Here’s the fourth and final installment in my profitable home investment series- the how I move cross-country with five kids 13 and under chapter. And even though there’s not a lot of profitability in the tips you’ll find here, I definitely think being well-organized and prepared for a big move has mega payouts for the mama who has to manage the move-in on the other end of the spectrum, so I figure it counts.
My kids are 13, 10, 5, 4, and 10 months old right now, and I’ve moved with kids those ages and younger 5 times in the past. And every time we’ve moved, it’s been for a great job opportunity for my husband- which has meant as soon as we move, he’s jumping into the new job with both feet and isn’t exactly available to help me get the house situated. It’s stressful. There is nothing I can say to convey just how tough it is to help that many little people (or even fewer of them, really) adjust to new routines and new surroundings. But… it is totally possible to minimize that stress by having a great game plan and thinking ahead to what you’ll have to tackle at move-in. And that’s exactly my method for approaching moves in a house full of kids: work backwards.
The real trick to making any move successful is to envision what your move-in will look like. Personally, I set these goals for myself in every move:
- Kids’ rooms get complete first
- Master bedroom second
- Kitchen third
- Easy access to making simple meals/eating takeout as rarely as possible (hey, that’s expensive!)
- Everyone must have a place to sleep and access to a bathroom (WITH toilet paper!) on the first night
Then I create my plan for how to make these things as seamless as possible. So here’s what it looks like:
I want everything to be organized by room- we are fortunate enough to move by corporate relocation, which means professional packers come to pack up our house. But as helpful as this is, it only works if I create a plan to keep our things organized beforehand. So my first goal is to get EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM. in our house in the right place, as much as is humanly possible, before the move. Here’s how I do it:
- Buy LOTS of gallon size ziplock bags. This is when my hatred for single-use plastics gets suspended. Gallon size slider zip top bags and a box full of Sharpies are my lifeline in the pre-packing phase of moving. I put lego sets and their instructions, barbies and their outfits, board games that won’t stay together, figurine sets, hair brushes and hair ties, small appliance manuals and warranties, and literally any other individual knick-knackish thing that I don’t want to get lost in a move, all into ziplock bags and label them. Then the bags go in a banker box or small basket in the room that they will be packed up with. That way the movers put them in the right box with the right label, and when it’s time to unpack a room, I find the right things at the right time. So helpful.
- Think about having a “first night must-haves” box that gets loaded last. This for me is the box that will have everything I need to get started unpacking- no trips to Target or Home Depot for me- I’m on a time crunch. Here’s what I pack in mine:
- Toilet paper
- Shower curtain and hooks and 2 towels (plus one rag towel to use as a bath mat)
- 3 bottles of soap and 1 bottle of baby shampoo/body wash
- box cutter and work gloves
- a roll of blue painters tape and Sharpies
- trash bags
- paper towels, paper plates and bowls, and plastic flatware
- card games and books for the kids for while we have no internet and no toys
- bluetooth speaker to play tunes while I unpack
- *I also download 3-4 movies and some podcasts to my laptop so that I can listen to something while I unpack- which is usually before we have internet for streaming.*
- Organize clothes. Go ahead and hit those closets and donate what you won’t keep- it’s just the worst packing and moving things only to unpack them and realize you don’t ever plan to use it again. Once you have a final cut, ask a local dry cleaner for plastic bags that cover clothes. My kids share closets, and when movers come in, they just throw clothes into wardrobe boxes. Grouping clothes together by season and by child and then covering them with dry cleaner bags helps me be sure I can quickly locate each child’s clothes and move them to their closets without much trouble.
Once packing has started:
Packing with kids is maddening. It’s so natural for them to feel anxious about seeing their things put away and not being sure what’s happening next. So we do a little to help ease their transition.
- Let them choose what doesn’t get packed. Depending on how we’re moving (by car or by plane) I choose a small receptacle for items they want to keep out. Usually they can fill a backpack with a lovey, a book or two, and a notebook with a pencil pouch to get us through the trip to a new place.
- Make a list of the order in which you’ll be packing. I pack bedding last, and usually our order goes something like: toys, clothes, books, furniture accessories (like mirrors, pillows, lamps/night lights, diffusers, etc), and finally whatever is on their beds. When my kiddos get to know the list- and see me write it down and check it off- they also hear me say “I have another list like this for when we unpack your room.” This goes a long way in reassuring the nervous kid that nothing will be left behind.
