How to Move: The Ultimate Game Plan and Timeline

There are so many things to do and plans to make, it can be overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you remember all the important things? How do you keep costs down?

The answer is to be prepared. Being a little proactive will reduce your stress and give you a guide to follow towards an anxiety-free move. Or at least a bit less nerve-wracking.

Whether you know well in advance that you’re heading to a new home or it’s a last-minute surprise, following along with this handy-dandy moving checklist will keep you moving forward.

Renting a new home

couple looking at an apartment

Before you pack up your life, it’s probably a good idea to know where you’re heading. Once you know where you’ll end up and what type of apartment it is, you’ll have a much better idea of how to plan your packing and moving strategy.

1. Decide what you’re looking for

There are almost as many variables of what kind of apartment you can rent as there are apartments, so you need to know what you want. Are you upsizing, downsizing or looking for the same square footage? How far from work or school or family do you want to be? The heart of the city or out in the burbs? What amenities and necessities are important? Are you most comfortable in an apartment building, duplex, rental house or something else? And most significantly, how much are you willing to pay?

First, grab yourself a pen and paper and make yourself an old-fashioned list of your must-haves and must-avoids. Then hit the search. There you can plug your desires into a dozen filters to find your perfect apartment based on location, price, size, amenities, pet-friendliness and more.

2. Put your best financial foot forward

When you find a selection of apartments in which you’re interested, it’s not as simple as picking one, saying, “Yes!” and signing on the dotted line. Your potential new landlord will need to decide if you’ll be a good tenant, and he or she will do a deep dive into your finances.

Your credit score is often held up as the key to your financial acceptance. But while having a good credit score is important, what a future landlord really wants to see is that you make (and will continue to make) enough to pay the rent. If your monthly salary is about 2.5 to 3 times the apartment’s rent, you don’t have a history of delinquent payments and haven’t been previously evicted, you’re probably good to go.

Now’s the time to clean up any financial loose ends and settle any credit disputes. And calculate your gross income to figure out your available rent budget.

3. Keep your eye on the prize

And when you do stumble onto your possibly perfect apartment, don’t get starry-eyed at all the awesome amenities and extras. Sure, that amazing view and high-tech gym and snazzy built-ins turn an average apartment into a must-have. But don’t lose sight of the small things you really can’t live without.

Look past that cool techy fridge and make sure there are enough power outlets and cable hookups, a good parking spot, a strong cell signal and the right amount of water pressure in the shower.

4. Don’t drown in application fees

The first time you contact an apartment you’re interested in, ask if there’s an application fee. Application fees are used by landlords to cover the cost of running your credit, financial and criminal histories and are usually charged for each adult that’s going to live in the unit.

You might find a slew of great apartments that meet your demands, but you still have to be discerning. The more apartments you apply to, the more you’re going to shell out in fees.

All that being said, in high-demand areas and big cities, you might have to put an application in right away to secure an apartment everyone wants before it’s gone.

5. Give appropriate notice

Before you sign any new lease or make plans to move out, carefully look at your current lease and be sure you’re following your non-renewal or early-termination clauses to a tee. See how far in advance you need to give your landlord notice, and if you have to do it in writing. Follow all rules to restore your apartment to good condition. Fail to follow these guidelines and you may incur penalties or loss of deposit.

6. Take a breather before you sign on the dotted line

Ninety percent of all leases are standard, and even among that other 10 percent, 90 percent of those will be boilerplate. But for any lease, be aware of any and all rules and procedures contained therein. Look for things like pet deposits, late fees, visitor rules, termination guidelines and other important clauses, and make sure it’s all copacetic to you.

Yes, leases are long and full of legalese but don’t sign anything until you fully understand everything in it. And if you have questions, ask.

The last month before moving

preparing to move

1. Decide on how you’ll move

Hiring movers can be expensive, but there’s so much stress and work and uncertainty that the money might be worth it. Moving yourself involves packing, renting a truck, carrying and lifting all your possessions into it, driving (possibly multiple vehicles) to a new location and unpacking everything you just packed – without breaking anything or driving yourself nuts. That’s a lot to ask.

If you decide to go with a mover, do a ton of research and read reviews. If you’re moving on your own, start looking at trucks and asking favors of friends. In either case, you should have your truck reserved or your moving company hired at least four weeks before your move.

2. Know what’s going and what isn’t

It’s time to take inventory of everything in your house. Go room to room, corner to corner, and decide what’s going to your new place, what’s getting donated and what’s getting trashed.

Use a handy inventory worksheet to get yourself started. Tag with Post-It Notes. Once you have an idea of how much stuff is moving with you, you can figure out how big a truck you need and how much it’s going to cost.

3. Stacking boxes

Now that you know how much stuff you’re moving, you can figure out how many boxes you’re going to need to put it all in. Then, take that number and increase it by 25 percent just to be safe. You can buy all the boxes you need at the local U-Haul dealer, office superstore or from Amazon – unless you’ve stashed away all the boxes your deliveries came in.

To save some money, get creative. Talk to the manager at your supermarket or at the dollar store to see if you can grab some from them before they break them down. See what the shipping manager at your work has stashed away. And don’t forget the packing tape, bubble wrap and color-coded labels.

4. Connect yourself

Before you even hit the road, contact all the utility providers in your new neighborhood and schedule connections. Call the water, sewer, power and trash collection companies and give them a service start date. If you’re moving to an area with the same cable and internet company you’re already using, they’ll make the transition almost seamless. If it’s a new one, ask about new subscriber deals and set up a home service call.

