Making a move is a major undertaking, whether you’re relocating across the country or just across town. But it can be less stressful if you plan ahead. The best way to make sure all goes smoothly is to be super-organized. Before you pack a thing, create a moving checklist that details every step of the process. With a thorough checklist in hand, you can follow along and check off the steps as you go to make sure everything gets done at the right time.

How to prepare for a move

First and foremost, consider your budget. Moving can be expensive, even if you choose not to hire professional movers, and there are hidden costs that can sneak up on you. If you do want to hire movers — and let’s be honest, do you really want to lug that couch all by yourself? — start researching moving companies ASAP. You’ll want to find one that’s both within your budget and available within your time frame. Get quotes in writing, and make sure they are all quoting you the same bundle of services.

Make sure the companies are reputable. The local Better Business Bureau and online reviews can help you determine whether a company is legit. Even the best movers can potentially damage or lose things, so be sure you have proper insurance lined up as well.

Keep in mind that the more stuff you have, the more a moving company will charge to move it. So now is the time to declutter. If you don’t need it, get rid of it — give things to friends, hold a garage sale, donate to Goodwill or another charity. Be ruthless: The more you can purge, the less you’ll have to move (and unpack, and put away in your new home).

Now, it’s time to start checking things off that list. It helps to organize tasks chronologically, so that everything happens in the right order. Here are some moving checklist suggestions to help you get started.

Checklist for the weeks before moving day

The weeks leading up to your move will be packed with tasks to complete. Get your ducks in a row by preparing a list of everything you need to do, and then checking it off as you go. Here are some key things to do when you’re getting ready to move:

Book movers Compare quotes from the moving companies you’ve spoken with, and book one. If you’re going the DIY route, rent a van or truck. And book these services well in advance, because everything else you need to plan hinges on the big day — moving day.
Make scheduling arrangements Once you know the date of the move, consider whether you need to make any other personal arrangements for that time. This can include taking the day off at work, arranging for childcare or making plans for a friend to watch the family pet for the day.
Create an inventory Inventory every room in your current home, making a comprehensive list of the things you plan to bring with you for each room. Include everything: furniture, appliances, clothing, bedding, decor, personal items, even food. Don’t forget closets. These inventory lists will be invaluable once you’re ready to begin packing — and unpacking. You might even want to photograph things of high value that could get damaged in the move, just in case you need to file an insurance claim later.
Think about storage Are there some items that you’re not sure will fit in your new home, or that you know won’t fit but you’re not ready to get rid of? Then now is the time to start researching storage units. (Or to start hitting up family and friends for space in their basements.) Anything you want to put into storage should be cleared out of the house before you start packing.
Start the change-of-address process The post office provides forms you can fill out to have your mailing address updated. But lots of other places will likely need your updated address too, including your employer, health-care providers, the DMV and more. Be sure to keep track, so you have a record of who has been informed, and when.
Sort out your insurance Look into your homeowners insurance or renters insurance policy to see whether it can be transferred to your new place. This is particularly important if you’re moving to a new state. Some policies might even provide coverage for the move. Do you own a car? The same goes for your car insurance policy.
Notify utilities Get in touch with the local utility providers to notify them of your move-out date. Then, establish new utility accounts in your new place. It might take a while to get an appointment, so it’s important to do this in advance. You don’t want to wind up living in a new home without Internet service (or lights).
Buy packing supplies Purchase boxes, packing tape, bubble wrap, anything you think you might need. Your inventory lists will give you a good idea of how many and what kind of boxes you’ll need for each room. Don’t forget markers to number and label each box. If you’ve booked professional movers, they may supply these items for you, so be sure to check.
Pack And finally, get packing! Start with little-used rooms, like a guest bedroom, and pack them up entirely. Then move on to items you won’t need until you’re in your new place. Follow along with your inventory lists, and don’t forget to label everything clearly. By the night before moving day, everything should be packed up except for that day’s necessities and items the moving company will be packing for you. Keep lists of everything that is in each box, in case one gets lost or damaged in the move. You may even want to draw out a rough floor plan of your new home, with numbers in each room of the corresponding boxes that should go in them.

Checklist for moving day

The big day has arrived! If you’ve completed the previous checklist, you should be in great shape. Here’s what you’ll need to take care of on moving day.

Get the movers situated When the pros arrive — which should be as early in the day as possible — show them where everything is and make sure they understand what’s going with them and what’s not. If there are certain items you intend to move yourself, in your own vehicle, make sure they know that. And if there are certain items that are particularly fragile or precious, make sure they know that as well. Be aware of their schedule: If they intend to take a lunch break before the job is done, for example, that’s something you’ll need to plan around.
Pack the rest of your things While the movers get started, pack up any last items that will be going with them.
Do a final walk-through Take one last sweep of the home, inside and out, to make sure you don’t leave anything behind.
Travel to your new home It’s time to go home! Check in with the movers before anyone leaves to make sure they know exactly where they’re going, how to get there and when they are expected to arrive. You may want to follow the truck in your own vehicle. And if you’re making multiple trips, don’t forget to lock up in-between.
Supervise the unloading process This is where those well-labeled boxes come in. Show the movers around the new place, and make sure they know which boxes go in which room. If you made a floor plan labeled with which boxes go in which room, make sure they have it. Ask them not to stack boxes on top of each other, which can result in damaged items. Pay particular attention to extremely heavy or bulky items, like bed frames and couches — you want the movers to put them in the right place now, so you don’t have to shift them around on your own later.
Double-check your inventory lists Go room by room and make sure every box and piece of furniture is accounted for, and in the right place.
Relax You’re done! Breathe a sigh of relief and take a break before you start unpacking.
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Tip
Once everything is in its rightful place, don’t forget to tip your movers. It’s hard work! According to MyMove, the rule of thumb is about $4 to $5 per person, per hour. So, if it was a half-day job (4 hours), that’s about $20 per mover, and for a full 8-hour day, about $40 per mover.

Checklist for after you’ve moved in

Unpack You can finally settle in and make your new space home. Don’t feel pressured to do it all at once, take your time and organize things in a way that makes you happy.
Change the locks This may not be an option if you rent, but you might want to call a locksmith and have the locks changed so that no one else has access to enter your new home.
Check the smoke alarms Another safety tip: Check the batteries in your smoke alarms, and replace them — or the entire unit — if necessary.
Get utilities set up If anything isn’t already hooked up, make those appointments ASAP.
Make yourself at home Explore your new neighborhood, introduce yourself to your neighbors, buy yourself a little housewarming gift. You’ve earned it!

Bottom line

Moving is stressful — after all, you’re basically picking up your entire life and putting it back down in a new place. Unexpected hiccups can always arise, but being super-organized can help keep it from overwhelming you. Making a thorough checklist well in advance will help ensure that you stay on top of every last detail, keeping the process smooth and on-schedule.