- Find a positive distraction. Most of our moves take us far from the friends we’ve made in our current setting, which means I can beg playdates with our buddies and their moms are usually sympathetic with my plight and will watch my kiddos for hours while I work. And…realistically keeping us organized often means working through dinnertime or into the night, so I just toss my usual rules and eat Costco Pizza and Subway sandwiches and let them watch lots of TV. It’s temporary and it lets us get the job done.
When the moving truck is there- whether you’re loading or someone else is, you definitely want to be available to be sure everything gets loaded, that all your things wind up in the right place, and that nothing is broken. *Side note: I don’t have the kids in the house for this day- they head off with Dad or a sitter so that I can be 100% on top of the move.* So here goes:
- Plan for hardware. Most movers will disassemble beds and other furniture in order to move it, and most will pack the hardware in a good spot. But I’ve had some relatively shaky movers in the past, and I had to toss a perfectly good crib once because we could never locate all the parts to it after a move. So be on-hand with a ziplock bag, a Sharpie, and some packing tape ready to tape that hardware to the bottom of the table or the side of the crib, or if nothing else, to be sure your movers do that. You’ll be glad you did.
- Same with remotes and plugs. Our movers usually put all the remotes in the same box, which is so helpful. But they don’t always do that when they take TVs off the walls and separate the plug from the device. So have a roll of blue painter’s tape at the ready to make a quick label for plugs so you know which device they came from. It will save you a lot of frustration on the other end.
- Walk through every room, every drawer, and feel along any built-ins or closet shelving, and attics and basements. I know that probably goes without saying, but I feel like we nearly leave something in every single house we move from. Every house I’ve moved into has had some sort of treasure left for us by the previous owners in an attic or closet, and it’s never fun to try to track them down to get it to them. I keep a small extra box for things that get left behind, then label what’s in it and send it on with the movers- DON’T let them leave without you doing a sweep of the house. When we move by plane I can’t check a cardboard box full of random odds and ends, and I’m definitely not paying to ship things that I’ve already contracted a mover to pack and take for me. The clean sweep pays off every time.
Ahead of Move-In Day
Because of how far we move each time, our Move-Out day is always separated by a period of days- sometimes weeks- from our Move-In day. Which means I need a great strategy for prepping the house for the day the van lines arrive. This is what it looks like for me:
- Stock the fridge: The initial stocking of the fridge is simple must-haves like bottled water, milk, sandwich things, and cold brew coffee (hello, Mom-fuel). I also fill the pantry with my favorite snacks and a things the kids like.
- Figure out your neighborhood go-to’s: Find your grocery store, 24-hour pharmacy, pizza joint, mexican restaurant, and park for the kids. These don’t seem like much, but in your first week, you’ll need a decongestant and won’t be able to find one, you’ll realize you really don’t want to cook in that new kitchen because you can’t find your pots yet, and you get tired of pizza faster than you ever realized. A few local faves will get you by till you’re unpacked.
- Set up bathrooms and sinks: Washing hands is important, right? So soap, paper towels, and toilet paper will be enough to get you by momentarily. Oh and that shower curtain in your first night box is really going to help out.
- Map out where large furniture is going to go: Whether it’s movers or your spouse- don’t wait until the furniture gets there to start deciding which direction you want that couch to face or whether the big table goes in the foyer or the dining room. Movers will typically set down large furniture only once, so you need your game plan on lock. I mark mine on the floor with blue painters tape, so I can stand at the door and just tell the movers which room and to look at the floor when they get there.
This is the real crunch. I work like a maniac during move-ins, and I will be honest and admit that I send children to grandparents for these days. I could do this with the kids- but it would take so much longer, and I want to be unpacked in the first week that we move. And because of our numbers- I send my boys to one set of grandparents and my girls to the other. We’re getting to the point that my older girls could probably be helpers, so for our next move I may consider just having the boys off on an adventure and having the girls with me, but I’m not sure. I honestly like my method well enough to keep doing it by myself for the sake of efficiency. So here goes.
- Think about your unpacking and create a game plan: Where will you put broken down boxes? What about packing paper? I put boxes in my garage and leave 2-3 boxes open for paper. I break down each box as I open and put it away, and I flatten out the paper- it makes storing it easier. And most moving companies will come back and pick up whatever materials you have left- even if you’re moving yourself, you can call a local moving company and chances are they’ll come collect your boxes so long as they’re broken down and neat.
