Moving into a new home is a chance for a fresh start and that includes a fresh look at the way you organize your home.
That’s why NewHomeSource spoke with Trish Ethridge, an organizational and moving expert with moving company Hilldrup. Ethridge’s keen interest in organization has been refined over two decades of helping homeowners pack, unpack, simplify and reorganize their lives. She shared several ideas that will help you get the most out of the unpacking experience.
Ethridge’s top five unpacking and organizational tips include:
- Organizing before you move
- Unpacking room by room
- Tackling the kitchen first
- Tackling the bedrooms and bathrooms second
- Unpacking the common rooms third.
Below is more on those tips:
Organization Starts Before the Move
Ethridge suggests making things easier on yourself by planning for the unpacking before you start packing. She recommends assigning each room a color and packing that room’s items in the appropriately colored box.
Then, have the movers deliver the boxes to the color-coded rooms in the new house. This ensures that everything that you need for a given room is already in that room when you go to unpack. This helps cut down on clutter in the rest of the house and has the added benefit of saving you from having to move the boxes yourself.
Go Room by Room
There’s a tendency to try and get everything done all at once, but “that just backfires on you,” says Ethridge. “You end up unpacking half of several boxes and it takes much longer to finish a room. You’re left living with half unpacked boxes for weeks.”
Her solution? Unpack room by room. Finish one room before you move on to the next. “This gives you a sense of accomplishment, which can be very motivating and gives you the energy to complete the next room.”
Give yourself rewards to stay on task — small rewards for each room or level of the home and a big one at the end.
Tackle the Kitchen First
The very first room to unpack should be the kitchen. “We always use the kitchen. It’s the last room to be packed up and the first to be unpacked. You need your kitchen right away.”
By unpacking the kitchen first, you have a natural gathering space and place to rest and recharge and you won’t be forced to live on carryout for days on end as you struggle to find all of your kitchen supplies.
Bedrooms and Bathrooms Next
“Bathrooms are easy. You can usually sneak those in at the same time as the kitchen or bedrooms,” says Ethridge. By unpacking bedrooms early on in the process, you are getting right to the heart of each family member’s sanctuary. “Moving can be tough on kids, in particular. The sooner you get their rooms in order the better.”
Ethridge recommends involving kids as much as you can, based on their ages and abilities. “Ask them where they want their pictures or shelves hung, where they want the bed placed, things like that. It gives them a sense of ownership of the space and can really help them embrace the change.”
Common areas, such as living rooms, family rooms and rec rooms, can be saved until after the private areas have been dealt with. “Get the entire family involved in unpacking these rooms. Let them all choose where to place items and organize the space for their best usage. It helps them take ownership for the space.”
This can pay off in the long run by eliminating a child’s argument at chore time that they don’t know where something goes. “Mom doesn’t have to do everything or know everything. She can tell the kids to put the TV remote where it belongs and the kids know what she’s talking about because they helped decide where it would go in the first place.”
Unpacking your belongings and getting them set up in your new home is a thrill, but don’t let your enthusiasm carry you away. Use this time wisely by really thinking about how you want to set up your home and how to best utilize your new space.
The Storage Areas
Basements, attics and garages are notorious for accumulating years’ worth of things that we just don’t need any longer. These rooms are the hardest to go through, so Ethridge suggests starting with the easiest things first.
“If you have boxes still packed and sealed from your prior move and that was more than a year ago, let them go,” she says. “You obviously don’t need the things inside of them.”
Organize and consolidate where you can. Old photos, for example, can be digitized. This saves space and protects the images from physical damages like mold or moisture. If your basement is full of old hobby supplies, ask yourself if you still pursue that hobby. If not, purge the supplies. Unfinished projects and broken items that you’ll “get around to” fixing also should be purged.
A New Home Equals New Opportunities
Ethridge recommends approaching the move as an opportunity. Your newly constructed home is a blank canvas. Make the most of it. There are very few limitations on what you can do with it and you benefit from having no images stuck in your head about how the previous owner decorated or used the space.
