with Craigslist roommates than living with friends. My technique is to sublet for at least three months and then officially sign the lease or move on. This is way cheaper than using a broker btw AND you aren’t locked in. Also, visit at least 10 apartments! Don’t settle.

  • Haley Fox

    Perfect timing for this article. I’m moving on Saturday. Unfortunately I did leave the purging until now…I’ve got a solid 4 boxes and 2 trash bags worth of stuff to take to Goodwill.

  • Ashley

    This is excessively helpful right now

  • Pack all the weird knick-knacks and funny shaped things first, and save books until last. Books are so easy and wily and they will tempt you with their clean edges, but that’s why you should save them to the end, when you’ve begun to doubt your will to live. If you do the goofy, unplaceable stuff first, you’ll maximize your stamina.

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  • Katrina Elizabeth

    Preach! I moved just over a month ago and all of this is accurate.

  • Sheila T.

    this is probably obvious to everyone but me but don’t pack a box full of books!!! it will be super heavy and break you even if you lift with your legs

    • Yes! Books first and then clothes on top of them. Or similar light things.

  • I’ve climbed 27 floors back to my apartment before when the power went out. I live in Hong Kong where most residential apartments are easily over 30 floors…

    Charmaine Ng
    Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • Amelia Diamond

    omg. i move soon. leslie help.

    • linz

      new apartment tour when you’re settled!?

  • Allison Richman Craycraft

    Put a roll of toilet paper in your overnight bag, or your “unpack me first” box. Nothing worse than getting to the new place, needing to pee and not having the foggiest clue where you can find some GD toilet paper.

    • Kay Ann

      A few things you should always always have in your “unpack me first” box: toilet paper, a towel, trash bags, a cup, a plate, utensils, a toothbrush, coffee, and a set of sheets.

  • Hilary

    So many important tips here. Something else I’ve learned: be realistic when buying furniture. Is that gorgeous couch secretly insanely heavy and longer than any normal couch should be? How is it possibly going to fit up that narrow stairway? Will it take two movers an hour just to jigsaw-puzzle-move said couch up said stairway??? Is it worth it?????? (Don’t be like me.)

    • ihaveacooch

      this. i moved to a third floor walk up recently and it’s made me rethink so much in terms of what i put in my (very small) room. i stuck to the absolute furniture necessities when packing and it was still exhausting lugging everything up there.

    • Leslie Price

      Yeah, couches that can be carried up piecemeal are amazing for this. I have one and it’s traveled all over with me. Plus you can stack it up like Tetris blocks in a storage space or U-Haul.

    • Senka

      That is great unless you have overbearing Balkan parents who want to be able to sleep over occasionally, “or are they not welcome?”. In which case your sofa has to be large and with sleeping option. And even when you pick a biggish sofa that can be made into a bed, your Balkan mother says it doesn’t have enough sitting space and how do you plan for people to sit. “Which pepole mom? -Well, us.”

  • Court E. Thompson

    I second the toilet paper in your overnight bag! Also, have the overnight bag with your must-haves to survive (skin care, toothbrush, more underwear than you think you need), and use t-shirts and other easy-to-wash clothing items to pack breakables! You save on newspaper/packing paper and one quick load of laundry is all you need to get them back! (downside: if you don’t unpack immediately, you’ll be missing a lot of your clothes for while.)

  • Lebanese Blonde

    Re: moving cross-country…do you think it’s terrible even if your new place is furnished and you’re just moving clothes and bedding? And you’re spending 12 days doing driving + sight-seeing? Bc that is my current plan and I’m frankly excited.

    • Leslie Price

      No, only if you have all of your furniture + dog on your lap and are driving an enormous truck.

    • Liv_ja

      Me too! I’m so excited, mainly because I’ve made it a vacation.

  • Kay Nguyen

    Great tips! Every time I move, I find that I all sort of stuffs I wouldn’t think I own, it’s really that one time you realized how much shit you actually have! Then the cycle begins again as soon as you move into your new place!

    http://www.myblackcloset.com/

  • Jolie

    Ohhh, I needed this. I just applied for my DREAM apartment…within my budget…with THE BEST amenities…only TWO BLOCKS AWAY from my current apartment. Is this real? Please pray to the cruel NYC apartment gods that I get this apartment. I’ve been in my current apartment, a studio, for 4 years now. I’ve seriously stayed because I didn’t want to move for a few years after some traumatic moves. The two-block move sounds like heaven.

  • Olivia Hansen

    This was helpful! I’m moving to Hell’s Kitchen in 2 weeks. Any advice for downsizing and making the most out of a TINY bedroom? (A girl still needs her shoes)

    • Miju

      Put your bed up on raisers and hide your shoes in a roll out drawer from underneath your bed 👍🏻

      • ihaveacooch

        under the bed storage is everything!!!!

