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Preparing to Move Out: Decluttering Strategies for Moving…or Staying Put

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It’s the end of April and as all realtors know, it’s the kickoff of the busy season for moving. The vast majority of moves take place when kids are out of school, so the summer months of May through August see a big spike in home sales and moving in general. (Actually, this topic is courtesy of a Meetup group member who moved to Houston this month.) So it seemed like a perfect time to talk about organizing for a move. We’re going to focus on that today, but don’t worry if you’re staying put this summer. The techniques that work for a move will help you clear out your space even if you’re going nowhere.

Woman carrying moving boxes

There’s nothing like the pressure of moving to help you throw away things you don’t need!

As I prepared this topic, I did some Internet research. I found tons of checklists on organizing moves, and the universal, number one first step in all those checklists is this: Two months out, start sorting and purging! There are two pieces of advice buried in that statement. First, you need to get started two months out. Yes, two months, not two weeks, not two days. Two months. It takes a lot of work to pack up everything you own and get it moved somewhere else. Taking off work the week before the move will not cut it. The second piece of advice is sort and purge. This is the great benefit of moving—besides getting a new house. You have to touch everything you own. No one wants to do that, but moving forces you to do so. And it creates the golden opportunity to evaluate and discard things that no longer serve your life.

Many times as I work in clients’ homes, I find boxes that never got unpacked from a prior move. Opening those boxes always prompts a story that goes something like this. “We ran out of time before the movers came, so we just threw everything in boxes. I totally forgot about that stuff. I don’t need that – throw that away, or that goes to Goodwill.” Moving is an overwhelming experience. Packing is exhausting, and often we pack assuming it’s easier to just pack everything and worry about it later. It seems like there’s no time to make all those decisions, so just pack it instead. Here’s the flaw in that theory. If you skip the sorting and purging opportunity as you pack, you can greatly increase how many boxes you buy, pack and pay to move. Then you have to unpack them at the other end too! Just so you can sort and purge on the backend. How much better to sort and donate to charity from the old house? Then instead of packing it you just haul it off in the car, and that stuff gets completely diverted from your care. No need to pack it, move it and unpack it, and then donate it. Why add all that extra effort on your part? Sorting and purging before the move actually saves you time, effort, and money.

Back to our moving checklists. The second universal item on all the checklists is to start packing one month out. The last time I moved, I rented a PODS container and started packing one month before the move. I packed boxes every night and carried them into the PODS. I didn’t have help for this move until the very end—I needed bodies to move some of the large furniture. It took me every bit of that month to get it all properly packed and ready to go. And I did a lot of purging along the way. I’m a beader and it took me two nights just to pack up all my beads! My point is this. I had to keep working full time like normal—this was before I started my organizing business—and I couldn’t afford to take off time to pack the house. So, I had to do it slow and steady. I did some every night, I did more on the weekends, and I took things to charity all throughout the month. I was tired at the end, and sick to death of packing, but it got done, I wasn’t exhausted and I didn’t move useless junk.

I’ve helped clients move and my number-one goal for any client is that they’re packed and ready to go the day before. We all need a good night’s sleep before a move and I will push super hard to make sure it’s all done so they can go to bed at a normal hour and get a good night’s rest. Then the next morning, they get up and have time for a shower and coffee and are standing around with nothing to do while the movers work. One client couple in particular that I’m thinking of were so relieved that morning of move day to be calm and fully rested, eating their bagels and coffee. It was so much less stressful for them and they could watch what the movers were doing without being in the movers’ way. Nothing will make a mover more angry that a client running around still packing when they show up. If they have to work around you, and haphazard piles of things on the floor, and furniture with stuff still inside, and boxes that are poorly packed, it totally messes with their game. It means they can’t pack their truck properly, it slows them down and costs you money. The moral of this story is, the sooner you start packing the better. And you better be 100% complete when the movers show up.

So how does this topic relate to those of you not moving? A move is a good premise to help you decide what to keep and what to toss. If you were 150 boxes into a packing project, would you want to keep this item? Would you be comfortable paying someone to carry it to a new location? Is it really worth transporting? It’s one thing to stow junk in the garage so you don’t have to deal with it right now, and a totally different thing to contemplate paying someone to move it. So, pretend you’re going to pack next week and then ask yourself if this item is worth packing. Imagine how tired you’ll be, imagine buying boxes at the store, imagine carrying that box to the van or paying someone to do so. Then imagine unpacking it at the other end and having to find a place for it. Is the item in front of you right now worth that amount of time, effort and cost? If not, then it’s time to let it go.

Imagining a move also helps you be more thorough. If you’re moving, all the contents of all the cabinets, closets and every nook and cranny of every room has to be emptied. We live spread out and stuffed into our home, but moving means contracting everything back into a portable form. Use that idea to help you tackle organizing a room. Pick a room, and imagine you’ve got to pack it up. Now go through everything and evaluate it as if you’re deciding whether to pack it up or not. This is a great way to help you get past all the usual blocks of purging things—it takes it up a notch and gives you the impetus to thin the herd.

Just like getting organized in general, moving requires time, effort and consistent steps to get there. Start early, purge as you go, and you’ll be in great shape when the movers knock on your door. 

These are the program notes from the April 24, 2014, meeting of the Houston Clutter Coaching Meetup Group. The group is free and open to the public. Visit the meetup group page to join the group and receive notifications of upcoming meetings.

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