Moving? Here Are 5 of the Best Ways to Unpack, According to an Expert

published Jul 21, 2021
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Two friends moving, packing boxes
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I often think that packing is the most stressful part of a move. But for those of us (ahem, including yours truly) for whom organization doesn’t come naturally, unpacking can make for an even more hectic experience.

Regardless of whether your packing style is more Marie Kondo or mass chaos, give yourself a bit of grace and know that unpacking and arranging your new home will take a while.

“One day is not enough for you to unpack your entire life into a new space,” says author and organizing expert Mary Carlomagno. Here are some of her best tips that will keep you from feeling too overwhelmed as you get settled into your new space — however long it takes.

Put boxes in their corresponding rooms.

Instead of adding to a towering pile right as you step in the front door of your new home, move the boxes to the rooms or areas where they will eventually be unpacked. (Hopefully you’ve already labeled those boxes so that you’re not putting toiletries in the kitchen and bakeware in the bathroom.) 

Another rule of thumb: if you have an additional room that you didn’t have in your former home, such as a spare bedroom or a dining room, you can store boxes there until you are ready to organize that extra space. Of course, if you’re moving into a studio apartment, Carlomagno says don’t panic. Just pick a corner as a “staging area” for boxes and work from there.

Use the ABC method.

Carlomagno uses an alphabet system to distinguish the urgency for unpacking boxes. “A” indicates items that require frequent touch, like toiletries or a coffee maker or teapot. “B” is for things that should be kept within arm’s reach but might not be needed every day. Then there’s “C,” which is reserved for occasional or seasonal items, like holiday decorations and skis that can remain packed for a bit longer, especially if you’re moving during the summer months.

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Focus on one room at a time.

After you’ve cleaned the space, it’s time to start unpacking. The kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms are typically the most important spaces to organize first, but organizing the rest of your space depends on your needs.

Carlomagno advises that you take it slow, taking it box by box and focusing on one room at a time. “The reason that people are overwhelmed by organizing and stay disorganized and throw their hands up in the air is because they try to do much at one time,” she says. 

Skip the storage unit.

Carlomagno’s philosophy about getting a storage unit is a simple one: “Don’t do that.”

Well, she’ll give you a pass if you’re downsizing a mansion’s worth of valuable antiques and art and need time to figure out what to do with it all. But if we’re talking about unused fitness equipment, clothing that no longer fits, or household items that are worn out or even broken, then sell them or get rid of them. 

“The key is to edit your stuff before you leave,” Carlomagno says, noting that paying money for storage is just “shipping off your decision [to keep something or not] to another location.”

Enlist the help of a super-organized friend.

If you know someone who’s incredibly organized, Carlomagno says they’ll likely be dying to get into your apartment to help out. So go ahead, ask them for help unpacking. “It’s always a fantastic thing to do with your bossiest friend,” she says. 

There’s no shame in asking for help, and unless you’re an expert like Carlomagno, there’s no shame in taking more (or much more) than a weekend to get yourself organized.

“Release the idea of the finish line and start putting in place little things you can do every day to get you there,” she says.