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8 Tips for Moving When You Have a Ton of Books


This post originally appeared on Book Riot. I wrote it as I was preparing to move and, now that I’m nearing the end of the unpacking phase, I can tell you that the tip about reusable grocery bags (included in #3) is the best one in the bunch.

Being a mobile book hoarder can be a challenge. In the last 10 years I’ve moved 12 times, and my boyfriend and I are currently gearing up for move number 13. My family is, thankfully, always up to help, but they’ve started to balk at moving my library.

Although getting my books from one place to another is one of the most daunting parts of any move, it’s also one of the most satisfying. In the stress of setting up a new place, organizing my bookshelves always makes me feel calm and makes a new space start to feel like home. And after a decade of moves, I’ve got some well-honed (and simple) strategies for moving a ton a books.

1. Cull your shelves

One of the best things about moving is that it provides the perfect motivation to clear some of those books that have been lingering on your shelves. Beginning a month or two before your planned move, take a few runs through your bookshelves and ask yourself whether you really want to carry this book (among all the other books) to a new place. More often than not the answer will be a resounding no. Once you’ve pulled a book to giveaway, don’t look at it again – take the bags straight to a used bookstore or Goodwill to sell or donate and get them out of your hair.

2. Use small boxes

This seems fairly obvious, but it’s a mistake I always make. The small (16″ x 12″ x 12″) box from Home Depot looks reasonable, but it gets heavy when filled with hardcovers. I’ve found that liquor store boxes, banana boxes, and old shipping boxes (from all of the books I ordered online…) work well for books. If you do use bigger boxes, only fill them about 75 percent with books. Use the rest for clothes, office supplies or other light-weight objects. You can also fill the tops of boxes with paper or bubble wrap to protect the books.

3. Think creatively about packing options

If your move is a short one, reusable grocery bags (especially the $1 cheapies at the grocery store), storage baskets and even brown paper bags work well for packing books. Another Rioter suggested using suitcases with wheels to move books and putting your clothes (much lighter!) in boxes. Whatever you use, make sure the bottom is sturdy – books hurt when they fall on your feet.

4. Pack strategically and label judiciously

When you get ready to pack your books, pack strategically. Keep books that are shelved together in the same boxes so you’re not digging around for books that go together while you’re unpacking. And take some time to label your boxes in a way that makes sense to you. I generally write the genre and read/unread on the box, since that’s how I have my shelves arranged. This will save you time and frustration later. If you like the way your shelves are arranged, take photos so you have a reminder of where books generally go.

5. Box the books early

While it’s tempting to wait on boxing up books, I’ve found it’s best to deal with them early in the packing process. Having the boxes sitting around can be cumbersome, but packing them early means I’m still motivated to pack carefully, I still have good boxes to use, and I can cull a few extra titles as I’m filling boxes.

6. Pack carefully

If your books will be in storage before or after your move, pack the books spine down to protect them. You can also lay books flat or pack them standing up. I tend to use a mix of methods in each box. Just be sure none of the books are packed at an angle or bent in a strange way – they’ll be warped when you take them out.

7. Remember your emergency reading materials

Don’t pack all of your books! Make sure you leave out a few options to read just before and after your move, especially if you’ll be without your full library for any length of time. Put these books in the same box you put all of your other “emergency” supplies like contact information, medication, and cell phone chargers. Being without a good book would be a disaster.

8. Unpack the books first-ish (or get them out of the way)

I generally live in small houses, so having 20 (or more) boxes of books sitting around is a problem. Once the furniture is in place, the bed is made, and I’ve had some food, I take some time to unpack my books. Nothing makes me feel more settled than having my books on my shelves and, as a bonus, getting the books in place makes the entire house feel less cluttered. If you have a dedicated space for books (a spare bedroom or *swoon* a library) tuck the boxes away and deal with them in a reasonable time frame.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • BermudaOnion(Kathy) August 6, 2014, 7:57 am

    I’ll need this the next time I move!

  • tanya (52 books or bust) August 6, 2014, 8:46 am

    Wow. You move even more than i do. My last move was trans- Atlantic and since then I’ve really vowed to stop buying so many books, and it has kind of worked so far. And I buy a lot more ebooks, but a place doesn’t really look like home until there are books everywhere.

    • Kim August 17, 2014, 9:56 am

      That’s part of why I have a hard time getting rid of many of them — having full bookshelves in every room makes me feel like I’m home.

