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Moving Checklist: How to Make a Smooth Move

14 Minute Read

Moving is hard work. Packing all your stuff, helping your kids and pets make the transition, and loading a moving van with boxes isn't easy. Oh, and did you remember to change your kids' school records, shut off the utilities, call the post office, set up the internet, and schedule the water to be turned off?

Odds are, you could use a moving checklist.

Since there's so much to keep up with, we've put together a checklist so you can move like a pro. We broke the moving process into steps to help you stay focused, remember the small things, and savor the last moments in your old home.

Moving Checklist: Moving Done Right

Follow the seven steps on our moving checklist to help you navigate the next few months.

Step 1: Strategize
Step 2: Declutter and Donate
Step 3: Pack
Step 4: Announce Your Change of Address
Step 5: Final Preparations
Step 6: Move!
Step 7: Settle In

Your Comprehensive Moving Checklist . . . To Go

Download your printable moving checklist – because the closer you are to moving day, the crazier things get. Print it and put it on your refrigerator so you can mark your progress and visualize what still needs to be done.

Step 1: Strategize
8–10 Weeks Before Moving Day

Many people start the process of moving by packing. But there's plenty to do before you even think of putting something in a box! A smooth move is only possible with a clear plan, so while you still have plenty of time, work out the details of your moving day.

  • Pick a Good Day to Move
    If you're able to choose your moving day, pick a day that will save you money. The most affordable times to move are mornings, weekdays, and off-season months (late September to April).

  • Create a Budget
    Are you prepared for the cost of moving? First, there are all the little costs—a roll of packing tape here, tipping the movers there. Then comes the larger cost. To move less than 100 miles with the help of two movers and a truck, you'll probably pay around $80–100 per hour. But for a move over 100 miles, expect to pay anywhere from $2,000–5,000.(1) So, whether you're crossing state lines or heading across town, create a moving budget with your spouse.

  • Decide if You'll Move Yourself or Hire a Moving Company
    No moving checklist is complete without the decision of hiring a moving company or doing it yourself. That's right. A "do it yourself" move. If you want to save money, have an arsenal of trustworthy friends, and can spend a lot of time planning your move, move yourself.

    If, however, you have the money and would rather leave the heavy lifting to the experts, then by all means, hire a moving company.

    You can also do a partial DIY move. If family and friends can help pack and load the truck, then you can save a bunch by only hiring the movers to unload at your new home. And we're all about saving where we can.

  • Make an Inventory of Your Belongings
    Keep track of everything you own. Start at one end of the house and work your way to the other. Then you can pack with inventory in hand to be sure every item makes it to the new house.

  • Organize a Moving Folder for All Paperwork
    Soon, you'll have moving estimates, paperwork, and—if you're filing for a tax deduction—receipts. Buy a binder and keep all your moving records organized.

  • Notify Your Kids' Schools
    As soon as you decide on a day to move, tell your kids' schools. You'll have to transfer their student reports and vaccination records to the new schools. And even if your kids are transferring schools within the same county or aren't changing schools at all, the school system still needs to know so it has record of your new address. After all, no one wants to miss those PTO notifications!

  • Measure Your Furniture
    To make sure your furniture can fit into your new home, take measurements of it and the doors. If a piece of your furniture is larger than the passageways of your new home, don't bother moving it. Sell it or donate it! If you sell it, use that cash to help with the move.

Step 2: Declutter and Donate
6–8 Weeks Before Moving Day

At this point, it still isn't time to pack just yet—so fight the urge! Before you start throwing things in boxes, go through your stuff with your spouse and kids to decide what to keep and what to purge. Ask yourself, Is it worth the effort to pack, move and find a place for this in my clean, new home?

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If it's not worth keeping and it's still in decent shape, donate it. Take clothes to Goodwill or Dress for Success. Take furniture and appliances to The Salvation Army and nonperishable foods (such as rice, pasta and canned vegetables) to your local food bank. Any donations are tax deductible, so if you plan to itemize your deductions when you file your tax return, be sure you get receipts from those organizations.

Here are some common items you should look for while you declutter:

  • Bedroom
    • Shirts, shorts, pants, socks, blazers, ties and scarfs (If you haven't worn it in a few months, donate it to someone who will.)
    • Old jewelry
    • Extra handbags, purses and totes
    • Lightly worn shoes, boots and sandals
    • Worn-out towels, blankets and sheets (Most animal shelters will gladly take these!)

