Don’t Get Rid of the Boxes, and 4 Other Pro Tips for All You Frequent Movers

I’ve lived in 10 apartments in the past seven years. Yes, that’s 10 different places—some for only a few months while I waited to sign a long-term lease on another place.

That also means I had to move 10 times in seven years. I’ll wait while you let the horror of that sink in.

There was the time I moved from my studio apartment in Washington, DC, to my now-husband’s one-bedroom, using only the bus and Uber. Then there was the time we moved across the country to California, but decided it would be easier if we sold all of our furniture and started from scratch when we got there. (In retrospect, we still miss the leather couch we sold on Craigslist for way below market value.)

Since then, I’ve developed a moving routine, and I’ve now got it down to a T. If you’re facing a move, I have some tips for you until you (and I) settle down.

1. Choose cheap furniture

If you’re a frequent mover, you’re probably waiting until you settle down—eventually—to invest in your dream furniture. That’s OK!

If you need to fill up your new space, try scoping out Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist in your new neighborhood or town for secondhand goods. Or have Amazon or Ikea ship some pieces directly to your new home.

My best advice for those who find themselves always packing? Choose function first, and don’t blow a lot of money on a stylish piece that may not fit your eventual forever home.

You also need pieces that will hold up well in a move because, let’s be honest, bumps happen. And you’ll be less upset if they happen to your $50 coffee table than one you spent thousands on.

Take my word for it: I have a beautiful (and pricey) Article couch that wouldn’t fit through the tiny door frame of a 1930s San Francisco home. My husband ended up cutting off the bottom fabric and detaching the bolts to remove the arms so we could fit it in.

There were a few tears shed on my part, especially after the movers suggested we keep the couch in the garage and make it a “hangout spot.” Eventually, we got the couch into the apartment, where it remains (mostly) intact to this day.

2. Don’t get rid of all the moving boxes!

Don't toss your moving boxes after unpacking.
Don’t toss your moving boxes after unpacking.LumiNola/iStock

An apartment lease usually has a one-year term. And even if you renew your lease, you likely will be moving on to the next place sooner than you think. If you’re buying new boxes, they average about $3 to $5 apiece. When you have an apartment full of stuff, that cost can really add up.

Now, instead of buying new boxes each time we move, we break them down gently after unpacking and store them flat in the back of a closet or in a storage unit. You can retape and reuse them on your next move. (Of course, get rid of any boxes that are torn or look broken—they aren’t worth the risk of having your stuff break free.)

If you don’t have anywhere to store boxes and don’t feel like buying new ones for your next move, check with supermarkets and bookstores, which frequently receive packages and often have empty boxes to spare.

3. Skip the bubble wrap

There's a cheaper way to pack fragile items.
There’s a cheaper way to pack fragile items.gvictoria/iStock

Speaking of saving some cash on moving, let’s talk about bubble wrap. This stuff can get expensive—and you’re going to need a lot of it if you have an apartment full of fragile plates, bowls, and other knickknacks.

I’ve found that packing and separating your kitchenware and other fragile items in your towels and heavy clothing like sweaters is just as effective. You can also use recycled newspaper to wrap everything up so they arrive safely at your new place.

4. Start packing the moment you know you’re moving

Moving is time-consuming, so as soon as you know you’re on your way out, start getting organized. It will take longer than you think to wrap each individual cup and glass, and you don’t want to be up all night before the movers arrive. That’s a guarantee for a very grumpy moving day. (I once stayed up until 3 a.m. packing boxes when movers were showing up at 8 a.m. Yes, the sheets were still on my bed when they got there.)

Start by packing up top-shelf items that you don’t use every day, like fine china or your book collection. Then move on to things you use only occasionally, like your medicine cabinet and Instant Pot. Eventually, you’ll be down to only a few essentials like a couple of bowls and plates and your work clothes.

When it gets closer to moving day, pack a weekend bag or suitcase for yourself with everything you need right away at the new place. That way, you won’t need to start unboxing everything to find what you need.

5. Make a good impression on good movers

If you’ve ever tried to move on your own, you know how hard it is. If you find movers who do a good job, make sure to treat them well so that when you move again, you’ll feel comfortable calling them.

That means being nice to your movers and offering to buy them sandwiches and soda or bottled water if they’re moving you over lunch or dinnertime. And don’t forget to tip them well; $4 to $5 an hour for each mover is customary. I can’t say for sure if a little kindness will help your stuff arrive safely and securely—but it certainly can’t hurt.