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How to Pack Moving Boxes Efficiently

how to pack moving boxes guide
How to Pack, Label, Seal, and Stack Moving Boxes

If you’re planning a move in the near future, you might be relishing in all of the excitement. Maybe you’re moving to a big city from your small hometown and will be living in your own apartment for the first time. Or, you might’ve just closed on the house of your dreams after years of planning and meticulously saving money.  One aspect of moving that’s not so exciting, though, is all of the packing that needs to happen beforehand.

Packing moving boxes is a deceptively tricky task. For starters, you need to get your hands on boxes explicitly designed for moving, plus all of the supplies you’ll use along with them. Then there’s always the question of when to start packing for a move. How much time do you need to leave yourself to declutter, organize, and pack up everything you own anyway?  If you’re stressing out about when and how to pack your moving boxes, don’t worry. We’ve come up with several packing tips that will teach you how to pack boxes for moving or long-term storage.

Related: Moving Boxes and Storage Supplies at Life Storage Facilities

How to Pack Boxes for Moving

Ready to get packing? Whether you’re moving across the country, overseas, or just down the street, here’s a step-by-step guide that covers everything you need to know about packing boxes for moving: 

1. Gather necessary packing supplies


Packing and Moving

First and foremost, invest in actual boxes for moving. It might be tempting to skip this step. After all, why bother paying extra if you can grab a few cardboard leftovers from work or your local grocery store? But the truth is, moving boxes are specifically designed for moving and storing fragile items. They’re much sturdier than other types of moving materials on the market, which means they’ll be more reliable when transporting your belongings in a moving truck or tucking them away inside a large storage unit. Old, used boxes are prone to collapsing and can even be contaminated with unwanted pests.

Where to Get Boxes for Moving

You can typically purchase sturdy, extra-strength moving boxes from your local hardware store and other similar retailers near you, including Home Depot and Lowes. Many storage companies also sell moving supplies and higher-quality boxes for long-term storage to make things easier for their clients. 

Or, if you’re hiring a moving company, it doesn’t hurt to ask them if they’d be willing to supply moving boxes either for free or at an additional cost. Your movers might also be able to help answer the question of how many boxes you’ll need to move. Just be prepared to provide them with the size of your apartment or storage unit, plus a rough estimate of how much you’ll be moving.

Other moving packing materials to have on hand include:

Related: Choosing the Right Boxes for Storage and Organizing

2. Sort items by category


packing tips for an easier move

Before you put anything inside your first moving box, group like-items that are  similar in size and weight. For instance, you can put all your favorite small knick-knacks together if you’re packing your bedroom, all your video game accessories together if you’re clearing out your entertainment area, and all your drinkware when it’s time to tackle the kitchen. This method makes packing simple, as most of the items you pack in a single moving box will be a similar size, shape, and weight. Plus, unpacking becomes a breeze when items that belong in one room or section of the house are already all together.

Packing Tip: Use brightly colored tissue paper to wrap small knick-knacks as you go. That way, you don’t accidentally throw anything out while unpacking!

3. Fill the moving box almost entirely

When it comes to packing non-fragile items in moving boxes, you can really take advantage of every last inch. Boxes that aren’t full enough might collapse when they’re stacked. Fill any space without making the box too heavy with smaller items that won’t break. Add excess packing paper if you have to so that each box is packed tight before you seal it. For fragile items, ensure at least two inches of packing material on all sides.

It’s important to note that your moving boxes should weigh no more than 30 pounds. To meet this weight limit without over or under-filling, use small or medium-sized boxes for heavy items like books. Use large cardboard boxes for lighter items like comforters. 


4. Take extra time wrapping breakables

Taking the time to wrap, encase, and protect your breakables properly could be the difference maker in whether or not they arrive at your destination in one piece. Again, it’s better to cushion fragile items in your moving boxes with protective material than to leave too much space for them to move around and potentially shatter in transit. Put dishes and plates into boxes on their side, never flat. If you stack cups and bowls, be sure to place paper or padding in between each piece.

Packing Guides for Specific Items:

What not to pack in boxes when moving?

