ANDEE TAGLE, HOST:

This is NPR’s LIFE KIT. I’m Andee Tagle. And as one of the producers of the show, I’m usually working on the soundboards behind the scenes. But today I’m moving over to this side of the microphone because a few months ago, I made a much, much bigger move – a cross-country move, in fact.

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TAGLE: Like millions of other people since the start of the pandemic, I decided to pack my bags, nix my lease and head back to my hometown. And while I’m glad I did it, simply remembering that moving process today still causes me stress. It was the worst – the clutter, the packing, the logistics, the expense – and that’s just talking about my closet.

The good news is while it’s too late for me, I’ve since learned there’s a lot you can do both before and during a move to help yourself out. It all starts with your attitude.

ALI WENZKE: It is really a change of mindset. Instead of just thinking this is something that’s terrible, it’s going to be so much stress, to think of all the positives that are happening on the other side.

TAGLE: That’s Ali Wenzke, the author of the book “The Art Of Happy Moving: How To Declutter, Pack, And Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity And Finding Happiness.”

I know what you’re thinking. Happy moving? I didn’t believe it either. Exhausting? Yes. Annoying? Absolutely. But happy?

WENZKE: I’m not saying we’re going to be skipping and whistling while we’re packing our boxes, but knowing what’s at the end of it, the after picture, everything that you’ve worked for to get to. So I think – I know I’m unusual in that regard. But I love the clean slate that you can be whoever you want to be in your next place, that your home can be exactly what you want it to be from a fresh start.

TAGLE: If anyone would know about how to make the most of a fresh start, it’s Wenzke. She and her family moved 10 times in 11 years all over the U.S. With that much moving comes a lot of wisdom – wisdom that, lucky for all of us, she’s willing to share.

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TAGLE: In this episode of LIFE KIT, the art of happy moving. Whether you’re moving three blocks or 3,000 miles, we’ve got ways for you to save, tips on how to conquer the big day and how to keep your cool till the very last box.

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TAGLE: Friends, even in the best of times, moving is tricky business. But in our current climate, everything’s just a little more complicated, right? Today, we’re going to talk about lots of different ways to save your time and money during a move. But before we jump into that, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Are you sure about moving? Are you clear on your reasoning?

WENZKE: What are your life goals? Is it career advancement or more time with the family? And this all changes, especially right now during the pandemic. What your goals were a year ago are probably different than what they are right now – or they might be different.

TAGLE: Before you join the ranks of the some 35 million Americans who start the moving process every year, it’s worth noting no matter your circumstance, uprooting your life is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. So if you’re not totally certain, the very best way to save your time, money and energy on a move might be to not move at all or to wait until you’re absolutely sure. Or if you’re moving across town to save money, make sure you’re really saving money in the process.

WENZKE: So just go through the list, and you pick your top five life goals. And then write down why are you moving. And does this align with one of your five life goals, because if you’re moving to be closer to family but your top goal right now is career advancement, then that might not make you happier or your family happy.

TAGLE: Once you’ve zeroed in on your why and your new potential place, do your research and make sure they match up. If you can, when you can, visit before you commit.

WENZKE: Some things that can help is if you can stay in an Airbnb versus a hotel, then that can help you get more of the neighborhood feel. Go to Target. Go to the grocery store. Go to the places you will go every day. Don’t waste any time going to the tourist attractions because that’s not really what living there is going to be like.

TAGLE: To get an insider’s perspective of a new city, Wenzke also suggests going to the website City-Data and checking out their Forums page or going on Reddit to ask people what it’s really like to live somewhere, a tactic she often used before making the jump to a new place.

Once you’re resolute on your new location, it’s time for the moving fun to begin, which brings us to our first takeaway – get organized early.

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TAGLE: Make a checklist, and then give yourself plenty of time – seriously, more than you think you’ll need. Wenzke suggests making a moving checklist that starts eight weeks out.

WENZKE: Although it is an eight-week checklist, I do recommend decluttering as soon as you know you plan on moving because that is a never-ending process, as I’m sure we’re all very aware.

TAGLE: What should be on that checklist?

WENZKE: Everything that you need to know about moving and, you know, talking to the movers and making sure you turn on your utilities – everything from the beginning to the end.

TAGLE: That’s right, everything.

WENZKE: That way, nothing gets missed because there are little things, like turning on the water in your new place, that is something little on a checklist, but if you don’t do it, it’s a big hassle. And so just having that guide to go through, thing by thing, of what you don’t want to miss can be really helpful in relieving some of that stress and just making sure you’ve got all your bases covered before you move.

TAGLE: Wenzke has a great free checklist on her website that we’ll include on this episode’s webpage. But for now, let’s break this down a little more.

