Unpacking: A Comprehensive Guide to Settling in After a Move

Unpacking: It’s one of the most dreaded parts of a move. You’ve already packed all your belongings and moved them from your old home to your new one. You’re exhausted. You’re over it. And now it’s time to unpack — the last chore in a long list of moving-related jobs.

But unpacking doesn’t have to be the last, dreaded speed bump to get over before you can enjoy your new home. With some organization — and a lot of planning ahead — unpacking can be one of the simplest and most seamless parts of your move.

The trick is to start thinking about unpacking early — and we do mean early, as in before you even start packing up in the first place. With some organizational tips and tricks, you can make unpacking the easiest part of the whole move, and even, dare we say, enjoyable.

Ready to take the stress out of the last step of your move and spend more time enjoying your new home? These tips and tricks are the key to a seamlessly organized unpacking experience.

Step 1: Have Unpacking In Mind Before You Move

The unpacking process itself may not begin until you arrive and start to get settled in your new home. But you can (and should) start making unpacking plans before you even start packing. One of the best ways to make unpacking easier is to have a solid plan in place, and that starts before the first of your belongings even make their way into a box or bag. Here’s what to do.

Make a Plan (and Take Inventory)

The best moves start with a comprehensive, well-organized plan. You have a few different options here.

Some common ways people organize their moves are with numbers or with colors. This important thing is to pick a method and stick with it consistently — all boxes will need to be labeled with the numbers or colors that correspond to the room they belong with, and as you pack, you should create an inventory sheet showing exactly what’s in each box. You should also label each box with exactly where it’s going in your new home. Having a floor plan of the new place that’s numbered or color-coded will help with this.

It takes more time to organize your move this way, but your future self will thank you for having a plan to stay organized — and sticking to it.

If you’re hiring packers and movers, be cognoscente of their process, too. Will it make your life easier or harder once you get to your new home?

Take Photos Before You Pack

Take Photos Before You Pack

Another great method for staying organized during a move is to take photos all over your home before you pack. Then, you can label the photos with numbers or colors that correspond with your organizational plan and your inventory.

When you’re unpacking, having photos that show how items were organized and grouped in your old home can help you find where they’ll live in your new home — and give you some inspo for decorating your new space to make it feel familiar.

If You Can, Clean Now

We get that this isn’t an option for everyone, especially if you’re moving on a tight timeline or you’re making a long-distance move. But if you’re able to, head to the new space and clean it now, before you arrive with your belongings.

That way, once you begin unpacking, you’ll just have to put things away where they belong, without having to do any cleaning as you go.

Declutter As You Pack

For the average person, not everything that’s in your old home will need to be packed and moved to your new one. You likely have plenty of items you don’t want or need, and now is a great time to sell, donate, or trash them. The more you’re able to declutter your home as you pack, the fewer unnecessary items you’ll move — and the less you’ll have to unpack once you get there.

Pack Room by Room, and Area by Area

Pack Room by Room, and Area by Area

As you’re packing, don’t mix items from the kitchen and bathrooms, or put bed sheets in the same box as books and DVDs. Make sure to organize your boxes so they only contain items from one room — and then clearly designate with a label on the box what room that is.

You can also take this tip a step further, and pack by specific areas in different rooms. For example, in one box, put everything you need to make your bed. In another box, put everything from the living room entertainment center. This way, you can just drag the box to the area of the room where it belongs, and unpack it all at once without even having to walk around to put items away.

Some items require their own special art and science when it comes to packing, so don’t assume you can just throw everything in a box and call it good. Check out our guides on packing shoes and packing dishes for prime examples of how a thoughtful packing strategy can pay off big time.

Pack a Completely Separate Box for Distractions

When you arrive at your new home, it’ll be tempting to put off unpacking. And one of the easiest ways to procrastinate is by taking a break to watch TV or play a video game.

That’s why it’s a good idea to have a separate box for TV cables, video game consoles, books, board games — anything that might distract you from getting your unpacking done. When you arrive at your new home, save that box for last so you have that extra motivation to get everything else unpacked without procrastinating.

Pack Your Essentials Separately

When you arrive at your new home, there are certain things you’ll want to have immediate access to. It’s a good idea to pack one box (or a backpack or suitcase) with the essentials you need to sleep, shower, and be ready for your unpacking marathon.

Think of it like going on a trip and pack accordingly. You’ll need:

  • A few changes of clothes
  • Toiletries (especially a toothbrush and toothpaste)
  • Prescriptions
  • Chargers for your necessary electronics
  • Plates, cups, and utensils
  • Toilet paper

That’s not a comprehensive list, so if there’s anything else you’ll need to comfortably get through 24-48 hours before your house is unpacked, make sure to pack it with your essentials.

