Written by Nick Adler
We interviewed Paul Luoma, owner of Aussie Moving and expert professional mover for 25 years, to get his pro tips on packing for a move.
Q: What are the must-have basic packing materials everyone needs for a move?
A: The number one thing is standard, high-quality moving boxes. Seems like an obvious answer, so why do I emphasize this? Because they save you and your movers time. They’re all the same size, so when you load them on a dolly or into a truck, they stack perfectly in any order and are easy to stabilize. It’s true that they are a little pricey compared to the free boxes you might pick up from the grocery store, but those free boxes can have three big disadvantages. One: often they have no lids, which makes them near impossible to stack. Two: you often get a lot of different sized boxes. When your movers go to unload a stack of six different-sized boxes from a dolly or hand truck inside the moving truck, they end up playing Tetris to fit the different sizes together and fill the space, which takes more time (and costs you more money). Three: the boxes you can find for free tend to be made of cheap, thin cardboard. When you stack those boxes together, they can buckle under the weight and damage your belongings. The price you pay for the standard boxes tends to be compensated by enabling your movers to complete the job more quickly and safely.
The most commonly used standard boxes are the medium box (3.0 ft³ in volume), the large box (4.5 ft³) and the dish pack (5.0 ft³). We also stock book boxes (1.5 ft³), extra large boxes (6.0 ft³), and multi-piece mirror cartons, which are used less frequently. If you had to choose just one standard box, I’d recommend the medium moving box. Some office supply stores sell thin, flimsy boxes, so check to make sure yours are made from thick, strong cardboard before purchasing, or just buy them directly from your mover to ensure you’re getting high quality moving boxes. To save some money without compromising on quality, you can also ask your mover (or check Craigslist) for used moving boxes.
Note: for safety during the Covid-19 pandemic, we don’t recommend reusing boxes.
Aside from boxes, you’ll need plenty of tape and recycled paper to wrap and cushion your belongings inside of boxes. For larger furniture, moving blankets and shrink wrap are important; if you hire a mover, they will have them on hand. Finally, a dolly or hand truck will help you get everything out the door and into the vehicle. For DIY moves, moving van and truck rental companies often let you borrow one free of charge.
Q: What are the most common packing mistakes you see folks making?
A: The most common issue I see is people not filling the boxes up to the very top. If you leave empty space on the top, that part of the box is likely to collapse when other boxes are stacked on top of it. Solution: Fill that space at the top with pillows, blankets, towels, clothing, boxes of lightweight dry goods from the kitchen, or crumpled paper to protect your belongings while moving.
I also see mistakes with distribution of weight. If you fill a large moving box entirely full of books, paper files, or heavy silverware, the box won’t hold together under the weight and it will be too heavy for us to move up stairs. We’re professional movers, not Superman! Solution: Use smaller book boxes or file boxes for these items. If you only have large boxes, distribute heavy items between multiple boxes and fill the remainder with lightweight belongings to balance the weight.
The last mistake I often see is not properly taping the bottom of a box. People sometimes think that criss-cross folding the flaps together will be enough, but it’s not — your belongings are going to come tumbling out the bottom when you least expect it. Solution: It doesn’t take much tape, just a few strips across the bottom applied with proper tension (a tape gun helps).
Q: What part of the home is usually the most problematic to pack?
A: Definitely the kitchen. It’s by far the most delicate and time-consuming area of the house to
pack. We’ll often have customers pack the rest of their house but ask us to do the kitchen.
Q: So, what are the most important things to remember when packing your kitchen?
A: The most important thing is how to pack glassware properly. The key is that the glassware all has to be wrapped individually. We’ve moved a lot of people who packed themselves, and sometimes we’ll pick up a box from the kitchen and hear cracking or tinkling inside, and we can tell the dishes and glassware haven’t been adequately packed. We also see leakage in kitchen boxes. Any bottles of oil, sauce, cleaning products — even if you screw the tops on tightly, they can leak, and that oil or soap will quickly saturate a cardboard box. Your movers are responsible for handling boxes with care, but they do need to be able to load, unload, and stack them in the truck, and badly packed glassware will break during these unavoidable movements. And don’t forget the drive: the truck is likely to hit a pothole or go over a speedbump at some point, and you want to be prepared for that, so take extra care when packing. Use plastic totes or bag up any bottles that could leak, and be generous with the packing paper when packing your dishes. Dish packs are also a big help to avoid breakage when packing up the kitchen.
