Change your thinking, change your life!

"Moving? Cool!"

YouTube [28min] | MP3 [28min]

by Floyd Maxwell, BASc

Moving? Cool!

And no, I am not referring to the beer you'll be drinking!

Isn't that how it usually goes? You arrange "lots of help", that turns out to be several thirsty friends, and maybe one or two of their thirsty friends.

Those who actually came to move things, as opposed to just talking about it and watching everyone else, each elect themselves as Straw Boss. Each Straw Boss knows how to do "it" better than anyone else. Arguments ensue, tempers flare, and a potentially wonderful process goes...straight down the drain.

"Yeah, that's about right. So what?" I hear you say.

Well, if you can't imagine something better than the usual moving fiasco, then I agree with you and you can stop reading right here.

For those who can allow the possibility that maybe, on a good day, with limited belongings, plenty of great food, clear skies and a trailing breeze, there just may be a better-than-average move in your future, read on!


A wise couple I know have a simple saying they use whenever someone comes up with a complicated solution to a simple health problem. You know that "cure" where you have to starve this, feed that, consume those nutrients, pop some drugs "of course" and maybe even try that herbal "stuff", cause you never know...

Without missing a beat they will chime in with "It's always the exhaust system, never the carburetor."

My father used to say something similar, only he would be referring to cars. People who considered themselves mechanically inclined would be itching to pop off the air filter and adjust the "tune" it up a bit. And he would say "it's never the carburetor".

Second order response

It is pretty understandable that, in a society built on consumption, most of us are convinced that consumption is the solution to whatever ails us. That is, after all, the standard "knee jerk" first order response.

But what is a better one?

One that goes to the cause, of course.

Taking the example above, the car, one eventually learns that it is usually the electrical system that is acting up.

Electrical issues

The reasons are many: (1) corrosion of battery terminals is inevitable and entirely explainable by the basic chemistry of dissimilar metals and electronegativity. So check your battery terminals to see they are snug!, (2) the 12 volts DC is converted to tens of thousands of volts that is sent to the spark plugs. This high a voltage, needed to literally "jump the gap" of the spark plug, is a guaranteed cause of arcing in the distributor cap, and the points.

Things are even more complicated, and electrically challenged in a electronic ignition, but we are trying for simplicity here.

So clean the cap's contacts, and the points!, (3) the leads to the spark plug are carrying very high voltage, and so can arc (i.e. discharge) into whatever if they are not in good condition. They can also simply fall off -- one roadside cure I effected involve plugging the main lead back into the coil -- a lead that went *horizontally* across half the engine. The engineer in me wanted to scream!

So pop the hood of a sputtering car and look/listen for arcing, or the characteristic misfiring that indicates a "bad cylinder" (i.e. bad lead/plug!), (4) check the plugs. They have to encourage a high voltage arc to happen tens of thousands of times each car trip, so naturally they can get dirty or worn out.

Ok, enough of auto mechanics 100, you say, let's get back to that exhaust system remark.


Well, my friends' point was that we tend to consume ourselves INTO problems and then try to eat ourselves out of them, without changing our eating habits!

In car terms, their solution is saying "You want more power from your car? Well then do the first thing any street racer does -- get rid of all that muffler stuff!"

Note: there is very little profit to the medical "profession" if people start consuming 25 cents worth of senna each day so it is easy to see why no one ever suggests this one.

So, we return to the subject of moving now?

Yes, but...

You must open yourself to the possibility that moving is one of the most potentially life-upgrading things you will ever do. Remember: exhaust system, not carb.

Ok, I admit this is a tiring preamble, and we haven't even lifted a box. But what I am trying to hint at is the shocking-to-a-Westerner concept that throwing stuff out is the real first step in moving.

Of course, when I say "throw out", I don't necessarily mean "in the garbage", although hopefully you will fill up several cans for every year you have been planted, tree-like, in one spot.


You definitely do NOT want "a garage sale". Get rid of stuff, by giving it away. Haul it off to the Sally Ann, Salvation Army, Value Village, Goodwill or the homeless shelter of your choice. Just get rid of it. Pronto!

