Don’t Live out of Boxes!

Seniors unpacking after a move

Practical Tips for Unpacking Your New Space.

For the last couple of weeks, we have been discussing the best ways to pack up your belongings and get them to their new destination after making the decision to downsize. This week, we want to provide some practical tips for unpacking the moving van and organizing your new space so you aren’t living out of boxes for months.

While it is true that the decluttering and packing up of the belongings that will be making the move with you is a difficult and time-consuming process, unpacking and arranging your new space can be just as challenging without a little forethought.

Unpacking Rule #1 – Visualize and Assign a Purpose to the Space

Before moving day, visit your new home and make a list of every room and space in it. Don’t forget to include rooms like the bathroom, hallways, the basement and all storage areas (closets, pantries). After you record each space in your new home, write the purpose for each of those spaces next to it on the list. If you are moving into a studio-style apartment, this process is going to look a bit different. Instead of assigning a purpose to each room, assign a purpose to each area of the studio.

Once you have the spaces and their purposes listed, it’s time to assign personal belongings to each space. While it’s obvious that items such as toiletries will be assigned to the bathroom(s), it is still important to include them on the list to make sure that all items you plan to bring have a space once they arrive.

Part of assigning items to each space in your new home is ensuring the items will fit into the spaces you wish to place them.

During this walk-through process of your new home, note the size of things like doorways, hallways and even cupboards and closets. Make sure larger pieces of furniture you would like to bring with you will fit through the main doors of the home and doors into rooms where they will be placed.

Whatever unpacking tricks and tips you use, do not assume that every item in your old home will look – and fit – the exact same in your new space. Try arranging furniture in a new and exciting way in your new home that will complement the layout of the space, rather than directly imitate how it looked in your old home.

It can be difficult to try to visualize your belongings in a new space without physically having the belongings in the room; however, taking photos of each of the new rooms to take with you and pair up with belongings before you pack them can help give you some idea if the color schemes and styles will match up before you decide whether to pack or discard/donate the items during the downsizing process.

Unpacking Rule #2 – Start Big, End Small

In our packing blog, we discussed the importance of loading larger items last to help prevent shifting during the moving process, which can damage fragile items. While packing larger items first is crucial for the physical moving process, those items have a very different order of priority once you are at your new home.

Large items, especially furniture, should be placed in designated spaces first. For example, when setting up the living room, place the couch and any chairs in the room before adding end tables, lamps, and other accessories.

By unloading and placing the largest items first, it not only helps you to properly place everything in the space allotted for it but also helps to encourage you to unpack each room fully before moving on to the next one.

Furniture and other large items also are arguably the hardest items to move and place, so starting with them helps to get the process started. It also allows you to try out several ways of arranging the larger items in the new space before unpacking everything that goes with it.

Once all of the large items are placed, then you can focus on decorating, accessorizing and filling in the rest of the room.

Unpacking Rule #3 – Function First

While it is important to unpack and place large items first, before you can do that, you must decide which rooms take priority in the unpacking process. Being able to eat, sleep and take a shower are top priorities, so plan to unpack the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom(s) first.

The goal is to get the rooms functional for use, but not necessarily completely set up and arranged in their permanent order if time is short on moving day. For instance, if it is late in the day when you arrive at your new space, focus on unpacking the bedroom first. Getting a good night of sleep after a busy day of moving will be essential to getting a good start the next day in unpacking your belongings.

If you arrive at your new place earlier in the day, unpack the kitchen and bathroom first, as being able to eat and use the bathroom will be top priorities for you and any friends or family members who may be helping you during the move. Being able to take meal and snack breaks – and having the ability to find the toilet paper during bathroom breaks – will make unpacking a lot more pleasant for everyone.

Unpacking Rule #3 – Give Yourself a Break

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and unpacking your belongings into your new space isn’t going to happen overnight, either.

Be sure to give yourself – and your helpers – frequent breaks during the unpacking process. Skipping meals, or letting yourself become dehydrated by not drinking enough fluids while working. If you haven’t had time to unpack the kitchen items yet – and discover lunch time is fast approaching – consider ordering take out, or taking a break long enough to step out and check out a restaurant in your new neighborhood.

It’s also important not to obsess over every little detail during the unpacking process. Worrying about whether the lamp in the living room looks better on the end table near the couch or the one beside the chair is not only a waste of time, it will lead to unnecessary stress for everyone. The goal is to get things in a working order first, and then fuss over the details later.

One last important detail to keep in mind: if you have a few boxes here or there that you haven’t unpacked for weeks, it might be a good time to ask yourself if the items inside are things you really need. Being able to live without something for a few days or even a few weeks may be a great indicator that you can donate or discard those items to make room for other more essential belongings.

Have an unpacking tip you would like to share with our readers? We would love to hear about it in the comments section.

Learn more about downsizing at one of our upcoming Upside of Downsizing conferences. Information on the next event is available here.


Mary Spann

Mary Spann

Mary Spann is the founder and president of Upside of Downsizing®. In addition to her 26 years in construction, interior design, and home staging, Mary also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, making her uniquely qualified to assist with the downsizing process. Mary learned the key components of construction and interior design at an early age. Her father was a prominent custom home builder in Minnesota and Texas, and her mother was a successful interior designer and a real estate broker.
Mary Spann

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