Step 2: Make Unpacking Easier During Your Move

Moving day is here! Everything is packed and it’s time to transport it to your new home. Here’s how to do that in a way that will make unpacking as painless as possible.

Load the Moving Truck One Room At a Time

Think about the layout of your new home (and consult your moving plan that you made way back before you started packing). As you’re moving boxes onto the truck (or if you’re hiring a moving company), try to start with items that will be put in rooms in the back of your new house. Keep items that belong together grouped together on the truck, so when you’re unloading, it’s easy to put things where they belong.

Unload Everything in the Correct Rooms

Unload Everything in the Correct Rooms

It can be tempting to get everything off the moving truck as quickly as possible by just dumping everything in the living room (or whatever the first room inside the front door may be). Don’t. Remember all that time you put into labeling and color-coding every box? Now is when you put it to good use. Make sure you follow the labels on all your boxes and unload them into the rooms where they’ll be unpacked — or make sure your movers know the system and unload accordingly. Bedroom boxes go in bedrooms. Kitchen boxes go in the kitchen. It doesn’t take much extra time to move boxes into the right rooms, and it will make unpacking go much more smoothly.

Keep Track of Your Essentials Box

Your essentials box will be the one that doesn’t belong in one specific room to be unpacked, so be sure to keep track of where you put it. Your bedroom is a good spot. This is another reason it might be preferable to pack your essentials in a suitcase or other travel bag, so it’s easy to spot among all the other boxes that get unloaded in your new home.

Step 3: Time to Unload – Unpacking Tips for Success

Once everything is off the truck and organized into the right rooms, it’s time to start the big job itself: unpacking. Follow these steps to make the process as fast and easy as possible. Our goal is to get you completely unpacked on the first day you start.

Sleep On It, If You Need To

Moving is exhausting work! If you’re too tired to start unpacking right away, that’s OK — that’s why you packed your essentials separately. Plus, unpacking will be much faster and easier the next day if you’re well-rested. Order your favorite take-out meal and get a good night’s sleep so you can hit the ground running in the morning, if that’s what you need.

Start By Cleaning, If You Haven’t Already

If you were able to swing by your new place and clean it before moving day, great! Skip this step.

Otherwise, now is the time to clean anything that needs it. The goal is to be able to focus just on unpacking without having to clean anything as you go, so if there are any dirty cabinets or dusty shelves, take care of those now.

Start With Furniture in Each Room

Before you unpack a single box in any given room, make sure all the right furniture is there and situated. It’s much easier to rearrange large furniture items before the bed is made or the drawers are filled, so this is the best time to try different layouts of furniture (including major appliances, bookshelves, and other large items) and make sure things are where you want them to stay.

Unpack the Bathroom First

When unpacking in a new home, it can be tough to decide exactly where to start. We recommend doing bathrooms first, because of the essential purposes they serve all throughout the day. You don’t want to use the bathroom only to find there’s no toilet paper or hand soap unpacked yet. And when you’re ready for a shower after a long day of hard unpacking work, you’ll be glad to see the shower curtain put up and bath mats already laid out.

Then, Unpack the Bedrooms

The next most essential spaces in your home will be any bedrooms that are used on a nightly basis (so all of them except guest rooms, if you have any). You’ll need good rest to finish the big job of settling into your new home, so make sure bedrooms are set up for that.

Finally, Finish the Home In This Order…

You’ll want to unpack the remaining spaces by order of importance. Here’s what we recommend:

  1. Kitchen
  2. Dining room
  3. Living room
  4. Home office
  5. Entryway
  6. Guest rooms
  7. Closets
  8. Storage spaces

Break Down Boxes As You Go

As you finish each room, you want it to be completely finished and ready to live in. That means not leaving a sea of boxes in your wake.

As you unpack each box, break it down and move it to a designated area to be ready for recycling.

Leave Your Distraction Box for Last

You don’t want to get derailed by the TV or another distraction. Remember the “distraction box” you packed? No matter what room it’s in, leave it for last so you don’t put off unpacking because of distractions.

Do Another Round of Decluttering As You Unpack

Unpacking is a great time to do even more decluttering, so you can ensure your new house stays organized for the long haul.

Keep a big box by the front door, and as you unpack, if you pull out any items you can’t find a home for, or that you realize you don’t want or need, add them to the decluttering box. Then, when you’re done unpacking, you can donate or toss that whole box.

Enjoy Your New Home

Once you’re done unpacking, congratulations! Get some more take-out and spend some time enjoying your new home. You earned it.

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