There aren’t many small, non-furniture items that can’t be packed into a standard-sized box during a move (with the right protection, of course!). That said, here are a few items that might be better left out of a moving box:

Related: 9 Tips to Help Make Moving in Winter Months Less Annoying

5. Use box dividers for small glass items

how to pack a moving box

For an added layer of protection for your breakables, take advantage of helpful dividers that can be used to section off your moving boxes. These dividers offer the best protection for your glasses and stemware and often come in different, customizable sizes. Simply wrap your glasses with packing paper or bubble wrap, then place them in between the dividers. These could also work great for breakable knick-knacks, Christmas ornaments, and other decor items.

6. Seal and label each box

How to Pack Lamps - Moving Box Tip

When you’re done packing each moving box, seal each one with strong packing tape. Here’s a super quick and easy tutorial for how to tape a moving box:

This sealing method prevents the moving box from collapsing when it’s stacked, which ultimately helps protect your belongings inside.

Finally, clearly label each box with its room and contents. Labeling not only helps you, but it will also make your movers more efficient, which could save you money!

How soon before moving should I start packing?

Determining the best time to start packing for a move can be tricky for a number of reasons. As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to start packing for a move about 4-6 weeks ahead. But your answer to this question might differ depending on your situation.

Can you take any time off of work to prepare for your move? Or are you completing the entire moving process in a single day? If you’ve got ample time to play with or aren’t moving a ton of stuff to your new space, you may only need to start thinking about packing a few weeks out. For example, moving into a fully furnished apartment or your significant other’s already-established house takes much less preparation and packing than moving into a completely empty house on your own.

If you’re anxious about the process or want to get ahead, it’s never too early to start packing for a move. Just be sure to leave all your necessities and essential items accessible in the meantime!

Related: Packing and Unpacking: The Best Packing Tips for Moving Day

How to Stack and Store Moving Boxes

1. Put the heaviest moving boxes on the bottom


How to stack moving boxes

When stacking your boxes on the moving truck or in a self-storage unit, make sure you put the heaviest ones on the bottom. You want your moving boxes to have a lower center of gravity to prevent them from tipping over unexpectedly. Plus, keeping heavier boxes on the bottom will make it so that you can do less heavy lifting.

If you place heavy boxes on top of lighter ones, the light boxes will inevitably crush under pressure. As those boxes give way, the heavy boxes will collapse to the floor, and everything inside will be at risk of breaking. To protect your belongings when moving, it’s worth taking the extra time to arrange your moving or storage boxes and stack them properly.

9. Stack moving boxes like bricks


how to stack cardboard boxes

Stacking your moving boxes isn’t the time to play a real-life game of Tetris. The goal is to protect your belongings, not to see how many pieces you can cram into a tiny corner. Staggering how you stack your moving boxes so they lay like bricks will help create a sturdy tower that can stand without falling.

10. Create an aisle between box stacks


storing moving boxes

Storing moving boxes in your self-storage unit is only effective if you can easily locate what you need. You might know where everything is on moving day and assume you’ll remember the next time you drop by your storage unit. However, consider going to your storage unit six months from now and realizing you have no clue where anything is. Always organize your moving boxes for frequent access, even if you’re still determining how often you’ll need to retrieve items.

By creating aisles when you stack your boxes, you always have access to the back of your unit, making it easier to find things no matter where in the room they’re located. Make sure you label each box clearly, so you can see it from both sides of the aisle. This aisle method also applies if you’re putting boxes on a moving truck or in a basement.

Related: How to Store Furniture in a Garage or Storage Unit the Right Way

Pack Your Moving Boxes Like a Pro

If you’re packing boxes for moving, don’t just dump your contents inside any old tote and call it a day. The process is much more seamless when you know how to pack moving boxes properly. We hope this guide showed you some helpful ways to pack your belongings, protect your items during the move, and store any extra boxes long-term. Best of luck with your upcoming move! 

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 11, 2016, and was revised on March 19, 2020, and March 25, 2023. 

About the Authors

Emily Malkowski

Emily Malkowski is a writer and SEO strategist with over 5 years experience, in Buffalo, New York. Having graduated from University at Buffalo with a Bachelor's degree in Communications, her work has appeared in outlets like The American Prospect, Roadtrippers Magazine, Step Out Buffalo, and more.

Lauren Thomann

Lauren Thomann has written about self storage and moving since 2015, making her our storage expert. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and Linguistics and has published over 150 articles on moving, storage, and home organization. She is also a contributing writer at and Martha Stewart.

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