About 10% of the U.S. population moves every year, and although it’s hard to quantify the impact that moving from point A to point B can have on the environment, it’s easy to see how packing, organizing, and relocating items from one place to another, can add up to some degree of waste.
Unless you can literally fit all your possessions in a single backpack, between boxes, packing materials, and piles of unwanted belongings that often get thrown in the trash as closets and drawers get cleared out, moving can become a bit of an ordeal… but with a little planning it really doesn’t have to be.
Only move what you have to
If you know you no longer want or need something you have uncovered while sorting your belongings, sell it or give it away. Moving things that you already know you won’t have a use for in the future is a waste of time, effort, fuel and money. If you know you have a lot of stuff to go through, plan ahead and start decluttering early on by dividing all items into three categories: keep, sell, donate.
The items you plan to donate take directly to the thrift store, charity shop, or local charity drop off location. Instead, when deciding on the things you plan to sell, be mindful of the various platforms available. High-value items that would benefit from a bigger audience could be uploaded on eBay, larger items (such as furniture for example) or electronics that might need inspecting, could alternatively be sold or given away on Gumtree. If, on the other hand, you wish to give things away locally, you could organize a yard sale, or look into local social media groups.
Use what you have
Before spending money and creating more waste by purchasing things for the move, look around your home, it’s likely you already have plenty of great packing containers and materials that can come in handy.
Things like suitcases and bags are the obvious choices for containers, but other items such as your laundry basket, large pans, crates, decorative baskets, buckets, wicker baskets, backpacks, dresser drawers, pillow cases, or even cloth bags, can help you maximizes your pack space. Obviously all these go in addition to boxes you already have lying around, from anything bought before the move.
As far as packing materials go, if you kept plastic bubble wrap from previous purchases or from gifts, use that, if not, plenty of things can be used in its place, even when it comes to wrapping up fragile items. Reusable produce or shopping bags, might be useful for transporting your stuff, but they may also be useful to cushion and protect certain objects. Linen, kitchen towels, regular towels, blankets, clothing, socks, scarves and pillowcases are also great to protect belongings or to pack the boxes enough so that items don’t shift while being moved. Let’s face it, all those things need to be moved to your new place anyways, so they might as well play their part in the move, be useful, and contribute to less boxes you have to carry back and forth.
Old sheets and tarps can also come in handy to drape over and protect items that will be transported in a truck, van or trailer from dust, grease or the elements.
What you don’t have get second-hand
If you find yourself in desperate need for boxes which you don’t have, or can’t substitute with anything else, get them second-hand. Ask friends, family, colleagues and neighbors if they have boxes you could use, either to borrow or to keep and then pass on afterwards. You could also check your local grocery store, your work, or places you know are always getting boxes from shipments which then end up in a dumpster or compactor. Once you are done with the move and no longer need the boxes you can use them to ship packages, donate them, or, ultimately, if no one you know wants them, and you don’t have the space to store them for future needs, break them down and take them to the nearest recycling facility.
Please note that to keep your move waste free, and limit the use of single use plastic as much as possible, you will have to be mindful of things such as the use of sticky tape. It may not seem like it, but tape is plastic, and tape left on boxes can contaminate the paper recycling process (find out more about it here). Go tape-free by overlapping each flap and tucking the last flap into the beginning side.
With items that absolutely need taping, or with boxes that need to be strengthen with tape at the bottom, choose paper packing tape. Of course, the most sustainable option is always the thing you already own, so if you have an alternative, such as old plastic tape lying around the house, use that rather than go out and purchase something just for the move. Whichever tape you end up using, be sure to remove it promptly afterwards or else it will stick and tear and become a nightmare to get rid of later on.
If the packing options we mentioned before (linen, towels, clothing etc) aren’t enough for everything you need to move, again, ask around to see what others have available or put a call-out online. Shops often have a lot of bubble wrap to throw out, as well as tissue paper you could use.
Make plans for your perishables
Moving your fridge and freezer is a bit more time consuming than simply emptying out the content. In fact, you’ll need to turn it off before moving, so it defrosts properly, and then wait again on the other end, for it to get to temperature. Therefore, you will need to plan ahead as far as perishable items go. You could either consume everything that’s in there and then start fresh in your new home (that’s probably the best option if you’re moving really far away), or you could make a plan for the hours your fridge and freezer will be out of service. For example, you could ask friends and neighbors if you could store some of your things in their fridge, or you could use/borrow a camping fridge. Of course this problem arises with real perishables, other items that are kept in the fridge but that can cope without refrigeration for a day or so (sauces, pickles, jars of jam etc) can be boxed and moved with everything else.
Getting things from A to B efficiently
Choose the right mode of transport based on the amount of things you have to move, their size, weight, and the distance you have to travel. Of course multiple vehicle trips are going to consume more fuel, money and time. Options go from booking a man-with-a-van, using your car or a friend’s car, renting a trailer, borrowing a van from someone you know or maybe from your place of work.
If you’re not moving far away, and have the chances to optimize trips over a longer period of time, do so by moving boxes while running other errands between your new home and your old one.
Of course if the new place is hours away, everything needs to be organized so that it takes up less space as possible and can be transported in less trips as possible. This can be done by renting the right size truck for the amount of possessions you are moving, and choosing companies that use biodiesel fuel, which burns cleaner than the standard diesel fuel traditionally used in moving trucks. Do your research on local moving companies, to find what the most sustainable option available.
Key tip: Plan ahead!
Yes, moving can definitely be stressful, but that doesn’t mean that it also has to be wasteful, and if you take the time to plan ahead, it won’t be.
Although it’s tempting to leave everything to the last couple of days or to the last week, decluttering before moving reduces the amount of things you need to move in the first place. Be sure to purge items that are broken, and that you no longer need or want before the move in order to cut down on boxes, space, and time. Also, declutter before hand so that you will have a suitable amount of time to re-home (through donations or sales) all those unwanted items, or to recycle them properly, or to make sure none of them (or in the worst case, very few of them) end up in a landfill.
If you have the space, starting early will also give you a chance of gathering all the supplies you need a few months ahead of time (saving boxes from deliveries, or from friends who are getting rid of theirs for example).