The Art of Packing (For Those of Us Who Keep Moving)

A week ago today, I was knee deep in “stuff,” attempting to pack for a two-part move while finishing chemistry homework and studying for a quiz. I’ve packed and moved so many times now (7 full-blown moves since graduating from college… so far) that perhaps I’ve learned a thing or two about the whole process.

Piled up crates. San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

In fact, this last move, I tried to combine every tidbit I had learned over the years in hopes that this poorly timed move could be as efficient, smooth, and stress-free (on me AND the movers) as possible. I must have done an ok job, because — midway through the move — the two movers told me I should write a book on “how to pack to make it easy on movers.” As the child of a super-organized, neat-freak mother (of five children in an apartment in New York City — let’s just say she needed to learn a few tricks to stay sane), this was a sweet, sweet victory. It aint no book, and I am no expert on the subject, but hey — I might as well share what I have learned.

It all begins with my secret weapon: The Container Store. Gone are the days of cardboard boxes, 20 randomly sized and assorted duffle bags or zipper-less sacks. It’s all about the reusable, durable, stackable, hard-shelled plastic storage bin (Ta-Da!). The beautiful thing about these bins is that you can fit all the oddly shaped things — kitchen knives, mugs, coffee pots, vases, shoes — in them, and end up with a very neatly packaged mish-mosh of stuff. Not only does it protect your stuff from getting crushed, but it also protects YOU from accidental pokes! These bins, which are called “sweater bins” by the Container Store, are also perfect for packing clothing; you can put a ton in them (folded neatly, of course), and you can easily see right into the transparent bin so you always know what’s inside. It also comes in handy when you want to find your very favorite pair of purple spandex shorts… Just sayin’. (I may or may not be speaking from experience here…)

Tiles. Argentina.

Not only are these bins perfect alternatives to lumpy duffle bags and fickle cardboard boxes, but they are great for storing off-season clothing throughout the year. That, and they stack really well, taking up almost no space when empty. They are the perfect size for carrying, so that each bin is never too heavy for one person to hold, and they utilize storage space efficiently and effectively. I can’t worship them any more than I already have, so I will stop there.

As much as I’d like to take credit for this idea, it’s all my Mom’s. She is the Queen of Packing, and she taught me everything she knows. I have taken her knowledge and applied it over and over again, developing my own techniques and working off of hers until maybe now I have become somewhat of a pro-packer in my own right. Or so I shall pretend, as mentioned, for just this one post… Humor me. (Just for the record: A friend asked me to write this post, believe it or not!)

Unfortunately, my move has been a two-part move, so I did what any slightly OCD (well, not really OCD, but I am neat and like to be organized! And now I’m getting defensive, so I will stop talking…) person would do: I color-coded with Post-Its. Ah yes, this is how you move from the level of a good packer to a GREAT one! After assembling all my things into their various plastic bins, I had one of two Post-It colors taped to the side of each bin: yellow or blue. Yellow  meant STORAGE. Blue meant HOME.

Neatly stacked logs at Estancia Dos Talas in Dolores, Argentina.

If anyone has ever used movers before, you know that they move quickly, so you’ve got to make it easy and obvious what they’re moving, and where it’s going. The plastic bins, while protecting your things, allow them to also see how heavy something might be, and — perhaps more importantly — how fragile! This works out for everyone in the end, trust me.

As the movers plowed through my neatly stacked assortment of plastic bins, I watched with slightly awkward gratification, (it’s weird to watch other people do manual labor when I secretly love doing it myself). I had a moment of happiness when they began communicating in terms of my Post-Its — “Is this is a yellow or a blue?” “That’s a yellow, yellow means storage, let’s put that in the truck last.” “OK, cool.” Yippy! (OK, you neat-freaks get it — all the rest of you, I can hear you making fun of me through the Internet, so shush!)

Neatly packed petals. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

When all seems to be going smoothly, there is one thing that gets me every time I move: the final odds and ends. This is officially the hardest “stuff” to pack, because the seemingly endless pile of things-you-don’t-need-but-don’t-want-to-throwout-because-you-paid-for-them always requires more bags than you estimate. Yes, ALWAYS, no matter how good of an estimator you are (and I used to be pretty good — I once estimated how many candy corns were in a giant jar in my high school and won the whole thing! I was off of 5,000-something by 11 CANDY CORNS! Yep, I remember, and I still feel pretty awesome about it, so just let me have my moment…).

