In a few short months, we will be packing up and relocating our family for the 9th time. And while I’ve been able to to put the planning and preparing on the back-burner for the last few months, it’s now time for us to (ever-so-slowly) start making our checklists and get our home (and minds!) prepared for what’s to come. As much as I’d love to throw caution to the wind and just pray everything makes it in one piece, we’ve learned that there are some really effective things you can do…before the movers ever show up…that ensures your sanity arrives at the new place along with everything you own. One of these things is to create a “No Pack” zone of moving essentials. These are the items you need until the very last minute in your old home, while you’re in between homes, and/or in those first few days in your new home. Having these items easily accessible will ensure you and your family are as comfortable as possible throughout the entire moving process!

Moving Essentials

Reality Check

Over 16 years of moving, we’ve had some pretty bumpy and miserable transitions due to rookie mistakes and poor planning. Like the time we slept on bare carpeted floor for DAYS with our clothes rolled up as pillows because we didn’t think to bring the air mattress and pillows (and refused to buy new ones because ours were on the inbound moving truck). Or when we moved with an 8-week-old baby, and I packed ALL of his 6- and 9-month clothes in the car because “Babies grow so fast, and we might need them before the trucks arrives.” But then we could never find anything we really needed because the car was too full of baby clothes! 

The reality is, there are lots of things that can and should be neatly and tightly packed away into moving boxes…but not everything. There are some items you will need in order to make life comfortable while you’re transitioning from one home to the next. While these moving essentials differ for each family (and how long you will be without your stuff), it is worth identifying and setting aside the “bare necessities” for eating, sleeping, bathing, and taking care of kids on both sides of your transition. Having these items easily accessible at all times will greatly reduce the overall discomfort and disruption usually caused by moving.

The No-Pack Zone

Before I dive into what we consider to be moving essentials, I want to briefly chat about the logistics of packing…or not packing…these items up. Whether you are working with professional movers or have friends helping out, the best way to ensure these moving essentials don’t end up wrapped tight in packing paper inside moving boxes is to create a dedicated, clear, blocked-off “No Pack Zone.”

While you may be tempted to place cute little stickers on items that shouldn’t be packed, I guarantee you quick professional packers will breeze right by them (if they don’t fall off first). Instead, pick an out-of-the-way closet, bathroom, bedroom, or car that you can dedicate to ONLY holding no-pack items.

  1. Empty the space of anything that does need to be packed and put it elsewhere in the house.
  2. Load in any and all moving essentials (like the ones outlined in this post).
  3. Close the door and clearly label it with a bright, obvious “NO PACK” sign so movers/helpers know they can skip that space all together.

Having this dedicated zone gives you an easy place to throw no-pack items as you come across them, and all but guarantees they won’t be packed away by accident.

“No Pack” vs “Open First”

Military relocations are notorious for being long and drawn out. It’s not unusual for us to go days, weeks, or even months between when the truck drives away from one house and boxes are finally unloaded at the new one. Because of this, we keep a lot of these moving essentials with us while transiting (usually packed in the car using pro-level Tetris skills!)

However, it’s important to note that some of the moving essentials I outline below could also be packed into an “Open First” box instead. Your situation will dictate what needs to actually be with you, and what can go on the moving truck but labeled in such a way you can find it immediately.

Okay, let’s dive into the moving essentials I recommend most when transition from one home to another!

Moving Essentials for Living

I already told you the story about sleeping on the floor with nothing but clothes as pillows. We’ve also had to shower sans curtain because we forgot to keep one on hand! Here are our living must-haves that allow us to stay as comfortable as possible while moving from one home to another.

