• Get rid of unnecessary items. Start using up items such as food. Theresa Donahoe, who has moved 10 times with her husband, Army Col. Patrick Donahoe, begins paring down canned and frozen foods six months before a move.
• Go through your house room by room doing a video inventory in the event of a catastrophic loss. Carry the videotape with you.
• Get appraisals of your high-dollar items. Donahoe hand-carries her jewelry and other valuables, such as her most precious photo albums and pictures that can't be replaced.
• Have one area — such as an emptied closet or bathroom — to place everything you don't want packed by the movers: purses and car keys, important documents travel clothes, medicines, and any other items you'll take with you.
• Empty trash cans or keep them out of the movers' way — otherwise your trash may travel with your household goods.
• Plan ahead if you have children; watching strangers box up beloved toys can be disturbing. Donahoe sets aside a bathroom near her three girls' rooms for their favorite stuffed animals and toys they want to take with them. She helps each child pack a bag for the car and puts it aside so that it will be "new and fresh" while they're traveling. She also talks to them constantly about the move.
Some families arrange for child care on packing day.
• Keep family pets away from the packing and loading. There have been instances of cats crawling into packing boxes, getting sealed in and not living to see their new homes.
• Watch where the hardware goes when furniture is taken apart.
One longtime mover said movers delivering household goods might say hardware is "lost" when it's late in the day and they don't want to spend time putting together furniture. He remembers an instance when the movers had "lost" the hardware, and the family dog came trotting out of the bushes with its newfound treasure of hardware in its mouth.
He said hardware can be wrapped in paper, folded over and duct-taped to the underside of its piece of furniture. If you set aside one box for hardware, make sure to label the items.
• Invest in sealable plastic bags for anything in drawers. Donahoe puts stationery, journals and pictures in large sealed bags to protect them from possible moisture or leakage from other items.
• Don't be afraid to challenge the inventory list, Donahoe said. "Sometimes they automatically mark that there are scratches," she said. "We had a brand-new leather recliner, still with tags, and my husband refused to sign the inventory. He made [the mover] show him the scratches."
• Keep the original containers for valuable items. And if you know what's been broken in the past, explain how fragile it is, tell the packers how you've seen it done before and listen to their plans for protecting your valuables.
• Regardless of what the movers say, you are entitled to have your household goods unpacked at your destination. That doesn't mean they'll put away every dish, but they will unpack the items and haul off the boxes.