From Uhaul to Fully Unpacked in 72 hrs: Our Packing System secrets!

Photo by bruce mars on

This summer will be the 8th big move for us since we got married (not counting the 6 semi-moves for summer jobs as students when we just took some of our things to the temporary housing). After moving so frequently I have developed a system that makes the moves easier and better every time. I’ve got it down to an art!

How much of an art? Well the last time we moved we had our new house fully unpacked and set up in 72 hours. No joke. Want our secrets? Here they are!

Let’s start even before you’re ready to pack. Declutter!

Your first step is to declutter. Seriously, get rid of things. By the time you get to the end of packing you’re going to find yourself just throwing things away so you don’t have to deal with them. Declutter. Declutter. Declutter. Or as I like to call it, decrapitate!

Use the Konmari method. Use the 40 bags in 40 days method. Whatever works. Start drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf. Throw away pens that don’t work. Get rid of worn out sheets. Don’t hang on to that dress you haven’t work in 5 years because you hope to wear it again someday. Move it all along.

Donate the goods, have a yard sale for extra cash while moving, trash items that should be trashed, sell it on the local FB sale group, etc. But move it along.

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Now let’s pack.

You will need:

  • Boxes
  • Packing Tape (and get packing tape, not duct tape or even shipping tape…get packing tape, you’ll thank me)
  • Sharpies
  • Labels or Colored Masking Tape. Not washi tape. I used to use colored masking tape, but now I use colored labels and LOVE them. They stick on easier and work better.
  • A notebook, phone, tablet, or computer (I now use my ipad and a bluetooth keyboard).
  • Scissors

A note about boxes. Some will argue to get boxes of all the same size and from the same place. You can, that’s fine. I wasn’t ever too worried about that. I liked having various sizes of boxes to fit different things better. AND then you don’t overstuff the bigger boxes so they are hard to carry. We used any box we could get our hands on. So pretty much it looked like Amazon and Parent’s Choice Diapers sponsored our move every time. Just don’t plan on packing everything in the big boxes. Especially books!

The First Things First Box

If you’ve ever moved you know the pain of looking at your stack of boxes fresh off the uhaul (or out of the borrowed horse trailer if you move like us) and not having any clue which of the “Kitchen Stuff” boxes the hamburger helper and pan is in and this is what you feel like:

Photo by Nathan Cowley on

So first we start with you First Things First box. Set a box aside that holds box cutters, your notebook or device that I mentioned above, a flashlight, an envelope with some cash, toilet paper, disposable dishes, a shower curtain, and a fast meal in it. Chances are you’ll need those things first when you get to your new place. Add in other thins as you think of them that you’ll want right away.

Now let’s get you packing. Almost. Let’s get you ready to pack actually. Grab your note taking device. I’m just going to write this how I do it now, but if you use a notebook and pen instead of an ipad, just substitute in whatever you need to make this work!

In my Notes app I start a Packing List note. List out the rooms in YOUR NEW HOUSE/APARTMENT. Kitchen. Bathrooms (lump them all together, makes it easy). Storage. Yard/Outside. Laundry. Master Bedroom. Kids Bedrooms (separate or all together, however works best for your family size). Living Room. Etc. Now you know how many label colors you need to grab. For the label pack I like it comes with 8 colors, so I just group my house into 8 categories. For example, we did red for all bedrooms. Assign each room (or room group, like the kitchen and dining room can go together) a color.

I had someone ask once about doing colors of sharpie’s instead and you can, but sometimes the way the ink dries it’s hard to see the color, and if you think you’ll use the boxes again for moving, labels or tape are a better route.

Now you have your index ready to start, and the index is the best and most important part of this.

Cameron HATES the index while we’re packing, but then EVERY TIME he admits while unpacking that it is the best thing ever and we literally have our house set up and 90-100% unpacked within 48-72 hours with few headaches.

Okay, NOW let’s pack you up.

Start packing up the things you don’t use as often and the things you won’t need between now and your move. Books, wall hangings, off season clothes, decor, storage, etc. Let’s say you start in your living room. Get you a box, tape up the bottom nice and secure, and then grab your index, a sharpie, and the coordinating color of label.

Let’s say you start in the Living Room.

In your index create a head label of “Living Room”, and start a numbered list below it. The first box is Box 1. As you pack that box up list what you put in it. “Chatbooks. White shelf decor. Elephant picture.” or “Home decor books. Coffee table tray. Orange vase. 3 curtain panels.” You don’t have to list out every single book, or every single item if they make sense to lump them together. Just don’t put “decor”. That’s too broad (unless you only have 3 decor items total in the room, then that would make sense).

