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How to Move in NYC Without Losing Your Mind

No matter how many times you've done it or how seasoned a New Yorker you are, moving in this town is never easy.

But, take heart: You can do it on the fly and do it on the cheap without losing your sanity. Ready? Let’s go!

Two moving mantras

Before getting into the logistics of moving, here are a couple of mantras to live by when you think you’re going to lose it:

Mantra No. 1: I live in New York City.

Right! You’re not living in some Podunk town. C’mon, this is New York where things are chaotic and move fast. Your move may happen at the last minute and be catch as catch can, but it will happen.

Mantra No. 2: I can’t do this all by myself.

Exactly. Why risk hurting yourself to save a few bucks? Your movers know what they’re doing better than you do. Let them do the heavy lifting (literally) and let them take care of the fragile stuff, too.

Plan your move date

Weekend moves are the way to go. But, weekends don’t always align with the first of the month when leases usually begin, so coordinate move-in and move-out dates with both landlords (i.e., the one you’re leaving and the one you’re getting). Try to move a few days before or after the first of the month.

Take inventory

Moving reveals how much stuff you’ve accumulated since your last move and it’s a built-in opportunity to purge. Donate, give away or sell items you plan to toss. Rule of thumb: If you haven’t used the item in the past year, toss it.

Another thing to keep in mind is the space parameters of your new apartment and its exterior hallways and stairways. If you’re moving into a walk-up with narrow hallways and tight corners, will your couch fit? Now’s the time to check. If not, perhaps you can lend it to friends for a bit, or donate it to someone, or put it on the curb for bulk collection removal. Or, if you really, really want that couch, you could hire a hoisting service to bring it through a window, or use a service that disassembles couches. There are solutions – this is New York!

Find movers!

Remember the second mantra: Don’t do it yourself. Moving is hard work and the risk of straining your back carrying heavy boxes, locking the keys in your rental van and having a meltdown in a pile of bubble wrap is not worth it. There are many affordable and reliable movers in New York City that will save your sanity and won’t break the bank.

For budget moves, there are companies like The Chinese Movers who are fast, reliable and pretty much available whenever you want. Plus, they are very reasonably priced. For small moves, you can pretty much call the day before and they will be able to accommodate your needs.  The College Educated Movers, Rabbit Movers and OZ movers are similarly priced and equally easy to book.

For larger moves, you’ll need more prep time since you’ll probably want to interview multiple moving companies and get appraisals from each.

When you call the movers, you’ll need to provide them details such as:

  • How many rooms are you moving?
  • Number of big items (i.e., couch, beds, tables, dining room furniture, TVs, etc)
  • Number of boxes
  • How much will movers need to pack
  • Number of floors in your building and number of floors in new building
  • Is there a freight elevator they can use?

Note: Movers will generally charge more for higher floor walk-ups.

Packing tips

Like painting a room, packing is easier when you are prepared. Have these basic supplies ready for packing and cleaning:

  • Packing tape
  • Multiple-size boxes
  • Box cutters
  • Sharpies for labeling boxes
  • Black trash bags
  • Mattress bags
  • Cleaning supplies (broom, mop, dust pan, sponges, disinfectant, paper towels)
  • Cash for tipping the movers

How to find free/cheap boxes:

  • Ask merchants (dry goods, preferably)
  • Check for boxes during garbage night. Stores bundle empty boxes curbside
  • Visit your neighborhood liquor store for boxes, which are perfectly sized for books
  • Negotiate box add-ons with your mover (e.g., mirror boxes, wardrobe boxes)

Start by packing up your off-season clothing.  Also, pack your clothing in suitcases because it’s easier to unpack a suitcase than it is to unpack a giant cardboard box.  If you don’t have enough suitcases for all your clothing, pack your off-season stuff in boxes. Pack your footwear in a duffle bag, storage bin or hamper.  Leave other more fragile or cumbersome items for the movers to take care. These include dishes, pots and pans, cutlery and electronics.

Clearly label boxes containing items you want immediate access to (i.e., bedding, towels, pillows, plates, forks, knives, toilet paper).

It is also a good idea to pack a backpack or briefcase with your valuable items and keep this on you during the actual move. This is the safest way to transport items like jewelry, passports, Social Security cards and other personal documents and precious objects.

Rules for curb junk

The amount of junk the NYC Department of Sanitation takes from the curb is impressive. They will take just about anything (i.e., mattresses, couches, tables, beds, rugs), as long as it’s not predominantly metal or electronics.  Make sure you follow the details on how to discard – especially discarding mattresses.

However, starting Jan. 1, 2015, it is illegal to discard your electronics with your regular trash. This includes TVs, computer monitors, printers, DVDs and many other items. Just like discarding mattresses improperly, you will be fined if you are caught dumping electronics in with your garbage. Fortunately, there is a DNY e-cycle NYC program that will pick up your electronics for free (your apartment building needs to be enrolled) or you can drop your electronics item off at a retail location free of charge.

As mentioned above, make sure you seal your mattress in a mattress bag. The city requires this as anti-bed bug protective measure. Mattress bags can be purchased at your local hardware store.

Mattresses must be wrapped in plastic and placed curbside.
Mattresses must be wrapped in plastic and placed curbside.

Getting to the new place

You may be able to ride to the new apartment in the moving van with the movers, but it’s unlikely. You could take public transportation, but you’re probably schlepping some odds and ends – like the backpack that contains important documents. So, how do you get to your new place?

This is one time that having a car in New York City is not stupid. You can transport your suitcases, valuable bag, laptop, cell phone charger, and other odds and ends and meet the movers at your new address. Or, if you have a friend with a car, ask to borrow it. Or ask him/her to drive you. Or, consider renting a Car2Go or Zipcar for the day. And yes, of course you can always hail a cab or summon Uber, if you only have a few items.

Moving day

Once your movers arrive, things move fast. They will just dump and run so direct them where you want the various boxes and pieces of furniture to go. If furniture needs to be reassembled, your movers should do it; it should be part of their “service.” Make sure you ask this before you hire them.

Have them place heavy objects where you want them to go and in the right orientation. There’s nothing worse than moving your couch or dresser by yourself after they leave.

Tipping movers

Ahhh. This is the most exciting part of the day because it means your move is over! As opposed to giving each mover an individual tip, you should give an aggregated tip to the moving team captain. Just as your moving price was based on the number of stairs, number of heavy items and hours, so should your tipping. Keep in mind that as bad as moving is for you, you hopefully do not have to do it more than once a year – at most. Movers do it every day.

Here are tipping rates, according to a professional mover in this StreetEasy Discussion thread from 2012:

“I am a mover in NYC. … 5-10 dollars per hour per man – is definitely the most accurate. While you may be paying $120-180 an hour for the job, most movers in NYC are paid $12 an hour or less, some as low as $8, so tips are clearly meant to be part of the pay package. Good movers are professionals who will be able to advise you on almost every aspect of your move. $20 is the absolute minimum.

Another thing to think about is that, if the job is short, the rate of gratuity should go up – 3 hours is less than a half day and if you are only picking up $15 bucks, you’re going to go broke. I’d recommend: small move (0-4 hours) – $20-30, medium move (4-7 hours) – $30-50, large move (8-12 hours) – $50-75, and very large move – $80 . Tip higher for professionalism and especially if a mover goes above and beyond – takes some time off the clock, helps you argue down the building mgmt., hoists furniture through the window, etc.”

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