Moving day is fast approaching for me, and I have a little problem to overcome: I’m taking everything in my car. I’m not getting a moving van because I just don’t have enough stuff to justify it. Even if I did, I’d have to drive the van there, then drive back and get my car – because my car has to get to Virginia somehow! So I’m faced with the dilemma of fitting everything I own into my 1996 Oldsmobile.
I’m a girl, so there is a significant amount of clothes and shoes to be considered in this move.
Luckily, I’ve helped quite a few friends “Tetris” their things into cars to move. So I do have a bit of experience with this. Here you will find my philosophy on packing everything you can into a car:
Before the Move
Yes, packing a car starts long before you actually start packing. As soon as you know you’ll have to move, and that you’ll be relying on your car to do it, preparations must be made.
Stop acquiring stuff – this is the big one! My friends and family are very sick of me saying “I want this, but I just can’t get any more stuff before the move!” But it’s true – everything I buy before the move is something that has to be moved!
This includes not buying a lot of bulk food or toiletries in the months leading up to the move, either. Sure, a giant thing of cereal or shampoo may save some money, but if you don’t use it all, you’ll have to either leave it behind (canceling out your savings) or find room for it in the car. Yikes. Speaking of food:
Eat all of your food – especially perishables. It’s one thing to bring along a few cans of tuna and some pasta, but milk probably won’t survive the trip! Especially if you’ve moving out of state, like I am. You might have to get creative with recipes toward the end, but eating “mystery meat weird-noodle with frozen vegetables casserole” isn’t so bad, and it will make packing easier.
Coordinate with roommates so you don’t end up with doubles of things. Remember this from dorm living? It still applies! How many copies of the LoTR trilogy extended edition DVDs do you need? How many mini-fridges? Sell off or give away extra stuff. Or leave it with your parents, if they’ll let you.
Clean out your car about a week before you think you need to. Clean it inside and out, and especially vacuum it. The cleaner your car is, the more comfortable you will be with shoving your precious belongings into weird configurations in your trunk. And do it early, because something will come up if you put it off until the day before the move, and you might end up moving in a dirty car.
Oh, and that junk in your trunk? It’s gotta go! Make lots and lots of room for the important stuff.
Preparing Your Stuff
Resign yourself to the fact that you will not be able to take much furniture, if any. Maybe you can fit like, a small chair in there, or some IKEA-style furniture that disassembles. But like me, you’ll probably have to leave the antique bookcase and dresser behind. If your parents are cool with it, you can probably leave some stuff at their place. (In my parents’ case, they’re more than happy to hang onto the bookshelf, considering they’ve already filled it with their books!)
Avoid boxes whenever possible, which is counterintuitive to how we normally pack. But think about it: boxes take up space, and they aren’t flexible. Boxes don’t fit in and around other things, like the contents of a box might. The more stuff you can keep free of a container, the better.
You will use boxes for some things. It’s just impractical to carry books individually out to your car, and then from your car into your new place. For the boxes you do use, use small ones. I’ve found that copy paper boxes are about the biggest I want to go, at about 17″x12″x12″. I’m also using some crates that I’ve had since the beginning of college.
Get rid of the original packaging, which fits in with the “avoid boxes” thing. For some things, the original packing might be a benefit, like a flat-screen monitor. It makes it easier to carry and provides a good amount of protection. So sure, the original box might be best for a few things, but not most things.
Use garbage bags for clothes, or cloth laundry bags. Yep, throw your clothes right in a garbage bag. Why? Garbage bags are big and flexible. ‘nough said.
Wrap breakables in clothes and towels, instead of using packing material. Forget bubble wrap and newspaper – use something you have to transport anyway! I also have a lot of yarn, because I’m a knitter. So I’m planning to shove balls of yarn in between breakables, as packing material. Get creative with the stuff you have to move!
Put liquid in something waterproof, or you’ll be sorry when they leak. My current plan? Put my toiletries, etc. in my plastic garbage can. I definitely won’t care if they leak into that!
Packing the Car
Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot I can tell you here. It’s going to depend on your car and your stuff! You’re just going to have to play your own game of Car Tetris. But I do have a few ideas that might help:
Pack the essentials first, in case you don’t have enough room. This is another counterintuitive thing. I mean, if you pack your essential stuff first, won’t it be on the bottom of everything? Won’t that be a pain when you’re unloading? Yes. But there’s a few reasons to do it anyway. First of all, it gives you incentive to unpack the entire car, instead of just getting the good stuff out and leaving the rest for a few days.
