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question boxFacing a major move in the coming months or weeks? Whether you are hiring movers or packing and loading the truck yourself, you can reduce your stress considerably by asking yourself one simple question: should you pack it?

Things that you should NOT pack fall into several categories, such as perishables, illegal to move, and too valuable to pack in a truck. Identifying objects that fall into each of these categories can reduce the amount of actual packing you have to do, and answers the question of what you can do with it instead, leaving you with less stress.

If You Don’t Need it, Don’t Pack It

The biggest category of “don’t pack” items are things you really don’t need. Why should you pay to ship items across the country or even across town if you don’t — or can’t — use them anymore?

Start by purging your household of anything that has ceased to be useful. Torn or stained clothing, or just clothes your family has outgrown or that is no longer in style. Broken toys, games with missing pieces, books that you know you’ll never get around to reading, and neglected electronics are just a few examples of things you can shed before you start packing.

Shred old documents, recycle plastic, cardboard, and glass where possible. Donate gently used items to a charity or thrift shop. Or just hold a yard sale to make some extra cash for your move.

Know What’s Illegal to Move

There are many hazardous materials that are actually illegal to ship or move. If you’re using a moving company, they will be happy to provide you with a list of items they will NOT move. You can also find lists on the web. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t throw it in the trash, you shouldn’t be packing it in a box to move it.

Here are just a few of the things that you absolutely should not attempt to pack:

  • cleaning products
  • batteries
  • gas, including propane and kerosene
  • painting products, including thinners and varnishes
  • solvents
  • aerosol cans
  • pesticides or fertilizers
  • pool chemicals
  • anything flammable, including charcoal, matches, lighter fluid, and fireworks
  • fire extinguishers
  • household chemicals, including nail polish and even your kid’s chemistry set
  • guns and ammunition

In a local move, you may be able to transport some of these items with you. Otherwise consult your city or county on how to properly dispose of chemicals and flammable items and just restock at your new home.

Get Rid of Perishables

Anything perishable should be kept out of a moving truck. This includes plants as well as food. As with the hazardous chemicals, you may be able to move some of these items yourself for a local move, but you will need to be very careful. Frozen or refrigerated foods will only last so long, even when iced in a cooler.

Many moving companies won’t accept any food items, even canned and boxed goods. This is due to the risk of pests as well as the lack of climate control in most moving trucks. These items can be donated to a local food bank or shelter in advance of your move.

Find new homes for your plants, flowers, and potted herbs. Eat up any produce, open boxes of crackers or bags of chips and similar goods. Definitely clear out your fridge and freezer by eating it yourself or sharing it with friends and neighbors.

Keep Your Valuables Close

Jewelry setConsider keeping anything that has financial or sentimental value with you. A good rule of thumb is to think in terms of flying. What would you put in your carryon bag because you can’t risk it in checked baggage?

Jewelry, medications, important documents, glasses, toiletries, personal electronics, and photographs all fit in this category. On a local move, it’s much easier to deal with these items. If you’re driving a long way, you’ll want to pack these items carefully in the car with you, rather than in the moving van. If you’re flying, you may need to have to make special shipping arrangements for documents, furs, collections, and artwork that you don’t trust to the movers — and yes, that includes the artwork made by your kids that you don’t want to risk losing.

One last note about what you shouldn’t pack: anything you will need for the first night/day in your new home should be in one easy to get to box. It should include a set of dishes, towels, bedding, one outfit per family members, and anything else you will need in case your truck is delayed — or if you’re too tired to unload the truck the night you arrive.

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