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Moving

The Scary Truth About Packing and Moving in 72 Hours Flat

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moving mess (Jodi Jacobson)

In real estate, things often don't turn out the way you'd expect. In this series, we take a look at how people's real-life experiences differed from their expectations.

I'm not going to say moving is fun. But there's something to be said for a long ramp up, when you have two months to thoughtfully declutter, carefully pack all your precious belongings, and bake cupcakes for your friends who help haul your stuff up and down stairs.

The story I'm going to tell you isn't about one of those moves.

This is one of those rapid-fire relocations where I had to get out fast. Like, really fast. I had 72 hours from learning I needed to move to getting into a new place. With no time and no planning, I knew it wasn't going to go smoothly, and it really, really didn't.

But it could have gone better, experts tell me, if I had approached the whole thing just a little bit differently. If you have a last-minute move (whether it's three days or three weeks -- because both feel overwhelming when you have to pack up your life), you can learn from my mistakes.

Tip No. 1: Do some homework, no matter how tight the timeline

When you don't have a lot of time there are really two ways to get something done. No. 1: Slow down and take the time to organize as best you can before you start. No. 2: Dash around trying to do everything at once while silently weeping.

I chose the latter option. In a blind panic, I Googled movers in the area, called the first number I could find, and opened with "Help! Do you move on Sunday?!!" When one place said it did, I thought I had hit some sort of jackpot, stammered that everything had to be out that day, and wrote down "Steve." (Seriously, that's all I wrote down. Movers = Steve.)

Patting myself on the back, I checked that off the list.

What experts say: Here's a shocker -- even if you're short on time, choosing the first moving company that happens to be available isn't a smart move. I'd set myself up to fail before I even started packing.

"Movers are not created equal," says Aaron Steed, founder of Meathead Movers, which serves central and southern California. "What a lot of these guys do is start an aggressive online advertising campaign with really low rates so they look good, but it's really just a guy who has a truck in the parking lot of his apartment."

If you're going local, Steed recommends checking out the moving company's office in person so you can answer the all-important question, "Are these the sort of people I want in my home all day moving my stuff around?" If you don't go in person, check the Better Business Bureau and Yelp.

Tip No. 2: Don't skimp on supplies

Feeling proud of my adulting, I moved on to the next task: packing. I figured a day and a half to pack was plenty of time, so I gathered all the empty Amazon boxes I'd stuffed under the bed and got to work. This was going to be a breeze.

Nope. Three hours in and I'd barely packed one room, my only Sharpie had died, and I was almost out of boxes. I started shoving all of my belongings into any acceptable carrier. I had dishes wrapped in T-shirts; clothes and blankets shoved in trash bags; and random decorative pieces filling laundry baskets. It took until midnight, but I technically finished the job.

What experts say: If you're short on time, it makes sense to suck it up and buy boxes and supplies from a local moving company.

"It will cost $100 to $200 for a typical move, but it will be worth it," Steed says. "If you get free boxes, it takes a lot of time and aggravation. Then it's hard to stack the items correctly in the truck with different boxes."

Instead, look for boxes that are the same size and don't forget the packing material. Steed recommends skipping the bubble wrap.

"Standard wrapping paper will do just fine and save you a ton of time," he says.

Tip No. 3: Be completely packed before the movers get there

On moving day, things got even worse. Steve was an hour late and when he did show, he brought only one other guy and a small moving trailer, despite the fact that I had told him I was renting a three-bedroom house.

But I was too stressed to argue. I spent the afternoon running around, grabbing valuables, and trying to keep my dog quiet while dodging moving boxes and Steve's creepy sidekick.

And since I hadn't done any research, it's no surprise that these movers didn't seem to know what they were doing. They repacked the truck twice before announcing they were ready to go. I was still packing those last-minute items, so I had no choice but to stay behind and clean while my friend went ahead with the movers.

As soon as they left, I realized they'd left several boxes behind. Rather than fork over more cash for a second trip, I loaded everything into the back of my two-seater car. When I finally got to my new apartment, things were a wreck. Furniture was in the wrong rooms and boxes were scattered everywhere. It took weeks to sort it all out again.

What experts say: By running around trying to handle last-minute tasks, I was creating the problem.

"Be mentally present when the movers arrive," Steed says. "Stay off your phone, and designate someone to be in charge of the movers. If you don't, you'll slow everything down."

In the end, if there's anything to be learned from my sad tale, it's this: No matter how little time you have, you can slow down enough to plan a little -- and it'll make everything go more smoothly.