Jacob Beckstead
November 1, 2023
Article type:
Moving Help & Tips
Applies to:
All Moving

Mastering DIY Moving: A Guide For Preparing to Move on a Budget

Before we begin, I’d like to dispel something you might be wondering: Since this article is written by a moving company, it will probably be biased towards recommending the use of their services, right?

Well, here's the truth. As someone who has worked in the moving industry for many years, I can assure you that not everyone needs to hire professional movers; it doesn't always make sense for every situation. In fact, if you're still undecided on whether or not hiring a moving company is right for you, I encourage you to read this article on the subject.

The article you’re reading now will be useful if you have already decided to handle your upcoming move on your own. Allow me to provide you with all the same advice and assistance I offer others. This is what I tell my friends and family who ask for DIY moving advice.

But first, let me explain how this article is structured. In each section, I will present a recommended approach to accomplish the subject of that section. Then, I will provide alternative ideas if you are unable to implement that recommended approach. Every DIY move involves a series of trade-offs, but the more closely you can align your move with the "Standard" approach outlined in each section, the better it will be for you.

Starting Before You Start: Tips on Move Prep for a Low-Cost Move

If you're attacking a move as a do-it-yourself (DIY) project, it's likely because you’re trying to save money. That's a worthy goal! As you prepare for your DIY move, use this guide to learn where it's appropriate to save and where "saving" will cost you. Because the biggest mistake people make in moving is to walk over dollars to pick up pennies, so to speak.

So, here are good ways to save before you even start moving:

Declutter Before Moving

One of the primary ways to save money during a move is to declutter your home before you start packing. This could involve selling, donating, or throwing away items you no longer need. Fewer items mean fewer boxes, less time packing, and less space needed in the moving truck. All of which can save you money.

Here's the standard: Do you remember the KonMari method of decluttering that was so popular some years back? Consider going through that or something similar. Moving is a great time to declutter. So, give yourself at least 2-4 weeks to do this. Start eating those items in your pantry that just sit around so you don't have to toss them. Go through every room and sell what you can, item by item, on places like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or KSL if you're in Utah. Lastly, if you can't sell some items, donate them to your local thrift store. And if they won't take it, then let's face it; it likely just needs to be thrown away.

Borrow Instead of Buy

Often, you need specific equipment or tools for a move. Think of equipment such as a dolly or specialized boxes. Instead of buying these items outright, consider borrowing them from friends, family, or even neighbors.
You'll need some or all of the following for a DIY move:

If borrowing isn't an option, look for rental options on some of these. Home improvement stores or companies that rent moving trucks often have equipment for rent as well. However, renting from the same company that rents you a truck, while convenient, is often the most expensive.

What Kind of Moving Boxes Are Best and Why

Not all boxes are created equal. The best moving boxes are designed to provide durability and protection to the items inside. They're fundamentally different from regular boxes - which are designed with the assumption that the items inside will be individually prepped by a manufacturer. Regular boxes are meant to protect against the external problems that arise during shipping. As such, they can have thinner walls and can exist mostly to keep things organized and don't offer much protection for what's inside.

In contrast, moving boxes are designed to provide extra protection to the items inside. Moving boxes are designed to account for the fact that items inside won't be as well-prepared or packaged compared to items coming from a manufacturer. Moreover, these boxes have rectangular shapes with thick, sturdy, vertical walls. When stacked, they create sturdy vertical walls that maximize the use of space between them.

That said, avoid these two pitfalls when selecting boxes for your move:

  1. Avoid thin home improvement store or truck rental "moving" boxes. These boxes are made from recycled cardboard that falls apart easily. I've personally seen these fall apart or crush for what seems like no reason at all. They just don't hold up well against the normal stress of moving. I know they're marketed as moving boxes but trust me on this one.
  2. Plastic totes aren't the magic you might think they are. Not only are they not as sturdy as you might think they should be, but they also aren't rectangular. By the time you’ve loaded your vehicle with them, there's a lot of wasted space between totes. That wasted space means less space in the truck, and less capacity per load. The more you rely on totes over moving boxes, the more time and money you spend.

What Should You Do for Moving Boxes During a Low-Cost DIY Move?

