The Buyers Are Coming! 23 Packing Tips for Moving When the Pressure’s On

Dated: 11/07/2018

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by Marla Miller
Posted on 

There are a million things you’d rather be doing than packing right now. Basically, anything else. But when you sell your home, moving is no longer a matter of if but when, so it’s time to face the music.

According to the National Association of Realtors, homes only stayed on the market an average of 3 weeks in 2017. A deal can close in as quickly as 2 weeks if you get an offer from a cash buyer. And if you price your home right, it will sell fast, says Carrie Buckett, a military relocation specialist and top agent in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

If that doesn’t curb your procrastination, consider these real-life moving horror stories. Buckett’s seen contracts fall through because the buyers came to take possession, but the sellers couldn’t get their stuff out in time. She’s also had seller clients who showed up at closing half-asleep because they were up all night moving.

“Don’t wait until the last minute,” she says. “If you think it will take one day, it’s going to take two.”

Before you look around the house and panic, take a deep breath. We’ve talked to expert real estate agents, plus organization and packing pros to gather the top packing tips to speed up and smooth out your move day.


Line up the help you’ll need

1. Start by assembling a dream team

If you find yourself on a tight timeline, the first thing you can do is call in the troops.

Many hands make light work, and you’ll need all the help you can get! Pitch it to your relatives and buddies as an excuse to get together. Make it fun by hosting a purge and packing day where you supply the pizza and beer.

Put on a “packing playlist” (you can find one on Spotify) to create a light atmosphere.

Before your helpers arrive, get organized by planning out who will do what, or you’ll waste everyone’s time. Find out how many hours each person can dedicate and divvy up tasks accordingly.

Do enough prep so that you can put Sally on assembling boxes, Joe on spackling the nail holes, Sam on bubble wrapping your glassware, and on down the line.

They’ll be glad to help if they aren’t standing around waiting for instructions.

2. Find out what your moving company will do for you on the packing front

Hiring professional movers?

Ask if their service package includes wrapping all of your furniture in plastic, including dressers, nightstands, and end tables.

That allows you to keep your clothing and personal items tucked away in furniture drawers and move it all together as is, reducing your box count and packing burden.

Many moving companies will also provide and use their own furniture blankets to protect your big bulky items, meaning you can cross expensive padding off your supplies list.

3. Hire a senior move manager to help you organize and declutter

Senior Move Managers are like the fairy godmothers of downsizing who can swoop in, whip your home into shape, and help you tackle daunting moves faster than you can say “bippity boppity boo.”

While your real estate agent handles marketing your home and the specifics of the transaction, Senior Move Managers are your friends in sorting, organizing, packing, decluttering and more.

We know you need great professionals in your corner to tackle your move, so when you find your top-performing real estate agent through HomeLight, we’ll cover your first 5 hours with a Senior Move Manager up to $200.


Purge before you pack to lighten your moving load

4. Sort items into 3 distinct piles: sell, donate, and toss

If you’re in a rush, you might be tempted to start throwing miscellaneous items into boxes. But you can actually save time with a focus on simplifying and paring down before you pack.

“Don’t do your donating, purging and downsizing on the day of the move,” says Terri Albert, who owns The Chicago Organizer and assists with general organizing, paper management and clutter-free living. “It’s too chaotic. It’s very costly to move. Don’t pay to move something that all you’re going to do is get rid of it on the other end.”

Buckett and Albert agree that it’s never too early to start planning for a move. Wise sellers realize less is more when it comes to showing a home and start decluttering months in advance.

If your home is on the market, it makes sense to pack what you can and rent a storage shed.

So where to start? Do a quick scan of every room and look for obvious items to purge.

Closets, countertops, cabinets, bookshelves and garages can easily become catch-alls, so go through these spaces with a discerning eye and be honest—is this item important enough to pack and haul it to your new place? Even if your move is still weeks away, a mindset shift toward early preparation will save you from wasting time down the line.

Albert suggests asking three questions during the purge process for each item:

  • Do I need it?
  • Do I use it?
  • Do I love it?

If the answer is no to all three, then it’s time to put it in one of your piles: sell, donate, or toss.

Items you should try to sell

  • You can make money on clothes and accessories in good condition (especially anything designer) by posting them on apps like Poshmark or eBay.
  • Furniture that won’t fit into your new place. Post your La-Z-Boys and platform bed frames for sale on Craigslist, click on “post to classifieds” in the upper lefthand corner of your city’s homepage (start here to find your local Craigslist site).

Worthy items for the donation pile

  • Through your real estate agent, communicate with the buyers of your home about any items you’d rather leave behind and see if they’d have any use for them. If you’re moving from a house to an apartment where maintenance will be handled for you, you’ll no longer need your wheelbarrow, gardening tools or hedge trimmer. Remember, you can’t leave a single item behind when you move unless the buyers have confirmed they’d like to keep it.
  • Got a stockpile of travel size shampoos, lotions and soaps from various trips? Find a local men’s or women’s shelter and take extra toiletry items there.

Toss these things! And never look back

  • Expired food! If your refrigerator door filled with half-used bottles of condiments or your deep freezer overflowing with frozen veggies and bread? Pitch anything that’s almost gone, looks old, freezer burned or close to expiring: ketchup, mayo, jellies, pickles, soy sauce, and salad dressings.
  • Same goes for clutter—old magazines, junk mail, cards and coupons, old magnets, chipped dishes and glasses, ripped linens or towels, expired cosmetics, old medications and lotions, clothes and shoes in poor condition, and excess holiday decorations.