You are moving -- a very expensive thing to do, and not just in dollar terms. It is incredibly taxing in energy, time and peace of mind to uproot oneself. So do yourself a favor right from the start and shed some pounds!

And if you haven't used a piece of clothing for one year, toss that too.

By the way, if giving stuff away is such a big deal, you can always get a tax receipt for whatever you donate.


Here we go!

Here are the tips that will change "moving" to "Moving!"

(1) Get good boxes

Spring for professional moving boxes, especially if your move is in the $2,000+ range. Professional quality moving boxes are amazingly cheap, and don't bust open at the wrong time, if you needed a visual. They can also be very easily re-used in future moves -- just use a box-cutter knife to cut the tape and then collapse the boxes to use the least space. You can fit about 20 flattened boxes in the space of a beach mattress.


(2) And plenty of Gator/Powerade

To get enough "Ade", plan on at least two bottles for each person that is helping with the move. To go with the top quality water you will have on hand. I drank half a gallon of water during one move.

Keep the cases right by the door, and dip into them even during the packing stage.

I don't know if it is the dust unearthed during packing, or the dry cardboard boxes soaking up the humidity in the apartment, the extra labor, or all three, but thirst is definitely a factor in moving!


(3a) Tape your boxes properly

No, trust me on this one. You aren't taping boxes properly. No one does. Ever.

For starters, get good, strong packing tape. Not that brown plastic stuff -- too weak. Definitely not duct tape -- way too difficult to work with, and very hard to remove from things you don't want it accidentally stuck to. Also, it is annoyingly hard to get duct tape off the roll, and you need to conserve energy during the whole moving process.

Clear, 2" wide, plastic packing tape is the ticket. Get a thicker-ply (i.e. stronger) tape if you have two strengths to choose from. Costco sells it in an 8-roll pack -- perfect.

(3b) For strength...

When taping the bottom of the box, instead of just one dash of tape in the middle, use a full segment of tape, with about 3 inches of "overflow" up the sides on each end. Try not to handle the sticky side of the tape (weakens its grip) and push all of the tape swath down fully -- if it comes loose, you lose.

Now, back to that bottom, we haven't finished yet.

Two extra swaths of tape are going to be used to tape the otherwise open edges -- we are taping all parts of the "I", if that helps explain things. This will bring a HUGE increase in box strength, and is highly recommended for boxes that will carry books, tapes or other heavy items.  

(3c) ...and durability

Proper box taping will also stop crushed, tossed, stored-upside-down boxes from disgourging their contents through the bottom slits. As almost always happens.

Also, boxes reinforced like this can be stacked higher without collapsing -- and stacking is what it is all about for the moving companies, believe me.

Same thing when taping the top of the box. Three swaths of tape, all long enough and all pressed down afterward -- one in the middle to close the flaps, but the other two like the bottom two, giving the top a sealed-from-dust, strength suitable for many people picking up, heaving and dropping your precious bowling balls. Also, for stacking strength.


(4) Packing

Pack each box as though you will not be unpacking it for a year. In some cases this will be true. It will also take the pressure off when you are unpacking, as so much of the anxiety of moving is just uncertainty.

(4a) Label like a pro

  • Labelling should be done on at least two sides, and the top. Yes, this is time consuming. And a stitch in time saves nine...
  • Be sure to put the room name, in block letters on the top.
  • Label heavy boxes with "H-E-A-V-Y" in big bold letters. And if it is really heavy, or really fragile, say so.

(4b) Pack for integrity

Boxes bursting open at the worst time are something of a tradition in conventional moves. But we are intent on preventing them.

To help this, be sure that every box is full, but not full by weight. In fact, if you have already half filled a box with books then put in, say, a big winter jacket to fill the rest of the box. Towels are also great filler, and padding, for boxes that are under-weight.

A full box will hold more weight on top of it before it collapses. And a completely full box will also keep things organized because there is no way for things to shift around. Another source of chaos tamed!

