Alex is the founder of 9Kilo Moving, which he started to help people easily find and choose the right moving company to make their move as stress-free and seamless as possible. He has spent over 20 years working in the moving industry, so he knows every aspect of the business and uses his knowledge to write about the industry and give moving advice. More on about us page
If you’ve ever moved before, then you already know that Murphy’s Law applies - if it can go wrong, then it's likely it will go wrong. By nature, moving from one home to another is an unpredictable, tedious, and overwhelming process. There’s usually a lot to do and little time to do it.
You can make the entire process much easier on yourself by staying in control and organized when it comes to the packing process. After all, packing smartly doesn’t just mean things go in the box easier; it also means that they come out easier, too.
How do you pack smart? You label your moving boxes with a comprehensive, organized system. It sounds like such a very simple answer, but it’s a moving task that so many movers skip or get wrong as they’re hurriedly packing or just don’t understand what kind of chaos they’re asking for in unpacking.
Without an organized system of packing, you’re doomed to waste hour upon hour unpacking the chaos. Are you ready to learn how to avoid this serious packing mistake? Let’s walk you through the labeling process for moving boxes.
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Every good plan starts with a supply list. While labeling is a relatively straightforward process, you’ll want to do a little prep work to ensure you have the right supplies to implement your packing plan. You may think of a few other things you’ll want to have on-hand to customize your labeling process, but here are the three basics that you’ll need prior to your packing date:
Everyone has their personal preference on marker selection, and you shouldn’t feel like you need to go out and buy expensive specialty markers. You’ll just want good-quality markers with a wide tip for easy readability. Pens and fine-tip markers create thinner, lighter writing that’s more difficult to read.
Using cheaper markers may result in buying multiple sets because they run out of ink so quickly. The coarseness of grainy labels may also eat away at the felt tip, which may cause you to stop to replace it or have skips in your writing. So, it’s worth the investment in a quality set from a brand you trust.
You’ll need several different bold color options in your marker set if you go with the color-coded labeling method. Learn how the method works in just a moment. Count the rooms in your new home to know how many unique colors you’ll need.
Many movers make the common mistake of going all black for labeling moving boxes. While black is a good bold color for readability, marking all your boxes with the same color is less efficient because it doesn’t allow for easy categorizing. All black is fine if you use the numbering system, which will be detailed in a moment, for your move.
Of course, you’ll also want to select markers that are permanent, not dry erase or washable. Permanent markers will dry quickly on smooth labels and not be so prone to smudging or getting inadvertently erased. If it’s raining on moving day, you’ll also know that the permanent marker’s writing is secure and won’t be washed away by moisture.
You’ll likely have your preferred brand and vendor for your labels. These can be ordered in bulk online, printed from a label maker, or bought prefab at most any local office supply store or moving company. You can even use apps and online stores to customize your labels if you have the time.
Compare cost and quality to make the best selection, but just don’t forget to have an ample supply prior to your first packing day. Remember, the label is the pivot point for determining everything about that box. Invest wisely in quality.
Take the time to carefully select your packing boxes. It’s a given that you’ll look for the right size boxes and check them for sturdiness, but your labeling plan also means that you’ll need to check all your boxes for other writing or labels that could be confused with your moving labels.
If your boxes have such preexisting writing or labels, make sure to mark through them with a designated color. You could also cover them by attaching a blank piece of paper over it, but that may be distracting against your labels. If possible, it’s best to place your moving label over it to completely avoid confusion.
Moving is all about timing, and packing is no exception. You’ll want to have a clear plan on when you’re going to pack. It’s okay if you need to do it in stages or make several days out of it. However, don’t pre-label your boxes.
You have all your supplies ready. You have the timing of packing figured out. Now, it’s time to decide how you’ll label your boxes.
There are two labeling systems you can use. The first is a color coding system. The second is a number coding system.
