In order to pack efficiently, you need a plan.
First: Decide what you like the most.

Based on what you can spend on relocation and the size of your new home, you likely have to choose what will stay and what will go.

A typical American household, says moving expert Sandy Payne, author of "Move Your House: Plan It, Organize It and Decorate It," uses less than 20% of what they own on a regular basis. This 20% should be the focus of what you pack first.

To determine the 20% that's useful:
  • A few months before moving day, purchase some sticker dots and mark an item with a dot whenever you use it. When you move, only pack items with dots.

  • In your closet, tie a piece of ribbon or string around the top of a clothes hanger. When you wear an article of clothing, put your clothese back on the empty side of the marked hanger. You'll soon know what you wear and what just takes up closet space.

  • For your garage or basement, buy different-colored storage bins and put items into them as you use them, so you can determine what you use most.

Next: Pack your items like your groceries: heavier things first and lighter items on top.

The empty spaces inside your large pieces of furniture – such as drawers and shelves --can be packed with smaller, odd-shaped items after loading the van. It's a creative way to protect breakable items.

Last: Keep your TV close until the last second, warns Payne. "If not for yourself; you'll need it to keep your children occupied when everything else has been packed away."

As a rule, pack last whatever you need to access quickly during your last days at the house, your stay at a hotel, or during travel, such as children's games (which serve as welcome diversions on the road), pet items, and your camera.

Never Part With
Legal documentation. Car titles, insurance policies and marriage certificates are the hardest items to replace. Never pack them -- but do make copies of them, both on a computer and paper.

Payne also recommends hand-carrying valuable jewelry and other items of high sentimental or monetary value.

Some Final Tips
Empty all your trash cans. Payne has seen movers pack full garbage cans into the van -- not a pleasant welcome gift at your new home.

Keep your luggage away from the house until you need it; it has a tendency to get packed away as well.

Throughout your packing, says Sandy, remember, "Once the van is packed there is no turning back."

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

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