I have moved twenty-one times and I am about to move again — though this time it is to enter a place less rural, as I am not so keen on the apparent likelihood of black bears visiting where I am now in upstate New York, and not as thrilled with the isolation here as I thought I would be! As a writer, solitude is always welcomed — but it is also essential to feel part of a community — no two ways about that.
I’ve moved every sort of way for work and adventure — having friends or family help me pack, packing it all myself, or having movers pack for me. There are no secrets about moving that are hidden from me! The true measure of whether you have had a successful move is the condition of your precious possessions when you get to your new home and unpack.
By and far, having movers do the packing is disastrous. Family is not exactly reliable and some can resent giving help. Friends have their own lives to live, though usually do come when it is critical.
But doing it yourself is a sure thing. You are only going to be happy with the outcome if you do the packing yourself.
Here is a breakdown of the why and wherefore in each case.
Having the Movers Pack for You
This sounds like the perfect choice. On three occasions it was the choice I made. Easy, no labor on your part, everything handled for you.
Until you unpack and discover the truth of it. Three times I deeply regretted my decision.
I went to live in England for a year. I had planned to stay there, so had most of my things with me — lamps, books, furniture, and more. Gads. When I missed America too much and realized I had to return here, I had movers over there pack my things. I selected a company in Bournemouth who had been highly rated, and who would be more qualified for giving service with integrity than the English (I thought)? Once back in Massachusetts, the overseas trailer came and dropped off my lot. Opening those boxes was like entering an alternate reality. I had paid dearly for the movers to pack it all. This is what I found:
- A three-foot by two-foot watercolor worth over a thousand dollars and which had no glass had been put in a picture box together with a large heavy cork board and had no plastic or paper wrapping around it for protection. The board was somehow cracked in two places. Miraculously, the watercolor was not pierced by the sharp edges of the cork board.
- An antique two-foot by one-foot painting done on porcelain — an atmospheric Victorian mansion at dusk in the snow — was stuffed without any covering into the back of the laundry basket. I have no idea how it survived.
- A glass and crystal lamp was packed in one sheet of paper and the glass lampshade was set at the bottom of the box straight onto the cardboard — no buffer. Nor was it marked fragile. (NOTHING was marked fragile.)
- My computer printer was also packed without covering, set into the box as is, a box larger than the printer, ensuring it was not anchored in any way and would slide back and forth.
- As a writer I have boxes of papers with stories done and story ideas and drafts in process and printouts. I had arranged these to be packed in some sequence. I also had a lot of small knickknacks I valued in my writing room, including some Celtic and shaman figures, and a lot of geodes, plus various treasured objects. It’s not uncommon for writers to keep things around like this — they seem to serve as inspiration, and sometimes, maybe as talismans. ALL these things were literally thrown hit or miss into boxes, and none of the objects were put in even minimal bubble wrap or paper, though a number of them were glass and crystal.
- My shoes and clothing were packed as if they were headed for the thrift store, no hangers, no smaller boxes or wrapping for the shoes.
- Bedding and towels fared well — after all, what could happen to them? It was a different story for tables and chairs and the sofa and lounge chair — nothing covered them so they arrived with smudges or scrapes that were not on the furniture before.
The one good thing that did arise was my decision to pack my own books and CDs and DVDs. I did that long before those movers arrived. I so value my books — I dread to think what they would have done with 600 books, some of which were first editions.
As if I had not learned my lesson about having movers pack for me well enough, I experienced one of the more strange episodes here in the northeast. This is a shorter example, but equally brings a certain disbelief to mind.
I once taught at a university, have been a lifelong researcher, and so I love books. They do figure in this next move. The time for moving — the window of time — was short — I had seven days. So I hired highly recommended people to pack some of the books, and to pack all the decorative items and glass, plus all my science fiction books (treasures I should never leave in the hands of anyone else!).
When I got to my new place, I didn’t open the boxes right away — I was finishing a book, and didn’t want to lose momentum, or forget what I wanted to do with the story. When I DID unpack, I found decorative objects thrown on top of drapes but able to collide with one another in half-filled boxes, thus in danger of breaking or being marred in some way. I found some boxes with documents thrown in upside down and torn and glass objects mixed in with DVDs. Some boxes had not been sealed shut, so their contents could have easily fallen out if the box got tipped. Favored memorabilia from a Star Trek convention and Epcot were tossed in with old magazines.
But the strangest thing was that in five of the boxes, which the guy packed in the bedroom — clean boxes I had just purchased at Home Depot, along with new tape and wrapping paper — I found at least a cup of my parrot’s dry food scattered among the books. Since these boxes were sealed, it meant the food went in along with the books. Yet my parrot’s food was in a plastic bag, the one it arrives in, with a zipper closing — and anyway, it was in the kitchen. So why was there evidence of a cup of it in each of those five boxes? I cannot reach the person who did the packing. I will never know.
Family and Friends
For the most part the hardest aspect of getting help from people you know is that unless you are best friends or have a totally supportive family, you are doomed to spend most of the time trying to stay calm while they pack your things the way they want and resent your attempts to ask them to do it differently. Or they may just not be particular, and they will seal boxes with one cross-wise piece of tape, which never holds up on its own, and find using wrapping paper and bubble wrap is wearisome, so they spend most of the time talking and not packing. It can be exhausting… :-)) On most occasions, I have left things behind rather than engage with family about what I want to have done.
As an aside — with some moves, it made sense to let go of possessions — I did that for all but books and memorabilia and some treasures when I drove cross-country with my son and our golden retriever to live in California for ten grand years.
Doing It Yourself
Without question, packing what you value is better done BY YOU than anyone else. This isn’t just so you can control the outcome more effectively, it is because these objects you pack make up some of your emotional life and deserve respect. You are likely the only person who will offer that when you pack.
You are also the only one who will take good care to pack things the right way, carefully and with caution, to honor both the process and the objects you choose to take with you.
We take nothing with us when our end time comes, but while we are here on earth, creating a home in the way that matters to us means we live well and prosper in a place with things around us that hold meaning.
I hope some of this helps you if you are contemplating a move, and if you have enough time to plan it out! I have a lot of suggestions for how to plan the packing — maybe I will add those in another article.
What matters most is that you make decisions after research. Trust your intuition, and make the packing up happen in a positive way, for your own health and well-being — and peace of mind.