(4c) Pack leader

If some of the potential packer-uppers are not systematic, then try to do the more important things yourself and leave them simpler items like the kids clothes to pack.

Leaders need to be in top form, so don't forget to hydrate. Take a drink after each box is filled if you need a guideline. Besides, pauses are a natural time for your mind to think of the logical next step.

True leadership is more about organization than giving orders. Give yourself time to plan, to estimate, to consider what will happen on reaching your new home. It all pays off with a fresher you, and an easier move.

(4d) Organize from the start

If you are in a tiny apartment with lots of stuff around then it helps to pack the most bulky stuff first. Regardless of what you pack, be sure to move the packed boxes to a spot right near the main entrance. By using this normally unused space, you will be freeing up space throughout your apartment.

Also, stacking packed items maintains order. Moving is tiring because of the chaos. Remove the chaos and you remove the stress.

After two or three levels of boxes, you can stack the bulkiest-yet-light things on top. Anything that gets you more space or increases your "working space".

(4e) Desert island box

Early in the packing process you should build an "essentials" box.

Containing one of each thing you need to get ready in the morning, it could include packaged food for a simple meal, as well as bathroom items like shampoo, shaver, tooth brush.

Throw in several pairs of socks -- it is amazing how good it feels, in the middle of a long project, to change your socks.

Don't forget to label your Essentials box
with large letters on ALL sides of the box.

(4f) Long haul tips

If you are travelling from one city to another, with the moving truck on a different schedule, then this is a good time to get out your suitcases, set them up somewhere and start adding.

I do this up to a week before I travel.

As I think of something I put it in the suitcase. Even my shaver. I can always use it each morning and return it to the suitcase, but this way I tend to remember everything I need.

(4g) Self-Encouragement

Give yourself daily positive reinforcement of both what you are doing, and of your ability to do it.

This will help keep you motivated, and you will need it.

It is also another way to decrease the last minute panicking -- like the best athletes who visualize their win, you can visualize and anticipate all aspects of your move.

(4h) Don't over-pack

If space is at a premium in the moving truck (or especially if you are doing it all by car), do NOT box things that are weirdly shaped. It is very space inefficient to do this, and it also makes the weirdly shaped item even harder to move.

It also wastes your time, twice over, as you have to wrap/pack at one end and then undo this at the other.

Just wrap the thing in a moving blanket and...well, see below for when/how to load it. [Capsule Summary: weird stuff last.]


(5) Moving orders

Order is what moving is all about. And it seems hard to keep it, when you are being uprooted. But a few basic principles will make it a piece of cake.

As mentioned earlier, when you are packing, put all filled boxes nearest the "moving" door of your old dwelling -- don't leave them where they were filled up (unless they are too heavy to move easily).

Having everything right by the door makes it easy for others to move things without having to ask you "What's next?"

(5a) Boxes first

In the moving truck, put all of the boxes in at the beginning.

Try to stack them across the whole back of the truck, and vertically. Only stray from this if you need to fit some super long things down one side of the truck.

Now you can see why you packed your boxes for durability.

(5b) Heavier, and stronger, boxes at the bottom

A large part of the disruption of moving is when you arrive and find boxes have collapsed, spewing their contents randomly.

This is very discouraging but you can work to prevent it by putting the heaviest boxes -- the ones with the heavy-duty cardboard and the most tape, right? -- on the bottom of each box pile.

Depending on the mix of stuff that you have, you should leave a bit of room at the top of the box piles to be used later for "weird but light stuff". Leaving room will also decrease the chance of the stack of boxes crushing the bottom ones because the stacks will be shorter. If you have been organized in your packing, and chosen the right sized truck, you should have sufficient room to spare that you don't need to stack your boxes to the ceiling.

(5c) Furniture & appliances next

Be sure you don't put furniture on first, or last, as doing either will cause problems.

One of the most common mistakes is to put furniture in first, probably thinking that "if the biggest stuff will fit, the rest can be stuffed in the gaps". This is the kind of emotional decision-making we are trying to avoid.