Firstly, start asking people around you who’ve recently moved for their leftover moving boxes. In particular, ask anyone who used a mover; they'll often have the best boxes. Post on your neighborhood site or social media 5-6 weeks before you move and start collecting what you can. You'll want these sizes for an upcoming DIY move:

  • Small Boxes: These are ideal for books, heavy food items, and other heavier items
  • Medium Boxes: These are versatile and ideal for not-so-heavy items. Think of objects like toys, clothing, and decor items.
  • Large Boxes: These boxes are ideal for lighter, bulkier items that take up a lot of space. Think of items like bedding, pillows, towels, and lampshades.
  • Dish packs: These are special boxes that provide extra protection for breakable items like dishes.
  • Wardrobes: These boxes hold clothes that can otherwise be difficult to move, like suits and dresses. They have a metal rail inside to help hold the hangers.

If you aren't able to find enough or suitable sizes of these recommended box types, plastic totes with lids would be the next best alternative. Use them only if no other options are available, as they may not provide the same level of protection as the recommended boxes, and they'll use more space.

If you are unable to find suitable plastic totes or recommended boxes, moving boxes from home improvement stores can be a slightly better choice compared to retail or grocery boxes. Just remember: They crush easily. Pack extra tight and leave no empty spaces inside the box.

Lastly, if all other options are exhausted, you may consider using boxes from grocery stores or random boxes as a last resort. However, it is crucial to ensure that you pack them securely and reinforce them with extra tape to prevent any damage to your belongings during the moving process.

Packing the Right Way Makes DIY Moving Easier and Saves Money

When packing, it's important to remember these guidelines, which are considered standard practice in the moving industry:

  • Ensure that the items you pack fit inside the box but avoid making it too heavy to lift. The weight of the item being packed should determine the size of the box. The heavier the item you're packing, the smaller the box it should be packed in.
  • Pack the box to its fullest capacity. This ensures it is both sturdy enough to withstand the move and light enough for comfortable carrying. Full boxes provide stability and help prevent crushing or damage.
  • Friction fosters fractures. In other words, friction is your adversary. To prevent items from breaking, especially fragile ones like glasses and dishes, it's crucial to wrap them individually with good packing supplies. Use newspaper if you have it, or you may consider buying recycled newsprint paper that is commonly used by movers. This isn't a spot to skimp, because it will be more expensive to replace items if they break.

The Order and Process of Packing Matters

To pack effectively, follow these guidelines:

  1. Start by packing items from each room separately, ensuring that when you unpack, you can easily place the boxes in their respective rooms.
  2. Remember to label each box, allowing you to quickly locate essential items when unloading. If you're using totes, attach a small piece of tape to the short end and write on it for easy identification.
  3. As you begin packing, focus on items you won't need immediately, such as spare clothes, linens, dishes, and non-perishable food. Fill a box completely, seal it with tape, and stack it in the corner. Repeat this process room by room until you've packed everything that isn't immediately necessary.
  4. Then, move on to higher-priority items until the final boxes you pack contain the most essential belongings. By labeling the boxes based on priority, you'll know which ones to unpack first.

This systematic approach to packing streamlines the unpacking process and ultimately saves you money. When you can easily locate the items you need, you're less likely to resort to buying replacements. By optimizing your packing strategy for efficiency and organization, you can make the entire process smoother and more cost-effective.

Conclusion: Success Is All In the Low-Cost Move Preparation

Moving is a stressful, time-consuming, and energy-draining task. However, with the right planning and help, it can be manageable. This article serves as your guide to preparing your home and timeline for a low-cost DIY move.

To round out your low-cost moving guide, we’ve published another article that covers everything you need to know during your DIY move. From choosing the right portable storage or moving truck to asking for help when you need it, that article highlights all the other components that you’ll need to ensure a successful move.

By utilizing the tips and guidelines provided in this article, you can approach your DIY move with a well-informed mindset, prepped to keep costs as low as possible. The key is to prepare, plan, and then proceed. And remember, it's okay to ask for help. Moving is a life-changing event, and the more support you can gather from those around you, the smoother the transition will be. Keep in mind that each move is unique and requires a tailored approach for optimal results.

Good luck with your move, and may it be the start of a new and exciting chapter in your life.