Moving Essentials | Living Necessities

  1. Sleeping Systems – Unless you are doing a “door-to-door” move (where you’ll never not have your bed), consider having something for each person to comfortably sleep in.
    • Air Mattress(es). Air mattresses have come a really long way and are now more compact (and more comfortable!) than ever. We like these air mattresses that have the pump built right in and sit a good 2′ off the floor.
    • Sleeping Bags. Air mattresses can be bulky in a tightly-packed car, so using sleeping bags for the kids is a great space-saving solution.
    • Pac’n’Play. If you still have a crib sleeper, don’t forget the pac’n’play and a few extra sheets.
  2. Bedding + Pillows. Whether you do or do not need bedding for air mattresses, you will want them the first night in your new home once beds arrive and are setup. Ensure you have a clean, complete set for every family member.
  3. Shower Curtain and/or Liner. Even if you pack the shower curtain, leave the liner to keep both mess and privacy in tact. Then be sure to take it with you so you can shower comfortably in the new place as well.
  4. Bath Towels. Air drying is fun and all, but having a single bath towel for each family member (and hand towels in all the bathrooms) will keep everyone happier.
  5. Laundry Detergent. Movers usually won’t move liquids; so instead of giving it away, keep detergent with you so you don’t have to buy some in transit or when you want to do the first few loads in the new place.
  6. Hand Soap. The old home and the next home both need hand soap. I’ve been guilty of giving all our soap away when purging out liquids only to run right back out and buy new bottles. Don’t pack it and just bring it with you (bag it up in Ziplock bags while traveling to keep messes at bay).
  7. Basic Cleaning Supplies. Cleaning supplies will likely be needed both as you vacate one home and move into another. Even if you plan to use professional cleaning crews, having cleaning wipes or disposable rags on-hand will allow you to clean kitchens and bathrooms from everyday use while moving in/out.
  8. Collapsable Step Stool. More often than not, we have to paint, do repairs, and clean before moving out. Usually the step stool gets packed up, and we’re left asking neighbors to bail us out. Not a big deal; but when we can, we keep ours back. BONUS: A collapsable stool also helps kids be able to reach the sink for hand washing if the “usual” stool is packed away.
  9. Basic Tool Kit. Having basic tools (e.g., screwdriver, hammer, pliers) handy will allow you to make needed repairs on the first side and assemble things right away on the other.
  10. Toilet Paper & Paper Towels. Before movers come, ensure every bathroom has a fresh roll (for everyone’s use), and then throw extras in the car so you can stock the new home as soon as you arrive. Rolls of paper towels also come in handy for cleaning, meals, and general use.
  11. First Aid Kit. If you don’t have one in your car regularly, keep some basic supplies on hand for the inevitable scratch or bump. Your kit should also include fever-reducing medications so you don’t have to hunt through packed boxes if someone suddenly gets sick.
  12. Garbage Bags. Even though large trashcans will likely get packed up, you will still generate a lot of trash, especially during clean out. Keep a box of big trash bags that can also get thrown in the car last minute.
  13. Hygiene Supplies. Whether you’ll be moving in a single day or over several weeks, keep a set of basic toiletries with you (e.g., shampoo, toothbrush/toothpaste, prescriptions) so that you always have what you need in case there are any hiccups in your timeline.
  14. Pet Supplies. We don’t have pets; but if you do, be sure you have everything you need to keep them comfortable (e.g., leashes, pet food, etc).
  15. Devices & Chargers. Love them or hate them, electronic devices tend to make the world go round…or at least they keep kids entertained while unpacking boxes! As such, ensure all the electronic devices you or your children will want (e.g., tablet, gaming device, laptop) AND their chargers are set aside and not packed up.

Moving Essentials for Eating

One of the toughest parts of packing/unpacking your entire house and/or living between homes is the inevitable eating out for every meal. Not only does the costs add up fast, but it only takes a few days for heavy restaurant food to take a physical toll. We have found that keeping just enough kitchen essentials on hand to prepare simple meals and enjoy our creature comforts (e.g., morning cereal, coffee) makes a huge difference both on our budget and well-being. Here are our must-haves for moving meal times:

Moving Essentials | Eating Necessities

  1. Disposable Products. Moving homes is not a fun time to be doing lots of dishes. You can certainly cut back on waste by using plastic-ware (e.g., plates, napkins, bowls, cups, and utensils) and washing as you go, but the simplicity of disposable items really can’t be beat during this stressful time. BONUS: This is also a great way to use up old/mismatched party supplies instead of moving them!
  2. Folding 6′ Table. Sitting on the floor for meals gets old really quickly. These 6′ tables that fold in half are WONDERFUL for eating meals on (after the moving truck has left with your table), and they fit in any size car! BONUS: These tables can also be setup in a pinch in the new home when you need extra empty surfaces for dishes, glasses, and other breakable items as you unpack.
  3. Camp Chairs. Not just for meals, but also for watching movies, reading books, or even just hanging out. Chairs are better than the floor at any age; and like the table, camp chairs fold up for compact transport! We LOVE these.
  4. 1 Cutting Board + 1 All-Purpose Knife. Have you tried cutting vegetables with a plastic knife? Not fun. Leaving back a single cutting board and a good knife allows you to prepare basic meals with ease.
  5. One Pot + One Pan + One Cookie Sheet. Between these three kitchen items, I am able to make most of our favorite family meals.
  6. Ziplock Bags. Cooking while moving is not completely enjoyable. To reduce awkward and exhausting meal times, I usually cook in bulk and then bag up leftovers for following days. With plastic food containers likely packed up, Ziplock storage bags get the job done.
  7. Coffee Pot + Mugs. Greg and I are pretty serious about our coffee, and running out to Dunkin’ first thing every morning gets time consuming and expensive. As ridiculous as it seems, keeping our coffee pot and two real coffee mugs with us is completely worth the hassle in order to have our favorite morning beverage just as we like it, right when we want it.
  8. Dish Soap + Sponge. Even if you go with paper plates and utensils, the pot, pan, cookie sheet and mugs still need to be washed. Keep back basic dish washing supplies, and you’ll be so happy to have them immediately on the other side too.

Moving Essentials for Kids

Moving is a stressful time for the entire family, but especially for kiddos. We do our best to keep routines in place, but also know that moving is an “extenuating” circumstance that requires flexibility too. We try to have enough “toys” on hand to keep kids busy, but fully admit that extra screen time during this period is inevitable too.

Moving Essentials | Kids Necessities

  1. Music Player/Noise Machine. An empty room (in the old house, but especially in the new one) can be really frightening. Having kids’ usual music/noise will help them fall asleep a little easier.
  2. Lovies. Don’t let that extra-special blanket, stuffed animal, or other “lovey” get packed away or the whole family will suffer! Your kiddo will likely want/need it more than ever.
  3. Toys. Although empty boxes and devices do a pretty good job at keeping kids entertained, having some basic toys on hand also helps with boredom. We usually keep markers/crayons, trains (no track), and blocks to play with while the playroom is packed away!
  4. Sippy Cups. Don’t pack up every last sippy cup or you’ll be quickly running out to get new ones. Our kids don’t love drinking out of straws or paper cups for meals, so keeping a few disposable versions with us at all times is key.
  5. Collapsable Booster Seat. If you still have a kiddo who eats in a high-chair, do yourself a favor and keep a collapsible version behind (preferably one that doesn’t require a chair or table for support). This allows for picnic-style meals anytime, anywhere during your transition.


Finally, it is highly recommended that you keep any and all valuables with you rather than inside moving boxes. For safe travels, here’s how we handle our most valuable things:

Moving Essentials | Valuables

  1. Jewelry. I am not a huge jewelry wearer, but I do have quite a few expensive pieces. I use this jewelry box inside my suitcase to hold everything safe. We keep it locked in the car while movers are in the house; and when staying in hotels, it gets locked into the safe.
  2. Important Personal Documents. Passports, birth certificates, driver’s license copies, marriage certificates, medical records, car/house titles/documents, and military orders all should be hand-carried from one location to the next. I organize these items into a single Important Documents Binder to keep them safe while on the road. BONUS: If you are renting, keep a copy of your lease and move-in report with you so you can easily reference it and dispute issues upon vacating the property.
  3. Computer Backups. Not once, but twice, we have had hard drives “go bad” during the moving process. And as a person who has her entire business on a computer, this has proven both devastating and expensive. We used to transport our computers (yes, even the big one) ourselves. In recent moves though, we have taken the smarter approach of doing full backups onto small external hard drives (and cloud services) that stay with us. We then let movers actually transport the larger devices themselves (which allows us to claim them if they go missing or get damaged).

Greg always calls us “The Clammpetts” when we move. Every.single.time. And for good and obvious reasons: our cars are always packed to the gills with all sorts of crap things…some quite necessary, others not so much (although we’ve never had a rocking chair tied to the roof…yet!)

The fact of the matter is, when you move…no matter the distance and no matter how long the transition takes…not having certain creature comforts makes the entire process harder. Although setting aside these moving essentials does require some planning and organization, they will ensure your last few days in the old home and your first few days in the new home are all the more comfortable.

See You Soon!