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How to Pack for a Move When You Live with a Preschooler

We’re on our third move since my daughter was born in 2011.  The first two were both interstate moves and both happened within her first six months.  This time we are moving just six miles down the road.  The first two moves I was a complete mess.  I had no idea how I was going to accomplish the task at hand, the whole time feeling utterly overwhelmed by new motherhood.  At least she stayed in one spot while I packed, which happened to be strapped to my body since she never let me put her down.

This time is different.  I feel calm (basically) and not so overwhelmed.  I might even venture that I’ve maintained a sense of humor during the process.  This really came in handy when my husband informed me that he would be traveling for India for three weeks – TWO DAYS AFTER I had scheduled the movers.  Or how when every time I put something in a box my little one delights in taking it back out again and insist that that item is ABSOLUTELY the only thing she can play with at that moment.  Until I pack the next item, that is.

How to Pack for a Move When You Live with a Preschooler
How to Pack for a Move When You Live with a Preschooler

Our move is still a few days away but I’ve noticed some tips that have helped keep me sane

  • Start early.  Leave yourself extra margins for your regular life since it’s not going to stop.  You know this mama – waiting until the last minute just doesn’t work out as well as it did before you had little ones.
  • Pack the biggest clutter item first.  For us that is toys.  Lots and lots of toys.  So over the last couple of weeks, whenever I cleaned up any toys, I put them in a moving box instead of their usual storage locations.  Of course there are a few must have items that I’ve left out but I’ve found that those items are usually grouped together in one location.
  • Choose a “packing central” and clear that space.  My daughter always ends up sleeping in our bed anyway, so I just cleared out her room first (toys, toys, and more toys) and am now using her bed as a packing surface.  Dedicating a whole room is a luxury but I could have just as easily used a closet, a spare bathroom, a laundry room or even a corner.  The key is to choose a space that doesn’t get a lot of traffic so your work space won’t be disturbed.
  • Make lists.  You have a lot of things competing for your attention.  Moving creates a whole other set of tasks that need to be completed, problems to be solved.  Keep a pen and paper handy so that you record to-do’s as they come to mind.  Or, periodically do a brain dump on your list so you can get all of those to-do’s out of your head and onto paper for safe keeping.
  • Do a little bit at a time.  I find that it’s a lot easier to focus and that I’m a lot more productive when I schedule a manageable chunk of time and I plan what I’m going to do during that time.  What seems to work best for me is to plan two packing sessions a day, 1-2 hours in length.  A few reasons this works: it’s about the length of time I can keep my energy focused; I can usually keep my daughter occupied (aka distracted) this long; it gives me enough margin between her daily routines, such as meal times.  And my “packing central” creates a nice landing pad for items that I pick up during clean-up time that I’d rather pack than put away.
  • Pack like items at the same time.  This both gives you the chance to see if you’ve got a surplus of one item and to declutter, as well as gives you a road map for what to focus on each packing session.  I really like the KonMari Method of decluttering and organization (here).  I find that using this method has also helped me to pack with the ultimate unpacking and storage in mind.
  • Keep meals simple.  This is the time to use up an bulk cooking you have stored in the freezer, or eat soups, sandwiches, or other convenience foods.  You want to use as little time as possible cleaning up dishes because nothing is more frustrating when you are packing to spend your time cleaning and putting things away.  As much as possible focus on hydrating foods, as well as those that won’t leave you feeling heavy.  Soups, salads, and smoothies are super hydrating.  You want your energy available for packing and being with your family, not tied up with digesting a heavy meal.
  • Include little ones in the packing process.  Even though preschoolers can play independently, they really crave our attention, especially when a big change is coming up.  Finding ways to let my daughter participate has met her need for attention and my need for task completion.  Some of her favorites jobs have been going on a treasure hunt to find items I want to pack, gathering up a few of her toys to be packed, and adding label stickers to the boxes.  Mostly she just wants to sit and talk with me, which is always nice.
  • Find an activity your little one can enjoy independently.  On the other hand, she’s probably not going to stay interested in packing the entire time I have scheduled for it so doing some work ahead of time to set up an independent activity to which she can transition has been useful.  And, seriously, these “activities” have been mostly video or iPad time.  When possible, I’ve said “yes” to absolutely every offer friends have made for babysitting/play dates.
  • Schedule time for connecting and playing.  It’s important to be even more intentional than usual about focused kid time during a big transition like a move.  I find that since we are together all day, every day it is very easy to get overly focused on to-do’s and to assume that I’ve connected with my daughter in-between tasks.  As I’ve already mentioned, preschoolers need a lot of time connecting with their grown-ups; it fills their emotional bucket and helps them stay regulated.  As a bonus, spending time rolling around on the ground, exploring outside, using my imagination, or just cuddling are a welcome antidote to the stress of moving.

Another piece of the puzzle has been to maintain my self-care practices and routines.  Tune in next week for more on some of the practices and routines that have had the biggest impact.

I hope your next move goes smoothly, mama.  What keeps you sane when you’ve got a big, deadline project?  Share your tips in the comments and on Instagram (@mandalasformamas).  Peace and happiness, mamas!

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