  • Living Room
    • DVDs, CDs, books and video games (Donate these to your local library.)
    • Neglected toys and puzzles
    • Sofas, chairs and coffee tables

  • Bathroom
    • Dirty shower curtains (Remember, trash what needs trashing.)
    • Expired pills and medicine (But be sure to safely dispose of these.)
    • Lipstick, makeup and other beauty products
    • Opened cleaning products (Don't risk spilling them in a move.)
    • Unused toiletries

  • Kitchen
    • Extra sets of silverware and cooking utensils
    • Unused boxes of tea, spices and condiments
    • Coffee cups and empty jars
    • Tupperware containers without matching lids and vice versa
    • Excess plates, bowls and glasses
    • Party plates, cups, decorations and candles (After a move all you'll have left is a wick and a melted ball of wax.)
    • Old cookbooks and recipes
    • Large appliances you can sell and replace, like a refrigerator
    • Small appliances—microwaves, blenders and pressure cookers—you haven't used recently

  • Garage
    • Open paint cans, oil quarts, weed killer and other chemicals that may spill during a move (Precautions about how to safely dispose of these materials vary by county, so be sure to check yours.)
    • Bags of soil, mulch and stone
    • Extra garden hoses, unused shovels and rakes
    • Yard decorations
    • Random construction materials, like timber, drywall or insulation (If they're in good condition, donate them to Habitat for Humanity.)
    • Broken equipment you'll never fix
    • Plastic planter vases and terra-cotta pots
    • Dusty, unused saws, drills, sanders and other tools

Step 3: Pack
3–6 Weeks Before Moving Day

If you've made it this far on our moving checklist, give yourself a pat on the back! With a month and a half left, it's officially time to start packing.

  • Collect and Label Moving Boxes
    Don't waste money buying moving boxes—plenty of local businesses give them away! Look for businesses that get shipments of liquids because boxes that can hold heavy bottles can hold your stuff. Businesses that regularly hand out sturdy boxes include:
    • Cafés
    • Grocery stores
    • Public schools
    • Bookstores
    • Fast-food restaurants (Ask for boxes that hold frozen fries. They're strong, and because the fries come in plastic bags, the boxes aren't soaked in grease.)
    • Craigslist (Movers often give other movers their boxes over Craigslist.)

    Though you may not know how many boxes you need, get as many as you can. Many people underestimate how much they own, so it's better to have too many than not enough.

    Once you have boxes, it's time to start labeling. How you label your boxes matters for you and for your movers, so make the labels clear and easy to read. A good way to organize boxes is to color-code the rooms: master bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen, etc.

  • Buy Moving Supplies
    If you're moving yourself, you'll need a dolly and furniture moving pads. And whether you use a moving company or not, you'll need packing tape, bubble wrap, packing paper, colored markers—and lots of snacks and water.

  • Pack Items You Won't Use
    Start packing things you won't use, like decorations, artwork, photos in picture frames and out-of-season clothing. If you can live without it for the next six weeks, pack it.

  • Prepare a Start-Up Kit
    Gather items you'll need the first week in your new home. If your stuff arrives late or you unpack slower than expected, what would you need to be comfortable? Your list may include:
    • Change of clothes
    • Nonperishable foods and snacks
    • Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, toilet paper)
    • Towels and bedsheets
    • Games, puzzles and toys

  • Make Activity Boxes for Your Kids
    Moving is stressful for kids. To brighten their moving day, make each one a box of goodies. Depending on their age, you might want to include coloring books, stickers, video games, toys, books, candy and snacks.

  • Separate Valuables and Important Documents
    In order to protect and keep track of your passport, jewelry and other valuable items, pack them in a separate box and keep it with you during the move.

  • Bonus Packing Tips
    • Wrap liquids with Saran wrap to stop them from spilling.
    • Secure dresser drawers; you don't want the drawer to fall out and dump your clothes all over your driveway.
    • Use Styrofoam plates to separate dishes.
    • Take photos of your electronics before you disconnect them, so you can know how to reassemble them.
    • If you dissemble furniture, place all hardware in labeled plastic bags.

Step 4: Announce Your Change of Address
2–3 Weeks Before Moving Day

One of the tedious—but important—parts of moving is changing your address. You don't want your magazine subscriptions and mail orders to go to your old address.

To keep that from happening, take a break from the packing and start calling these companies.

  • Utility Services:
    First, call your current utility companies and tell them you're moving. Then, call your new companies and ask them to turn on your utilities the day you move in. Be sure to contact these companies and schedule installation appointments if necessary.
    • Cable
    • Electricity
    • Gas
    • Internet
    • Trash collection
    • Water

  • Governmental Agencies:
    • DMV: If you're moving to a new state, you'll have to apply for a new driver's license and vehicle plate, and depending on the state, you may need to surrender your old plate.
    • IRS: If you're waiting on your tax return, make sure to tell the IRS you've changed your address.
    • Postal Service: You can change your address online for a $1 fee, or you can go into your local post office and change it for free. Remind the post office to forward your mail to your new address.
    • Social Security Administration: If you get Social Security benefits or have enrolled in Medicare, let the SSA know you're changing your address.
    • Voter Registration Office: Notify your old voting jurisdiction so they can take you off their voter roll. Then, register to vote in your new area.

