Nearly 35 million Americans got a move on by changing home addresses in 2017, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey data. No matter if a residential move is cross country or down the block, people need to be prepared to leave their comfort zone, according to Scott Michael, president and CEO of American Moving & Storage Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia. AMSA is an organization of 3,500 international members that include movers and the moving industry’s equipment suppliers.

“It seems that Murphy’s Law is always in effect when you move, no matter how much you plan,” Michael says. “The moving process can become a lot less stressful and easier the more you can plan ahead.”

While the end of the month and summer are the busiest time and season for moving, Michael says people can often save on professional movers’ fees if they can be flexible.

“Scheduling a move during off-peak times with professional movers can take some of the stress out of changing residences, because people might not feel as rushed,” he says. “And while people can certainly make a move locally by themselves, having professional movers to do the heavy lifting — both literally and figuratively — can help make for a seamless transition.”

To ensure a smooth move, Michael says it’s imperative to make sure any professional moving company is both licensed and insured and has a proven track record, with customer references.

“While local movers will often charge by the hour, certified interstate movers will charge by weight and mileage,” he says. “Before hiring a company, get at least three estimates and keep a healthy skepticism about the lowest bid. You get what you pay for, and you want to be dealing with a reputable company, since most of your earthly possessions will be boxed up in a truck they’re driving.”

Preparing for a move eight weeks out is ideal, Michael says. View a move as an opportunity to first clear away the clutter before having moving companies come to give bids on a residential relocation.

“You don’t want to move things that you’re never going to use in your new house,” he says. “If possible, know the layout of the new home and begin to decide placement of household items you want to bring from your current residence.”

After purging unwanted items, it’s then time to pack as you proceed to your new home. If you’re going to pack yourself, begin the process at least one month before the move and have on-hand the necessary supplies: boxes, packing paper, bubble wrap and permanent markers for labeling. If a professional mover is doing the packing, arrange for it to be done one or two days before loading begins.

“Know that professional movers aren’t liable for breakage if you pack items yourself,” Michael says. “An easy way to begin the packing process is to start with nonessential items, such as holiday decorations, unused toys and the linen closet.”

Keep like items together, and pack books in smaller boxes so they are easier to lift. Mark the outside of every box with its contents and into which room the box needs to be placed inside the new home. If possible, have a blueprint of the new home and assign each room a number. Write the corresponding number of the room on the outside of each box, so movers know where a parcel should be deposited when unloading.

Indicate easily breakable contents by writing “FRAGILE” and “TOP LOAD” on the outside of the box, so movers know not to put a dish pack underneath a box of bowling balls. Place arrows indicating the top of boxes, writing “THIS SIDE UP” on parcels with contents you don’t want upended.

Some of the most important moving parts of a move have nothing to do with loading the physical contents of a home. Three weeks before the move, arrange to have utilities (gas, electric, phone, cable and water) disconnected in your present home and connected at your new home.

If planning an interstate move, have your vehicle serviced, and ready the car registration and insurance records for transfer, notifying the state motor vehicle bureau of your new address. Transfer bank accounts and withdraw valuables from safe-deposit boxes.

“Make sure to go through the list of items that movers cannot pack and transport before moving day,” Michael says. “At the top of that list are hazardous items that are considered explosive, flammable or corrosive.”

Lock valuable documents or sentimental items in the trunk of your vehicle, so you are responsible for the safe transport of nonreplaceable items. Also, for long-distance moves, have at least two weeks’ worth of medications packed, along with medical records.

Donate food to local pantries or shelters, since food items cannot be transported in long-distance moves, due to pests. Defrost and dry out the refrigerator, especially if it will be making the trip with you.

On moving day, make special accommodations for children and pets, especially since the activity could be perceived as confusing and upsetting. “While a move is disruptive, it’s important to be on hand to answer questions and give directions to movers, staying until they’re finished,” Michael says. “Make sure the driver has directions to your new home, and notify the moving company how you can be reached during the move.”

Before leaving, complete information on the bill of lading or document evidencing the receipt of goods for shipment, as issued by the mover. Carefully read the document before signing, making sure to keep a copy of it, along with the mover’s inventory list, until your possessions are delivered and any claims over potential breakage are settled.

Above all, flexibility is the name of the game on moving day, Michael says. “The best piece of advice I can give those who are moving is to get a good night’s sleep the night before,” he says. “It will just help you handle an extremely stressful day better, and help you to have a well-rested outlook as you begin a new adventure.”

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