This post began largely in response to a reader’s request for tips on moving with young children, and grew out of the fact that I am on the verge of a move with our three kids, aged 6 and under. Moving with three kids 6 and under?! Me: Ha, Ha, Ha. Easy. I’m fine, everything’s fine … (sob, sob, sob).
Annie and I have both lead a rather nomadic lifestyle – with a combined 10 moves between us – since having kids. Along the way, we’ve learned a few helpful pointers. As the military spouse/gypsy mom here, I’m spearheading this topic, but Annie will chime in with some tips as well.
This is by no means an inclusive list of everything you have to do in order to move. In fact, there are A LOT of little administrative items you’ll need to take care of that aren’t included here. Think: change of address, homeowners/renters insurance, utility shut-off/on, updating information with your financial institutions, researching schools, etc. We’ll tackle all of this stuff and more in a later post. Today is all about perhaps the most critical factor for our families each time we find ourselves on the verge of another relocation: easing the transition for the kids.
Talk the talk
Start the conversation about moving with your kids early. And don’t be discouraged if the first conversation doesn’t go so well. Even us adults are typically pretty stressed about the idea of so much change, but the more you talk about it, the more you comfortable you become. And no matter what, sometimes we just feel like this:
… And that’s okay too. Let your kids know that it’s not only okay, but totally normal to feel nervous, or even a little scared about moving. If you’ve moved before, it can be helpful to share happy or silly stories from previous moves. And even more importantly, listen to their concerns. It is much easier to address a specific fear than fear in general! If you can identify something in particular that your child is nervous about, then you may be able to fix it pretty easily.
For example, after talking with our 5-year-old about our upcoming move, we discovered he was mainly upset about moving because he thought WE were leaving, but all of our stuff was staying put. Once we explained that everything (including most importantly his bed and his toys) is coming with us, he was on board! Of course, not all fears will be this easy to dispel, but you never know when a simple conversation might save the day.
…and walk the walk
Kids are also really perceptive, so if you and your partner are stressed and anxious about your upcoming move, your kids will be too. Likewise, if you can be (or at least pretend really well to be) calm, positive, or even excited about your move, the feelings will be contagious. Emphasize out loud all the things you are looking forward to with this move.
Your kids are watching, listening, understanding and learning more than you suspect, from a younger age than you would imagine. Use this to your advantage.
Annie chiming in here. If at all humanly possible, at least 1 month in advance of moving, make a decluttering plan. There are several options for strategizing this. What has been most effective in our household might not be the best for you – bottom line is you do YOU! Be ruthless in getting rid of things. Saving an old coffee mug because you *might* glue the handle back on at some point? Nope, you’re moving, ain’t nobody got time for that sh*t when you’re moving a family. TOSS IT. Kids’ organic wooden blocks that are cute but they never ever play with? NOPE. Donate to another family’s cute nursery.
Our family has been most successful with the Konmari method. Basically in this one you take on one category of household item at a time rather than a room. For example, you start with clothes. Allllllll the clothes – get out those winter clothes you packed away, your box of skinny pants you’re waiting to get back into, those old dresses you’re saving and go through them ALL together. Then, you pick up each item and decide if it “sparks joy”. Do you really love it? Do you want to wear it right now? Or are you keeping it for some other reason. If you love it, keep it. If you don’t – toss/sell/donate! On to the next category.
We are a spare, organized household to begin with and got rid of 3 TRUCKLOADS of stuff this way. There’s a great free printable at Making Lemonade Blog that I’ve posted up when we are in this stage. If you have a little time ahead, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo herself is amazing motivation to get going.
STORAGE BINS: Kids have a lot of STUFF. Stock up on these essentials to get it under wraps!
ALL the storage bins. Whether you are moving yourself, or you have a professional moving company, putting as much as you can into labeled storage bins pre-emptively can save boatloads of unpacking time at your destination.
When you find some bins that work for you, buy more than you think you need. Maybe I am still holding onto a vision of my young backpacking self, but I ALWAYS grossly underestimate the amount of stuff we have. There’s no such thing as too many. I know, for some reason these plastic storage bins are so dang expensive. I have no answers on why. However if you find some you like, or are lucky enough to find some on sale (this is something of a unicorn event, they’re never on sale) BUY them. And BUY MORE than you think you need. You want as many of the same size as possible so they stack well (both full and empty) in storage. A clutter of bins that won’t stack wastes a ton of attic/garage space. Annie says her go to are these Ikea Samla boxes which are relatively cheap.
You’ll want a variety of sizes – some extra large for light things like extra blankets and pillows, some small ones for things like toiletries and medicines. But mostly, lots and lots and LOTS of medium ones (about 6 gallon size). These are not-too-heavy when packed with toys and clothes and not-too-small to be useful. Oh and … Clear!!! Only the clear ones! Otherwise someone will take a label off and you’ll have no clue what’s in that bin at the bottom of a stack. It seems obvious but…why do they even make any storage things that aren’t clear??
Labeling: Colored Tape
Color code your sh*%!! Seriously. I am not a hyper-organized-crazy-person, but this is worth it. Before boxes are removed, slap a piece of tape on it that corresponds with the room you’ll want it placed in when you arrive at your new home. You
may not will not have time to write an informative description on your boxes and the moving company will inevitably label them incorrectly or vaguely (like the 500 boxes of ours labeled “decor” including our trash cans!). OR if you’re moving yourself tape just makes a much more time-efficient way of labeling than the old magic marker. We have found this simple trick reduces our “we-don’t-know-if this belongs in the attic or the living room” box pile immensely and makes for faster unloading. No need to stop and decipher the scribbled labels on the box!! Slap whatever color you choose on that box and get those babies delivered to the actual room they belong. The first time. BOOM!