Q: Speaking of dish packs: can you talk us through specialty packing boxes that are available, and the benefits of using them?
A: Sure, I’ll start with the dish pack boxes. They’re a little larger in size than a standard moving box, and that’s because sometimes you have platters and cutting boards you need to fit inside. Dish packs are double-lined, so they’re much stronger than a normal box. The most important thing to know about how to pack dishes is that the dishes should go in vertically. The double lining of the dish pack protects their edges and supports the heavy weight of many dishes. Dishes, like other fragile items — mirrors, paintings — are always best packed vertically, so they won’t have so much weight sitting on the breakable surface. We have specialty multi-piece mirror or picture boxes that are adjustable in size and perfect for protecting individual large framed photos, paintings or mirrors. There are book boxes and file boxes that are smaller, so you don’t get too much weight in a single box, and they are perfectly sized to fit standard books or files. Some have handles to make them easier to lift. We have wardrobe boxes — we keep two or three of them on our truck that are free to use, and customers can request more if needed. Each wardrobe box has a 2’ rail to hang clothes on. How much clothing fits in a wardrobe box? Depending on how much space you have between clothing items hanging in your closets, you can often fit 6-8’ of closet space into two wardrobe boxes. You can check how many you’ll need for sure by pushing all the clothes in your closet tightly to one side and measuring. Wardrobe boxes are great because of how quickly you can load them: just shift the hangers from your closets to the boxes and then out again into the closets in your new home. We have lamp boxes to move standing lamps, although for all but the most fragile lamps, a box isn’t usually necessary. Here’s a pro tip on how to pack lamps: make sure to remove the shades and pack them separately into boxes. Lamp shades do not hold up well if they are loose inside a moving truck! We can also provide odd-sized moving boxes for other special cases, such as moving large-screen televisions or other delicate or expensive belongings. We do also have some secret moving tricks up our sleeve to protect fragile items without needing special boxes, such as laying a flat screen TV or painting between a mattress and box spring for protection. If you have items of particular concern, just reach out to your moving company ahead of time and ask. We’ll be happy to consult with you on the best strategies for packing them safely.
Q: Any other tips for packing fragile or valuable items?
A: Aside from the larger items we’ve already discussed, you should plan to take valuables with you in your own car when moving. This goes for expensive jewelry, computers or other electronics, portable musical instruments, etc. If you have large pieces that are highly valuable — costly paintings, sculptures, antiques, or large, non-portable instruments — you may want to consult with a specialty art or instrument mover. Depending on whether you’re planning a short-distance move, a long-distance move, or a period in storage, you may want their guidance on taking extra care of delicate items. And don’t forget to opt for extra moving insurance coverage if you are using professional movers to transport large, valuable items. The standard basic moving coverage assumes a value of only $0.60 per pound. You’ll want a higher coverage level for valuable items in case of any accidents.
Q: What are the most important things to remember when packing large furniture?
A: When packing large furniture for moving, most customers just leave it to the movers, but there is actually a lot of prep work you can do if you want to shorten your move time and save money on a professional move. If you know the steps your professional movers will take to move your furniture, you can do some of it yourself ahead of time. Here are some ideas to speed up your move:
Professional movers are skilled in performing all these steps quickly, but if you have the time and energy to get started on it yourself, you can shave time and money off the cost of your move.
Q: What are the advantages of having professionals pack your home up versus doing it yourself?
A: The biggest advantage is the amount of time and stress it saves you. Packing yourself invariably takes a lot more time. I tell people who plan to pack themselves that they should budget several weeks to chip away at it. Professional movers can do that same job in a day. Pro movers also know exactly how to pack every item in your home to make sure it makes it from point A to point B in one piece. We have all the right packing materials and know how to use them. In contrast, we see a lot more breakage in boxes that people have packed for themselves. The other thing we see is friends who promise to help with a move only to bail at the last minute. If you hire professional movers to pack you up, you don’t need to put a strain on your relationships or worry about getting it all done yourself before moving day.
Q: Any final advice for people packing up their home?
A: Number one tip: throw a garage sale! I’ve had a few customers tell me they plan to do a garage sale once they reach their new home. Why pay to move all that stuff if you only plan to get rid of it? If you really want to save time and money on your move, start a month or two before and sell or donate everything you don’t really need. It will lighten your load and help ensure an easy, stress-free move!