Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Notes and Tips on Moving

August 13, 2019 Updated: August 13, 2019

Moving apparently tuckers everyone out, including toddlers and felines.

Recently, my daughter and her family moved four hours away to Scranton, Pennsylvania. I remain in Front Royal, Virginia, to care for the yard, do some interior work on the house, and keep an eye on the property until the place sells. 

Every year, 14 percent of Americans—about 40 million people—take to the highways with their household goods crammed into a truck or a van. They hire a moving company or load up their belongings themselves, and off and away they go.

The average American performs this ritual 11.7 times over the course of a lifetime. By contrast, Europeans move an average of four times.  

Observers more knowledgeable than I offer theories as to our propensity to wander hither and yon, but I suspect at least part of our taste for such odysseys derives from our restless ancestors. Pioneers traveling West, Dust Bowl Okies bound for paradise in California, 20th-century blacks migrating north in search of jobs, retirees heading the opposite direction for the warmer temperatures of Florida and the Gulf Coast: hitting the road in search of greener pastures is as American as backyard barbecues. 

People move for a variety of reasons: to upsize or downsize their living quarters, to be closer to relatives, or in some cases, to be farther away, or to make their home in a more agreeable location or climate. Many, like my son-in-law and his family, pick up and relocate for job-related reasons.

A number of online sites list moving as one of the most stressful of life’s events. To box up our belongings, haul them on and off a truck, and then unbox them causes disruptions in our routine, and disruptions in routine often bring attendant anxieties. In 2006, following the death of my wife two years earlier, my 11-year-old son and I exchanged a 22-room bed and breakfast for a two-bedroom apartment. Three yard sales later and 15 trips or more to the Salvation Army, and I could finally turn the key to the empty house over to the new owner. And yes, I was stressed.

In the 13 years since then, I have moved two more times. Both occasions offered the opportunity to rid myself of unnecessary belongings, which is one of the upsides of shaking off an old home for a new one, but otherwise, I would never describe moving as anyone’s favorite leisure activity.

At any rate, if you’re migrating to a new home this summer or in the future, and if you’re planning to do the work yourself, here are some tips that may reduce your stress levels and make your move safer and easier. 

First, if you have seen the house or apartment into which you are moving, try to envision where and how the furniture will fit into each room. Even better, measure each room, write down those measurements, and use them in your calculations. When I moved from my emptied bed and breakfast, my apartment would not accommodate the battered, ancient, massive desk my wife had given me. Though that desk was precious to me, I was forced to leave it with the new owner of our former B&B. Two years later, when we moved to a more spacious apartment, I contacted the owner, discovered he still possessed the desk, paid him a small sum, and retrieved the desk on which I now write. My point here is that when looking at the first apartment, I failed to take into account space for the desk. 

Before you even touch the first box, visit some websites like moving.com. There, you’ll find plenty of sound advice on such topics as packing your belongings, loading the truck, and the equipment you’ll need. 

If you’re moving, as I did, from a house to an apartment, remember to purchase some renter’s insurance for your belongings. 

Next, start your packing well in advance of your move. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll add to your anxieties. You are also far more likely to pack poorly and so risk breaking the antique crystal punch bowl Aunt Sally gave you for your wedding.

Label the contents of each box you pack and, if possible, the room to which the box goes. That way, those helping you know where to deliver the boxes. Few things during a move can be more frustrating than facing a cardboard mountain in your new home with no idea of what goes where.

Selecting the proper-sized truck for rental can be difficult. It’s best to spend some extra dollars and go larger rather than smaller. You don’t want your moving day to end with the truck stuffed to the gills, but with furniture and boxes still sitting forlornly on the front lawn.

Spend a little extra money when you rent the truck. Get plenty of pads, straps, and a hand truck, if needed.

Many hands make light work. Ask friends or family, or hire some workers to help load up and unload the truck. Loading, of course, requires more time and planning than unloading. In the case of my daughter’s move, her father-in-law was an enormous asset. He has not only moved many times, but also once worked as a mover. Watching him oversee the loading of the truck, cigar in hand, brought to mind a General Patton directing his troops. By day’s end, and thanks to his wise advice, we had stuffed an incredible amount of furniture and boxes into that 29-foot truck.

If you have such help, and if the day brings sauna-like temperatures, have lots of bottled water on hand. Serve the cold beer only when the truck is loaded.

Important reminder: Avoid injuries to your back by lifting from the knees and legs. Back strain and more serious injuries can occur from improper lifting. 

Finally, as you undergo this ordeal, keep reminding yourself of the old adage: This too shall pass. One way or the other, everything will get done. As you pack your books in boxes, as you wrap china plates in newspapers,  envision yourself in a month or so in your new home, reading a book, watching television, enjoying a glass of wine on the deck at sunset. 

Inveniamus viam aut viam inveniemus: that’s a tag the Romans attributed to Hannibal. “We will find a way or we will make a way.” That maxim got Hannibal, his troops, his baggage train, and a few elephants across the Alps and into the Italian peninsula. 

Under the banner of those same words, you can get your family and belongings from Biloxi to Boise.

Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.