When you’re making your moving plan, make sure you’re thinking about all the different components that go into your move. Yes, packing up all the rooms in your home and the items within them, but also talking to your important people – your landlord, your boss, your family, your friends. Who needs to know, and when do they need to know it by? If you have little ones, make sure they’re on that list, too.

WENZKE: Let your children know as soon as possible because kids know. They know the whispers of the fact that you might be moving. So, you know, sit them down. Talk them through it.

TAGLE: Set up any last necessary appointments – your doctor, your veterinarian, your tax guy, even…

WENZKE: The person that people seem to miss the most is their hairstylist.

TAGLE: Think about all your important paperwork. Make sure to create a special folder for what you need on hand and backups on your computer. And then there’s your new place – utilities, change of address, all that most fun of fun life admin stuff. You want to write this all down in one place, and then set realistic timetables for getting it all done, and make sure you’re giving yourself some cushion. It can be so tempting – at least I know it was for me – to take quick stock of your belongings and underestimate the tasks at hand. That was the case for Darla Mercado, too.

DARLA MERCADO: And it’s funny. You go into it thinking, well, I’m just going to go and get a couple of boxes and some tape, and, you know, we’ll box things up and move stuff out. We had figured it was going to be a relatively straightforward process because we had, you know, new appliances in the house and all that. But it’s just so easy to overlook things like, OK, well, did you pack up all of the ingredients, all the items that you’ve got in your cupboards? Did you do that?

TAGLE: That was something Mercado overlooked in her last move a few years back. She’s a certified financial planner and personal finance writer for CNBC. And like Wenzke, she advises giving yourself as much time as possible.

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TAGLE: This can help you not only keep your calm, but also help your bank balance, which brings us to takeaway No. 2 – moving is expensive. Budget accordingly, and find ways to save where you can. Just how expensive are we talking?

MERCADO: The average cost of a local move is $1,250 according to moving.com. And for a long-distance move – that is, one of about a thousand miles – the average cost there is $4,890.

TAGLE: That last figure – that’s only for a two- to three-bedroom move. So if you’re a bigger family, you could be looking at even more.

MERCADO: It’s interesting because it sounds like on its own, you don’t necessarily expect to pay too much if you’re looking at, oh, you know, maybe a dozen boxes here or there. But it can easily cost hundreds of dollars just to pack up all of those belongings.

TAGLE: Fuel and labor costs are also a large part of the moving price tag, says Mercado, which, of course, brings us to the million-dollar – well, OK, more likely several-thousand-dollar question, movers.

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TAGLE: The first budget question for movers is, do you really need them?

WENZKE: If you can hire professional movers and it’s within your budget, they’re fantastic. It’s really nice to have professional movers. Seventy percent of our moves we did on our own, and it’s a lot of work to do. However, you’re going through the whole process of decluttering, and I knew where all of my items were, and we didn’t have as much stuff. Later on, when we had the three kids and a house, it was a little bit harder for us to do the moves on our own.

TAGLE: So the choice is yours. If you’re in the first camp and you want to cut costs, Wenzke suggests…

WENZKE: If you are looking at truck rentals and you’re booking early, look at a place that’s 20 minutes away because you might save $50 just by doing that little extra drive in the beginning to pick up your truck.

TAGLE: If you’re in the latter camp…

WENZKE: If you are hiring professional movers, then make sure to get three nonbinding estimates in the beginning so that you can talk to different moving companies and negotiate.

TAGLE: And you can even save a little more if you’re willing to do some labor yourself.

WENZKE: If you are using professional movers and you’re trying to keep your costs down, then disassemble your furniture because that is another step that will require their time. You know, you could do more of the packing yourself or do all of the packing yourself.

TAGLE: To make sure you’re doing your due diligence when hiring movers, Mercado provides a few questions to ask.

MERCADO: Ask them if they’re charging you by the hour or by the load. Ask about extras that they might give you. I think it’s helpful to go and certainly talk to folks, people that you know about any references that they might have, good and bad experiences that they’ve had in the moving process as well.

TAGLE: And then there’s another important expense some often forget about.

MERCADO: I think one thing that’s easy to overlook is this whole issue of liability coverage and the fact that, you know, certainly, on moving day, you’re not thinking about things that might happen to your stuff en route.

TAGLE: Liability coverage, for us laypeople, is…

MERCADO: The extent to which your mover might be responsible in the event of damage or loss in transit.

TAGLE: Without getting too technical here, Mercado says whether you’re renting a truck or using movers, make sure to know what kind of coverage they offer. Oftentimes, your renters or homeowners policy won’t have you covered. And when you’re packing up your whole life, you’re going to want to be covered. It’s worth a bit of a splurge. But for other parts of your move, it’s OK to cut corners. Those three dozen boxes fresh from Home Depot – they can add up.