Once you box it up and tape the box closed, you’ll write “Living Room 1” 5 times on ONE label.

Pro Hack: If you use the labels like I use, write Living Room at the top, in the middle, and then at the bottom. Then write in the last two “Living Room” in the two spaces between. This helps get labels written out evenly (because apparently that’s something I struggle with).

You’ll cut each of those labels off and put one on the top right corner of each side of the box (or top left, just make sure you use the same corner on all the boxes), and then one in the top right corner of the top of the box. Now, no matter what direction that box is stacked or turned you can see what box it is (Living Room 1).

The next box you pack in the living room is “Living Room 2”. Then “Living Room 3”. And so on. If you’re doing all the bedrooms in red tape, you can label them by room, but keep the number sequence in order. For example if bedroom box 1 is from the master bedroom, label that Master 1 on red (or whatever your bedroom tape color is). Then if the next bedroom box is from the kids room label that Kids 2. Keep the number sequence in order for each color! It avoids confusion and simplifies the list making.

How does that help with unpacking?

If you are looking for a specific item you find it in your index and you know EXACTLY what box it is in and you don’t have to unstack boxes over and over again to find which box is where. It cuts down the hunting boxes game in a huge way.

Pack every room like this. Resist the urge to make Misc. Boxes, and resist the urge to ditch the list. It feels like it slows things down but I promise it’ll make your life easier!

Also, if you can, keep the boxes grouped by room. Then when you’re pulling boxes off the truck it’s easy to take them straight to the correct rooms. Otherwise you end up with boxes mixed up all over the house.

If you’re using a physical notebook, I’d suggest at least typing the index into a google or word document at the end of each day. Having the list in multiple places in case one gets lost is a GREAT idea. And I’ll explain the benefits of the digital list in just a minute.

We didn’t ever buy the bubble wrap or packing paper. We used our towels, dishcloths, curtains, baby blankets, and walmart bags as padding when it was needed. Less money to spend, less trash to deal with afterward.


When you get to your new house, I was always the designated director. We tried once putting a sign up on the wall with the colors of the tapes and what rooms they went in but it slowed it down and people (mostly who didn’t listen to the system) got confused. Have your list of what colors go in what rooms and be there to direct people to where boxes need to go. Or just unload everything and then sort boxes into their correct rooms after.

Now, this is when the index is AWESOME. You can look at your index and see which boxes you need to unpack first so you don’t have open random boxes and have half unpacked boxes everywhere. Start with dishes, toiletries, and bedroom items. We tried to get the kids rooms put together first to give them a sense of security as fast as possible.

Unpacking takes a few days, and you always end up needing a specific item or thinking, “Oh! The cookie sheets would be perfect in this weird cupboard! Where are those?!” Now you can find EXACTLY where they are in a jiffy. Don’t want to spend time scanning the index? Pull it up on your phone or computer and do a quick search for the item you’re looking for and it’ll tell you what box you’re in.

Another benefit of having the index on your phone, as I unpacked a box I erased it from the list. That way I only saw the things left there that needed to be unpacked.

We’ve done moves from one state to another, moves to neighboring towns, moves in town, moves in uhauls, moves in horse trailers, moves by ourselves, and moves with help. These tips work every time.


-Deep clean areas as you pack them up. Clear out bathroom drawers and clean them as you go. It makes the move out clean SOOOO much easier.
-Start decluttering as soon as you know a move is coming. Don’t wait until it’s time to pack!
-Start packing 3-4 weeks before your move. DON’T wait until the week of.
-Have everything packed before anyone shows up to help you pack the truck.
-Don’t forget cold drinks and food for you and people that show up to help you move, ESPECIALLY if it’s summer.
-For in town moves, resist the urge to take it over in small car loads, one at a time. It’ll drag your move out. Do it like a bandaid. One and done, rip it off, get it over with.
-If you think you might have a future move in the next year or two, save your boxes. Then in that next move just tape over the previous pieces of tape!

And that’s it really! It sounds intense, but it’s not. If you are a list maker anyway, this is your dream system. If you’re not a list maker, but you don’t want to spend days searching for your toothbrush only to find it’s in the miscellaneous box of shelf stuff from the living room, this could totally be your system too! I hope this helps!

Good luck with your move!!


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