The Only Apartment Moving Guide You’ll Ever Need as a Renter

With a little planning, you can take the sting out of moving.

Moving is stressful. There are a hundred things on your moving checklist (if you even have one), a million things to pack, supplies to buy, errands to run and something always seems to go wrong at the last minute.

This moving guide makes your move easier. From where to get supplies to tips for moving with your kids (two-legged and four-legged), it's all here.

In this guide:

Types of moves

You have three options for your move: doing it all yourself, hiring professionals or combining the two. The latter is becoming increasingly common in these days of gig work and budgeting.

DIY moving

This is exactly what it sounds like — you do everything yourself, usually with the help of your spouse and/or a few friends or family members. You pack your things, load them, haul them to your new place, unload them and unpack them again. Most people who choose this option rent a truck from a professional company unless they have access to a large-bed pickup.

DIY moves are by far the cheapest, especially if you can borrow a truck, but they're also the hardest on you both physically and mentally. Moving is hard work. You'll also have to get help from others unless you're one of the few people who can move furniture all by themselves!

Renting a moving truck

While you can use your own vehicle to move, renting a truck to carry the big items is necessary, especially for big moves. While it adds significantly to moving expenses, having a fewer trips or vehicles to manage frequently makes the moving process simpler.

Professional moving

You can choose from any number of professional moving companies to get you moved and settled into your new place. Some companies only do local moves, some only go a certain distance and some are interstate moving companies that operate nationwide.

Most moving companies offer a range of service levels. The most expensive but least involved on your end is full-service. If you hire a company for a full-service move, they will come in, pack all of your things for you, move them and unpack them again.

The majority of people choose lower levels of moving services, either a move-only level (in which you pack and unpack everything yourself) or a combination of the two, where the moving company will pack and unpack a certain percentage of your goods.

How to find a professional moving company

Be careful when you start researching moving companies. Prices can vary widely from one company to another. Try to get quotes from several different companies. Get in-home estimates if possible, rather than over the phone or online.

Check the reviews of each company you consider and look up their rating at the BBB. Make sure each company is insured and bonded. Get the estimates in writing and find out exactly what's included in each quote. Ask detailed questions about who covers damages and when. This moving company guide will give you more information on what to look for when you research moving companies.

It's also important to understand that there are limitations to what moving companies. Even if a moving company does everything they can to give you a "stress-free move", you are still packing up your entire life and moving to another location. They can take care of a lot, but they can never take care of all the details.

Hybrid moving

The final option is the hybrid move. This is a move in which you provide the equipment, either a truck that you own or rent, and hire people to help you load and unload your belongings. This is the most efficient combination of professional and DIY moving and is increasingly popular for that reason. Many websites and gig platforms will let you book people for moving services like this, in addition to the usual method of asking or bribing a friend or family member (or, more likely, several).

Professional movers

Moving costs

Moving is expensive no matter where you move or how you do it. In addition to deposits and utility fees, you have to pay for the move itself. Forbes reported in September 2021 that the average cost of a local move had climbed to $1,400 nationwide. Long-distance moves are even more expensive ranging from $2,200-$5,700. And this is just the cost of physically moving your items — it doesn't include packing supplies!

Go over your moving checklist well before your move and estimate the cost of each item. How much do you expect to spend on packing supplies? What about gas? If you're renting a truck, how much will it cost? Will you need to pay for the extra insurance or will your credit card cover it?

Relocation Guide

If you're moving long-distance, you'll need to decide how many days the move will take. If you're driving, you'll need to plan for gas, meals on the road and hotel rooms. If you're going to fly, you'll need to factor in the cost of airline tickets. Will you encounter any new or unusual expenses in your new city? This is where a guide for your specific destination is helpful.

Once you've mapped out all the costs, create a budget for your move and add up all the expenses. You can reduce the expense by doing as much of the labor as possible yourself and by decluttering and downsizing before the move, but it's still expensive and you have to plan accordingly.

Moving in-town vs. long-distance

Moving across town is different from moving long-distance. Here are a few of the things to consider for each kind of move.

1. Multiple trips vs. one

If you're moving in-town, you can make multiple trips to and from your new place. That will allow you to use a smaller truck or even forego a one if you wish and return to your old place for your walk-through and cleaning after you're in the new one. You can't do that if you're moving across the country. That's a one-and-done trip. You'll need to take everything at once and be finished with the old place before you pull out of the drive.

2. Moving in one day vs. multiple days

Moving long-distance is a multi-day affair. You can finish an in-town move before dinner time, but over long distances you need to plan for hotels, gas (or plane tickets) and meals along the way. What you can take in your car is going to vary, as well.

