how to pack up a hoarder-esque apartment in under a week, part 1: preparation

Moving packing is awful, obviously. I don’t know about everyone else, but it’s always been the absolute worst part of the moving process for me. (Best part is obvs apartment hunting, because I am a creep and I love seeing the insides of other people’s homes.) I’m pretty sure it’s like 90% of the reason Cayce put off moving for so long… when you have a ton of stuff you don’t know what to do with, the idea of having to put it into boxes and then somehow figure out how to correctly arrange it in a new place is horrifying.

This has usually been my timeline of events for a move…

One month before: Find out I have to move. Decide that my life is the literal definition of human tragedy. Mope endlessly. Eventually find a new place to live. Mope some more.

Three weeks before: It’s fine, everything is fine, three weeks is so many weeks, I mean, the Habitat for Humanity people build an entire house in less than that, right?

Two weeks before: OMG I am such a responsible adult, check out all these sweet cardboard boxes I got. And look at all these labels! And markers! Everything is going to be awesome, and packing will be such a great opportunity to finally go through and declutter all my stuff! And two weeks is still so long. I’m actually pretty sure the Habitat people build the whole entire house in a day, so 14 days is basically infinite time.

One week before: Oh yeah, I guess most of those 14 days involve, like, work and other normal life things that also take up time. Start packing up clothes very methodically into neat little perfectly-labelled boxes.

Three days before: Finish packing clothes. Begin sorting through craft supplies. Become aware that clothes actually take up a very small percentage of my total possessions, and I’m really going to have to pick up the packing intensity if I want to get the other 90% of my shit in boxes.

One day before: Exhaustion, panic, and probably a hangover. Begin just dumping crap into boxes, because it’s actually unpacking that’s the great opportunity to finally sort through my stuff and declutter. Totally.

One hour before: Crying on the kitchen floor because the movers are on their way , none of the dishes have been packed, and the world is a cold, cruel place where terrible things happen to good people and who the fuck thought it was a good idea to schedule movers for 8 o’clock in the goddamn morning, anyway??

So yeah, I have not always handled moves in the best way possible. (Except for my first summer in NYC when I moved from 3rd & 11th to 13th & B, and Mahsa helped me push all of my possessions down the street in a rolling industrial-sized laundry bin I “borrowed” from the NYU dorm. That move was pretty rad.) And then the unpacking always morphs from that “perfect opportunity for decluttering” into “where the f is the cheese grater, let’s just dump everything into drawers and we’ll sort it out later.” (Spoiler: later is never.)

With Cayce’s move, though, I was 100% determined to not have it go down this way. I mean, it would kind of defeat a lot of the point of the entire move in the first place, right? Just relocating piles of crap from one place to another isn’t really a great Fresh Start.

note: this is moderately drastic and will make some people angry. whatever. this isn’t a lifestyle, it’s a way to handle a move while simultaneously dealing with semi-debilitating depression and anxiety.

Here’s a small selection of what we started with:

SO. MUCH. STUFF. That’s only, like, a quarter of her shoes. So yeah, it seemed a little daunting, and required some very drastic action  to get it taken care of in a week. So without further ado, I present:

The Eliza Method: Phase 1

These are all the things that should get done as soon as you know you’re moving, particularly movers (should be scheduled the literal second you even think you’re going to move,just put the destination as TBD) and the clothes bags (they take about a week and a half to arrive.)

Step 1: Order reusable moving boxes. This is NON NEGOTIABLE. I’ve used Redi-Box twice (available in Chicago and Portland) and Chicago Green Box once, and I’m sure there are a million other identical companies in other cities. Renting 20 boxes for two weeks costs $99 (larger packages are available) and includes delivery and pickup. Yeah, you can scavenge cardboard boxes from grocery stores (watch out for spiders!) and you can get free boxes from your friends, and you can spend endless time taping them together and cushioning your stuff with towels, but that is basically torture. (If acquiring free moving boxes and taping them together sounds like no big deal to you, you don’t need this guide. You’ll do fine on your own.)

The rental boxes serve four purposes. First, as I said above, they save a ton of time and effort. Second, they limit the amount of crap you can take with you. We ordered their smallest package, 20 boxes, because we decided that 20 boxes was a very reasonable amount of stuff for one person to own. While sorting through stuff and deciding what to take, it really helped to know the we were up against a hard limit, volume-wise. Third, the fact that the boxes are rented forces you to unpack EVERYTHING, and you don’t end up with a growing collection of cardboard boxes from previous moves that you’ll get around to “later.” (Seriously, I went to my dad’s house a few weeks ago and he was going through a box that had originally been packed before I was born. Those boxes are evil.) Fourth, the boxes are stackable and have handles, so the physical moving from Point A to Point B is a crapton easier. They also fit perfectly onto a dolly so they save a ton of time.

Step 2: Hire movers. This is like 99% non-negotiable. You love your friends, right? Don’t make them carry your mattress up and down stairs. They will do it because they love you too, but it fucking sucks and it’s a terrible way to spend a Saturday. Not to mention that trying to manage a team of friends who are doing shitty physical labor for you for free during a time when you’re already at your maximum stress level is a pretty surefire recipe for a complete mental breakdown. Save yourself from all the guilt and planning and hire some men who are professionally strong and competent. Also, be sure and read Yelp reviews. There are a lot of bad moving companies out there. (In NYC, Intense Movers have my undying loyalty for life, and New City Moving in Chicago has always been super amazing and very very competitively priced.)