Secondly, there’s the chance that everything you’ve pack might not fit. And if that happens, and you’ve put non-essential stuff on the bottom: you’ll have to unpack everything to get it out to make room. So pack in order of importance. That way, once your car fills up, you’re done. You just need to figure out what to do with what’s left, and then you can drive away!
Put stuff you’ll need in the car in the front seat, like snack food, your wallet, MP3 player, car chargers: whatever you’ll need during the drive. This might also include a laptop, if you’re planning on staying overnight or just stopping at places with free Wi-Fi. It should also include a backpack with basic toiletries and a few days worth of clothes – just like a carry-on bag on an airplane. Because hey, you never know: so it’s just good practice.
Try to balance the car, so that you don’t have too much heavy stuff on the left or right, or in the cab or the trunk. This might be hard to pull off, but it’s worth a shot!
Things I Have No Clue About
I may seem wise in the ways of car packing, but there are still a few things that elude my great genius. I certainly hope you guys have these things figured out, so that you can educate me in the comments:
Hangers! They are the enemy of packing! They won’t fit in any box! They catch on everything! My current plan is just to shove them where ever they may fit, even if that means I have two hanger here, ten hangers there, a few in the front seat, some in the trunk:
Pillows are big space-takers. Are they even worth bringing? Or should I bite the bullet and get new ones when I get there? Or maybe I can try to squish them under a bunch of other stuff?
Musical instruments are hell to pack. I’m suddenly glad that I’m not musically talented, and I don’t have to deal with them. Hurray!
Happy packing, everyone!
This article is a part of a series of posts on moving out on your own.
I loved reading the article! It made me remember all the moves I have made over the years. As for the hanger issue, just buy new…they are on sale this time of year and less than $1 for a dozen or more….Good luck with your move, rochester will miss you!
H Lee D says
I moved cross country a few years ago. I packed what would fit in my car (clothes for the trip, stereo, musical instruments (I’m an elementary music teacher and own one of each), pillow) and shipped the rest. As I was packing, the question for each item was: is this worth what it costs to ship it? The answer in many cases was NO! My apartment was not in a complex, and I ended up selling most of my furniture to the guy who was renting it after me, which worked out perfectly for both of us. The rest I yard-saled.
John Hunter says
Clothes in bags and not bringing stuff you don’t need (coordinating with roommates) are big space savers.
Great tips! This is a handy reference for moving cross country.
Luciano Freitas Junior says
Howdy!! Why are you considering pillows as a “stone on your way”. I usually use pillows to protect some stuff I’ve lost the boxes or the are too big and inside boxes they’re just going to take up more space.
Unless you have nice wood hangers, it’s soooo worth it to get rid of them and just get new ones when you move. New plastic hangers are maybe $10.
You can use pillows as padding, or compress them into a box. Or you can pack pillows and hangers into a box and really squish it.
Nadia P says
Great article! One easy thing you could do with the pillows it purchase a space saver bag – you know, the type that vacuum out the air. You can find these on Amazon.
Now I know what you’re thinking “Ugh, I’m trying to save money, not spend money!” but I think these things are well worth the cash and they’re usually under $20. Once you’re done moving and you don’t need to store pillows away anymore, then just put seasonal clothing in the bags instead!
I absolutely agree! If I don’t have my pillows, I have a hard time sleeping. You can also get those bags a lil cheaper at Duane Reade,Rite-Aid, etc. Because they do shrink up to a smaller hard package, put them down first (pretend its now the floor), fill in the gaps with your shirts. I love your idea about not using boxes, and just throwing stuff in. While packing up my shoes, I got the idea (before reading your blog) to stuff clothes inside my shoes (I have more boots than I realized), and to fill in all of those clunky gaps with my underclothes.
Clothes in the shoes is a brilliant idea! Especially tall boots that have a lot of possible space, and could benefit from having the tops propped up so they don’t get squished. Great tip!