MERCADO: This is a situation where it might be helpful to go locally, could be over to Facebook Marketplace, could be worth talking to your local grocery store, your liquor store and seeing if there are any spare, you know, extra boxes that they can part with. I would certainly say ask around as well. Anyone that’s moved recently is likely to have a few extra boxes lying around, and you could put them to good use.

TAGLE: Tape, however, is a different story, says Ali Wenzke.

WENZKE: If you’re going to splurge anywhere, splurge on good packing tape because the cheap packing tape is extremely frustrating.

TAGLE: A final cost-cutting tip – consider when you’re moving. A lot of families, understandably, want to move when it’s most convenient – on the weekends, in the summer, when the kids are out of school. So another way to save a few bucks…

MERCADO: You’ll want to be there when folks aren’t necessarily demanding moving services and the like, so winter, middle of the month, middle of the week, if at all possible.

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TAGLE: OK. You’ve got your checklist, and you’ve figured out a financial strategy. Moving on to takeaway No. 3 – declutter, declutter and declutter some more. We’ve all been there. In my opinion, hands down, the most painstaking part of a move is all of the stuff – sorting through the clothes, the kitchen cabinets, the junk drawer, the other junk drawer you swear isn’t a junk drawer – and the inevitable bargaining that comes with it. Like, come on; I’m totally going to need that 5-year-old stress ball in my new apartment. But remember; the more stuff you have, the more you’re paying to haul it. The lighter your load, the better off you’ll be.

Ali Wenzke says start decluttering early, work often and, if needed, recruit a buddy. And you’re going to want to strategize.

WENZKE: I love Marie Kondo. She’s amazing. But decluttering for a move is different than decluttering to spark joy. So when you declutter for a move, weight and size matters. And the first one I recommend is decluttering your books. So it’s books, then magazines, furniture, sports equipment, shoes and on and on and on until – paperwork I have at the end because paperwork takes a lot of time and mental energy to go through, so start with the books. Another reason I like books first is they’re obviously very heavy, but they’re also really easy to pack.

TAGLE: She also had a great decluttering exercise for kids. She calls it the toy store.

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TAGLE: Wenzke takes all her kids’ toys and lines them up in different sections just like in a toy store so her three kids can see and touch every single item. Then she gives them shopping bags and Post-it Notes to go shopping.

WENZKE: I stand at the bottom of the basement stairs and like, doo, doo, doo, doo. Welcome to the Wenzke toy store. Everyone, come on in. They come running into the basement. And in the beginning, they buy everything.

TAGLE: But amazingly, she says, at the end of it, they’re always left with dozens of toys left over that they can give away to family or donate elsewhere. And it works great for adults, too. So when it’s time to sort through books or anything else, try laying all of your items out like you would in a store, then go shopping.

WENZKE: And see what is it that you want to keep and all the money that you’re going to save by not moving these heavy items and packing them and unpacking them.

TAGLE: Darla Mercado reminds us there’s an added benefit to unloading some of your items. You can always figure out what you can sell for extra cash for the move. Or if you have donations…

MERCADO: And you happen to itemize deductions on your taxes, you’ll want to keep track of the items that you’re giving away to charity as well as their values. This way, you might be able to deduct those donations.

TAGLE: And there are a ton of nonprofit organizations. Move for Hunger is just one example that will collect your donated items during your move and use them for a good cause – everything from your pantry leftovers for food banks to lamps and mattresses for people transitioning out of homelessness. Especially right now, that’s quite the win-win.

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TAGLE: OK. Now that we’ve lightened our load, I think we’re ready. Takeaway No. 4 – prepare for, then conquer the big day. By the time you’ve made it to your actual moving day, you’re probably already pretty beat, right? So much energy leads up to this moment that by the time you get there, you’re spent. And because Murphy’s Law, it’s usually when you’re at that level of tired that everything goes wrong. One way to set yourself up for success is to remember to keep your eye on the finish line and to have the whole family hold on to that why.

WENZKE: I know all of us are tired when we’re moving. You’re going through the millionth box and everything. But just trying to say, OK, this is going to be great. We’re moving for these three reasons. Have – always have three reasons in your mind of why you’re moving that you can all be excited about, and they will draw from you, from your energy.

TAGLE: Or if you just can’t get yourself quite to that level of super-duper crazy excited, you could also just remember it’s not forever.

WENZKE: I think another thing to think of, too, is this is temporary. It’s all temporary. We will get through this, both through the pandemic and whatever our moving situations are. And to appreciate the time that you are in the space, whether it’s the slowing down or being closer to family or whatever it is.

TAGLE: And make sure to get everyone involved in this process. If kids are having a tough time…

WENZKE: Giving them some sense of control is really important. And that could be something as simple as choosing a new bedspread or picking a paint color for their room.