The problem with furniture is that it is chaotic. When you begin with chaotic items, other items must follow this chaos with even more chaos.

(5d) A glimmer of order, through the clouds

Boxes are the opposite of furniture. And exactly like a moving truck. Orderly, square-shaped, stackable.

Put your boxes in first and they will almost literally "disappear" into the back of the truck.

You paved the way for this by immediately assigning box-carrying duty to your moving assistants so they could begin moving without needing your help.

And you had those boxes closest to the door.

See how it is all coming together?

(5e) Time for a quick sanity check

Now take a perspective break. Will your stuff take two trips in the moving van anyway? If so, don't waste time and energy trying to fit 94% of your stuff in the first load.

Making a trip and unloading some of the stuff, especially if you choose the right stuff, can be very time-productive especially if you can take along an unpacker who unpacks all that china into the china cabinet.

Hint: Boxes make a great first-truck cargo.

(5f) Method in our fastidiousness

Moving is a logistics problem.

It is easy for the process to get bogged down in one of many possible "choke points" and one of the most common choke points is that people get in each other's way.

Setting up a "second front" at the new location is a great efficiency booster...and it can be a morale booster as well. When the rest of you arrive on the second trip, the first wave of unpackers will be there to greet you as they hand you a non-alcoholic beverage. And as you get inspired by what has been unpacked already.

Sub-divide, and conquer!

(5g) Weird stuff

This can be a really fun part of the move, if you have handled the boxes and furniture stuff properly.

It can be fun because you are trying to "lose" the nastiest stuff (from a moving efficiency point of view) in the nooks and crannies that will exist in the truck now.

But first...

(5h) Don't rush the last phase...

Get people to just bring the weird stuff out and leave it right near the truck.

Strongly resist the urge to put weird stuff directly into the moving truck.

Once all the weird stuff has been brought out, hop into the truck, after designating one person as the official outside-the-truck helper. They will hand things to you as needed, saving you the time and energy needed to climb in and out of the truck.

(5i) Slow and steady

Ok, now grab one item at a time and *think* about where would be the best place to put it.

Hint: the obvious places, like on top of the couch, are most likely the worst.

Try to "lose" the smaller weird-shaped items first. And I mean lose them -- they will often go into spaces that nothing else would go in, and once there, are not in the way of anything else going in.

Also, this type of second-order packing will help keep everthing in place, with less shifting and tipping over during the driving stage.

(5j) Your perfect moment

Loading the truck is not a time to do things half way.

If there is a space under an office desk for a weird item, plus 50% space left over, then look around for another weird item to take up the other 50%.

Some things are more flexible than they appear. Those neat little sleeping bag rolls can be unrolled and tucked into all kinds of places -- providing a soft (and clean!) blanket, or just good "top of the boxes" material that doesn't crush the boxes. Used like this, they take up *less* space than in their rolled-up form!

Tossing blankets or sleeping bags on top, while a good use of space, will increase the chance they will just fall on top of something else and/or get in the way when you begin unloading the truck. So a great third-level idea is to lay sleeping bags, or blankets, flattened out, between box levels. Padding boxes like this will also decrease the fundamental urge boxes have to slide around.

(5k) It will fit, won't it?

If you are not sure if everything will fit in the last truckload, then ask some vehicles to wait so that they can take any overflow items with them.

This is the phase where you have to be the most flexible. There are many ways to do things, and many tricks to gaining space.

Also, at this stage everyone is tired and there is a tendency to dump things -- setting them down on top of other stuff in unstable and very "sub-optimal" ways. One or two people who are able to be patient and try several places for each item (in their mind at least), will achieve the best result. So...

(5l) People management

If you have multiple people, and are just moving "across town", this can be a good time for some to go on ahead to the new house.

This takes the pressure off, reduces the chance of packing arguments, and gives them a chance to recharge.

Even better, give each of them some refreshment and tell them you'll be there 30 minutes after them, so they can take a lunch break.