I second Space Bags. A pillow-sized one is like $5-$7 and it makes them crazy-flat. It can’t do much about the hangers tho. 😉
Buy new hangers. Get the instruments later or ship them, depending on how badly you need them. I don’t know how much stuff you have, but I know people who moved cross country and used a portable storage service, like PODS. Good luck with the move. I take it you don’t have furniture?
Anon @ GPS Fleet Tracking says
Good advice about eating up the food. Seems like every time I have to move I throw out so much food, especially refrigerated items. It’s such a waste and drives me crazy to do it, but sometimes it’s easier than packing everything in dry ice for 10 hours.
In college I was the Queen of packing in trash bags! I also used to pack my belongings in my clothes and blankets for cushion to avoid needing a box and newspaper for breakables.
Good advice. I’ve recently had the ‘pleasure’ (note ironic quotation marks) of hauling the bulk of my possessions across Pennsylvania twice in the past month. Amazingly enough, I’ve managed to fit it all in my car, thanks to (a) driving a station wagon, (b) not owning too much stuff to haul here, there, and everywhere, and (c) having a mom who insists on keeping most of my childhood things at her house. Still, useful information to keep in mind.
As someone else stated above, I’d ship some stuff. When I moved from College in Milwaukee, Wi to home now in Maryland I shipped a lot of the lighter stuff. the majority of my clothing and shoes, and even some of the breakable stuff wrapped up nicely in the soft clothing. As far as pillows and hangers, those are relatively cheap and can be purchased when you get to your destination. I ended up donating my hangers (and a lot of other items) to a shelter/halfway house for battered and abused women that was across the street from my apartment before leaving. Those ladies were SO grateful for these items that they could use while getting back on their feet.
Seems like you’ve got everything under control though. And good luck on the drive here! it can be somewhat hellish towards the end there!
Like Ashley, I’m also planning on moving many of my things in big black trash bags – blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, clothes, etc. They’re more squish-able than boxes. Also, suitcases, laundry baskets, backpacks…
Also, I suggest asking around to see if there’s anyone in your network with access to a truck for free, or the cost pizza and beer. I asked around and found a friend-of-a-friend with a big work van. Now I can move in one trip.
I’m moving in with a relative soon, and whenever I have time, I try to get rid of all I can. @_@ I have sooo many papers from old school assignments or drawings (I like to draw!) or whatever. Since I no longer have a scanner (it broke :C), I either type my notes/essays onto the computer, or take a few good pictures and retype it later if I just don’t have the time. Or if it’s a sketch, I give it to some friend of mine who likes my art, and maybe redraw it (or take a picture :P) first if I really like it! 🙂
I also plan on selling a few things of mine (Mainly clothes), and luckily for me, another relative of mine is having a garage sale in a week! I also like to donate old books I’ve read to my school’s library. 🙂 Used books are cheap, why bother selling it for a dollar if I can give it to a library that needs it?
Annie @ Credit Dispute says
Try to use 50 pound boxes or less. Boxes larger than this are harder to pack because when they are full, they become to heavy and you run the risk of having the box rip or collapse. It is also better to place more light items in a big box and fewer heavy items in a smaller box. This helps to avoid any box from becoming too heavy and keeps a uniformity to the weight of the boxes.
Thanks for these tips! Those are great. I never try to balance the car, but that would definitely be a good idea to try for. Sometimes, regarding hangers, I’ll leave my clothes on the hangers and just drape the clothes on top of everything, as long as the move isn’t too far away. That way you can save your hangers and you can easily put your clothes back into a closet when you get there.
Mark the contents of each packed box by room. That way, when it is time to unload, each box can be placed in the corresponding room to make the unpacking process easier. That is what we did the last time we moved in our new house.
Regarding food…it’s good to eat what you can, but you can always donate to charities or friends, family and neighbors.
Scott "Moving Trucks" Clendaniel says
A few people have mentioned trash bags as a way to move things. I have some real reservations on that suggestion- at least using the typical trash bags you pick up in the grocery store. Make sure you get “contractor” bags, because they have much thicker plastic and are much less likely to rip and tear. 🙂
Agent @ BMW Insurance says
Haha! The dog looks all nice and cozy in that picture.
Tony Lee says
Thanks for the tips Stephanie. When I was on active duty I did a lot of moving. Even us guys collect a lot of junk and can’t find a place for it when it’s time to move.