It’s completely up to you as to which works better. In either case, though, the timing of your labeling is key. It can be very tempting to stick your labels on all your boxes with prewritten info to expedite the packing day, but this can actually slow things down.
The problem with pre-labeling is that you never know what will wind up in any given moving box. However, you will want to label your box as soon as it’s packed so that you don’t forget what’s in it or mix it up with the next boxes you’re packing.
Need help knowing when to pack what or what to pack where? Consider an app to help you. There’s a lot of great moving/packing apps to help organize your physical packing process.
Once you figure it out, remember to keep your process in sequential order- pack, seal, label box-by-box.
Did the color system immediately appeal to you? A lot of movers prefer this color-coded system because of its visual ease and user-friendly components. It’s almost foolproof and quite effective, simple, and effective to implement. In just a few steps, your labels will be color-coded to a specific destination, which is a big asset in avoiding playing the lost and found game in unpacking. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use the color system for your labels:
You’ll start by assigning each room in your new home a different unique color. Don’t pick colors that closely resemble each other, such as teal for your bedroom and aqua for your bathroom. Go with contrasting base colors like black, red, green, yellow, purple, and orange.
A tip here is to try to keep each color selection memorable to its match. You can assign the colors based on logical correlations, such as bathrooms go with the blue of water, green for the kitchen because your favorite food is avocado, and so forth. The system is highly customizable for your own memory associations.
If you go with random colors, make a written color chart for future reference on move-in day.
It’s highly recommended to reserve a special color for special instructions that require the box to be given special attention. This includes boxes with breakable objects and that shouldn’t be turned upside down.
Red is a great color since it’s automatically associated with stop. Just don’t assign any room the color red so that it can be reserved to showcase your handling instructions.
Decide on a room to start with and grab the marker assigned to that room. Fill out your label using only that marker color. You’ll repeat this step with each room you pack.
Each box should have essential info to match it with the right room and identify the box’s contents. Don’t forget to add any special instructions or handling precautions for movers.
The great thing about peel-and-stick labels is that they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. If your move is unexpected or you just prefer using a single color of marker, you can alternatively use colored moving labels in the same manner as above. Instead of the marker matching the assigned color for each room, you’d simply match the actual color of the label to the room and just use a black marker to fill in the info.
Likewise, if you don’t have labels, you can always write directly on the box. It may not be as visually organized, but using different corresponding colors on the box itself still gets the job done in a pinch.
Another add-on or alternative coloring identifier is colored tape. Match the tape’s color to its assigned room color. Of course, you can always go color crazy and use the colored marker, a label bordered by the color, and the colored tape.
As mentioned above, jot your color-coding down for movers and to help yourself remember what label color goes with what room. You may want to tape colored paper on the door of all your rooms if others are helping or you’re using a professional moving service. This small step can help keep everyone on the same page.
See also: Types of Moving Boxes
With around 0.5 % of females and eight percent of men being affected, color blindness is quite prevalent. It’s a consideration if you’re hiring a moving company or are affected yourself. Your alternative to the color-coded system is the numbering system.
You’ll use different numbers, not colors, to identify each box and its contents. It’s a very quick and organized system that’s quite efficient. Let’s walk you through how to implement it in your packing:
This will be your master guide to the entire numbering system. Keep it neat. Keep it safe.
Start by deciding how you’ll create your key - printable spreadsheet, pen and paper, listable app on your smart device, etc. Wet documents risk getting lost or destroyed, and there’s always the possibility of not having it on-hand when you need it. Meanwhile, keeping the key master list on your smartphone keeps it safer and more accessible.
The master key is a packing list inventory. You’ll simply write down what each box contains on the key verses the actual packing box. Numbering instead of color-coding saves the expense of multiple markers and provides an easy in-hand reference without physically looking at each box to determine the contents.
The next step is assigning each box a different number. Again, just as with the color-coding packing system, you’ll want to immediately number your box on at least two sides and enter it on your key. This avoids inadvertently forgetting to number it or losing track of what you put in the box.
