The Sane Guide to Unpacking

By Annika Mengisen
Special to Relocation.com


I've let clothes mildew for weeks in boxes to avoid it: The dreaded chore of unpacking. But when you move and have your entire household in boxes, it's an elephant in the room that won't be ignored. Whether the unpacking job is large or small, just about everyone tends to feel a bit overwhelmed by the grueling task ahead.

Even a moving expert like Sandy Payne, author of Move Your House, wanted to run for the door when faced with her first unpacking job. "The movers packed our items one-by-one on the front end of the move, but why did they do a "drop the boxes and run" technique at the end?" she laments.

Faced with a slew of boxes with vague labels like "kitchen" or "clothes," Payne decided to try the dangerous "take-everything-out-of-every-box-at-once" method. "In the end, after weeks of confusion, long hours and very intense work, we managed to get our house set up in time for the delivery of our second child," says Payne.

The good news is that there's hope for the rest of us if we can learn from such mistakes. For starters, don't start unpacking until you have done the following:

* Discuss the process with anyone who will be involved in unpacking.
* Gather pen, paper and designate "discard" and "donate" areas/moving boxes.
* Prepare a system for making note of any damaged items.
* Prioritize the rooms you will need -- the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms.

Payne doesn't want you to make the same mistakes she did, so use this room-by-room guide to a sane unpacking experience (that's not an oxymoron).

Living Room:

* Create functional zones for working and define those spaces with area rugs or accent walls.
* Make your space look neater (even when it isn't) by closing stacks of DVD's and other stored items behind cabinet doors or in decorative boxes.
* We often underestimate the amount of storage space we need, says Payne, but imagining you have less stuff won't make it reality. Don't buy storage items until you're sure just how much you'll need to store.
* Knick-knacks will get in the way when you're hoisting your coffee table or loveseat across the floor. Wait to unpack your accent pieces until you have all of the major furniture in place.
* Once they're in place, rotate your accents/décor instead of putting them up all at once -- this makes your space look less chaotic and eliminates the boredom of looking at the same thing as you're working. Plus you'll be less likely to spend money on new items.

Kitchen:

* Keep your countertops free of visual clutter.
* Make sure your storage products accommodate hard-to-store objects, like that bread maker you never use.
* On the fridge -- if it's arrived -- create a family message area with calendars, schedules and to-do lists that everyone can access and read.

Master Bedroom:

* Keep it as a sanctuary for sleeping and relaxing. "Try not to put a work zone in the same space as a rest zone," says Payne.

Bathroom:

* Use a color code system to tell each other's toiletries apart -- each family member gets a different color basket, bin, towel or hanger.
* Before unpacking, clean this room, starting with the ceiling.
* Monogramming towels with initials is an easy way to mark ownership, and this can be done inexpensively.

Office:

* Don't let your mail take over your office space. No matter how busy you are with all the other chores of settling in, make it a priority to file paperwork weekly -- daily even.

Throughout the House:

* Create (and stay faithful to) an index card unpacking to-do list with a separate task on each card.
* Designate how much time you need to complete the task in the corner of each card.
* When you have ten minutes to spare before rushing off somewhere, pull out a ten-minute card and get something done!
* Don't tackle everything at once -- work in intervals and take breaks often.
* Make sure the traffic flow between rooms is free of obstacles - especially ones with wheels.
* Discard each box after you unpack its contents - you can easily get new ones if (hopefully not when) you move again.
Payne says that dividing your time between unpacking, sorting, and organizing can actually leave you feeling refreshed at the end of the day - or at the least, refreshingly sane.

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