A little pre-planning goes a long way…
Mens Dog Tags For Dogs says
About to plan a long car trip, so this’ll come handy. Thanks steph!
Laura Bowling says
I’m about to move from Maryland to California with only my car, no truck, so I appreciate the tips! 🙂
The best way to manage the hangers and clothes is this trick: while your clothes are still on the hangers hanging in your closet, take the open garbage bag and get the clothes in it which still hanging. Then tie the bag and then tie the hangers which are at the top of the bag now. That way it saves you time taking everything off and back on again.
Also avoid boxes, stick to bags. I had everything in boxes for one move using just two cars and they wouldn’t fit. I had to take everything back out again!
Here’s some more advice that I think needs to be heard: don’t look like you’re moving, as you move. People get robbed or have their cars broken into/stolen so often because they’ve got valuables with them. It’s hard to hide the stuff but if you drape some blankets over things, it may look more like you’re transporting furniture. Also, make sure your back windows aren’t blocked. I learned this in college. Police will pull you over if you don’t back into someone, first.
Dianne Whetzel says
wow how many of each thing should I pack . Do I need 5 jeans or only 2 all my childrens barbies stuffed animals ,dishes , home decorations or buy everything new when we get there
Dianne Whetzel says
moving 2 states away will fill car as much as I can .I cant fit sheets and pillows and all the bedding into car . I want to bring home decor interior decorations for next home or should I decorate it differently and buy all new stuff that is expensive though
towels ,dishes got rid of dog
dog really !!!!!!!
Sara Ivy says
Pillows: You have two options: go to target & buy new ones for about $2.50 a piece (not bad if they are ratty) or SPACE SAVER BAGS! Seriously, best invention ever. I am currently packing up all my belongings and moving across country (again) and my saver the first time was space saver bags. We not only packed a POD container with our stuff but we also packed my ford focus with two weeks worth of stuff for my mom and I, plus a dog and two birds. It was daunting but we did it (and almost killed each other after reaching our destination 12 hours after we started driving that day).
You recommended packing the essentials first and I do not recommend that for a completely different reason. You should already know ALL that you are taking before you even go to pack the car. Don’t wait until stuff doesn’t fit. Bare essentials only. You want to pack your car so everything you want to take will fit. Also remember that when packing the trunk if you happen to get a flat tire you’ve got to take ALL of that out on the side of the road to get to the tire. I’m actually thinking of this time around to take the spare tire & jack out, pack stuff where the tire would go and put the tire, jack & my roadside emergency kit either in the front seat with me, or on top of everything in the back. 😉
As for books in boxes: Now that there are cloth bags available in mass I am putting my books in those instead of boxes because they take up less space but I can still carry them. The only box I plan on bringing are tiny boxes w/knick knacks that I can’t get around.
Dishes should probably be the only thing kept in a box, but DO USE SHEETS, PILLOW CASES & CLOTHES TO WRAP THEM. So much cheaper than bubblewrap.
I’ve moved 5 times in 7 years! In my experience the cheapest method is getting rid of stuff you don’t need and just loading your car with important things you don’t want lost in the mail and shipping the rest to your new destination. Shipping doesn’t cost as much if you downsize to only essentials. Also, getting rid of furniture you don’t need will save you bundles, unless you have antique furniture you can’t bear to part with. Safe moving!
Also, selling your furniture and other good-quality stuff at a consignment shop will earn you some cash before you leave. In regards to any stuff that sells, most consignment shops will even mail your check to your new residence, so you don’t need to still be there to reap the benefits. Pawn shops may buy some stuff off of you too. The rest of your things that may not sell at consignment shops, you can just donate at a homeless shelter or some other charity. And it feels good to purge and simplify your life!
A tip on the hangers…. take 10-15 hanging clothes and cover the clothing in a trash bag right on the hanger! Also, these stacks of flat clothes can easily sit on top of everything else so when you arrive at your destination, just put the hangers on the bar and pull of the trashbag…. ta-dah! Clean, hung-up clothes just like when you left. 🙂
Lily Luft says
I would like to start this by saying I have moved 5 times in the past year and am getting ready for move number 6. Number six will be my first year over state lines and with only a small car to hold my things.
