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How to DIY Your Next Move Without Going Insane

Family unloading a moving van and bringing the boxes into their new home.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Moving is stressful, no matter what—but it’s also expensive. That’s why many people opt to go the DIY route and keep costs down. Here are some tips for doing your next move yourself.

Let’s look at the details for a DIY move, such as recruiting your friends, hiring extra help, the best boxes to use, and some packing and unpacking tips. Don’t worry—you totally got this!

Recruit All Your Friends

Try to spend moving day surrounded by as many friends as possible. The more hands you have on deck, the easier and more fun it’ll be. Those who aren’t strong enough to lift heavy boxes can do random jobs, like hauling last-minute donations to the thrift store, picking up pizza, or cleaning.

You can wrangle friends, coworkers, relatives, and even your kids’ babysitter to help out. The more, the merrier—and the faster you’ll get done.

It’s also worth hiring some help. They’ll help you load and unload, but don’t drive the truck. They’re also paid an hourly rate (plus tip). You can look into Hire A Helper, as well as smaller companies that enlist local college students. Just make sure the hired helpers are bonded or insured.

Definitely reimburse your friends. Most are happy to help in exchange for some pizza, ice cream bars, snacks, or a cold beer at the end of the day. Don’t forget to have some chilled bottled water on hand, too. If you’re moving locally, a home-cooked meal for everyone after you’ve settled into your new place is a nice bonus.

Make sure to blast some catchy tunes to keep everyone’s spirits high, and try to avoid making anyone feel overworked.

Book Your Vehicle and Equipment

When it comes to DIY moving, you have to coordinate and schedule everything yourself. Make sure you plan well in advance, as trucks and trailers can book out—especially if your move falls on a long weekend or the day college lets out.

Here are some details to consider when booking your moving equipment.

Renting a Truck

Most truck rental companies spell out the approximate size of their trucks, such as “big enough to fit 1-2 bedrooms of stuff.” If you’re moving within 30 minutes or so of your current location, a smaller truck will usually do, as you can make multiple trips. Smaller trucks are also cheaper, easier to drive, and more manageable to park on tight streets. However, if you’re moving farther away—especially cross-country—a bigger truck is the way to go.

Remember, the estimated space in a truck is based on tightly packing everything in. You have to decide if you want to just toss boxes in or turn it into a Tetris game.

Ask about insurance, mileage costs, and if there’s a drop-off point close to where you’re going. Also, check hours of operation, as some rental places have after-hours drop-off services and others don’t.

Renting a Trailer

If you’re moving nearby, loading up a trailer and making several trips is another excellent option—just make sure your vehicle can handle a heavy load. If you have a lot of stuff, renting a truck is a much better option.

Using Moving Containers

Another popular option for the DIY mover is a moving container. These are commonly known as PODS. You can use it instead of a truck, or along with your truck/trailer. The company drops the moving container off, you spend a week or two (or a month) filling it up, and then they ship it to your destination. Not ready to move into your new home yet? Not a problem. They can store the container at their warehouse and deliver it when you’re ready.

Some popular companies that offer moving containers include U-Haul, PODS, U-Pack, SmartBox, and 1-800-Pack-Rat.

Other Supplies

Woman's hands taping up a box with a tape gun.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

You’ll want to rent (or buy) other supplies while you’re at it, such as moving dollies, furniture pads, and straps, etc. Most of these will be available from the truck or trailer company at a minimal price.

When it comes to boxes and packing materials, you can often find used moving boxes on Craigslist or local Facebook groups. You can go to the grocery store and get various-sized boxes for free, but we recommend using proper moving boxes. They’re more durable, and the uniform sizes make packing everything into your truck a breeze.

Moving boxes aren’t that pricey if you have to buy them yourself. These Bankers boxes are perfect for packing and moving books—they’re strong, durable, and have easy-to-grip handles and foldable flaps, so no tape is needed. And remember, you’re saving money overall since professional moving companies charge such high prices.

Do get proper packing tape—not the cheap stuff from the Dollar Store. The last thing you need is a box exploding during transit. And buy way more tape than you think you’ll need—it goes fast!

You can save packing materials in advance from Amazon and other places you receive packages from. You can also use towels, washcloths, cloth napkins, pillowcases, or even bedsheets to wrap up your valuables.

Check Your Insurance

No one likes to think about the “what ifs,” but the truth is it’s hard to move and keep everything in tip-top shape. And yes, even moving companies have been known to break stuff!

Check the details of your renters or homeowners insurance before moving day. There might be special clauses about moving in general, having friends handle your belongings, and what to do if something does break. Some policies even cover your belongings while they’re in the truck or packing container.

These are essential details to know in advance so you can make sure your belongings are adequately covered.

Packing Tips

The more prepared you are, the faster the move will go (and the happier your friends will be). So, make sure to set aside a chunk of time every day to do some packing (you can start a month in advance if you have a lot of belongings).

Here are some quick and easy packing tips to keep you focused and on track:

  • Purge, purge, purge: Take this opportunity to get rid of as much stuff as possible. If you haven’t used it in over six months to a year, chances are you probably aren’t going to use it in the future.
  • Tackle one room at a time: Instead of bouncing from room to room and packing a little here and there, we suggest you tackle one room at a time. Get it completely packed, and then move on to the next. Make sure to empty the closet, check under the bed, empty all the drawers, and take down all hooks and posters.
  • Stack everything in one area: This makes it easier when your friends or hired help are loading the truck. Preferably, stack your boxes near the front of your home, like in the living room. Try to position heavier items/boxes near the front, so those will be loaded first. Leave room for people to walk past the boxes and grab furniture, like your couch, bed, table, etc.
  • Label every box: Sometimes, near the end of packing, we lose our diligence and just start throwing things into boxes. That’s okay, but make sure you write which room those items came from. This way, when you’re looking for your nail clippers, you can start opening all the “bathroom” boxes. Avoid mixing rooms, such as adding dishes to your box of books because there’s extra space. You don’t want to have to go on a treasure hunt when you’re unpacking.
  • Transport valuables yourself: Consider moving your more valuable items in your car, while someone else drives the truck. This way, you can keep an eye on them, and they won’t get bounced around (or broken) in the truck.
  • Pack an “essentials” suitcase: Treat your move like a vacation, and pack a week’s worth of clothes, toiletries, snacks, chargers, and other essentials in an easy-to-identify suitcase. Do the same for each family member. This way, if you struggle to find specific items, you’ll at least have the basics on hand.
  • Use Post-it notes to guide your moving team: Try to get into your new home before your moving team arrives and label where you want things to go with Post-it notes and a Sharpie. This way, people will know where to put the couch, your bed, a particular bookshelf, etc. You can always change things around later, but you’ll be grateful when your bed ends up in your room and not your kid’s.

Moving can be stressful, expensive, and no fun. But it doesn’t have to be! Invite your friends, have plenty of snacks, blast that music, and get everyone motivated. With a solid, fun team, the hours will fly by, and you’ll be settled in your new home before you know it. And just think of all the money you’ll save by doing it yourself!

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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