5. Host a pre-move party for family and friends

As the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Before you send perfectly good items to the landfill, Albert recommends hosting a pre-move party and invite friends, family and neighbors over to go through your unwanted goods.

Remember your dream team—the ones helping you pack?

Repay the favor and give them your half-used liquor bottles, cleaning supplies and perishable fridge items.

As Albert notes, it’s much cheaper and easier to restock once you’re settled into your new home than hassle with moving those items.

It’s also a great time to send your grown children home with any lingering momentos from high school or college.

Who knows what’s hiding in the garage, attic or basement—Barbies, hockey skates, an antique Radio Flyer wagon? Give them first dibs to grab anything sentimental from childhood—or anything they might want to pass on to their own children.

If you’re ready to downsize, consider giving away family photos, heirlooms, furniture or other personal belongings to the people you want to have them.

As estate lawyers will tell you, this avoids hurt feelings and family feuds, or the possibility of it ending up in the wrong hands or an estate sale, in the event of an unexpected illness or death.

“Why not have your family members enjoy your china and all your other items so you can see them in action?” Albert says.

6. Hold a quick weekend sale for the final purge

Live on a busy street? Have lots of large or valuable items to off-load? People still enjoy stopping at good old-fashioned garage sales. Some of the top sellers include:

  • Larger, quality items such as furniture and appliances
  • Power tools and sporting equipment
  • Lawn care and gardening items, home building supplies
  • Electronics, office equipment
  • Good used toys and bicycles
  • Items for kids, toddlers and babies
  • Kitchenware, CDs/DVDs, household goods
  • Used clothes priced cheap tools (typically under $1)

If there’s no time for that, post unwanted items on Craigslistletgo, local Facebook garage sale groups and Facebook marketplace.

ThredUP, the world’s largest online secondhand shopping resource, is also a great place to sell quality used clothes and accessories.


Stock up on all your essential supplies in one fell swoop

7. Create a moving timeline and take a home inventory

Whether you write one out by hand or download one from the internet, a simple home inventory checklist can help keep you on track in the weeks leading up to your move.

Start by taking a home inventory, and creating a timeline. There are many printable templates and Moving Guides available on Pinterest or make your own Excel spreadsheet.

Another option is a digital home inventory app like Allstate’s Digital Locker.

8. Calculate how many boxes you’ll need ahead of time

Boxes, boxes, boxes—they are a necessity when planning for any big move. But there are so many variables when it comes to how many boxes you will need: how much stuff you have, how many containers you already own, and how much you plan to purge or pitch.

Save yourself from extra trips while you’re in a smooth packing rhythm by estimating your box needs up front.

Home Depot offers this handy moving calculator to help estimate how many boxes you need per room.


9. Do a quick scavenger hunt for free boxes

Luckily, there are a variety of ways to collect boxes for free that won’t add much time to your packing process.

  • Someone in your neighborhood may have recently moved. Post an ad on Craigslist or Nextdoor asking for free boxes.
  • Visit grocery, liquor, office-supply and discount stores and ask for boxes. Make sure boxes have lids and are clean, dry and still in good shape.
  • If you’re doing a DIY move and renting a moving truck, check with the company about special box programs. U-Haul offers Take a Box, Leave a Box, a 100% buyback guarantee and a Box Exchange program for customers.

You can always buy boxes from your moving company, a shipping-supply store and even retailers such as The Home Depot and Walmart. If you want to skip the store, and buy them at a discount, order them online through sites such as, and

Check with your moving company on any box requirements or restrictions before you collect a bunch of boxes you can’t use.

10. Get creative with other “boxes” at your fingertips

Using storage items—plastic totes, recyclable grocery bags, storage containers, sturdy baskets—around your house can cut down on your box expenses.

Make use of hampers and laundry baskets by filling them with:

  • Sheets
  • Towels
  • Linens
  • Bedding
  • Pillows

Use your suitcases and overnight bags for:

  • Clothes
  • Scarves
  • Belts and accessories

Empty and clean out your trash cans and use them to move:

  • Bathroom and kitchen cleaning supplies
  • Garbage bags
  • Rubber gloves
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels


11. Use boxes that are the right size, strength and material for what you’re packing

Use small, sturdy boxes—think copy paper boxes—or those with built-in handles for heavier items such as books and dishes. They hold up and are easy to lift, stack and move.

Here are some other good rules of thumb:

  • Wardrobe boxes work best for hanging garments. Measure the number of linear feet of hanging clothing to calculate the quantity you’ll need.
  • Use boxes with preassembled partitions to protect glassware.
  • For books and dishware, boxes larger than 12 inches square can be difficult to lift when full.
  • You can purchase specialty boxes for large items such as flat-screen TVS, mirrors, artwork, instruments, mattresses and lamps.

Save larger boxes for light items, and use medium boxes for everything in between. Heavier items should be placed at the bottom, lighter ones on top. Same goes for stacking them when it’s time to move.

If you’re doing the move yourself, you want to be realistic about what you can lift and carry, Albert says. Most moving companies won’t move heavy items in large boxes or those without covers. There are different grades of box strength, so don’t risk packing breakables, dishes or small appliances in the least expensive boxes.

12. Stock up on all your essential moving supplies in one fell swoop

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Shelley is the Lead Agent for The Green Team. Since the late 1980's, her background is in Marketing & Real Estate. She has been selling real estate in Johnson & Tarrant Counties since 1999 and has see....

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