How to Plan a Cross Country Move

tips for planning a cross country (or local!) move

Moving. Funnily enough, this word doesn’t invoke as much dread in me as it used to. Still one of the most annoying tasks around? Sure. But if you’ve done it a time or two, you get your systems down pat, and once you know how to handle each phase of the moving process, the whole thing is a lot less daunting. Several of you have mentioned that you’re getting ready to embark on big moves too, so I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up on how to plan a cross country move (or even a local one too!).

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1. Begin the purge process as soon as you know you’re going to be moving.

Because a) nothing drives me nuttier than paying for someone to move shit I don’t even want and b) nothing will stress you out more than opening up boxes and having to figure out where to put stuff you don’t even want.

There are a few things you can do in the weeks leading up to your move to help purge:

Don’t worry about taking lots of trips to your local donation center. You can designate areas of your home for “donation piles,” and collect things as you go before your move. A couple days before the movers arrive, box/bag everything and then drive it to the donation center of your choice. Make the designated donation pile somewhere simple and obvious, where all members of the house can dump stuff there.

— Or, build your donation piles, then call for a donation pickup. If you don’t have time to drive stuff to a donation center — or, like me in New York, can’t easily haul lots of bags and boxes down by yourself — many organizations will come by your place to pick up donations (even more so if you have larger pieces of furniture). This can take one less errand off your plate, which during move time, is huge.

Sell clothes and accessories on a place like ThredUp. I did this recently (for the fourth time!) as I was cleaning out my closet in anticipation of the move. The clean-out bags come straight to your door, so it couldn’t be easier.

Craigslist stuff. You will be shocked at what goes for free or very low cost. When we moved from SF, we sold the vast majority of our furniture in less than a week, all on Craigslist. And on the flip side, in New York, when we had a gagillion boxes after moving in, I listed all of them for free on Craigslist and kid you not, they were all gone within a few hours. People even took all our crumpled up packing paper! 

tips for moving cross country

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2. Google Docs and ToDoist is your friend

With big moves, there is honestly so much on your mind, that you HAVE to use lists to keep track of everything that needs to get done, otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to remember all the details.

For keeping track of who I need to tell about my move:

In Google Docs, I have used the same spreadsheet for several years/moves to track who we need to update our address with. The spreadsheet is shared between us, I have a column for me and one for Joe, and I divide the spreadsheet into personal updates (like friends/family), to financial ones (credit cards, bank accounts), to work related ones (HR people, various companies I work with, PR contacts, etc). The beauty with starting a sheet like this is you can keep adding to it as you remember new people.

A few that many folks often forget to notify are retirement accounts, alumni associations, and the catalogs you actually want to receive (I update my address every time we move with J.Crew, so I still get their catalog). If you’re a blogger, don’t forget to update your address with places like your web host and domain name — they’re obscure, but still important. And, if you think you’ll be receiving a bill from someone after you leave, make a note to call and let them know you’re moving — this could include doctor’s offices, service providers, etc. If for some reason the invoice didn’t get forwarded on to you, you don’t want those bills to be given to a collection agency and damage your credit!

For all the things we have on our To Do list:

For this last move, Joe and I used ToDoist to make long lists of all the tasks that needed to get done. IT’S BEEN AMAZING. I created an entire project related to our move, then subdivided it based on whether a task needed to get done in New York, once we were in SF, or much later in SF, when we’re more settled (read: DMV and voter registration). It’s helped me visually prioritize what needs to get done sooner, and I love that I’ve been able to share the entire project with Joe. We’ve assigned tasks, and set due dates, and it’s just helped us keep on track generally. This past weekend, I also created a packing list, for the items we want to have with us while we’re traveling, including items we’ll need for Lucy, and all those little things that we DON’T want movers to pack up (see the end of this post for more on that!).

Again, both of these tools are things I already use in my daily life, so they were easy to integrate into our “move routine” — however, I highly recommend you give it a try, because having a place to dump all your move related thoughts and worries is a huge help. Sometimes I have literally added a to do item with a question (like: “Should we pack our microwave or leave it in our apartment?”) so that I can remember to deal with it later.

…See how making a note of all these things in a cloud-based spreadsheet can be helpful?

how to plan a cross country move

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3. Do the little errands ahead

Surprisingly, many of the tasks that seem like they’d be most annoying — like canceling or starting utility service — can actually all be done online now. In fact, I was able to cancel our utility service in New York a month ahead of time, and our utilities in SF are already set to turn on the day we move in. Most utility companies have done a decent job at setting up online portals, so you can establish a new account and manage all your settings ahead of time (even down to electronic bill pay!). Again, one less thing to be done.

