How to Move from One House to Another Without Losing Your Mind

If you have ever moved, you know how much time and energy and sheer grit it takes to get from the decision to do it to the day you finally take a deep breath, put your feet up, and declare that you are “home.” Perhaps you start with the intention to downsize, to trade your big house for a much smaller condo. Or maybe you want to be closer to your children and grandchildren, so you pack up and move to wherever they are and prepare to start life in a whole new place. Whatever your reason, you know it’s going to take all of your organizational skills and patience to turn your plan into reality.

I have moved three times in three years and have come to think of the process as a three-part book: Part I is the Preface; part II is the Content—chapters; part III is the Epilogue.

One piece of advice before you plunge in: Moving is stressful! No matter how carefully you plan or how organized you are, a move from one house to another is a huge, complicated, exhausting job. Don’t expect to do it all in one day. Ideally, you should spread the move over several days, stop what you’re doing, and rest when you get tired, which you will. The appeal of being settled is strong, but remind yourself that you have time to do what has to be done. Your stress level and muscles will thank you for taking it slow.

Preface: What to do to prepare for the move

  1. Change your address at the post office or online. Forward all of your mail and magazine subscriptions to your new address.
  2. Update your address on all banking, medical, schools, charge cards, subscriptions, and online accounts.
  3. Switch your utilities to your new house.
  4. Mark each box with a color-coded label (one color for each room) and a note of its contents.
  5. Make a list of all of your valuables, especially jewelry. Take pictures of these items, furniture, and anything that is not packed in a carton.
  6. Pack an “essentials box” with everything you might need on your first night in the new house: bathroom supplies (toilet paper, Kleenex, soaps, shampoos, toiletries, toothbrush and toothpaste, towels, shower curtain); kitchen supplies (coffee or tea, coffee mugs, a few sets of silverware and dishes); and sheets for all the beds.
  7. Leave keys (optional) and garage door openers on the counter for the new owners. (They will probably change the locks after they move in.)
  8. Lock all doors and windows and turn off lights at the house you are leaving. (You might want to leave on one or two, so the house doesn’t look deserted.)
  9. Be sure you have cash on hand. You can’t use credit cards for everything, and you never know when you might need money.

Content: What to do during the actual move

 1.  Start by writing a to-do list. Just write down every single thing that comes to mind, no matter how insignificant. You will end up with a messy list, but a sense that you’ve covered everything. Next, rearrange the list in order of priority. What is the most important thing you need to do? What is the second must-do item? The list will go from most to least essential to-do items. Since your first list was a mind dump, you may eliminate some things that don’t have to be done right now.

2.  Turn on the utilities. Start with the power and water. Once you have the fundamental utilities, the next step is to arrange for your internet, phone, and any other necessary utilities.

3.  Clean the house. In the best of all possible worlds, the previous owners have thoroughly cleaned before they left. Even if the house is brand new, the builder probably had it cleaned before you were ready to move in. Nonetheless, before you put things away, take the time to wipe down kitchen surfaces, the insides of cabinets, bathroom fixtures, baseboards, windows, and closets. If the floors look like they could use a mop, postpone that job until later. If you can afford to hire someone to do this initial cleaning, you can lower your stress level and get on with unpacking.

4.  Locate the circuit breaker and main water valve. It’s important to find the circuit breaker and main water valve so that you know where they are before the need arises. Be sure the fuse controls are clearly marked and working properly. Test to make sure no water is leaking when the valve is turned off.

5.  Connect major appliances. Plug in your refrigerator, freezer, stove, oven, microwave, washer, and dryer. It’s a good idea to have the refrigerator sit for at least three hours before you install and connect it.

6.  Have new locks installed. Call a locksmith (preferably, in advance) and have new locks installed on all outside doors. Have your garage door opener reprogrammed. Check all smoke detectors to be certain they are working and have fresh batteries installed. Call the security company you used at your old home to have them assess your needs in the new house and install a security system.

7.  Inspect your boxes, especially if you used a moving company. Make sure all of your valuables and major furniture items are present and accounted for. Inspect furniture parts for scratches, chips, breaks, tears, and soil. Let your moving company know if something was damaged in the move so they can fix, replace, or reimburse you for the items. If you took pictures of all valuables and furniture before the move, you have proof of what everything looked like then as opposed to now.

8.  Unpack essentials. This is the time you will be grateful that you packed an essentials box. At the end of your first day, you will be tired and ready for a shower. In that box are all the things you need to help you unwind, clean up, and fall into bed on clean sheets.

9.  Take care of your pets. Family pets will need time to adjust to the new home. If possible, you probably took them here a few times to sniff out the new place and get acclimated. On moving day, it’s a good idea to leave them with friends or family so the tumult doesn’t drive them crazy. When you’re relatively settled, bring them in and let them get used to the new home one room at a time and run around outside. This helps them become acclimated to the new sounds and smells of the area

 10. Unpack. Start with the kitchen. Unpack the boxes one at a time, and put the items away. If you have labeled each box with its contents, you’ll have a head start on this process. Next, move onto the bedrooms to put your clothes in dresser drawers and closets. If you packed neatly to begin with, unpacking and putting things away will be easier.  Leave decor for later, focus on the essentials first. After the bedrooms, pick one room at a time to unpack. Perhaps start with the family room (or great room) because that’s where the family will spend much of its time. Continue unpacking one room at a time, remembering that there is no rush. Work at a comfortable pace, and stop when you’re tired.

Epilogue: What to do after the move

1.   Set up your home. Picture how you want each room to look. Start to organize areas. Hang pictures, put up curtains or drapes, rearrange furniture, add decorative touches, store items you won’t use immediately in storage bins or benches. If there are items you don’t have—throw pillows for the bed, an area rug, a small reading chair—if you can, purchase them.

2. Register your vehicle and change your address on your insurance. Registering your vehicles and switching your driver’s license are important. Deadlines are usually less than thirty days, which doesn’t give you much time. Check your local DMV to see when the deadline is. You’ll also need to transfer insurance over once you’ve moved into your new house so that they are current and local if you moved from out of state.

3. Meet and greet your new neighbors. What better way to start your new life than with your neighbors! Try to get the feel of the neighborhood. Do people seem friendly? Do they talk to each other? Do they walk their dogs or push their children in strollers? Do they reach out to you in some way? If they look receptive, start by introducing yourself and getting to know a few people. They may invite you over for dessert or a barbeque, or you might throw a casual open house. Reach out. Neighbors can become friends over time.

4. Congratulations! You’ve done it. You’re in your new home. It is set up the way you want it to look. You’re comfortable. You know your neighbors. And you did it all without losing your mind. Think of this book as a “best seller”!

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