My friend Rae is moving, and we are de-cluttering and pre-packing as much as possible, and all of it reminds me of how many times I have moved. It's a big number. I have grown pretty good at packing, and developed the following set of rules:
1. Don't use paper.
Don't wrap things in newspaper. Don't buy packing paper. Don't use styrofoam peanuts, or bubble wrap, or any of that extra stuff. Use your clothes. Use your sheets. Wrap tiny breakables in socks and roll them into a comforter and put that in a box. Put washcloths and dish towels between your plates, wrap glasses in table linens. You get the idea. Anything you would use paper for, use something you already have. Not only does this save you a lot of money in packing materials, it will reduce the amount of boxes you have to lug by at least one-third.
2. Get boxes that are all the same size.*
Copy-paper boxes are perfect, if you have a ready supply. They're solid and sturdy, big enough for most things but small enough that you have to work reeeeaallly hard to make 'em too heavy to carry. For our move from Michigan to California, I spent the year before our move swiping boxes from work and storing them in our attic. When it was time to pack, I brought them all downstairs, filled them, and re-stacked them in the attic for a couple weeks until the truck arrived. If you can't get copy-paper boxes, use file boxes from an office-supply store. This size works well. Of course, some things will have to go in bigger boxes, and that's fine, but having everything in same-size boxes will make loading the truck really easy. Heavy ones on the bottom, lighter & breakable stuff on the top, load around the furniture. Taa-daa.
3. Start early. Like, super early.
Start packing as soon as you know when you need to be out. Keep out your 10 favorite cd's (or none, since, like many others, you probably download a lot of music these days) and pack the rest. Pack your books (pretty soon you probably won't have the time or brain power to do a lot of heavy reading anyway) . Pack your off-season clothes. Go through the Christmas decorations and re-pack them so nothing gets broken. The serving platters you only use on holidays, the breadmaker, the waffle iron. Pack up 2/3 of your kids' toys. Do a few boxes every night and stack them somewhere you won't trip over them. When crunch time rolls around, you should only have a few things left to pack. If you have to go a few days earlier than planned, pre-packing means that when your truck shows up, you actually have stuff to start with, instead of all your "helpers" standing around snatching away every box as soon as you tape it shut.
4. Weed, weed, weed.
Starting early means you will also have ample time to go through your stuff and ask yourself "Do I honestly want to pack this and lug it into the truck and take it out and put it in the new place and unpack it and find somewhere to put it?" Even if you're lucky enough to be able to hire someone to do your packing or lugging, you still have to unpack it and find room for it and shuffle it around a few times before it gets to its eventual resting place in your new abode. When in doubt, throw it out.
That's it, I think...happy moving!
*Of course, if you don't want to buy boxes, try my favorite source for super-sturdy, mostly-the-same-size boxes: the dumpsters behind bookstores. There will be a specific one for cardboard. Word to the wise: it's always better to do this on a dry day, during daylight hours, preferably with the store's permission.