Step 3: Order bags from ThredUP. ThredUP is amazing. They send you these huge plastic bags that you fill with clothes, then you schedule a pickup on the USPS website and put the bag by your mailbox, and then you never have to deal with those clothes ever again. It’s like magic. There’s a whole “selling” component to ThredUP which is cool I guess–if you send them nicer stuff, they sell it on the website and you get some percentage–but the main benefit here is that its the easiest way possible to get rid of all the clothes you don’t wear anymore.

The website makes a big deal about only sending in stuff that’s clean and non-damaged and “on-trend,” but just ignore that because the main point here isn’t maximizing profit, it’s just getting all that shit out of your house. Anything that they don’t accept gets donated so there is zero guilt. That blazer that your mom got you that makes you look like a substitute teacher but it was kind of expensive so you don’t know what to do with it? Yeah, that’s ThredUP’s problem now.

Step 4: Get some non-offensive storage boxes.  When you’re packing in the next phase, your stuff will get divided into “active” and “non-active” stuff. Non-active stuff is everything you absolutely must keep, but don’t need access to on a daily basis. (Seasonal clothes, sentimental crap, whatever.) This is all your storage stuff. There are two rules for the storage boxes:

  1. They absolutely cannot be see-through. See-through boxes are the fucking worst because you go through all the trouble of putting your things away, and then look! it’s all your things! still in plain sight! They’re good at letting you see what’s in the box in a glance, but you know what else is good for that? Labels. Humanity has gone through all the trouble of inventing written language, so show appreciation to your ancient ancestors by taking advantage of it.
  2. They must not look like they belong in a garage, because you do not live in a garage. You deserve better than gray Rubbermaid totes. Looking at your storage boxes should make you feel like a happy, competent person, even if most of the time you feel like this.

These are the Kuggis boxes from Ikea, and so far they’re the absolute best ones I’ve found. The stackability is so nice and they are glossy and pretty and make your closet look very grown up. Plus they’re not super huge, so you can actually label them accurately and not waste hours digging through to find something at the bottom. For clothes, the Skubb under-bed boxes are phenomenal (and so cheap!).

The idea here is that when you’re packing, all of the non-active stuff that you want to store will go directly into storage boxes, so when you’re in the new place you can just pop them right onto your closet shelves and be done with it. (Also, if you have WAY too many craft supplies like I do and they’re just kind of haphazardly in drawers and shelves, put all that shit into nicely labelled Kuggis boxes too. It will change your goddamn life.) The beginning of the moving process is when you have the most energy, so you should really, really do all of your culling and sorting at this stage. Unpacking should literally just be opening the moving box labelled “cookbooks & photo albums & office supplies” and moving everything to the shelves and drawers you’ve designated for cookbooks and photo albums and office supplies. I guess this is kind of getting into “how to pack” territory though, so I’ll save my many, many opinions about it for the next post.

Back to boxes: OVERBUY YOUR STORAGE BOXES. Get WAY too many. Returning the ones you didn’t use after the move is over and done with is 100000% easier than having to get up in the middle of packing and drive to the store because you realized that you need two more big boxes for all the fabric you forgot you had stashed in the hall closet.

So I guess this phase isn’t so much drastic as it is expensive. I get that some of it seems wasteful, I truly do. But, like, life is wasteful, right? If you look around your apartment and it’s totally full of crap, that’s all wasted money–and it’s kind of even worse than “wasted,” because all that crap is getting in the way of you being a happy, healthy person. It’s emotionally harder to spend money on things like movers and nice storage boxes, because it’s all at once and it’s not fun stuff that gives you that little rush when you buy it, but in Cayce’s case it was literally an investment in her current and future mental health. This whole process has not been cheap, but hermiting up in your depression cocoon and soothing yourself with booze and pizza delivery and compulsive online shopping isn’t exactly cheap either.

Side note: I am constantly worried about sounding judgmental and holier-than-thou when I write about this stuff. The reason I took on this “project,” and the reason I’m happy to spend hours packing up someone else’s apartment and whatever, is that I’ve been in this exact same place before. A year or two ago, it was a pretty remarkable day if I managed to take a shower and do a load of laundry. Then I was “lucky” enough to go through some insanely shitty personal trauma that turned into a kind of “make it or break it” situation for my emotional health, and by pure chance the “make it” side just barely won out. So instead of holding on by a thread, I’m holding on by like six threads, and stuff like planning out packing strategies literally gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Now here’s a very funny video that has nothing at all to do with any of this.

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  1. “Humanity has gone through all the trouble of inventing written language, so show appreciation to your ancient ancestors by taking advantage of it.” has now been added (crediting you, of course) to the signature line on my work emails. Thank you. 🙂

  2. I’m finally pulling myself out of a depression hole, so I’m enjoying this project a lot & don’t find you judgy at all. It’s clear you’ve been there. Please thank Cayce for sharing!

    1. agreed, not judgey. it’s more “i care about you so i’m going to step in and make decisions for you so you don’t have to” and sometimes i think we all need that. best wishes to Cayce to get through this!

    2. Thanks dude. I will totally thank her for you–she’s being all super casual about me publishing these pictures but I know if it were me I’d be freaking out, so I’m glad that people appreciate it 🙂

  3. I love reading your posts. I don’t know if I’ll be moving anytime in the near future (affording anything other than my cheap rental????? Probs never gonna happen) but now I feel like I could totally tackle doing so if I ever get to!

    1. Thanks Lisa! I feel like maybe half the battle of moving is just having a plan for everything.