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How to Pack a Messy House to Move

We have completed our fair share of moves in our 9 year marriage, but our most recent was by far the hardest. It turns out, the more kids you have, the harder it is to corral everything you own into organized boxes. Let’s discuss some life saving tips about how to pack a messy house to move.

How to Pack a Messy House to Move

We decided to pull the trigger and move 11 hours away right after Christmas. 

Santa kind of overdid it (as did grandparents) and we went from having toys under control to being completely buried.

Not to mention, the year was 2020. ‘Nuff said.

We were busting at the seams in our rental and couldn’t wait to get to Florida and spread out a little.

Looking around, I really thought it would be no problem to pack up and move.

I have never been more excited about a move before – but it turns out, excitement doesn’t lead to ease of packing.

When the house didn’t fall into boxes in one day, I think I realized what a chore this was going to be.

This is a tip that I wish someone had told me before I started trying to pack our disaster of a house in an organized fashion.

If your house isn’t perfectly organized, your move isn’t going to be either.

Not unless you have a significant amount of time to organize before you pack.

It’s easy to say “organize before you move” but if I had time to organize, I wouldn’t be looking up how to pack a messy house lol.

Let’s just accept right now that this move isn’t going to be pretty, but it’s going to get done.

Take a deep breath and let’s get started!

How to Pack Up a House Quickly

First, let’s start with the basics and gather some essentials:

Cheap Moving Essentials and Necessary Packing Materials

  • Cardboard Boxes – always call the local grocery store and ask them to save egg boxes for you
  • Tape – this moving tape was freaking awesome and CHEAP!
  • Cheap permanent markers
  • Inexpensive bubble wrap – we loved this stuff but we wrapped everything in towels and sheets and used bubble wrap for the rest.
  • Garbage bags

I always, ALWAYS start with a 15 minute timer – no matter what I’m doing.

Set a timer for 15 minutes, grab a trash bag, and let’s go!

See how quickly you can move from one room to the next gathering every single thing that isn’t making the move.

If you’re on the fence about something, go ahead and toss it.

Now is the time. You can always convince yourself it got “lost” in the move if you have regrets later.

The more items you can throw away, donate, recycle, the better.

The Fastest Way to Pack to Move

My best advice is to always pack by location, not item.

Especially if your house is messy, especially if you have kids.

We just have to develop a smart packing strategy. The fastest way is also the simplest:

Take a box into a room, fill it with everything in a drawer or on a shelf, label it, and repeat.

We’re not going to have a box labeled “books” and run around the house gathering books until we have a full box.

That’s how packing ends up taking weeks and we’re still not done.

This is the easiest way to pack a messy house to move. 

Understanding that life doesn’t unfold in neat little pockets – paper here, books there, toys somewhere else – goes a LONG way to packing a messy house to move.

Speaking of paper…

How to Pack Papers to Move

Paper doesn’t care that you’re moving. It just keeps coming no matter what your priorities are.

I always recommend keeping all of your paper clutter in one place, but that’s never more important than when you’re moving.

Pick a small box, keep it on your counter, and all of the mail or important papers that have to come with you go directly in there.

Everything else goes in the trash/recycling.

No to pack to move with kids

Moving with Kids

If you take no other advice from this article, listen to me on this.

When you’re moving with kids, understand that they are basically there to undo what you already did.

That box of toys they saw you pack?

Destroyed because their favorite toy (that they never play with) happened to be in it.

Unless you’re a stealthier parent than me, you’re going to need two things – transparency and boundaries.

The key I found to getting kids comfortable with moving is to include them in the packing.

At least to the extent that they want to be a part of it.

Screentime is a lifesaver for the overwhelmed packing parent.

However, if you have kids that react as though you’re throwing away everything you just packed in that box, include them in the packing.

That’s the transparency part.

The boundary aspect is to simply have them understand that they can’t have access to every single toy right now.

We let our kids pick one toy each to keep out.

Everything else, minus the duplo legos, were packed.

Duplo are just good for all ages and swooped in to save the day when superhero figures just weren’t cutting it anymore.

This is also my hack to getting the house clean before you move.

Pack the toys first. 

Seal them and stow them away somewhere.

Label them “legal books” or something equally boring so only you know what’s in there.