3. The extent of your downsizing

Downsizing and decluttering have become a normal part of moving in America. You'll need to do a lot more of both if you're moving long-distance rather than across town, however. The cost to move an item goes up exponentially with distance. Moving an item cross-town might cost pennies if you have extra room on the truck. Moving that same item cross-country may cost many times what it's worth once you factor in space on the truck, loading and unloading labor and gas to the destination. It's often cheaper to replace many non-sentimental items rather than move them.

It's better to finish the process at your old place rather than your new one. Go through and discard as much as possible before the move so you don't get into your new place and have to navigate a sea of boxes for the first few weeks or months.

Holding a garage sale

A garage sale can help with two parts of the moving process: decluttering and helping to cover moving expenses. While selling your stuff can will take a lot of time and effort, you can make your upcoming move easier by getting rid of things and help make sure you have enough money for everything.

4. Your moving checklist and moving to-do list will be different

You're going to have a lot more things to do in a long-distance move than in a local one. You'll also want to get relocation guides for your new city.

packing for a move

How to pack for your move

Packing and unpacking is arguably the worst part of moving. Hopefully, these tips will help make it easier.

1. Create a moving packing list

Before you get started, sit down and create a moving packing list. This will help you know what to pack when. You'll be able to mark things off as you complete them and know how much you've got left to do. This will take some of the stress out of the packing process.

2. Find supplies for your move

You have many options for getting moving supplies. If you're hiring a full-service mover, you don't need to worry about it. Otherwise, it's at the top of your list of things to do. You can choose to buy supplies, look for reused supplies or use a combination of the two.

You can purchase moving boxes at any big box store, home improvement center or specialty moving center. They come in a wide range of standard sizes. You're going to need a variety of boxes — smaller ones for heavy items and large boxes for bulky, lightweight items.

Tape, bubble wrap and other packaging supplies can also be bought at the same locations. You might need to order specialty supplies like TV boxes and dish kits, so plan ahead.

Even if you plan to reuse or adapt other boxes instead of buying moving boxes, consider investing in new, specialty packaging for any valuable or heirloom items you want to protect. A dish kit will keep your expensive dishes much safer than bubble wrap and a reused box!

Where to find free moving boxes

Finding boxes to reuse and adapt for moving is easy if you start ahead of time. Here are some ideas to find free boxes:

  • Grocery stores and liquor stores will be happy to give you their empty boxes. Call or go in and ask the manager.
  • People who've just finished moving often put their empty boxes on the curb and post on social media that they're free for the taking. You can post yourself on sites such as Facebook, Nextdoor, Craigslist and others and ask for boxes.
  • Some towns also have a recycling center with a special section set aside for boxes and allow people to drop off and pick up boxes as needed. Check with your town's recycling division to see if they have one. If you're moving long-distance, you can also drop your used boxes off if your new town has one.

Even fillers and bubble wrap are free if you're creative:

  • Many offices throw it out and are more than happy to let employees take it.
  • Packing stores (UPS, FedEx, etc.) are often prohibited from reusing it and will let you have the used filler if you ask.
  • Make sure to check social media sites like Craigslist.

3. Packing order for your move

Start with rarely used and seasonal items and work your way towards things you use every day. If it's summer, start by packing the winter clothing and holiday decorations. If it's winter, pack the grill and summer gear first. Pack books and collectibles before dishes you use daily.

Here are some tips for packing up boxes:

  1. Use the right size box. Small boxes are best for heavy items and large boxes for lightweight ones. Try to fit the size of the box to the contents — you don't want a lot of extra space in the boxes. Not only will they take up more room on the moving truck, but they could get crushed by heavier boxes sitting on top of them and the contents could be damaged.
  2. Tape the boxes well on the bottom using moving tape. You don't want any accidents!
  3. Put the heaviest items in first. Then, add lightweight items on top to finish filling up the box.
  4. Wrap fragile items well with bubble wrap or other protective packaging. You can buy specialty boxes for TVs, dishes and other items.
  5. Don't combine items from multiple rooms in the same box. This will make unpacking much easier.
  6. Tape the top of each box well to prevent spills.
  7. Label each box with the room it goes in using a permanent marker.
  8. Keep things you'll need right away at your new place, such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies, out until the very end. Pack them separately and label them so they're obvious. Make sure they get stacked together in an easy-to-get-to location at your new place.
  9. Keep important items yourself. There are always valuables or important documents that you don't want to leave in the hands of the moving company, no matter how trustworthy they are. Separate these and handle them yourself during the move.

4. Create a moving inventory list

This is a list of everything that's moving with you. List how many boxes and what size they are, how many pieces of furniture from each room, sporting equipment, specialty boxes and all your other belongings. You may think this isn't important, and if you're doing a DIY move you can skip it, but if you're hiring a moving company, they're going to want a moving inventory list so that they can account for your belongings and make sure they have everything loaded and unloaded.