  • Emily

    My apartment related wisdom from 3 years and 3 separate places…

    -Don’t live with someone if you want different things out of your living situation, even if you’re literally best friends. seriously – everything from financial differences to whether you’re introverted/extraverted and how much social interaction you want when you come home at the end of the day can have a huge impact on your roommate compatibility and overall life satisfaction
    -Discuss logistics like if you’re gonna share groceries/chores as quickly as you can. but if things don’t work out, be flexible (it’s not worth a big fight)
    -Figure out what’s most important to you in a place and don’t sign a lease if it doesn’t have it. If you need quiet and it’s on a super loud street or if you need wood floors and half the apartment has wall to wall carpeting that you’re gonna HATE it’s not worth it. You have to live there! keep looking.
    -Compromises are necessary though! know that you will need to sacrifice something whether that’s affordability, size, or the aesthetic
    -Enjoy it and make it yours.. it’s important to have a place that feels like you to come home to. do what it takes!

    This is what I’ve gleaned from my experiences so far. Next up will be moving in with a boyfriend for the first time so WISH ME LUCK!!!

    • I’m on like apartment and roomate number 10 and I wish I had as much wisdom as you! My roomate ditched me to move to LA and left me with a subletter I didn’t know and I wish every day we had talked about how much social interaction we desired and division of chores. Instead I’m now stuck in a situation where we barely talk due to her messiness being a point of contention. It is so awkward and I cannot wait to not make this mistake next time.

      Good luck moving in with your man! Personally I think it’s a little easier when you can literally kiss and make up, but of course there’s a whole new set of challenges sharing a bedroom and such.

      • Lyla

        The messiness thing is a real problem, but speaking as the messy one in the scenario I highly suggest that you be straight with her and suggest that you both chip in for a cleaning service once every three weeks. I had a roommate do that with me and I respected her for it. Now I’m the one who suggests it before we sign a thing. IMHO, once a month is too long but every two weeks is not quite necessary. Depending on the size of your place and financial situation you can do it for as little as $50 total and as much as $150. I suggest spending about $40 per person. Try the app Handy. There are some shitty people on there, but if you find a good one, get their cell number and you can build a relationship and set up a schedule that works for both of you. Then the rest of the time rely on Lysol wipes 🙂

        • I like that tip! Unfortunately, my roomate’s biggest caveat is leaving out old food and not doing her dishes in a timely way, so our problem is a little more fundamental.

          • Lyla

            My cousin and her roommate only use paper plates. Tell your roommate that you will throw out any food that doesn’t make it into the fridge within an hour of being eaten and you will be checking expiry dates. If she wants takeout or leftovers she puts in the fridge she needs to write a date on it or it goes in the trash. Drop. The. Hammer.

  • Meg S

    The best thing that happened to me when I moved was wardrobe boxes. You put your clothes on the hangers in them and then you can just put them all in your new closet. Everything else went into a suitcase.

    • susanbeee

      Where can you get these boxes?!

      • Meg S

        I got mine from the moving company, but I’m pretty sure you can get them from U-Haul.

        • susanbeee

          Awesome, thank you!

          • Meg S

            You’re welcome. I think you can return your unused moving boxes to u-haul for a full refund if you keep your receipt.

    • lilyelle

      agreed!! and there’s so much space below your clothing, I stuffed my throw pillows down there and even fit my tower fan, which was too tall to fit in any other box. got mine from U-haul!

      • Meg S

        Exactly! If I hadn’t packed up all my folded clothes already, I would have put them in the bottom of the wardrobe boxes when they came.

  • BabyGotYak

    I had seven moves in 14 years in NYC and it was always a shitshow. So I said “fuck it” and packed everything up in two days. You will consider murder-suicide, but you don’t have to live in a half-packed apartment for weeks – there is nothing more depressing.

  • lilyelle

    if you’re moving cities and you have furniture, I highly recommend moving with a storage box company like u-pack or pods. you can get quotes that are half or even less than renting a truck, which are insanely expensive for one-way trips! I just moved from DC to NYC and got a pod which included all insurance, fees, transportation, etc and it was super reasonable, which left room in my budget to hire movers on either side of the move. seriously the easiest and most stress-free move of life, even easier than inter-city moves in the past!

  • Judy

    Do not trust a calm house viewing on a sunday when the appartment is next to a throughway… You will regret it first monday after having moved in… I’ve learned my lesson! 😉

  • Greta Goon

    Don’t put all your eggs (books) in one basket. Spread the load out, that shit is heavy!

  • movingfear

    Can I ask how those of you who moved cross-country apartment hunted ahead of time? Did you take a trip to do it in person, or … ? And how close to your intended move?

    Moving from NYC to the Bay Area this summer and have zero idea where to start!

    • Lyla

      My friend just did it through a broker who took them on Skype tours.

      • Lyla

        I also have a friend who set up a whole day of back to back viewings and then dispatched a trusted friend to look at all of the places. She took pictures of the good places and put in an application on the fourth place.

  • Don’t build an Ikea wardrobe in your living room and then not be able to move it into your bedroom because your flat is too small and the wardrobe is too tall for manoeuvre. Commenting for a friend.

  • as someone facing the prospect of (another) move, thank you for this!

  • Jolene

    When I first moved to New York, I had no idea that if you didn’t make enough income, you had to have a guarantor that made 80x the rent and pay months in advance. Coming from LA where it was much easier to rent, that definitely threw me off and something I hadn’t really factored in.

  • Lois Carlisle

    “If you see one bug, there are many, many others.” Truer words. . .

  • Colleen

    Why can’t you move plants into California? Curious…

  • Jessie

    Such a great article! And so true on all accounts. If only I could have read this ~15 years ago.