Cable companies vary with this. It’s typically pretty easy to set a cancellation date for your cable/internet, but unfortunately, all companies require you to return the cable box and modem to them directly. Don’t forget to plan a time to do this prior to leaving town, and expect to have to wait in line once you’re there (has anyone been to a cable retail store and NOT stood in line for at least 20 minutes?!). Of course, this will only apply if you’re moving out of your city — if you’re moving locally, most of the time you can keep the boxes at your new address.

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4. The Movers

Picking Them

It should come as no surprise, but I always recommend you check sites like Yelp and do a little Googling once you’ve selected a moving company. If there are negative reviews, what are they about? Things like taking longer than expected I take with a grain of salt — it’s a move, and things happen. Things like careless workers, unresponsive customer service (if you file an insurance claim) — those can be red flags. Moving companies typically only provide $.60 insurance per pound of your stuff, so choose your company wisely. You can pay to insure your stuff for a higher rate, though we never have.

I will say that throughout many, many moves over the last five years, I have only ever had one item damaged, and it was actually during a cross-town move in SF. Not bad. Most move companies are really careful.

What do you want them to do?

Once you’ve got a company selected, consider how much work you want them to do. For in-town moves, Joe and I have usually packed a lot of our own stuff. In SF, I used to go and buy file boxes from OfficeMax, because they were an appropriate size for me to move around, even when stuffed with books (those bigger boxes were harder for me to handle), and they had lids which made them easy to stack in our car. Many moving companies will charge you less if you disassemble furniture and take down things like art work and curtains on your own.

No matter the distance of your move, I always say you should pay to have movers pack a kitchen. There’s nothing worse than wrapping all that stuff up yourself.

About your unmentionables (and other private items)…

What should you do about personal items you don’t want movers touching? Here’s a little known secret: you can actually pack certain pieces of furniture full of items, and movers will wrap them up and take them as is. So if you don’t want random people going through your underwear or nightstand drawer, pack them up in a bureau or something similar, then just make sure to tell the movers that that piece is full and can go as is. Typically, when the moving company comes to assess our furniture, I will ask which storage pieces we can pack with stuff, and which ones they’ll want to empty out due to their size/weight. Then, I know ahead of time where to pack those unmentionables.

In both our cross country moves, we have sprung to have movers pack us up. For such a long distance move, we feel it’s worth having professionals making sure our things safely complete the journey. For in-town moves, we’ve had movers pack our kitchen and deal with all our furniture, while we moved books, art, knick knacks, and clothing. But to be honest, having them do everything is 1000 times easier, primarily because you don’t have to live in chaos for a week beforehand.

Oh, and don’t forget: movers should be tipped. In cash. And for inter-state moves, where you have two separate move teams on each end, you’ll need to tip the team on side A and the team on side B.

tips for a cross country move

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5. Your Ride

Moving to a place where you’ll no longer need your car? This can pose some potential issues and headaches, but don’t worry — you do still have options. Selling it is always one of them. When I moved from LA to SF, my mom helped me sell my car on one of those online car dealers (I think it was cars.com?). More recently, when we moved to NY, we had our car shipped to Joe’s parents home in another state, where they graciously stored it for us in their garage. However, this only works if you have a very nice friend or family member with the space to store your car.

If you’re in a lease, one service to check out is Lease Trader. You can list your lease on the site, and someone can take it over from you — the site actually has brokers that work on behalf of clients interested in signing a new lease, and can pair you with those individuals and sort out all the details.

In many major cities, car storage is also an option — I would try googling “car storge your city” to see if there are garages near you, and what the rates are.

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6. Keep perspective

Moving sucks because a lot hinges on a hundred other decisions before it. Try and focus on what you can control that day and in that moment, and let the other stuff go until it’s feasible to deal with it. It’s kind of like wedding planning in that regard. Everything flows from a few different key decision points, so try not stress yourself out too much. Here’s the order I have found I can build decisions off of:

a) Get the start date of my new lease/desired move-in date, or when I HAVE to be in the next place/city…

b) From there, you can talk to movers to share your anticipated arrival date…

c) With that, the movers give you a date that they’ll need to come to get your stuff, in order for it to arrive on your target date in the new place…

d) This gives you the final amount of time you have between your move date and everything that you need to get done in between, inclusive of planning flights, inter-move getaways, goodbye parties, and the like.