Tip: Plants defy packing and suffer from moving. Treat them to some well-earned chauffeur service by asking one or more car owners to carry them. Preferably two-person cars, so that one person can monitor/hold plants throughout the trip.

(5m) Unfilled moving truck concerns

On the other hand, if you have quite a bit of space available, concentrate on placing things so they won't fly around.

Put as much stuff as possible on the floor of the truck. Be sure heavier items are lower. "Butt" stuff together so that each will help keep the other from tipping over.

On one occasion I rode in the truck on the drive over so that some of the more fragile items would not fall over during the drive. This was not a very safe thing to do, so I am not recommending it.

In looking back at that move, I think it reflected what happens when others are in charge -- lack of thought in packing leads to an unsafe moving trip.


(6) The Drive

D R I V E    S L O W L Y !

I think I have ridden with a total of one person who drove too slowly in the moving truck. The rest? Too fast, or just barely slow enough most of the time.

Look, if you go slow you will use less gas. You will be less likely to get in an accident. You will put less wear and tear on your friend's truck.

And you will damage less stuff!!!


(7) Enjoy the ride

The drive over is a great time to pat yourself on the back. You've done the hardest two parts -- packing and loading. Unloading will happen easier and faster than you think.

For one, your assistants can figure out where the couch goes. For another, some of your stuff can stay in boxes for a few days without causing a problem.

So take a deep breath. Relax. And try to enjoy the moment.

Repeat. Three times at least. Ahhhhh.

The drive is also a great time to break out the beverages. Drink more than you feel like drinking, and don't worry about calories. You are burning calories big time during a move, and need energy now more than ever.


(8) Unpacking

Unpacking is when fatigue can be an issue.

The goal is pretty clear, the toughest moving challenges have been identified. But don't overdue it.

You'll find a way to fit your couch into that ridiculously small elevator. They are usually designed to "just fit". Trust the "just".

After all, you are only human. Flesh and bones. And some of them may have already gone through quite a few decades of abuses large and small.


(9) Not Unpacking

Some unpacking can be deferred. If you have too few people to unpack, then just put the boxes where you would like them unpacked...and close the door to that room for now!

Prioritize. And hydrate!

Every single person involved in the move will be dehydrated at this point. So dig out the fluid-replacement drinks -- they really work! After the majority of stuff has been moved, or as people "pack it in", offer them something heartier, like yogurt. Yogurt is incredibly easy to digest, full of protein nourishment, and requires zero cooking, table setting, dish finding, and/or clean up.


(10) Now treat yourself

Once the truck and the helpers have gone, treat yourself. Go out to dinner!

I would suggest a salad bar, because you might be surprised both at how hungry you are, and how your body is asking for different (and more healthy) foods than usual.

Afterward, take a little drive. You have moved to a new area, after all, and might as well see what it looks like. That way, when you get home your mind has something other than blank walls and brown boxes to think about.


(11) Success!

Once back in your new home, this can be a great time to do a SMALL amount of unpacking.

Putting it another way, there are probably a half dozen essentials that you would very much like to locate right now. Hopefully they are in the "essentials" box I got you to pack. If not, just hunt around for your shaver, shampoo and dental kit now.

Then stop!


(12) The pause that refreshes

Sleep, even if just for a few hours, will greatly benefit you. A quick recharge is definitely what your body and mind need. So put some time between yourself and the move, without letting yourself feel guilty or anxious.

If you are not great at sleeping at a time like this, then just walk around and make mental notes. "Oh, that box should be moved to the kitchen." "I wonder where the other bedroom clothes box is. Oh, here it is."

Tip: If you moved your partner, and/or family, then make your mental notes to yourself so that others can recharge on their own schedule.



Bonus tips for the keen...

(a) Keep it simple

Every one is an "expert" when it comes to moving. But the simple approach is invariably the best -- watch the most energetic yet quiet movers, rather than debate with the talkers -- the quiet energetic ones know the best way, I guarantee it.

