Moving is a big undertaking, and it often is accompanied by other big ticket events such as starting a new job, changing your marital status or taking on a big debt. Following a logical, orderly series of steps will help keep the move from adding to the pressure.
Decide if you will hire a mover or do it yourself. You'll probably hire a mover if you have lots of heavy things, you've got a bad back or bum knee, you're traveling a long distance, an employer is picking up the tab or your friends are sick and tired of schlepping your stuff.
Send change-of-address forms to utility companies, magazines, organizations, friends and family as soon as you know your new address. Close out any accounts you won't need after your move such as library cards and video store and gym memberships.
Research the utilities at your new address, including telephone, power, water, television and Internet service. Get a floor plan of the new place to help you decide where to put phones and other plug-ins. Mark all electrical outlets on the plan.
Pare down your possessions--moving is a great opportunity to unload unneeded stuff. See 12 Get Rid of What You Don't Want.
Empty the refrigerator the day before moving day. Eat up any leftovers, decide what you want to bring with you, and give the rest to neighbors. Unplug the refrigerator and leave the doors open overnight so the moisture can evaporate.
Pack one room at a time, starting with infrequently used rooms such as guest bedrooms. Use smaller boxes for heavy items such as books, tools and kitchen stuff. If the contents are fragile or must stay upright, mark it on the box. Write three other things on each box: the room, a short description of its contents, and "First Out" or "Regular." "First Out" boxes will be loaded in the truck last, making them available first at your destination. Put the boxes in a garage or family room.
Measure your mountain of boxes and your furniture when you're about three-fourths packed. Use this information to rent a truck for moving day. Reserve a hand truck and a large quantity of moving blankets at the same time. If you're moving appliances-- especially a refrigerator--reserve an appliance dolly.
Close dresser drawers and armoire doors with blue painters' masking tape. It's less likely to damage the finish when it's removed at your destination.
Load the truck carefully. Use as much vertical space as you can: Stand sofas on end, load mattresses and box springs so their long sides are vertical, stand up armoires and tall dressers. Put tall things along the sides; moving trucks have bars or tracks onto which you can tie ropes to keep things vertical. Area rugs should go in after the furniture (so you can roll them out before putting the furniture down in the new place).
Put in your boxes, "Regular" ones first and "First Out" boxes last. Put the boxes of important papers and valuables in the trunk of your car, not in the moving truck. If you'll be stopping for any time along the drive, lock the truck with a round, short-shank padlock and make sure your car trunk is locked.
Reverse the process at the end. Bring in the valuables (and have someone stay with them in the new place while you unload). If it's been a long day and you're exhausted, just unload the valuables and "First Out" boxes, leaving the rest in the locked truck to unpack later.
Call several moving companies, both national and local. Contact the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) to see if there are complaints against the company. Make sure they're bonded, licensed and insured. Ask for and call all three references to corroborate the mover's professionalism and reliability. Choose a company with excellent customer service.
Ask about rates. Be aware of any conditions that will trigger additional costs, such as moves over a certain mileage or goods over a certain weight. Check into any special deals the company offers, and ask whether it gives auto club or senior discounts.
Understand how packing options affect the price. For example, if you pack certain goods yourself, can you save some money? Or pack everything yourself with portable containers that are delivered to your home. You pack them, and the company transports them to your new home.
Schedule a free on-site estimate if you like what you hear. Bids will vary widely. Get several to find the best deal.
Discuss any considerations unique to your move with the estimator. Point out any especially large or fragile items, and ask how they will be handled. Point out issues that affect access, such as staircases, steep driveways or small attics, and be prepared to pay more for complicated moves.
Get a signed contract that includes price, pick-up and delivery dates, packing services and mileage, plus policies regarding payment, insurance and guaranteed services. Make sure the contract has a customer-service number on it that you can call with any problems.
Most national Internet service providers let you keep your e-mail address when you move from one area to another--but only if you stay with their service. If you're moving a refrigerator, try to keep it upright. If you must set it on its side, let it stand upright at its destination overnight before plugging it in (to avoid damage). For long-distance moves, Inquire about tracking options so that you can find out where your belongings are. Be sure the mover can guarantee a delivery date. Contact your insurance agent, banks and creditors, doctor, dentist, pharmacy, and children's current and future schools as soon as you know your arrival date at the new address. Arrange utilities to be turned off several days after you leave your old place, and turned on several days before you arrive at the new one. Pack important papers, photos, keepsakes and valuables in their own boxes. Rather than writing "Important Papers and Valuables" on the boxes, strap them closed with colored tape so you can easily identify them. Look for free or re-used moving supplies rather than buying new ones: online bulletins boards frequently list boxes, bubble-wrap and other necessities. Ask what happens if goods are damaged, under what conditions the mover is responsible and for how much.
Back up your computer before the move, and pack the backup disks with your valuables. Be sure you understand how materials affect costs and that it's covered in the contract. Many consumer complaints relate to add-on costs from packing materials such as bubble wrap and boxes.