- I also only unpack one box at a time. It’s easy to get distracted and open one box and realize that it goes with another box, and then try to find that box and open that one, but that starts a crazy process that will leave me with multiple boxes open throughout my house and sh^t everywhere that just doesn’t ever seem to end. So it’s one box at a time for me. And if the thing I’m about to put away belongs in a container I haven’t found yet, I put it in the drawer or cabinet nearest where it will belong until I find its mate. Temporary solutions are better than creating chaos to find the right one.
- Rugs. Do not let your movers bring the rugs in last. Insist they come into the house first. Rugs are easy to spot on a moving van and it is the WORST to try to put down rugs when your floor is covered in boxes and furniture. Rugs in an empty house = heaven.
- Do closets first. This sounds nuts, because clothes hanging up seems totally superfluous when your entire house is in brown paper boxes, but trust me. Opening wardrobe boxes is simple, and moving things that are on hangers into closets is easy. Wardrobe boxes are easy to spot. You can break down those boxes quickly (or instantly have huge boxes to hold packing paper from your other boxes) and you’ll feel like you’ve conquered a great deal without having to expend much energy. Add to that you can close closet doors and suddenly you’ve put something away and your house is well on its way! Yay for you!
- Next tackle bedding. If you or your movers properly labeled your boxes, these should be easy to spot. Placing sheets on beds is a very quick way to make a room feel like it’s supposed to. Even if you get nothing else done, everyone will have a nice place to sleep with clothes in their closet. Again- yay for you!
- Next bathroom linens: get your towels out, place the soap at the counters, put down bath mats, and hang the shower curtains. One bathroom is enough to get you through the first night, but if you can handle the rest of them, these are easy things to knock out.
- Tackle the kitchen with a movie. My favorite movie ever is Gosford Park. I could recite it. It’s witty and funny and has great music. I have this, Fiddler on the Roof, and the entire series of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel downloaded so I can power through what is always the longest and most exhausting part of the move. Unwrapping all that china and glassware and appliances and gadgets and silverware and… it just requires hunkering down and doing it. So I sit at my kitchen table with my laptop close by and work through one box at a time, starting with china. Here’s how I proceed through the kitchen:
- China first. Just put all the dishes away.
- Glassware second. All. That. Paper. Yikes.
- Pots and Pans
- Any pantry items we moved
- And then I make a list of the staples like spices and baking soda etc that we need to buy again.
- Send out for supper. You’re exhausted. This is insane. Don’t be a hero. Eat some takeout and celebrate how far you’ve come.
- Think about hanging things. But don’t hang them yet. Just place them. It’s too early to feel 100% about where things are going to go. Unless it’s your TV. You can go ahead and hang that.
- Figure out what’s left. I don’t let my kids unpack their toys. It’s just inviting insanity. I unpack every single box for my crew…but I let my older kids handle how they want to organize their dressers and the supplies for their room. I also use them to help me put school supplies away in our school space.
- Dressers, drawers, and storage items. I save clothes that go in dressers for last. (Actually the last time we moved, our movers were like Iron Men and they just moved all our clothes in the dressers, which was HUGE for me.) But the same goes for anything else that gets put away- things from my China cabinet, bookcases, the buffet in my dining room, toy trunks and storage bins- all get put away last. Finding the right home for things in a new house is tricky, and I want to be sure I feel good about where I’m putting it so I can find it when I need it. I give myself a little time to marinate on these for a bit (not a few days…just longer than the mad dash to get all the china put away). And storage items from our basement are easy things for me to delegate to my husband when he has time, and it doesn’t kill me for them to sit in my living room for a bit while I get us organized.
- Now start hanging and curating. Once I have things put in drawers and the boxes are broken down, I feel good about breaking out the hammer and nails and getting things on the walls. I put the picture frames on the tables and the candles by the bedsides, and I suddenly feel like we’re home again.
And I get the diffusers going and run the vacuum to suck up all that packing dust, light a few candles and put on some tunes, and remind myself that this is home now and we’re going to love it here. It takes me about a week to feel 100% about the house- and by the end of the week I tell myself it’s time to meet the neighbors and find my people. Join a homeschool group, get to the library, find a park, and embrace the new place. Home is where your heart is- and you can take that with you anywhere.
If you’re moving, friend, I feel you. You can do this- and your new home is going to be a great spot for you. Hang in there.