TAGLE: Then, once everyone has their mental armor on, make sure you’ve got your moving day emergency kit ready.

WENZKE: So for the day of the move, I would recommend having a snack kit. Snacks are very important – having food in your fridge that you’ll have for the move and having a moving day survival kit. And when I wrote this before, this was pre-pandemic, but I think we all know how important toilet paper is. So bring that with you. Have paper towels. You’re going to need your tape – your packing tape – box cutters, sort of the essential elements of moving. Any important – really important items, make sure to have them in your car. Don’t put them in a moving box. Don’t put them in the moving truck. You don’t want to have your keys somewhere in the back of the U-Haul truck (laughter).

TAGLE: Kids, of course, should have their own kits with their favorite games, snacks and any other necessities. Then there are pets. Pet owners probably don’t need reminding that pets can be a wild card on moving day, but it’s worth a quick mention. If you can, prep your pets a bit beforehand. Maybe do what you can to make their carrier a happy place or take your dog out for longer car rides beforehand so they’re a bit more prepared for the journey. And then, of course, don’t forget about day-of expenses. You might have some extra overhead before you leave.

MERCADO: Certainly, some of the surprise expenses that you might want to think about would include parking permits, for instance. If you’ve got kids, if you’ve got pets, you might expect to rope someone in to either watch your child, watch your pet.

TAGLE: And you should be ready to shell out some extra cash when you arrive at your new home, too.

MERCADO: You very well may be ordering takeout multiple days in a row. It may mean, you know, taking either a long weekend or maybe up to a week off of work in order to make sure that you’re thoroughly moved in and that everything is in its place. Certainly, always build in for those surprise, you know, last-minute expenses.

TAGLE: Mercado suggests, if you can, build in a buffer of a couple hundred dollars or so for out-of-pocket expenses, and that should include factoring in tips for the people that help you along the way.

MERCADO: You know, I’m certainly a big believer in paying people fairly for their time and for their effort. And just be sure to build those tips into your budget.

TAGLE: Some recent guidance on tipping movers suggests $4 to $5 per person per hour worked. So that’s maybe $20 per person for a half-day or $40 for a full day’s work – just some food for thought. And then, at last, you’ll be home sweet new home. Is your job done? Not quite. But now the real fun begins, making your new space your own.

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TAGLE: A move can be extra hard in these times, when you may not be able to engage with your new place the way you might like, and you might not feel up for exploring or redecorating. But remember; a new place provides the perfect opportunity to get creative. It’s cheesy, I know. But taking the time right away to make a new house into your home can make a hard transition that much smoother.

And forging new connections, even from a distance, can help a foreign place feel more familiar, more yours. That might mean seeking out Facebook groups or community classes. In many places, you can sign up for virtual tours of your new city for little to no cost and start to get your lay of the land. Or if you’re near nature, maybe check out nearby trails or ask your neighbors about their favorite parks.

WENZKE: Think about it before you move. What are your goals? What do you want to change when you get to your new place, ’cause you can be anything in your new city. You can have your home be however you want it to be.

TAGLE: No matter where you move or what’s your situation, remember; this is a chance for a new beginning, and that’s no small thing.

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TAGLE: Let’s recap.

Takeaway one – get organized early. Make a moving checklist that starts eight weeks before your move with every task you’ll need to accomplish and every person you’ll need to talk to.

Takeaway two – set a moving budget. Decide where you need to splurge and where you can possibly save.

Takeaway three – declutter, declutter and declutter some more. Don’t forget to donate what you can’t keep.

Takeaway four – prep for moving day with a fully stocked moving day kit and a good attitude. Then, it’ll be time to enjoy your new home.

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TAGLE: Thanks again to Ali Wenzke and Darla Mercado for speaking to us for this episode. Make sure to check out the digital version of this story for lots of great resources that they both shared with us. That’s at npr.org/lifekit.

For more LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes. We have a great episode on how to make friends as an adult, another on how to curb unnecessary spending and lots more. You can find those at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and want more, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter.

And, as always, here’s a completely random tip, this time from listener Jane Swann (ph) from Berkeley, Calif.

JANE SWANN: I struggled at the beginning of the pandemic with keeping track of my masks and found I’d be in my car or wherever and forget to have one. So I got us a set of those adhesive hooks, and I use them to hang masks for myself and my kids right next to the front door. Now, each time we leave the house or open the door to receive a delivery, we’ve got our masks right there, ready to go.

TAGLE: Do you have a random tip? Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us a voice memo at [email protected]

This episode was produced by Clare Lombardo, who’s also our digital editor. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. Beth Donovan is our senior editor. And our editorial assistant is Clare Marie Schneider. I’m Andee Tagle. Thanks for listening.

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