I've moved house 12 times, here's my guide on what to pack first

Here are the items I pack first (and last) when moving

living room with shelves
(Image credit: Future PLC)

The subject of packing to move house usually elicits a lot of groans and ‘rather you than mes’ in the Homes & Gardens office. 

Moving house is, objectively, an overwhelming and stressful time (you have probably seen studies claiming that we even rank it higher on the stress meter than having a baby or getting a divorce).

But just packing forgetting all the other admin for a minute – doesn’t have to be such a dreaded task. As someone who has moved far too many times, I think knowing where to begin and making a big moving house checklist are both key.

What to pack first when moving

It's also the ideal time to reappraise your belongings and do some decluttering because if you don't want to take it to your new home, that's a clear indication that it's something to donate, throw out, or sell. I donated two large bin bags of clothes that I haven’t worn in ages, t-shirts that had seen better days, and a blazer that was never quite right. The money’s already spent, off it goes.

So, where to begin? As someone who is moving house in a few days' time, I’d recommend starting with all of your ornaments.

Living room shelving with open wooden shelves

(Image credit: Richard Powers / Future)

Ornaments are a fairly broad category, but packing these up first (a lot of vases, picture frames, candle holders, candles, trays, and anything else that could be defined as decor) forced me to be more methodical, rather than hopping between different rooms and items. 

A lot like our thoughts wander in meditation, I kept getting distracted – my apartment looked like it had been turned upside down like a snow globe. Being surrounded by stuff gets tiring so the best thing was to just keep on going.

I washed out my glass vases that had ended up covered in hard water stains and dust (really boring), dried and wrapped them up in newspaper, gradually filling ‘fragile’ boxes one by one.

As well as giving you one task to focus on when faced with the task of packing, boxing up all ornaments right at the start when you are relatively fresh also means you are more likely to pack these delicate pieces carefully, avoiding smashed items on the other end.

And unlike toiletries, shoes, and kitchen appliances, you won’t suddenly need a vase or trinket box in the final days of living somewhere. It helped me to stay motivated, too. With decor pieces packed away, my apartment suddenly felt a lot less homely. With half-bare living room shelves, I was spurred on to keep going.

Tips for packing ornaments properly

Living room with blue wallpaper and shelving

(Image credit: Simon Bevan / Future)

There are a few things that speed up packing and unpacking your favorite ornaments. First, group similar items together as much as possible. Choose moving boxes with tick boxes printed on the side, at Amazon, to make it easier to unpack room by room once you have arrived at your new home.

If you have lots of delicate, breakable items, ensure you have enough bubble wrap, also available at Amazon, and newspaper on hand, and cushion the bottom of boxes with dish towels.

What to pack early on

moving boxes in an open plan kitchen

(Image credit: Alamy)

Next, I moved on to out-of-season clothes, spare bedding, and then some bathroom items. When it comes to packing up your bed sheets, Homes & Gardens' bedding expert and e-commerce editor Louise Oliphant has some quick tips:

'Pack your bedding by folding both sheets, duvet cover and pillowcase inside one pillowcase to keep the set together,' says Louise. 'This will avoid any pillowcases or parts of the set getting lost.

'Also, packing bedding is the perfect time to assess whether you're due a new pair of pillows or a duvet. They're items that can often get overlooked but having the best pillow or duvet can make all the difference and help you sleep better.'

Louise Oliphant author headshot image
Louise Oliphant

Louise Oliphant is eCommerce Editor and sleep specialist at Homes & Gardens, here to help you wind down well. Previously covering sleep and wellness content (as well as the occasional organizational buy) at Real Homes, Louise has tried, tested, and reviewed some of the top buys for your bedroom.

With an MA in International Journalism and PR experience working for a luxury homeware brand, Louise brings bags of bedding expertise and enjoys nothing more than helping readers find solutions and sleep products that best suit their needs. 

What I pack last

Left until last are books and some artwork to avoid having bare walls and shelves for the final week. I’ve left plates and cutlery alone too, as well as cleaning products, which I'll pack together so I can easily clean my new home before moving in. The kitchen items I use every day will probably be the last items to pack before the moving van arrives.

Moving house is a stressful time and it can feel overwhelming. There’s the packing, obviously, but there are also the more administrative practicalities, from canceling bills to sorting out the internet in your new place.

Packing can feel never-ending, and you always need more boxes than you think you will. But I’ve tried hard to resist the urge to pack a box marked ‘random’, although I’m nearing the end and some boxes hold an array of items. Doing it properly will make it much easier on the other end when you are unpacking and need to find the scissors, your toothbrush, and so on. On that note, lots of professional organizers will also tell you to make an overnight box with essentials for when you arrive.


Should you pack room by room?

Professional organizer Nicole Gabai says anyone packing to move should begin by packing one room, rather than one category. 'One advantage of organizing one room at a time is it allows for easier assessment of progress,' she says.

'By focusing on a single room, you can thoroughly inspect it and ensure you have disposed of all unnecessary items before proceeding to the next one. This approach prevents the relocation of anything unwanted to your new home. Moving provides an excellent opportunity to declutter.'

Nicole Gabai

Nicole founded B. Organized over 20 years ago and is a Golden Circle member of NAPO – the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals. She's also the author of the best-selling book The Art of Organization.

When is too early to start packing?

Nicole says when to start packing is going to depend on your particular situation. If you are doing your own packing, make sure everything is ready to go before moving day. Upon arrival, the van operator will check to see if the boxes have been properly packed. They move very quickly once they get there. You can save time and stress by decluttering and being organized.

I live in a small apartment, but lesser-used areas like the garage or attic may be a good place to start for anyone in a large, family home. With a bit of luck, you’ll avoid packing something and realizing that you actually really need it. Once a box is packed and taped up, there's no going back.

Millie Hurst
Section Editor

Millie Hurst is a freelance lifestyle writer with over six years of experience in digital journalism. Having previously worked as Solved Section Editor at Homes & Gardens and Senior SEO Editor at News UK in London and New York, Millie has written for an array of homes brands including Livingetc and Real Homes and was formerly Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home. She has written and edited countless features on home organization, decluttering and interior design and always hopes to inspire readers with new ways to enjoy their homes. She lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and loves to weave nature-inspired decor and nods to time spent in Italy into her own home.