So what else? Basically, when it comes to packing, you can either let the stuff decide how much you have, or you can let your bags and bins decide; I let the bags and bins decide. If I have too much, I donate the rest. There is a sort of Buddhist, cleansing aspect to moving. It always requires letting go of attachments, both materialistic and emotional, and hopefully some element of giving (away, to others). I used to have so much trouble letting go of things, but now I welcome it and look forward to it.

But before you start giving away your favorite pairs of argyle socks, when you think you’ve used all the space you have and it looks like a large duffle bag is completely full — think again! Start rolling clothing into a ball and filling all the air pockets you’ve created (you’d be amazed how much more you can fit this way!). Socks and workout clothes are great for filling in random gaps because you won’t care if they get wrinkled and usually they are the perfect fit for these spaces.

Also, I never ever pack anything that can spill without a ziplock bag. If you haven’t learned this lesson yet — you will. Especially when you fly and the air pressure starts messing with your fancy lotion. It’s easy, and makes toiletries really easy to find: just get a few large ziplock bags, cram as many bottles as you can into each one, and zip (-lock). Obviously, you don’t pack these bags in the “fancy clothes duffle,” which is for the stuff that must be removed as soon as you move and placed back on hangers. Duh.

Gaucho. Dolores, Argentina.

The bottom line is: MOVING IS STRESSFUL. Yes, every single time, for everyone. BUT, there are many ways to make it much less stressful, and that is my goal every single move. I’m still working on it, and unfortunately I anticipate much more practice over the next few years, but hopefully each time it will get easier until — some day — I actually stay put. Now there’s an intriguing idea…

No move is flawless, but with a few plastic bins — I’m telling you — the movers/your awesome friends who offer to help you will be MUCH happier, and so will you.

Finally, with that in mind, the perfect move should always end with a cocktail, a beer, or a glass of wine with a friend. This is a final touch that I can honestly say I have perfected. A special shout-out to all the friends/ex-boyfriends/family members who have helped me with my many moves, and to the ones who will (hopefully!) help me in the future: you make moving bearable, and I think I speak for everyone who’s had this sort of help when I say we appreciate it more than you know. [Now recruiting volunteers for part 2 of my move to Boston — both for the move, and for the drinks afterwards!]

Alright. I have some final exams to study for and a good schvitz to squeeze into this drizzly spring morning. I hope there were some helpful hints in there, and if not — well, there’s always the next post. (Please feel free, as always, to contribute your own packing tips as a comment!)

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Filed under Life Stuff, Uncategorized

6 responses to “The Art of Packing (For Those of Us Who Keep Moving)

  1. edjo

    This is great! I’m getting a whole case of those storage boxes. I love that they stack into each other!! And then I can save them for my next (sigh) move.

    • travelswithtavel

      Yay! So glad I could share the secret of the plastic bins with the world… Good luck with your next move(s)!!

  2. Geordie

    Hey Tavel, having just helped a friend move yesterday this was a timely and interesting post. I think we can all aspire to having that level of organization and making this stressful event as pain-free as possible. My friend still had the traditional card-board boxes and she didn’t have the post-it notes, but her engineer boyfriend had made a computer print-out of the new apartments layout, showing where every piece of large furniture was meant to go! Also, I would add don’t forget drinks for your movers, or at least some unpacked cups so they can get a drink before the kitchen stuff is unpacked. Also, best of luck with the move and this next chapter in the Rachel Tavel story!

    • travelswithtavel

      I already knew you were a good friend to have, but now it has been confirmed! Nice of you to help out your friend. I bet you would have appreciated the bins! Thanks for the luck, Geordie. I’ll catch you soon after my finals end to catch up 🙂 OH – and yes, I always offer the movers a glass of water (which is usually all I have at the time). But most of them come with their own water bottles. And they’re cool because they let me sit in the front of the truck once everything is all load — whoohoo! I’ve had some pretty deep conversations with movers in trucks. Random fact.

  3. selena

    great! you make me want to move. actually you make me want to buy plastic boxes just to start anticipating a future move! love, Selena

    • travelswithtavel

      Ha! Well then I’ve done my job! But don’t get me wrong — I hate moving. I’m just trying to make it as zen as possible 🙂 Thanks for reading, Selena. Sending a hug to Paris! love, tavel

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