All that being said, I advise you clear your schedule for at least two days before your movers are coming, because despite your best efforts to be organized, you’re just going to have a lot going on.

guide and tips for a cross country move

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Last minute tips:

  • Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get everything done or make plans with every last person. Moving is chaos. A few things might fall through the cracks.
  • You can change your address online at USPS; it costs $1.05 per change, but it’s worth it versus schlepping to your local branch. Don’t forget that you will need to create a change of address request for every name you receive mail under. For example, I receive mail under my maiden name, my business name, and even Joe has two names he receives his mail under (a nickname and a legal name) — the post office needs change of address forms for each of these. Luckily, the form is really easy to fill out online.
  • I don’t bother sending out paper-based moving announcements. Yes, they’re cute, but do you honestly want to add THAT to your plate on top of everything else when you move? With this current move, I actually set up a free Paperless Post announcement a week ago, and scheduled it to go out in April. Just input all the emails and go — it really couldn’t have been easier (and again: free!).
  • When you’re packing up your things, consider keeping certain objects and documents with you. For me, this always includes social security cards, passports, important family documents/contracts, Lucy’s medical records (I’m a paranoid mama), and valuable pieces of jewelry. It helps me sleep a little better at night knowing these items will move with us, physically, versus being stuck in a box somewhere in the midwest if we really needed them. Plus, it’s just more secure this way.
  • If you’re moving to another state, be sure to find out how you end residency in your current state, lest you stay on lists for things like jury duty (which happened to me — no joke, I had jury duty last week, and trekked downtown to work with the juror’s office to become a non-resident in their system. Joe has jury duty in August, and will have to send proof of change in residency in order to be excused!).
  • If you run your own business in Town A, State 1, don’t forget you will need to file the necessary paperwork to dissolve your business, and re-establish your business in Town B, State 2.
  • In between all the madness, I will look at sites like Pinterest or my favorite furniture/decor sources and pin or bookmark ideas. Doing this little bit of daydreaming makes me so excited to get into a new space, and can make the stressful transition feel less daunting.
  • If you’re doing a cross country move — i.e., it’s going to be at least a week before your moving van arrives — consider taking a little trip somewhere in between. We’re going to wine country, so we’ll still be local if anything comes up, but we can get away and enjoy a few days after all the madness! I mean, you’re going to be without your entire household anyway — might as well make the most of it!

Whoa, okay, I know that sounded like a lot. I guess it kind of is, but big moves have a lot of pieces to them! I can confidently say being just a couple days out from my second cross country move in two years, that if you follow a few basic guidelines, it’s really not as bad as you think. I promise that once you get those two key dates nailed down — your move in/arrival date and your move out date — everything else will fall into place.

Best of luck to anyone who is embarking on a move of any size, and I hope this was helpful!

 

Images: Hangers – Death to the Stock Photo  |  Blue Dining Room – Lonny, April/May 2010  |  All other images – “Hollywood Remake,” Lonny, August 2012 (a favorite home decor feature!)

Leave a Comment

30 Comments

  1. 3.24.15

    Love this advice, especially starting to pile up donations. We only moved about 20 minutes away but with a dog & a toddler it was a bit of an ordeal. I don’t envy anyone going through a move, nevermind across the country!

  2. 3.24.15
    Alexandra said:

    I’m not anywhere near having plans to move, but you did such an amazing, clear, helpful, and thorough job I couldn’t help but pin it! You are awesome!

    Warm Regards,
    Alexandra
    http://www.littlewildheart.com

  3. 3.24.15
    Usha Joy said:

    Good luck with the move!! All these tips are bringing back memories of the craziness we had to go through for our move across continents!

    God speed to you and J! xx

  4. 3.24.15
    Holly C said:

    You’ve included so many small details that are often overlooked! Such great advice! And… good luck on the move back to SF :)

  5. 3.24.15
    Erica said:

    Your posts are always so thorough and don’t leave anything out! In December we had a pretty good feeling we’d be moving in the next few months. We took several days and went through each and every room to purge items we no longer needed or wanted. Once we decided to move, it made the packing process so much easier. Everything we had left, we knew we wanted to take with us. Packing was honestly the easiest part of the move! I struggled most with the unpacking. I learned I really don’t do well living in chaos. I felt so much better when we had everything unpacked, but it took us awhile to figure out where we wanted to put things in the new place.

    Good luck with your move back to SF. I can sense your excitement about going “home!”

  6. 3.24.15
    Sonya said:

    Helpful! I hope I need to reference this again sometime in the next 18 months or sooner. :) I am excited for your family and hope the move goes as smoothly as possible. Enjoy wine country! I certainly enjoyed it less than a month ago and can’t wait to go back.