For hangers, I bought those huggable hangers that come in a box maybe 6 months ago, but saved the box. Best decision I have ever made. Yeah I am exaggerating, but they really are wonderful. The hangers are a thousand times better and the box they come in is perfectly designed so that they fit very snugly inside. I have already gone through 3 moves with this box and it’s still in great shape. One instance where original packaging is a lifesaver.
For pillows, I have a more expensive pillow that I’d like to hang onto, so I just bring it along in a space bag with my other bedding items. I threw out all my less important pillows and have yet to replace them. Not worth the trouble!
On the note of space bags, I have upgraded to them from trash bags. They’re relatively inexpensive and really cut back on space. Plus if you use them right you can roll them up and maneuver so they are very easy to place in random crevices after everything else has been packed in the car. I use them for pretty much anything made of fabric, cloth, or foam.
I plan on packing everything else in reusable grocery bags, totes, duffel bags, etc. aside from a few kitchen items.
I think it is best to re-evaluate clothing, books, etc. and get rid of what you no longer will use. Also keeping books and certain keepsakes in a safe place behind until I can get them later.
I hope I helped someone out!
As for hangers, back in the olden days, there used to be bars that you would attach from the hanger hook on one side of the car and stretch to the other hook on the other side. I imagine you could just run some string or rope across and make your own, assuming you have a little space left near the roof.
Kimberly Creech says
Love this post! Tips and advices are great and very helpful. I’m moving in two months and already started packing some items. The best this time is that I decluttered more than half of all my stuff and now everything will fit in my car, or at least I hope so. ‘Packing the car’ tips seem quite useful and I hope when moving day comes, I’ll handle with the ‘game of Car Tetris’. Thanks for the information!
Pauline Ballard says
Fantastic tips. I have never know that hangers are not fitting in the free size box. I am going to move to London next month. I suppose I would find it out eventually. Greetings!
Nomad RN says
A couple tips I have would be if there are two traveling, pack the back seat with the front seat in a comfortable position for the tallest occupant of the vehicle. Also, don’t forget the precious space underneath the seats for books, and other small objects. Don’t forget to pack a small bag for clothes changes/hygiene along the way. I can’t say enough how important spacesaver bags will be. Dollar tree or the 99cent store has them dirt cheap! Safe travels!
I think another website stole content from your blog post. They have pretty much the same tips as you and they copied whole phrases at times. http://www.urbanbound.com/moving-tips-on-packing-your-car
I like the long trips on the car with my friends. I read your article, it was great, you gave me some really useful information. Thanks for your great tips.
Lilia Robberts says
My family is moving soon. We will be moving out of our mansion into a more humble home. But we have so much that needs to be transported. Thank you for letting me know that it is smart to avoid boxes when packing in a tight space. Along with putting things in our car un-boxed like you suggested, we will look into a transportation service. Perhaps a haulage service would meet our needs.
A few ideas… Use every inch of space in your vehicle and get creative in how you use that space. Under your front seats of course but also around your spare tire, possibly in your glove box? when folding back seats down, use not only the floor room but things like hangers can be scatted on the seat itself before folding down (blankets and quilts similar, just have part on the seat and part flowing to the floor. Get rid of all boxes and use garbage bags, use your clothing/bedding/towels as protection between fragile items. Blankets take up a lot of room, if you must take Grandmas afghan then lay it FLAT over a course of items, it will take up less space than folding or rolling it while it helps protect some as well. If you have ANY space, fill it with clothes or towels! Buy a rooftop bag, the hard shell carriers are wonderful if you will use them often enough but a large rooftop BAG is fairly inexpensive! Pack your clothes up there in trash bags (it fits better, is less desirable to be stolen and the bags help keep them dry even though that bag is SUPPOSEDLY waterproof) Heck, even tie down a bicycle or such on top of that large bag, the rooftop bag should keep the bike from touching the car…no scratches! Pillows should be avoided HOWEVER, I like to keep my favorite pillow to use on my armrest. My armrest is fine for normal drives but my elbow can get sore after a LONG trip, plus it’s handy if you need to pull over for a quick nap!And of course, pack the biggest, bulkiest things first (try to avoid such things of course but for those that must be packed, do so first so you can squeeze things like shoes and clothing into any wasted space. All this said, seriously prepare and have everything to be packed spread out all around you and not just grab items willy-nilly!