Also, They make duct tape in a billion different designs these days and there are some great ones for kids available through Amazon. Again – buy MORE than you think you need – leftover tape makes for great craft fun later. Let the kids have fun picking out the design or color they want to label their boxes and let them have at it. This allows kids to feel like they can help, have a job, and you might not be asked 800 times a day “is this my box?”. Win. The kiddos feel secure that all of their belongings will be in the right place, and have fun spotting their “Superman” boxes at you new house too. 😊
As early as you can, start a DO NOT PACK list. These are the things you will bring with you directly. Keep the list taped up on the fridge or somewhere you can jot down items as they come to you. Here are a few of my basics to get you started:
- Important documents: Passports, birth certs, social security cards, and other important travel documents
- First aid kit and Medicines – bandaids, allergy meds, kids tylenol to name a few.
- Trip itinerary
- Phones, Tablets, Laptops, and ALL the chargers
- Kids’ favorite comfort object(s) such as blanket, stuffed animal, book, etc.
- Tape, scissors, pocket knife
- Wine corkscrew/bottle opener (you’re moving with kids. I’m not even going to
Make a second list of UNPACK FIRST items – the things you’ll want out of the moving truck and unpacked FIRST. Think: Sheets, pillows, blankets, paper towels, toilet paper, hand soap, shower items, towels, coffee maker, laundry detergent… you know, the essentials. Again, post up so you can add as the days go by.
Finally, Moving Time
Packing the truck
If at all possible, have a trusted babysitter or family member do something fun with the kids on the day you load the truck. It’s stressful enough to get the whole house fully packed up without worrying that your kiddo is going to find a stray box-cutter or be trampled under someone moving the couch. Make sure they’re there when the action gets started so they know what’s going on and then whisk them away to be distracted.
Set aside your DO NOT PACK items somewhere safe (where movers or anyone trying to be “helpful” will not accidentally pack them up). Also pack separately the things from the UNPACK FIRST list with very clear labels and set aside to be packed LAST into the truck so they come off first.
If you’re headed to your new home by plane and your stuff won’t get there for a bit, you’ll need to plan your packing differently than if your car and moving truck are going with you. If you’re likely to beat your household stuff, you’ll want to pack a LOT of extra stuff to keep the kids feeling secure on the trip. This list will vary depending on where you’re staying when you arrive – your new empty home vs hotel vs family or friend’s home. Factor that in!
CARRY-ON: Assume checked luggage will be lost and just be prepared to schlep an obscene amount of stuff through the airport.
- Clothes: An extra 2 outfits for each child and 1 for yourself. Diapers: enough for 2 days.
- SNACKS. All the snacks. Hungry children are not happy children. Formula for 2 days if your baby is still taking it.
- Entertainment: A handful of their favorite toys and books. Bonus points for getting a new book and toy as a ‘moving present’ to make it more exciting. Good time to ignore screen time limits 😀
- The kid’s usual cups: especially if they’re little and have a favorite sippie cup.
- Car seats and stroller if applicable (gate check).
- Toiletries: their usual bath soap, lotion, diaper cream, toothbrush and toothpaste, some baby tylenol and motrin and any other meds you use on a regular basis. Everything you can bring to avoid a late-night trip to the store. Make sure you include at least 2 days supply of any prescription medications YOU are taking.
- Important documents (see above list)
- More clothes than you think you need. Moving trucks are OFTEN late by a few days and access to laundry might be variable. I basically double the number of days I expect for this.
- A whole bed set up – the child’s preferred blanket, pillow, stuffed animals, white noise maker, night light, etc… All the stuff that makes bedtime consistent.
- More snacks!
- Don’t bother with extra diapers – you can buy when you get there.
- Your own toiletries and medications. ALL prescription medications. Whatever over-the-counters you take on a regular basis.
If you’re moving by car and the moving truck is going with you or will arrive at about the same time, strategy is a little different. You basically put all of the above (plus all the pet supplies – bed, food, bowls) jam-packed into your car.
If you have the opportunity to make the trip to your new home into a fun outing it also gives the kids something to get excited about (Please, don’t overthink this or create more stress trying to orchestrate a highly scheduled vacation in concert with a move.). Depending on the kids’ ages, this can simply be a night at a hotel with a swimming pool and Oreo cookies. You want a little something to look forward to along the way, and it can distract from the stress of the ultimate relocation.
And no matter how you get there… bring the love.
Talk to your loved ones about planning visits at your new home so your children are reminded that leaving heir house definitely does NOT mean leaving their loved ones, family and friends alike. Make lots of video, FaceTime and Skype calls if visits aren’t an option.
Other helpful resources
There are a lot of great books out there that can be reassuring for your little ones struggling to with the concept of moving, or the idea of leaving friends behind. A favorite of ours is A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle. Also check out Sesame Street’s interactive The Big Moving Adventure App (geared specifically for military families, aimed at ages 2-5).
Change can be good
Moving your family, especially while your children are young, presents many challenges. But at the end of the day, a lot of good things can come from this kind of change. Your family often becomes even closer, and your kids grow more resilient. You are exposed to new places and adventures and learn how to support each other along the way. So, communicate, organize, love each other, and enjoy the ride! (Or at least try to, if you can see over your luggage.) Cheers!
Christiana is a Navy wife and mother of 3, attorney and former realtor, world traveler, home renovator and decorator, yogi, fitness enthusiast, and recipe and fine wine explorer.