  7. 3.24.15

    Bon Voyage! And safe travels. I got a dentist bill back in Austin after I moved and it was a nightmare on my credit. It was resolved but great reminder! Also, completely agree on paying to have packers on the kitchen – I do not regret spending that money in the least bit. And enjoy wine country – my favorite place on earth.

  8. 3.25.15

    I’m doing a cross-country move in the Fall! Canada – England. What a great list and set of reminders :)

  9. 3.26.15
    Joo said:

    thank you lady! my upcoming move seems so overwhelming but i’ll be looking to this post to get through all the tasks!! Tx again!

  10. 4.1.15
    Whitney said:

    If only I had this post one year ago to help with our move! Wasn’t cross country, but we needed all the tips and tricks we could find.

  11. 4.3.15
    Sabrina said:

    Love these tips! Not moving in the near future, but totally bookmarking this post because I know when the time comes it will be super helpful!

  12. 4.17.15
    Marcela said:

    Thank you for the suggestions – especially the more obscure things that I was definitely forgetting about! We are in the midst of plainning a Miami-SF move right now and it’s extremely overwhelming. If you’re ok sharing, what movers did you end up going with?

    • 4.17.15

      For the NY to SF move, we used Flat Rate moving. When we moved from SF to NY, we used Allied. Both were really good! Best of luck with your move, I know how daunting it can be!

      • 5.12.16
        Nicole Keller said:

        This has been so helpful! Thanks! I’ve done cross-country moves before but they were all corporate relo’s so you can slack a bit when it’s not on your dime. Now we’re going SF to NY in 2 months and trying to get my act together…Thank you for the companies too…we’re getting an estimate from Allied next week!

        • 5.12.16

          Hi Nicole! I realized I should follow up, in case you were getting a rate from Flat Rate. After I posted this last year, and we moved into our new place and finished unpacking, a TON of our stuff was broken, including pieces of furniture, dishes, antiques, etc. We also had a portable bluetooth speaker stolen (to this day, it has never resurfaced). We reported everything to Flat Rate and they reimbursed us a good amount, especially due to theft, but to be honest, I would not use them again, just because of how carelessly many of our items were packed. Allied was great though, hope they work out for you!

  13. 4.30.15
    Harriet said:

    The article is really helpful! I will definitely recommend it to my clients who are doing a cross-country move! I would love to add just one more thing – communicate with your movers, tell them about your concerns and explain them what they need to do. Having a serious move like this requires attention! Thank you for the post! Best regards, London Removals Ltd.

  14. 5.11.15
    Franca said:

    Love it! Really great suggestions… I will use this someday when I am on a move! Thanks!

  15. 9.6.15
    Tamara said:

    This was THE BEST moving article I have come across… sooo many helpful tips, like ThredUp and Paperlesspost and several other important reminders. I’m moving cross-country in 8 weeks and this article really helped me jump start the process. I have those two key dates so now I’m ready to plan everything in between. Thank you for sharing!

  16. 11.24.15
    Andrea Killian said:

    Possibly moving from NY to California due to a job opportunity for my husband. We know no one there so I am terrified. When we moved to NY from NJ 10 years ago, my little guy fell off the couch and broke his arm after a week. I didn’t know where the hospital was to take him to the ER. I had established a pediatrician before we got there but when they told me to take him to the ER, I had no idea where it was located. So with this possible move, I have learned from my mistake and will have prior knowledge of the hospital before anything else.

  17. 3.28.17
    Corynne said:

    This was an excellent read! My husband and I are moving from Philadelphia to LA and it has been a headache! We leave in June but I have already started the cleanout! We are booking movers and someone to ship a car already. Lucky that my parents are allowing us to furnish their spare room with our nicer furniture until we return to the East coast in a few years.

    • 5.9.19
      Candace said:

      Hi Corynne, who did you use to ship your car?

      Thanks,
      Candace

  18. 7.21.20
    Melody Opinion said:

    Thank you for your helpful post! I wanted to ask what moving companies have you used for the cross country move(s)? My family and I are planning to move from Brooklyn to San Diego and researching for a moving company has been draining.

    • 7.30.20
      Victoria said:

      For west coast to east, we used Allied and they were pretty good if I recall (it’s been over 7 years now, so hard to remember if we had any gripes!). For east coast to west, we used Flat Rate, and while they were easy to work with, at the close of the move we realized a couple items were missing, and several boxes of breakable items had not been wrapped, so we had far more damages. Keep in mind it’s all crew dependent though—I’m sure every moving company has good crews and not so good!

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