  • Clubs and Subscriptions:
    You don't want your packages to ship to your old address, nor do you want to pay for lawn service at a house you no longer own. Cancel all monthly memberships (including the gym if you won't be using the same one), and change the address on your mail order subscriptions.

  • Health Facilities:
    Call these facilities to transfer medical and prescription records.
    • Doctor
    • Dentist
    • Optometrist
    • Pharmacy
    • Veterinarian

  • Other Important Businesses to Contact:
    • Bank
    • Cell phone service provider
    • Daycare
    • Lawn service
    • Insurance companies
    • Pest control

Step 5: Final Preparations
1–2 Weeks Before Moving Day

At this point, you're less than two weeks away from moving day. Time really flies, doesn't it? During the next two weeks, you'll want to finish packing and prepare your home for its next owners.

Relax though! If you've followed the steps on this moving checklist, you don't have to cram everything into a two-week time frame. Instead you can enjoy these last weeks in your home with minimal moving steps left. Go out with friends and family or throw a going-away party!

Just be sure before these two weeks are over, these last few tasks are crossed off your moving checklist.

  • Prepare Equipment
    Drain the gas from lawn mowers, chainsaws, generators and other small-engine machines. If you don't drain the gas before you move, fuel can move around freely and flood the carburetor, which may require you to take the machine to a mechanic.

  • Clear the Pantry
    At this point in our moving checklist, you should have enough food to last two weeks. If you think you have too much, consider donating to a local food pantry.

  • Home Improvement
    Now is the time to put any final touches on your house. If you need to patch and paint the walls or fix the towel rack, do it now.

  • Clean the House
    Leave the house in the state you'd want to find it if you were moving in. Take out all trash, vacuum the carpet, and clean the floors.

  • Service Your Vehicles
    Schedule a visit with your mechanic. Change your vehicle's oil and air filter, check the tires, and make sure the car will be reliable to drive on moving day.

  • Empty/Defrost Refrigerator and Freezer
    The night before you move, unplug your fridge and let it defrost overnight. Place towels around the base in case it leaks. Use ice packs or a cooler to take cheese, fruit or sandwiches with you.

Step 6: Move!
It's moving day!

It's finally here: moving day! Because you've worked through the steps on this moving checklist, you're ready. All you need to do is load your stuff and be on your way.

  • Greet the Movers
    Whether you've hired professionals or persuaded your friends, give a warm welcome to those giving a helping hand. Guide them through your space and identify any fragile or heavy boxes.

  • Do a Final Sweep of Your Home
    Before you leave your home for good, check each room for anything you missed. Once you know you have everything, turn off the lights, water and air conditioner. Shut and lock the windows and leave your house keys behind. Say good-bye to your old home because it's time for a new adventure!

  • Guide Your Movers
    Give your movers directions to your new house. Keep your phone's volume on loud in case they get lost or need additional instructions.

  • Tip Them
    After the last moving box is inside, give your movers a nice tip. Most movers expect $25–50. Give $60 to each mover and you'll really make their day. And if friends are helping you move, don't forget to treat them to dinner.

  • Unpack Your Start-Up Kit and Relax
    Put toilet paper in the bathroom and sheets on the bed. Then take a well-deserved break. You did it. Now you can relax!

Step 7: Settle In
1–2 Weeks After Moving

Congratulations! We're at the last step on our moving checklist: Unwind and break in your new home.

  • Unpack Everything
    Don't let any boxes remain packed longer than two weeks.

  • Prepare Your Tax Deductions
    If you relocated because of your job, you'll qualify for a tax deduction. Check out IRS Form 3903 for more information on eligible expenses.

  • Get Homeowner's or Renter's Insurance
    This one is important! Hopefully, you've already gotten homeowner's or renter's insurance, but if you haven't, contact an insurance agent and get started as soon as possible.

  • Check Fire Safety Devices
    Fire alarms should have batteries, and fire extinguishers should be full.

  • Find a Reliable Mechanic, Plumber and Electrician
    Better to find good technicians now when you don't have problems than to panic when you do.

  • Recycle Packing Material
    Didn't you like getting free moving boxes? Return the favor and donate your boxes to fellow movers. Most people donate their used moving boxes through Craigslist, but you can donate them to a local moving company as well.

Settle In to a Home You Actually Want

Don't let the task of moving keep you from finding a new home you and your family can enjoy. With our Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs), you can be confident you're working with a real estate agent who is an expert in your local market.

Our ELPs want to help you find your ideal home. They understand that buying a house can be stressful, and they'll walk you through the home-buying process to help you make a smart investment that fits your needs and your budget.

Find a real estate pro today!

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