This will be especially important if your items are shipping together with other people's belongings. The movers will use your moving inventory list to make certain nothing is left behind when changing trucks.

Unpacking boxes

Unpacking after your move

In general, you're going to want the unpacking process to go in the reverse order in which you packed. You can take that moving packing list you've created and reverse it. Start with the boxes you packed last and labeled a priority. The kitchen and the bathroom are highest on your list for unpacking and out-of-season items and decorative items are last.

If you're starting a new job a few days after the move, set aside and unpack work clothes first. If you're moving from one climate to another (summer to winter or vice versa) make sure you have clothes for the proper season handy.

Moving with kids and/or pets

As stressful as moving is for adults, it's even harder on our kids and pets. Their lives are suddenly upended and everything they know changes all at once. Favorite belongings disappear into boxes, they leave their home and have to adjust to a new one. It's no wonder both children and pets suffer from anxiety during moves!

Moving tips with kids

When you are relocating with children, follow these tips to make the experience easier for you and them.

  1. Keep out some of their favorite toys and comfort objects. This will make it easier for them to adjust. Either pack these items last or transport them in your car.
  2. Have their favorite foods on hand. Kids often lose their appetite during a move. This makes them even more stressed and cranky to boot. Keeping items they enjoy on hand will tempt their appetites.
  3. Have activities and games available to keep them busy during the move. Coloring books, games, videos and the like will give them something to do while you pack and clean. You should also plan plenty of things for them to do in the car or on the plane if you're moving long-distance.
  4. Get them out of the way during loading and unloading. Try to do these things while they're at school or arrange for a babysitter if you can. Not only will this portion of the move cause them the most anxiety and stress, but it's dangerous. Kids can easily get seriously injured during a move.
  5. Involve them in the move. Kids preschool age and above will get excited if you let them pick things out for their new room or let them set it up. Even letting them pick out something as simple as a new blanket for their bed can tamp down their anxiety!

Moving tips for pets

Your furry family members also need additional considerations when you move. If anything, they get even more stressed than children about moving. This is especially the case for most cats. Here are some tips to make it easier on them.

  1. Keep their food and necessary supplies or medications out. You don't want to accidentally pack the dog food and not be able to find it for days!
  2. Keep special toys and comfort items handy. Pack your dog's favorite toy and his crate in your car and not on the moving truck.
  3. Get comfy crates or carriers for the move. This is most important for long-distance moves — you want your animals comfortable during the trip.
  4. Buy travel supplies ahead of time. If you're moving long-distance, you need to purchase things like disposable cat litter trays well in advance of the move. The last thing you want is to check into a hotel in a strange city and not have any litter for the cat.
  5. Keep them out of the way during the move. You can crate dogs and confine your cats to carriers or you can board them. But keep them out of the way to prevent them from getting loose or injured.
  6. Consider medication for serious anxiety issues. Sometimes, moving is so hard on our pets that they need more help than we can give them on our own to get through it. If you have a pet with a serious anxiety issue, ask your vet if there's any medication they can take the day of (or days, for long-distance moves) to help make it easier on them.

moving with a dog

Moving timeline

You may think you have plenty of time, but there are things you can start doing even two months before your move out date. It's important to establish a timeline to help keep you on track and prevent the stress of getting to be too much. As soon as you have a moving date, you should start preparing.

8 weeks before you move

If you start preparing for your move 8 weeks in advance, you'll have plenty of lead time to get everything done. Now is the time to find your new rental and sign your lease. Confirm details about your new place, including the move date. Contact moving companies for estimates or reserve your moving truck. Start collecting moving supplies and pack things you won't use again until after the move. This is a good time to start work on downsizing and decluttering, as well.

Now is the time to request time off work, even though it's weeks before your move. Also, start looking for babysitters or pet boarding for your pets if you need them for the move.

This is the time to get your guide for your new city if necessary and to make sure your moving checklist is ready to go.

6 weeks before you move

Continue downsizing if you haven't finished. Pack more items you can do without until after you get settled. Out-of-season clothing and toys should all be packed by now. (This doesn't apply if you're hiring a full-service mover, of course.) Start eating up the food in your pantry, fridge and freezer. If there's more food than you know what to do with, start giving some to a local food bank.

Now is the time to decide on and retain a moving company. If you wait any longer, you probably won't get your first pick of professional movers. Companies book up fast, especially during peak season.

4 weeks before you move

Pack important documents, like passports and birth certificates, and keep them handy or transfer them. Notify your children's school and cancel any local memberships. Let your homeowner's or renter's insurance company know you're moving and give them your new address. Start gathering the supplies you need for the trip for yourself, your kids and your pets. As always, keep working your way through your moving checklist.

