My Experience with DIY Long-Distance Moving

When it came time to move from NYC after seven years in residence, I had accumulated many possessions but not a lot of money. Which means that hiring a full-service long-distance mover was not an option: I shopped around and determined I would use a company provides a shipping container and the shipping itself. You provide the packing and unpacking of said container. Here's how it went:

The company I chose is called ABF U-Pack Moving. Though it seems small, I found that all of my belongings from my one-bedroom apartment would fit into a 6'x7'x8' container called a "ReloCube". Total cost: $693. Add to that a few hours' use of a Uhaul (to take things from my apartment to the storage facility) and a one-way plane ticket to get myself to my new home and I was going to be able to make the move for less than $1000. As soon as I decided on this plan, I started holding my breath. Surely a long-distance move that was this affordable was going to bring with it lots of misery and headache.

I started diligently packing up my smaller belongings in boxes, being sure to pad them well. Then larger items like furniture and artwork were wrapped in old bedding and blankets. The big day arrived to haul everything to the shipping container in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I went with a friend to pick up the Uhaul, we parked it out front, and loaded up everything from the apartment. Small and light-weight things went in first and heavy and large objects went in last (to assure we could unload into the moving container without a lot of fuss).

We drove to Maspeth Avenue, checked in at ABF Storage, and were given the key to my very own Relo-Cube. It looked tiny. I was sweating it wondering whether everything would fit inside. We backed up to the cube and transferred everything from truck to cube, taking no more than an hour and a half to have everything secured and ready to go, with plenty of space to spare. With a double (and triple) check and a giant leap of faith, we drove away, leaving all of my posessions padlocked inside of a steel cube in a shipping yard in Greenpoint.

Within the week, everything arrived at my destination over 1200 miles away. I had hung my giant drum shade from the ceiling of the container, as I could determine no other way to prevent things from falling on it and smashing it. Upon opening the doors of the container in my new city, there swayed the lamp shade, wrapped in a garbage bag and untouched by the miles and miles of land it had covered.

(I should not that ReloCubes can also be dropped off at your old home and picked up when you're ready to ship. This simply wasn't an option in my neighborhood of NYC.)

I can't say this experience was stress-free, but it got my household from point A to a very distant B in one piece without breaking the bank (or my belongings). I was almost surprised to receive the container on the other end of the move, but that was probably due to my inexperience with the process more than anything. Some tips provided to me by ABF were invaluable:

  • Packing as much as you can into every box helps protect your items.
  • Packing extra linens, pillows, and sofa cusions in large garbage bags is a great idea! These bags can be used as cushions or fillers in your ReloCube.
  • Long pieces, such as sofas, can stand on end. Just anchor them with other large heavy items. This type of furniture normally takes up a significant amount of space. Standing it on its end reduces its "footprint" greatly.
  • Start with loading heavy appliances on the floor against the front wall of the trailer. Then continue by loading heavier items toward the front of the trailer and on the floor. Save the space above for lighter items.
  • Leave a note with your new address in your old house so that future residents can forward any stray mail.

Does anyone else have experience with the pack-it-yourself shipping container when it comes to long-distance moves? How did it go for you?

Find them: ABF U-Pack Moving

Image: ABF U-Pack Moving

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Regina is an architect who lives with her husband and children in Lawrence, KS. As a LEED Accredited Professional and longtime contributor to Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn, her focus is on healthy, sustainable living through design.