(b) Split the moving of items into stages

It is easier to optimize (and delegate!) stages. So maybe the first stage is to carry boxes to the elevator. Boom! Off go two helpers with a simple task that will take 10 to 15 you that time to plan the next stage or delegate more work to other helpers.

They finish moving the boxes to the elevator (you have the elevator key, right?) and they start loading it. You send a third person with them -- at the main floor all three unload, with two of them now taking the boxes to the truck while the third returns the elevator. You have more than one hand truck/dolly, right?

Meanwhile, other helpers have been taking furniture and appliances to the elevator. In it goes, and you notice that one or two "weird" items can fit in on top. They are just put to one side at the truck, of course, but you gained a bit in elevator efficiency by that one timely addition.

(c) Be happy with small gains

You are trying for, let's say, 80% efficiency.

But definitely not 100%.

So that means if 80% of the people are working, great! If 80% of the truck gets filled, great! If 80% of the moving process is smooth, great!

(d) Cheerlead

Inspire your assistants by expressing how great things are going. "Wow, I wasn't expecting to carry so much in the elevator!" Lots of little encouraging phrases, but easy on the "I can't tell you how much I appreciate..." stuff.

These are your friends and they assume you'd do the same for them, right?

A little sugar, but hold the sacharine. You are the coach, they are the team. Turn them loose 'cause they know what to do!

(e) Repeat already optimized steps

If things are going good, don't change anything.

Don't try to get too clever, or creative.

Whatever you do, don't get caught up in the speed of things and start throwing boxes to each other. I've seen it too many times. Conga lines are for dancers...and dogs in an America's Funniest Video.

(f) K.I.S.S.

If a pile of weird items is building up around the truck, do NOT start carrying them into the truck!

As Einstein said, everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Similarly, if some helpers are not suited to what they are attempting, re-assign them. They might be better at packing, carrying, "holding the elevator", unpacking, "preparing the beverages", or general cheerleading. Just avoid "the Peter principle".

(g) Dealing with the sticky bits

When you are struggling to fit just one more item in the truck, or getting your couch up the stairs, remember that you don't have to settle for "the first right answer".

Think fluid, versatile.

"Plan B" is a great plan, especially if Plan A is not working.

(h) Division of the labor

Some people are great pack horses. I chuckle when I think of one of my closest friends helping me move twelve 70-pound boxes of books some years back.

One of the strongest people I know, and a most uncomplaining and true friend, I sure got him huffing! Of course I was moving right along with him, but he really did like being told what to do, in simple terms and then proceeding to do it. He told me just that on many occasions.

Some people like to give orders, but aren't good at it. Ask them, as a special favor, if they could pack this box of kitchen stuff, as you are quite worried about it... Or assign them to some part of the unpacking process -- a detail-oriented process off in some corner of the kitchen or bathroom can keep them busy and out of the way for an hour or more.

(i) Wanted: Perfect Packing Person

The most important position is the truck packer.

If you have professional movers then one of them will naturally do this job. If you have just a few friends then try to find one who is likely to understand some or all of the principles outlined here.

No matter who does it, don't be afraid to supervise.

(j) Super tweak

To save energy, try to pivot or relay items rather than carrying them as you transport your body.

This can save 150 to 250 pounds per box! Hand trucks and dollies are big energy savers when moving more than ten feet but look at what you are doing and see if putting the boxes here, on the landing, instead of ten feet past the landing, near the truck, saves you from having to lift yourself up the landing stairs each time.

You add a step: "landing, then truck", but you save 150 to 250 pounds up and down a flight of stairs for every box! Why not save your knees, and your back?

(k) Share your own efficiency gains

Moving is, by definition, a thing in motion. It should be fluid.

Allow people to do things in different ways, especially if that suits their age and/or strength limitations.

Also, some of us love to "hoe our own row" because we come up with efficiencies that way. Allow it. Reward it. And share it!

Send me an email if you come up with something I've missed. I'd love to pivot around and move that idea along to others!

Have a great move!



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