On paper, my husband and I mapped out our master plan: We would spend 2.5 weeks packing and arrive at our moving day calm and serene while our movers did the heavy lifting. Translating our paper dreams into reality, however, proved more difficult than I could have ever imagined.
The major obstacle we faced were our two children, both of whom are under 4 years old. Boxes full of stuff? They wanted to unpack them, even though I’d just spent the better part of an hour fitting books and toys in there. Toys I was ready to toss became overnight must-haves for both of my kids.
Today, the packing is almost done and everyone is still alive. I’ve learned so much these past two weeks, and I’ve made so many mistakes. In an effort to save you—all of you thinking-about-maybe-moving parents—from falling face-first into the same mistakes I made, here’s a list of six life-saving tips that I wish I’d known before I started this whole process.
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1. Ask for help: So many people offered to help us. Let us take the kids while you pack, some said. I can come over and help you sort out your closet, others offered. I demurred. I didn’t think it would be that hard to pack the worldly possessions of four people into boxes. I thought wrong. When I relented and asked a friend to come over to play with the kids while I packed up my kitchen, I got so much more done and ended the day so much less bitchy.
2. Give your kids something to do. OK, don’t hand them a Sharpie along with some tape and scissors, letting ‘em loose. But give them all a box that they can fill up with their stuff. You may have to repack it later, but when I brought my kids into the process, it gave them a sense of ownership and control over this massive process that was upending our lives.
I didn’t understand why I ended most nights crying into my husband’s sweaty arms after loading boxes up and down the stairs.
3. Communicate and label. When our packing process started, I had two different systems going at once. Some of my piles were for the Salvation Army, and some were items that I intended to keep forever. Because of my inferior labeling and communication, now someone perusing the shelves of the Salvation Army will be able to help themselves to my treasures for the low, low price of $3. If you don’t want your keepsakes ending up at your local secondhand store, label your piles and be sure your partner knows what’s what.
4. Don’t stop buying groceries altogether. Neither my husband nor I relished the prospect of moving our frozen packages of ground turkey or jars of mayonnaise across the city. That’s why I stopped buying groceries about three weeks before our move. That was a mistake, because no one wants to eat freezer-burned meals and canned vegetables for three straight weeks. My suggestion is to continue to buy fresh produce and foods that your family loves to eat—just buy smaller portions.
5. De-clutter when your kids are asleep. I can’t tell you how many times I found my kids playing with toys that I had just thrown away. And the meltdown that ensued when my daughter found her beloved giraffe art project in the trash still makes me shudder. Avoid these scenes: Do it when they are asleep, and take the trash all the way out of your house. If you just leave it in the kitchen trashcan, they will find it and will react. Poorly.
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6. Don’t underestimate the emotional energy it will take to move. Because we are only moving 36 blocks away, I didn’t think there would be much emotional upheaval. Sure, I’ll need to get used to a new grocery store and dry cleaners and parks, but I didn’t understand why I ended most nights crying into my husband’s sweaty arms after loading boxes up and down the stairs. No matter how many times someone told me that moving is the third-most stressful thing that you can go through (after death and divorce), I was still surprised at all the emotions. There is the excitement of a new home and neighborhood and the sadness from goodbyes to neighbors we have loved like family. There’s the stress of the “to-do” list that feels like it goes on forever. It’s a big life change, so be sure to give yourself some space to feel all those feelings.