The Genius Moving Tips I Learned from My Grandma

published Jun 6, 2022
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Last year, my husband, sons, and I packed up our lives and moved from Minnesota to Wisconsin, where I grew up. Relocating mid-pandemic with little kids had its challenges — mostly, that we didn’t have a lot of help packing, moving, or unpacking in our new home. Our disorganized process still has ripple effects more than a year later. Our garage and basement remain a mess of bins and boxes, and I still don’t know where my food processor is. 

Whenever my Grandma Joann comes over, I make sure to keep the basement door closed, because her moving process was the opposite. A few years ago, she downsized into a smaller house — and while she says the process was stressful for her, she says it went smoothly thanks to lots of hard work and preparation. 

We’re not planning to move anytime soon, but just in case, I asked my grandma for her top packing and unpacking tips. Here’s what she said made her move a breeze. 

Declutter beforehand.

Even if you’re not downsizing, audit your belongings before you move to a new place. Grandma’s rule of thumb? Be more ruthless than you think. “I got rid of a lot when I moved, but I always wish I would have gotten rid of more,” she says. 

If you’re sentimental like my grandma and me, focus on getting rid of duplicates and unusable items and deal with the nostalgic stuff later. You can always replace a potato masher if needed, but you can’t replace memories. 

Pack one room at a time.

Packing can be overwhelming, especially if you try to fit it into one short burst of time. Instead, my grandma recommends working backwards from your move date, and packing whatever you can in one room at a time each weekend leading up to it. “I kept the totes and boxes on the floor of the room until moving, so I wasn’t stressed trying to pack everything all at once,” she says.

Another tip: As soon as you find out you’re moving, start gathering boxes and newspapers (or whatever you plan to use). My grandma used a combination of plastic totes and cardboard boxes she already had, but she saved every newspaper she got before her move so she could use it to wrap dishes and other fragile pieces. 

Credit: Lauren Volo

Label boxes specifically.

One simple trick that helped my grandma’s move stay organized: labeling every single box on both sides, and indicating which boxes contained fragile items. With a clear system, your movers will know where to drop the boxes, and you can start unpacking right away rather than relocating boxes inside your new space after moving day. 

Once you actually move in, grandma recommends unpacking the rooms you need unpacked first. For example, she unpacked her kitchen because she needed it to function, but she waited to work on the basement and garage. Dedicate weekends, as you did for packing, to set up the rest of your spaces. 

Choose shelving before move-in day.

My grandma’s main storage space in her new home is her unfinished basement. She made sure to have a large metal shelf installed around the time she moved so those basement boxes had a home as soon as possible. If you have any large storage areas, consider choosing a shelving set-up before you move.

You definitely don’t have to organize everything in those boxes all right off the bat — grandma says some of her things are still not in their permanent homes a few years after their move — but make sure to keep your labels facing outward so you at least know where your food processor is.