This is also a good time to book hotels and other services you'll need during your move if it's going to take several days. This is a good time to make sure you have your travel arrangements all taken care of. Continue packing.

2 weeks before you move

Confirm that your moving company or truck is still reserved. Contact your utility providers and schedule cutoff dates for your current address. Set up utilities at your new address.

If you've been packing for the last 6 weeks, you're most of the way there. Now, you should start packing things you use every day. Continue emptying the fridge and the freezer.

1 week before you move

Put in your change of address with the postal company. Confirm the arrival time with your movers. Finish packing over the course of this week. Start cleaning your current place so you'll get your security deposit back.

Confirm the move-in day and time for your new place. If it's local, make sure you'll get the keys before the movers show up at your current house or you won't have any place for them to put your stuff!

The day before move out day

Finish packing and cleaning today. Set aside everything you'll need right away at the new place in boxes labeled something like “First Day" or “Keep Handy." Consider moving these in your car instead of the truck regardless of how you're transporting the rest of your belongings. This will help keep them from being lost.

The move out day

Make sure everything is ready to go. Get pets and kids out from underfoot before the movers arrive.

Once everything is out of your old place, finish your deep clean and do a final walk-through before you turn in the keys.

Unpacking groceries

Getting set up after your move

Settling into your new place is the best part of moving. You get to mark off the final things on that moving checklist and throw it away. Before unpacking, you need to get some administrative tasks settled.

Security deposits

You'll need to pay this fee when you move into your new home. You often pay on the move-in day when you get the keys. Factor this into your budget. Don't count on getting the security deposit from your old place back before you have to pay the new deposit. It can take 6-8 weeks to get the check from your old property management company.

Set up utilities at your new place

Many landlords are going to want proof that you've set up utilities in your name at the new address when you pay your security deposit and pick up your keys. You should take care of this well in advance so you don't move into a house without power!

See the timeline above for when to arrange utility turn-ons, but also confirm that it's done before you arrive. The owner or manager of your new rental can give you the name of the various utility companies that service your new address. You don't want to have to deal with no power on your move-in date.

Walk-through and move-in/move-out checklists

You'll need to do a walk-through of your new apartment before the movers arrive and fill out a move-in checklist detailing any items that are in poor condition or need repair. Your landlord may give you one or you can download and print one from the web. Sign it and give it to your landlord soon after moving in. This is a vital step to ensuring that you get your security deposit back when you move out!

You'll also have to do a final walk-through of your old place and fill out the same or a similar checklist. Don't skip this step if you want your deposit back!

Damaged/missing items after the move

As much as we want things to go well during a move, it doesn't always happen. Sometimes things get damaged or go missing in transit. Get clear on what happens in this event before the move. If you're doing a DIY move, obviously you're responsible, but damages might still be covered by your insurance or that of the company you rent the truck from.

If you're hiring movers, find out who's responsible for problems before you sign a contract. Get it in writing. You don't want your movers to damage a piece of heirloom furniture and then tell you that you're on your own for repairing it!

Keep this information handy during the move so you'll be able to access it quickly if you discover something missing or damaged while you're settling into your new place. This is also where you're going to use that moving inventory list you created before your move. One of the first things you need to do after you get to your new home is to go through the list and make certain everything there and undamaged. If not, you need to file a claim as soon as possible.

Post-moving bureaucracy

Now that you've moved in, you're still not done with everything. You have a lot of bureaucracy to face, with how much you have to do depending on just how far you've moved. Most of these should be started beforehand, but can't always be finished until you've moved in.

Mail forwarding

You're going to be getting mail at your old address for a while, but you can set up mail forwarding with your local post office to resolve that. You can even set it all up online, without needing to go anywhere.

Your employer

If you're still working for the same company, they're going to need to update their records. Contact your employer and payroll department to update your address and any other relevant information to them.

Doctors and medical records

Unless you just moved down the hall or down the street, you'll likely need to find a new doctor, dentist, and any other relevant medical professional. Check with your previous doctor, who may be able to provide recommendations in your new location, along with sending along your medical records.

Finding a new school

If you have kids, they're going to have to go to a new school. While searching for schools should be done beforehand as much as possible, finishing up the paperwork and meeting with administrators is in your future once you've moved to a new location.

Voter registration

In your new location, you'll have to register to vote again. Contacting your local voter's registration office will help you start the process, just make sure you don't forget to in all the stress of moving.

Vehicle registration and insurance

This is especially relevant if you move to another state. How long do you have in your new state until you have to register your vehicle? Does your auto insurance transfer between states, can you just update your policy, or do you need a new one entirely?

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