Go to and arrange a forwarding day for your mail. And connect with your credit card company and insurance providers to update to your new address. Additionally, don’t forget to close out any safe deposit boxes and storage units, update pet ID tags and get a copy of your medical records from your doctor (as well as a recommendation for a new one).

5. Pack it up

You know what you’re bringing, you have your boxes and you have your handy packing tape gun. It’s time to start packing. Make your unpacking easier by being organized when you pack it up. Every room gets its own boxes. Label. Every. Box. Color code your labels. You can even sub-label, like in the kitchen box, make separate boxes for things that go in the cabinets, in the drawers and on the counters.

Use more bubble wrap and packing peanuts than you think you need because nothing puts a damper on move-in day like broken dishes. Get specialty boxes for expensive and big items like your TVs and delicate heirlooms. Start with the things you won’t need over the next few weeks and keep packing as you get closer.

The final week before

packing for move

1. Enlist help

If you’re moving on your own, you’ll need friends and neighbors to help. Lifting stuff all day will hurt your back and arms, even with an army of hand trucks. At the very least, your friends and family can help keep you sane and on track – as well as help you back up the truck without hitting anything.

Even if you’re using movers, there’s always help to be had. Let your friends get lunch or help pack your personal car. And if you have kids, let friends babysit so you don’t have to move all your stuff with kids underfoot. Start asking now (and bribe with pizza).

2. Gather the last minute items

Obviously not everything is going on the truck, whether it’s the pros or a U-Haul. Start making up your keep-with-you boxes for stuff you’ll need as soon as you get to your destination or want to stay near you.

Safely pack up items you’re afraid will be lost or break, like antiques, climate-susceptible artwork, expensive jewelry, collectibles and family heirlooms. Make a space in your car for important documents such as legal papers, insurance, medical and financial records, mortgage and rental papers, birth certificates, prescriptions, passports and moving contracts.

And then, also pack a move-in box with immediate needs like toilet paper, fresh clothes, batteries, box-cutters, food for your pets and toys for the kids.

3. A kitchen cleaning

You’ll need to get all your perishable items out of your home. Don’t throw them away, have a moving party, instead! Get rid of all your fruit and ice cream and leftover meatloaf by inviting everyone over for an “Eat It Until It’s Gone” party.

Once your fridge is empty, give it a good cleaning and don’t leave anything behind. When everything is out of your freezer, set aside at least a day to defrost. If you’re actually moving your fridge with you, do all this at least two days sooner. Leftover food or an uncleaned dishwasher could result in forfeiture of a portion of your security deposit.

4. Make some room for the truck

Regardless of whether you’re renting a box truck or the moving company is bringing in a semi, you’re going to have to make room. In an apartment building or complex, ask your landlord or building supervisor for the best place for the truck to park (preferably near an exit or elevator) and have them set aside the space.

If you have a driveway, clear it out and move your car. If you’re in a residential neighborhood and will use the street, ask your neighbors to leave the spaces clear and set up cones if you can (in general, it’s a good idea to inform your neighbors their access might be blocked or hindered). And if you’re in the city, find out if you need any sort of permits from the city to park (or double park) in the street and what the best spot is to not obstruct traffic.

Move out day

moving out

1. Track your movers

If you did hire movers, be in touch with the office or the driver starting first thing in the morning. Get an update on the time you expect them and how many people they’re bringing. Double check they have a place to park. Grab some waters, chips and fruit to give the movers a break over the long day.

As the movers carry your stuff in and out, take some photos (both of your items and anywhere in your apartment or hallway you think they may have scuffed) in case of a dispute. Compare the driver’s inventory sheet to the one you made. Make sure you get the driver’s full name, cell phone number and the truck’s license plate so you can contact them for updates over the course of the move. And be nice to your movers – it’s a tough job.

2. Do a final inspection

Once everything is loaded onto the truck and in your car (and before anyone leaves), do one more walkthrough around your place. Check every corner and every cabinet and every closet to make sure nothing will be left behind.

Double check the movers haven’t damaged any walls or doorways. When it’s all clear, let the driver know he can take off. Before you walk out for good, turn off the water, HVAC and any appliances.

Move in day

moving in

1. Checking out your new place

If you’re using a moving company, there’s a good chance you’ll arrive at your new digs before your stuff. Now is a good time to make sure all the utilities you ordered are up and working.

Look around to see if there’s any repair work that needs to be done and inform the landlord so it can be completed before the bustle of movers take over. You can also use this time to create a floor plan of the apartment online and virtually decide where all your furniture is going to go.

2. Meet the movers

Stay in touch with your movers to get updates on their ETA. Be there when they arrive. As the drivers unload your stuff, check every piece of furniture and the outside of every box for damage, photograph it and notate it on the driver’s inventory form and notify the moving company. Additionally, add the note “Subject to inspection for loss or concealed damage” on every driver’s form, in case you discover damage as you unpack your boxes.

Just like when they packed up, have some water and snacks available for your movers as they’re unloading your stuff, as well.

3. Unpack necessities first

Remember the last-minute box you packed with thing you’ll need along the way? Find that and you’ll have things like toilet paper and a change of clothes. Open up other boxes containing immediate need items like sheets and bedding, towels, charging cords, plastic-ware and paper plates. Start making your house a home before you dump everything out of boxes.

Welcome home!


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