“I’ve found that homebuyers who purchase new construction are oftentimes more engaged in the organizing process than those who buy existing stock,” says Ethridge. “There is something very exciting about having a brand-new anything and that includes homes. There is a real desire to put everything in exactly the right spot.”
Breaking Old Patterns
Ethridge further explains that a new home is an opportunity to change the way you live in your home into a manner that suits you better — this starts with unpacking. To simply pull things out of boxes and settle in haphazardly puts you at risk of falling into the same patterns of behavior you had in your old home.
If your old space was cluttered and you simply unpack boxes in the new space, setting things up as they come out of the box, you run the risk of cluttering the space and creating many of the same organizational challenges that you had in your old home.
“If there was ever a time to break old patterns, moving into a brand-new home is it. Everything is fresh and new, which can help put you in the right frame of mind to adopt new behaviors yourself,” says Ethridge. “Doing so takes planning and a thoughtful approach that many people just don’t have the time or patience for; we’re too eager to get the boxes unpacked and start living in the home to take the time to really think about how to set up the home for our best use.”
What if you didn’t purge before the move and now regret it?
“If you have space, put all the stuff you don’t know what to do with in a staging area,” Ethridge suggests.
The garage is a great choice for staging because it gives you enough space to sort through boxes and it’s visible. The last thing you want to do is stuff unpacked boxes in the basement or the attic and forget about them. In the garage, you are forced to look at them every day.
Don’t Become Overzealous in Your Decluttering
“Items have meaning to people. If something is special to you or you just love it, even if you never use it, don’t feel like you have to get rid of it,” Ethridge says. “Keep the things that you love. You still want your new house to feel like a home and that may require keeping certain items around. Family heirlooms are a great example of this.”
Don’t Keep Things Just Because You Think You Should
On the other hand, don’t keep things just because they came from a family member. “If you have a bad memory associated with an item, why would you keep it and bring it to your new place? You’re bringing something that makes you feel bad into your sanctuary. Don’t feel bad about getting rid of these sorts of items. It’s okay.”
Don’t Hold on to Stuff for Other People
“I see this so often. We tend to keep things we no longer need or use with the intention of giving it to someone else. … Set a deadline for the other person to come and pick up the items and if they don’t come, give them away, donate them or trash them.”
Use the Process to Generate Fresh Interests
This is especially common with sporting equipment. Maybe your current house does not have access to bike paths, but the new one does. If you think you’d like to explore those paths, then keep your bikes.
“Ask yourself what new opportunities will present themselves in your new location. What will you want to do in your new home? Keep items that you can truly see fitting in to your new lifestyle.”
A move is a terrific opportunity to evaluate your current situation and adjust your household items to meet your current needs. There simply isn’t a better time for “out with the old and in with the new” than when you are moving into your new home.
Give It Time
Ethridge also reminds us to keep in mind that organizing a new home is not a perfect process. “It’s very common to find out that what you had planned for a space just won’t work out once you get in the house. That’s OK. Accept and understand that it’s a work in progress and keep moving forward.”
She also suggests homeowners be gentle with themselves as it can take a good year to really settle into a new home.
“Don’t feel like you have to rush through it and have everything done and perfectly in place right away. You don’t,” Ethridge says. “The important thing is to be happy and comfortable in your space and that may take time.”
Sarah Kinbar is a writer and editor with a passion for design and images. She was the editor of Garden Design magazine, curating coverage of residential gardens around the globe. As the editor of American Photo, Kinbar worked with photographers of every genre to create a magazine that told the story of the photographer’s journey.
She has been writing about architecture, landscape design and new-home construction for NewHomeSource since 2012. During that time, she founded Kinship Design Marketing, a boutique agency that provides content for website redesigns, blogs, inbound marketing campaigns and eNewsletters.