Control the toys and you control a large portion of your sanity during a big move.

Trust me. (and don’t forget to thank me later.)

It’s also a great time to purge toys your kids have outgrown. Only toys appropriate for their current ages that are in good shape get to come to your new home.

It takes lots of time to pack, it takes a long time to clean up toys, do something today that tomorrow you will thank you for. Part with as many toys as you can so you can have a fresh start at your new place.

Packing Process

This goes back to my original point to pack by location rather than item.

​The first thing is to just commit to packing one room at a time.

Packing a messy house is hard because it’s actually overwhelming to our brain to be surrounded by clutter (we’ll get to decluttering in a minute).

Add to that the fact that you have to pack everything and likely deal with some sort of time restraints.

That’s a surefire recipe for overwhelm.

In this situation, you can find me devouring a pint of ice cream on the couch, accomplishing absolutely nothing.

Or just wandering around packing a box here and a box there.

Instead, we’re going to put one foot in front of the other and just tackle one room at a time.

In my experience, bedrooms are easiest.

Fill a box with clothes until it’s full, label it, move on.

Empty one drawer at a time.

Remember, two or three outfits per person is plenty. 

We can still do laundry. 

We aren’t trying to win any fashion awards – just survive this move.

A good idea is to list the contents of each box on the outside. So instead of writing “kitchen”, you’ll write “measuring cups”, “plates”, “silverware.”

A list of the contents of each box is also a great idea, especially if you’ll need this for insurance purposes if you’re using a moving company. Take a quick picture of each box and the list on the outside. 

A quick and easy sanity saver is to use a different color packing label to differentiate each room. Colored duct tape from Dollar Tree is GREAT for this!

quick tips to pack a messy house

How to Pack Odds and Ends

When we were down to the very last bits of things to pack, I spent hours running a basket of things around, trying to push it into small openings of the labeled boxes.

I wasted hours, maybe days doing this.

Finally, I dumped it all into one box, labeled it “random sh*t” and jotted down everything inside.

It was really random, like workout bands, a bag of unlabeled screws that I figured were important, Tony Robbins CDs, etc.

You get the idea.

If you’re a more organized person than me, you likely won’t have a box (or three, no judgment) of random shit.

If you’re pressed for time and trying to pack a messy house quickly, a random box of crap is the way to go.

Fragile Items

This is a great moving hack:

A quick way to pack fragile items without spending a fortune on bubble wrap or packing peanuts, is to just use what you already have.

Whether you’re packing something like plates or family heirlooms, using bath towels or sheets are a great way to make a daunting task a little easier. We even put rolls of toilet paper in the same box as our breakables to provide extra cushion.

Decluttering Process

It’s always a great idea to declutter before you move.

I tend to live by the 12-month rule with almost everything we own. If we haven’t used it in the last year, or if it has lived in a box in our garage for a year without me needing it, it is absolutely not worth packing. 

When packing to move is the best time to get our Marie Kondo on and either donate to a local charity or to make some extra money on Facebook Marketplace. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be caught up in what you might need before you move. I kept out way too many clothes, food, and toiletries last time.

This time, I had a list of essential items and that ended up being the thing that saved us the most amount of time.

I kept 3 outfits per person, a small thing of shampoo and conditioner for us each to share, our tooth brushes, dental floss, and some basic household items like a pan and a spatula.

That’s it.

We ate take out for 3 days in a row, put the kids in front of a DVD player since our internet was already turned off, and we committed to packing the entire house in just a couple of days.

Then all of that stuff went into a box labeled “open first” and was the last thing on the moving truck.

If we survived with just these things moving out of our house, I knew we could survive with just these things in the new house.

Why Packing to Move is So Hard

When we start packing our house, we are faced with so many unspoken decisions and guilt.

You end up having to pack the Vitamix you bought for that diet that only lasted two weeks.

You find all kinds of sentimental items you forgot.

The treadmill that’s been hiding under laundry for years gets uncovered.

Moving digs up all kinds of emotions right when you need to be productive.

When packing gets hard, just put one foot in front of the other and pack one item, one drawer, one shelf, one cabinet at a time.

It’s all going to the same place. The faster you can get your stuff into boxes, the sooner this can be over and your new adventure in your new home awaits!