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The GOOD Guide to Hustlin': How to Take the Edge off Moving Day

If you're a 20-something, there's a one-in-three chance you'll uproot your life this year. Here's how to make moving day cheap and painless.

In our series, The GOOD Guide to Hustlin', we go beyond the pitying articles about youth in recession and discover ways our generation is coping. The last few years may have been a rude awakening, but we're surviving. Here's how.

If you’re in your 20s, there’s a one-in-three chance you moved to a new home this year. It makes sense—our generation changes jobs more than our parents’ did, we’re moving back and forth from home because of the paltry job market, and we’re taking risks before we settle down. It’s hardly surprising that Generation Y can't stay put.

But moving can be excruciating, pricey, or both. Your move can last for three painful days if you have a lot of stuff you can’t part with. Driving across the country in a truck can cost you thousands. Your friends may break your prized possessions, or you may keel over in 100-degree heat. The stress is right up there with divorce and a death in the family. But there are ways to be a nomad without going insane. Here are some words of wisdom to remember when you’re packing your life into boxes.

You’re still young enough to get your friends to help. Us twentysomethings can still beg our friends to help us lug boxes—especially because they’ve likely gone through a move recently, too. Will, who has moved six times in the past six years, says the key to ensuring moving help from your buddies is preemptively returning the favor. “If you show up when someone needs a hand moving apartments, the odds of them showing when you need help increases exponentially,” he says.

Obviously, you’ll need to bribe your friends with food and alcoholic beverages. Sam, who just orchestrated a monster move halfway across the country, says he customized the goodies for his helpers. “I knew my friend liked Jack Daniels and Italian heroes, so I enticed him with both,” he says. Don’t go overboard, though—Will warns that “getting a keg sounds like a better idea than it is because everyone hangs out and nothing gets done.” Also, give your crew first dibs on any excess stuff you’re getting rid of; when my husband and I moved, we traded my friend an old bike for a few hours of muscle.

That said, sometimes movers are worth the money. If you just signed a lease for a four-story walkup, or if you’re skipping town last-minute, or if your anxiety level is already high enough with work or your personal life, movers can be worth it. Yes, they cost money. But Robyn—who says she can “pack my entire apartment in 24 hours or less with one arm tied behind my back”—claims they’re “never quite as expensive as people think, and once you have a good relationship with a moving company, they are yours for life.”

Tina’s moved 12 times in five years, and has used the same professional mover three times. “We actually have a system down,” she says. “He knows what my furniture looks like and how heavy my boxes will be.” Tina adds that “movers don’t break anything, and if they do, they have insurance.”

Amanda assures me that if you’re in a relationship, it’s better to call on the professionals. “Moving is so stressful that you will get into multiple fights no matter how stable you are—about getting furniture up and down stairs and assembled.” Movers are “cheaper than couples therapy,” she jokes.

Get organized. Whether you’ve recruited movers or friends, it helps enormously to have your shit together before they show up. “I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve helped move who were filling the boxes as I was carrying them,” Robyn tells me. “Those moves were endless and awful.” I can relate—by the end of my marathon move from Chicago to New York, we were stuffing random trinkets and knick-knacks in between our blankets, which at that point were rolled up loose in the moving truck. Robyn suggests having a checklist and always being completely packed the night before.

Having a super-organized partner in crime helps, too. Daniela’s good friend staged an intervention when she had to move into an apartment one-quarter of the size of her last one. Her friend’s secret was obsessive labeling.

“Most people mark their boxes ‘kitchen, bath, bedroom’ and deal with the organizing afterwards. [My friend’s] boxes were labeled ‘big bookshelf,’ ‘closet in the hallway,’ etc. She kept the layout of my new apartment in mind.” Daniela and her friend even sketched a floor plan of the new place to make the labeling easier, and then got the place together immediately after the move.

Of course, this process is a thousand times easier if you decide to…

Downsize. “I’ve learned not to feel too attached to my possessions beyond a few books and mementos,” Tina tells me. It helps her “adapt to new environments.” To truly quell the pain of on a move, keep things minimalist. If you’re know you’re moving, start early. Michael, who’s moved to several cities and is headed to L.A. next week, says he gets rid of extra stuff two or three times a year. “Who needs 15 coffee mugs? Have you ever even worn those pants?” When it comes to kitchen utensils, Amanda follows the “Alton Brown rule: have no gadgets that have only one use.”

This is especially important if you’re moving across the country. Almost everyone who wrote me said if you’re hauling your life across state lines, you should sell most of your furniture. It’s infinitely easier once you reach your destination, and the money may even help with the truck’s gas and tolls. If you can’t sell it, post it on Craigslist's free stuff section or, Tina suggests, “leave them in boxes on the sidewalk marked ‘free.’ Those get scooped up within a couple hours.”

The heaviest boxes you’ll be moving will be filled with books, which can be notoriously hard to purge, so…

Choose your books very carefully. We need to get over the idea of overflowing-bookshelf-as -status symbol; in the age of ebooks and endless moving, it’s quality, not quantity that matters. It’s understandable to hold onto your favorites, but consider donating the rest of your books to people who can’t afford them. Will suggests selling or giving away books “that you know you’ll never open again.” Amanda, who’s very well-read, nevertheless limits herself to no more than two boxes worth of books. After years of changing locales, Lisa broke down and bought a Kindle. “I got tired of shipping books,” she said. “Hopefully this’ll ease the pain a little. And, as one reader reminded me, “someone’s gotta keep the library in business.”

Never, ever buy boxes. Boxes are one of the easiest things in the world to get for free. People are constantly giving them away on Craigslist. One reader suggested finding out when big stores like Target restock their inventory. Gillian makes the rounds in her neighborhood, picking up “liquor store boxes, art supply store boxes, grocery store crates.” Those crates particularly “are amazing and durable and stack very well.” With all those options, there’s really no excuse for buying a bunch of brand-new cardboard.

Move at night in the summer, during the day (or not at all) in the winter. This is a factor we rarely think about, but one that can make all the difference. Charles has moved a bunch of times in Texas, and knows to start hauling ass only once the sun goes down. “If it’s 105 degrees outside, being angry about anything is just going to give you heat stroke,” he says. On the other hand, moving in the winter can be a special kind of hell. My cross-country move was just after the New Year, and nothing will erase the chilling memory of my nearly frostbitten fingers courtesy of a Chicago winter. If at all possible, don’t move when there’s snow on the ground.

Finally, remember that…

Some companies spend all day thinking about this so you don’t have to. The Breakup Box, for instance, allows you to hide all your sentimental crap for a couple years until you’re ready to deal with it. helps you give away the stuff you don’t need. Once you’ve pared down your possessions, ZipCar can be an alternative to a bulky moving truck. If you are faced with a moving dilemma, chances are a company has tried to solve it. And why not take them up on the offer?

Illustration by Andres Guzman

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