The numbering system writes out the box’s destination on its label. You can use single letters and abbreviations, such as K for kitchen or MBath for master bathroom, or write the full name of each room out. It’s recommended to also include this info on your master key.
Aside from the issue of color blindness, the numbering method also keeps your contents private if you have moving help or will be using a moving company. The packed boxes will simply have a number and destination on it; the key, which only you have access to, will be the only way to know what’s inside the boxes.
When you’re finished packing a box, grab your key to enter the contents. It’s up to you how detailed you want to be here. For example, you may want to just enter toiletries or list out exactly what toiletries are in the box.
If you have multiples of an item, such as three tea sets, then you may want to be more specific to distinguish the difference on your key.
The same goes for packing multi-person households. Writing just “clothes” on your key, for example, can lead to confusion. Unpacking will be easier in such cases if you offer more detail, such as “Ashley’s Winter Clothes” or “Joe’s Sweaters,” on your master key.
This is the key to your entire packing system and move. If lost, you’re in for a horrible unpacking process. So, it’s prudent to back it up.
If you use wet documents, then make copies or scan it to your PC. If you use an online or app list, then make a paper copy or email it to yourself as a a backup.
Both the numbering and color-coded systems are quite proficient and quick. The numbering system has an edge if you’re concerned about a mover or yourself being colorblind. It’s also ideal for people who are very private and will be using moving help to transport and unload their boxes.
However, many prefer the color-coded system for its visual ease. Using a combo of color labels, writing, and tape, it becomes quick and easy to see exactly where boxes go. There’s also no risk of losing/leaving behind your key, and there’s no need to reference a master packing key when it comes time to unpack.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Base it on need and personal preferences.
It’s best to double label each box for easy identification. The top and one side should always be labeled, but feel free to be more diligent. If you have a large amount of boxes, then it’s always easier to label all the sides than to risk having to physically move a lot of boxes just to locate a label within the stack.
If you use the numbering system, you’ll write the box number and destination. You can also include any special handling instructions for fragile items.
If you use the color-coded system you’ll want your label to be detailed since it’s the only point of reference on what’s inside the box. Write the destination, list of contents, and special handling.
When using moving help or professionals, do keep in mind that you may not want to announce that something valuable is in a particular box. You can use a codeword to label these boxes. You’ll still be able to recognize the box easily and keep it separate from your ordinary belongings without announcing to onlookers that it’s valuable.
You have several options on your packing labels. The self-stick varieties are typically more expensive than the glue-on and tape-on varieties, but glue and tape are also messy and a more tedious added step. That said, clear packing tape is a handy addition to any labeling process.
Even with self-stick labels and permanent markers, most packing labels aren’t completely waterproof. There’s also the risk of extreme temps making the self-stick or glued labels come loose and fall off the box. This is why it’s recommended to use clear packing tape over the label as an extra safeguard.
Tape is an added step, but it may be worth the time if you don’t want to risk boxes with missing labels.
Look to your schedule, resources, and energy for the answer. Each situation is unique. Don’t base the answer on how others have moved.
Wrapping Up Your Labeling Guide
Moving is stressful enough without disorganization. There’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to packing; it’s purely a matter of if you have the time and energy to do it in an organized manner.
Labeling is the ultimate step in that organization. Failing to properly label your moving boxes with color or numbers is a huge mistake. Yes, it takes a lot more time than just throwing random belongings in a box and sealing it, but just imagine the nightmare that will be when you go to unpack.
The old adage about doing it yourself if you want a job done right must’ve been created by one serious multitasker. Between work, family, and social obligations, it can often be hard to devote the proper time and care to packing up your entire life on the very limited timeline that’s often associated with move-out and move-in dates.
If you find yourself on a short timeline or have too many balls in the air to handle the labeling process, it may be best to outsource the job to a professional packing service.
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