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How to Unpack the Boxes Without Losing Your Mind


Unpacking. I've let clothes mildew for weeks in suitcases to avoid it.

But when you move your entire household, it's impossible to put off. Whether the unpacking job is large or small, everyone tends to feel out of control in the face of their belongings.

Even a moving expert like Sandy Payne, author of "Move Your House," felt her stomach churn when faced with her first unpacking job. "The movers packed our items one-by-one on the front end of the move, but why did they do a ‘drop the boxes and run' technique at the end?" she laments.

Faced with a slew of boxes with vague labels like "kitchen" or "clothes," Payne promptly employed the disastrous "take-everything-out-of-every-box-at-once" method.

"In the end, after weeks of confusion, long hours and very intense work, we managed to get our house set up in time for the delivery of our second child," says Payne.

She doesn't want you to make the same mistakes, so use this room-by-room guide to a sane unpacking experience (that's not an oxymoron).

But don't touch anything before you:
* Discuss the process with anyone who is helping you.

* Gather pen, paper and designate "discard" and "donate" areas/boxes.

* Prepare a system for making note of any damaged items.

* Begin with the first rooms you will use --  the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms.

* For packing, use newsprint to fill dead space in boxes. Do not use it to wrap items -- the ink can get everywhere. Instead, use packing paper. This makes it easier when unpacking. Just throw away the newsprint items. But since packing paper is only used to wrap items, be sure to unwrap these -- small items can often be overlooked.

Master Bedroom: 
* Keep it as a haven for sleeping and relaxing. "Try not to put a work zone in the same space as a rest zone," says Payne.

Living Room:
* Create functional zones for working -- and define those spaces with area rugs or accent walls.

* Make your space look neater (even when it isn't) by closing stacks of DVD's and other stored items behind cabinet doors or in decorative boxes.

* We often underestimate the amount of storage space we need, says Payne, but imagining you have less stuff won't make it reality. Don't buy storage items until you're sure just how much you'll need to store.

* Knicknacks will get in the way when you're hoisting your coffee table or loveseat across the floor. Get the big items set; don't pull out the accents for later. 

* Once they're in place, rotate your accents/décor instead of putting them up all at once -- this makes your space look less chaotic and eliminates the boredom of looking at the same thing as you're working. Plus you'll be less likely to spend money on new items.

* Keep your countertops free of visual clutter.

* Make sure your storage products accommodate hard-to-store objects, like that bread maker you never use.

* On the fridge -- if it's arrived -- create a family message area with calendars, schedules and to-do lists that everyone can access and read.

* To differentiate between owners of bathroom items, use a color code system -- each family member gets a different color basket, bin, towel or hanger.

* Before unpacking, clear this room, starting with the ceiling.

* Monogramming towels with initials is an easy way to mark ownership. This can be done cheaply.

* Don't let your mail eat up your office space. Though you're busy with a million other things, make it a priority to file paperwork weekly -- daily even.

Throughout the House:
* Make sure the traffic flow between rooms is free of obstacles – especially ones with wheels.

* Create (and stay faithful to) an index card unpacking to-do list with a separate task on each card.

* Designate how much time you need to complete the task in the corner of each card.

* When you have ten minutes to spare before rushing off somewhere, pull out a ten-minute card and get something done!

* Don't tackle everything at once -- work in intervals and take breaks often.

* Discard each box after you unpack its contents – you can easily get new ones if (hopefully not when) you move again.

Payne says that dividing your time between unpacking, sorting, and organizing can actually leave you feeling refreshed at the end of the day – or at the least, refreshingly sane.

Annika Mengisen is a freelance writer who edits the Freakonomics Blog for The New York Times.

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