  • Leah @ Books Speak Volumes August 6, 2014, 10:16 am

    I just moved, and these are great tips! As for boxes, I found that the Keurig boxes I got from my office were the perfect size for books!

  • Jeane August 6, 2014, 12:07 pm

    Those are some great tips. I like #7 particularly! I’ve done several moves with books and have learned to keep them organized, pack the boxes half-full of clothes like you suggest, or keep the boxes small. Somehow even though I think I pack them in a certain order, they always seem to get mixed up when I unpack. I prefer to just unload them all onto the shelves, so they are off the floor and viewable. Later when everything is settled I take time to reorganize them (which might induce a little more culling as well!)

    • Kim August 17, 2014, 9:57 am

      Even though I tried to pack carefully, I ended up doing a lot of sorting and organizing when I got settled. I had a new bookshelf, so things got rearranged.

  • Andi @ Estella's Revenge August 6, 2014, 2:30 pm

    So many good tips. I’ve been through this a few too many times. I seem to always forget about the box size, though.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End August 6, 2014, 4:21 pm

    Poor you! 13 moves in ten years, that is crazy! You must be an absolute champ of moving at this point. I’ve moved half that many times since college, and have always felt very sorry for myself over it. :p

    Your last tip is my favorite one. I always always unpack my books first. It goes such a long way, as you say, to making me feel settled in.

    • Kim August 17, 2014, 9:58 am

      There’s something so mentally settling about seeing my books out. It makes a new space feel more like home than just about anything else.

  • Words for Worms August 6, 2014, 8:45 pm

    Books in re-usable grocery bags is genius. I did that just to haul my books from floor to floor in my house (we installed wall to wall bookshelves in the basement) and it was so much easier than lugging boxes!

  • Christina August 7, 2014, 6:44 am

    I elected not to move my book collection during my most recent move as the cost of moving the books alone was equal to that of moving my small amount of furniture (a table, two armchairs) and clothes. One day, I will rescue them from my parents’ house and will try to remember all your tips.

  • Jennine G. August 7, 2014, 9:15 pm

    Great tips! I use some of these when I have to pack up my classroom every summer!

  • Jess - A Book Hoarder August 8, 2014, 11:48 pm

    I love this advice. I fifured out most of it through trial and error but #1 I had issues with (shocking) and ended up donating a lot when I got to the new place due to space, which was just annoying. #7 is also important. I always seem to lose my current read in the packing process…

  • Sheila (Book Journey) August 9, 2014, 8:06 am

    Great post! I dread if we ever moved whatever would I do! 🙂 One more recommendation for the book purging… local libraries often take used books for their Friends Of The Library sales. Money raised from these sales go back into programs for the library… its a win 🙂

    • Kim August 17, 2014, 9:59 am

      Yes! That is a great suggestion — friends groups can always use good books for their book sales.

  • Catherine August 9, 2014, 2:52 pm

    This brings back so many memories- ugh! Great tips all of them. Another incentive for weeding? If you’re not doing a friend/family sponsored move then do you want to PAY to move all those books? It’s amazing how money can make me much less sentimental.

    I haven’t moved as much as you but more than most and still have one more to go when (if) we find a house here in Seattle. Not looking forward to another weeding of my shelves!

  • Monica (aka monnibo) August 12, 2014, 12:32 am

    To add to #2 — small boxes WITH handle cut-outs. I like the apple and orange boxes from the grocery store. The banana ones here don’t have centers (only a frame).

    Also, about labelling. I’ve found that if I pre-cut a bunch of coloured paper into slips, colour-coded into rooms, I can then just add notes about what is in each box onto the slip. And label at least 2 sides and the top. My mother was helping me pack, and I was able to give her a bunch of slices of purple paper that already said KITCHEN on it, and she would add “pots and pans” or “pantry, non-perishable” to it.

    • Kim August 17, 2014, 10:01 am

      That is s smart labeling tip! I wasn’t as diligent about labeling boxes for this move, since it was just across town, but I expect we’ll have to be smarter about it for our next move.

  • Diane@BibliophilebytheSea August 13, 2014, 8:12 pm

    Great post – and don’t forget the cats:) I love the canvas bags and cloth bags for transporting books. Much easier to carry than boxes even it you use 40! LOL

  • susan August 22, 2014, 4:19 pm

    Oh I would dread moving and having to pack all my books. I guess I’d have to cull drastically. Hmm