Tips For A Stress-Free Move

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Family jumping out of moving box in new home Family jumping out of moving box in new home

By Marilyn Pribus –

During my husband’s 20-year military career, we were transferred. A lot. We became experienced movers with the Air Force covering most of the packing and moving costs. When we moved to Charlottesville nearly ten years ago, however, it was on our own dime, so we studied up on the thriftiest way to get our things here.

It’s expensive when the movers do the packing, so we did most of it ourselves. In addition, we “staged” the house to make it seem more spacious during the selling process, so we needed to temporarily store some furniture and “clutter-y” belongings.

These factors were important for getting bids. The websites of most national moving companies have good information, detailed pointers, and brochures. Remember however, you’ll be dealing with a local agent, so you want to be happy with that representative.

Get at least three estimates. Things to ask: Can you provide me with used moving cartons for free? Will you accept my credit card (which can yield substantial points or cash rewards) at no additional cost? Can you promise me a “door-to-door” so our goods will not be offloaded and reloaded on the way? (This can lead to damaged or lost items, like the time we got a kitchen tabletop with two sets of table legs but neither was ours. Door-to-door also means dresser drawers don’t have to be emptied into shipping boxes—a definite inconvenience.)

Packing Pointers
We were ruthless in sorting and discarding things, but still moved too much. Don’t ship heavy items that can be inexpensively replaced like chipped flower pots or the kids’ outgrown toys. “Figure you’re paying 50 cents a pound to ship things from California to Virginia,” our mover cautioned as she tallied up items. “Do you really want to take those cans of baked beans?”

We put out the word we were stockpiling good packing material like bubble wrap and similar lightweight packing materials. Newspapers don’t seem heavy a few sheets at a time, but the ounces turn into pounds quickly and newsprint can stain items. Although it may mean an extra washer load or two, it’s more economical to use pillows, bedding, towels and soft apparel such as sweatshirts or socks as packing material rather than simply filling a box with them.

Our mover had a big car and lived not far away. As we requested various sizes of shipping cartons, she would drop off used ones on her way home from work. For free!

Craigslist is another place to score suitable cartons, usually free. Beverage shops or grocery stores are sources for boxes, especially wine cartons with cardboard dividers that are perfect for packing breakables. (Wrap each dish and glass individually and pack dishes on edge rather than flat.)

On the other hand, produce boxes may not be a good choice because they are often treated with insecticide or may even have bugs. 

Pointer: Books get a special shipping rate from the U.S. Postal Service. We found those wine cartons make excellent uniform-sized containers for books and held about the right amount to heft and ship easily.

If you are moving yourself locally, you may be doing it one carload at a time until you borrow or hire a truck for the large items and appliances. While you don’t have to pack as carefully as if you were moving from the West Coast, you still need to protect your belongings. Consider transporting open drawers on your car’s back seat to reduce the weight of dressers.

It’s essential to label your boxes and indicate the room where they should be unpacked at the destination. Be specific. For example, instead of just “clothes” write “winter jackets, scarves and mittens” or “Ethan’s sportswear and shoes.” You might even label some cartons to be unpacked later. Be sure to clearly mark containers with fragile items since this will help the movers know where to load them on the truck.

Paying for packing materials and labor can be a considerable expense, but movers won’t take responsibility for damage in PBOs—boxes Packed By Owner. We packed most of our things ourselves, but left the fragile and valuable items for the professionals. They have special mirror boxes for artwork and, yes, mirrors. For particularly fragile belongings, they might even build wooden crates.

Moving Day
Have pets crated or (even better) off the premises.  There are all too many completely true stories of cats getting packed.

Be sure you have the company’s phone number, your local agent’s number, and the driver’s cell number and that they all have yours. In fact, have several numbers where you can be contacted in case your phone isn’t charged when they call. You should have a timetable for the van’s arrival, but things happen—from blizzards to floods to truck trouble.

Finally, remember you want the crew on your side. It’s friendly to offer morning coffee, constant cold drinks, and a plate of sweet rolls or chocolate chip cookies. Be sure workers know they are welcome to use the bathrooms. While tips are not required, they never hurt. Mention to the boss—whether the local crew chief or the incoming van driver—that you’ll be giving a “bonus” and maybe a cold six-pack at the end of the day to divide among the workers.


Marilyn Pribus and her husband love Charlottesville and have no plans to move again. Ever.

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