So you reserved a portable storage container (also called moving containers or shipping containers and/or ‘PODS’ containers – which is actually the brand that reserves the containers, not a name for a container) what do you do next? How do you actually load a PODS moving container?
STEP ONE – Placing Your Container
There are busy times for container companies, and you don’t want to be stuck waiting. Reserving a container ahead of time also gives you a deadline for finishing your packing – for better or for worse!
Check the specs
The size of your container as well as the mechanics of drop-off and pick-up may limit your options. Ask your container company how much space your container will take up, and how much more space they’ll need to get it in and out. And remember – height is also a consideration so be aware of wires and tree branches.
Check the rule book
Contact your municipality for any rules and restrictions on placing a temporary container, whether on your property or on the street. If you rent, check with your landlord before putting your container on the premises.
Stake out a spot
The closer the better, to reduce time and effort in getting everything out to the container and, in bad weather, to reduce you and your stuff getting rained on. However a hard level surface trumps the convenience of proximity to your front door or, if you are lucky enough to have one, a garage. A level container is not only easier to load, it is safer.
Give yourself some room
You’ll need ample space to maneuver outside of your container, for that big sofa bed but also all those smaller items that will likely end up on the ground outside your container as you load. (This space is called a staging area. More on this later.)
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STEP TWO – Prepping Your Home
Floors and carpets
Throwing down a bunch of old blankets is not only ineffective for keeping your floors and carpets clean from all those feet going back and forth, it is dangerous. The last thing anyone carrying a heavy box or a piece of furniture needs is to get their feet caught up on something. Your local movers or the self-storage facility down the road might be able to provide a few options for protecting your floors.
Rug Runners – thin, long, durable lengths of cloth for covering the most highly-traveled paths during the move. Tape down the ends and at least parts of the edges with masking tape (box tape may be all right on carpeting but can leave a nasty residue on hardwood, tile and linoleum.)
Plastic Liners – Similar to rug runners, these long sheets of plastic sometimes have sticky bottoms so they will adhere to your floor or rug. Otherwise tape them down as you would your rug runners.
Rolls of Kraft Paper – Less durable than rug runners or plastic liners but, like rug runners, can absorb moisture (and wet dust or dirt) from the soles of your shoes. Again, tape the ends and enough of the sides to keep them from slipping and tripping you up.
Cardboard Boxes – For tougher protection consider cutting cardboard cartons and taping the flat pieces to the floors of those high-traffic areas. Used cardboard is fine as long it clean and free of trip-inducing tears. Be sure to tape your cardboard securely to the floor or carpet as its rigidity translates into lateral force under your footsteps. In other words, unsecured cardboard can slip and slide out from under you.
Of course, you can go ahead and use those old blankets if you like. Just tape them down before you go to work!
Doorways, corners and banisters
Moving furniture is a hazard to both you and your home. To protect yourself, take it slow and get help for those larger, heavier items. To protect your home from those bookcase corners and dresser legs, make sure you cover these three damage-prone areas. As with your floors, old blanket can be used in a pinch. But moving blankets, aka furniture pads, are thicker and offer better protection against those inadvertent bumps and scrapes.
Door Jamb Protectors are essentially furniture pads with clamps built in, to wrap around and grab onto the sides of any doorway. No tape is needed and they stay well in place. Absent these, furniture pads will suffice if you tape them adequately. Just remember that box tape and duct tape can leave residue or even peel the paint off the walls when removed. Reach for masking tape instead.
Use pads or your own blankets to protect the corners in your home the same way, taping them in place. (Door jamb protectors will not grab onto corners.) When protecting banisters and railings you can wrap your pads around and tape them to themselves, free from worry about tape residue or damage so feel free to go with the box tape.
PRO TIP: Even with your floors and walls and doors and banisters covered, care still needs to be taken. Watch your height as you go through any doorway to avoid smacking the top of the doorway with your armoire. Check the slope of the ceiling as you carry that dresser down the stairs. And watch out for light fixtures, fuse boxes, smoke detectors and anything else sticking out of the walls and ceilings.
STEP THREE – Prepping Your Furniture
Obvious for the beds and the dresser mirror. But what else should we take apart? Here are a few ideas and tips.
Take the legs off of your tables (if they are in fact removable). Not only will this save space in your container but can save those legs from being snapped right off. The same goes for TV stands.
Shelving units can often be broken down into smaller, easy to handle pieces. Your bookcase or entertainment center might not lend itself to disassembly, but if the shelves are not attached or secured it is a great idea to take them out and wrap them up.
* PRO TIP: Keep a parts box on hand to hold all the hardware from the items you disassemble. Use (and label) Ziploc bags to keep all those the nuts and bolts and screws for each piece of furniture separate from the rest.
Tools. Have the right ones for the job: flat head and Philips screwdrivers, hex (Allen) wrenches, an adjustable wrench or two, a ratchet set, a rubber mallet and a pair of pliers can all come in handy depending on what you are taking apart.
** PRO TIP: Pressboard furniture is a disaster waiting to happen. Items made with this stuff were meant to be put together and left in one place forever. But of course, you are moving, so what else are you gonna do? Just be warned. Some movers themselves will not move pressboard furniture because the likelihood of damage is so high. If they do agree to move your pressboard desk, or bookcase or entertainment unit they may have you sign a special waiver stating you as the customer will not hold the movers liable if (or when) that pressboard item crumbles to pieces. And disassembling then reassembling such items is not a feasible option without some luck, some skill and a whole lot of wood glue.
Covering your furniture serves two purposes. (1) It protects your furniture from dings, scratches and cracks as it is being hauled out of your home, and (2) it protects against the same during the inevitable moving and shifting that will occur when your stuff is in transit.
Furniture Pads. Use what the pros use to effectively wrap and protect your furniture. Make sure you have enough of them. You’ll want to cover all your corners and surfaces. (The backsides of dressers, desks, entertainment units and such can go unwrapped but given the choice we like to cover everything.)
Box tape is the most common choice for keeping those furniture pads in place. Make sure those pads are wrapped and taped tight or your armoire can (and probably will) start to slip as you and your buddy haul that monster down the steps and toward the door.
PRO TIP: Keep your box tape off of your furniture to avoid marring or damaging any surfaces. This is another reason to completely cover each piece in pads. If you do leave the rear of your dresser or desk exposed, crinkle and squeeze the tape in your hand as you unroll it over that area so the tape sticks to itself and not the wood.
Rubber Bands are a smart and cost-effective alternative to tape – if you can find a place to rent you some. These industrial-size bands take some time getting used to, but if you have a lot of furniture to wrap you might consider this option. Bands come in a few different sizes to accommodate various pieces of furniture, from coffee tables to armchairs to headboards.
Shrink Wrap works like plastic cling wrap, just for your sofa instead of your salad. These large rolls of plastic sheeting are a standard tool of the moving trade, used to wrap large pieces of furniture securely and quickly. Shrink wrap not only keeps your furniture pads firmly in place but the plastic provides a non-slip surface for carrying those heavy items. It is also great for wrapping and protecting upholstered sofas and easy chairs, keeping dust and dirt away from the cloth while keeping those furniture pads from slipping and falling off those rounded corners and irregular surfaces.
PRO TIP: Shrink wrap can damage certain surfaces, particularly in extreme temperatures and over prolonged periods of time. DO NOT wrap wood, leather or vinyl in shrink wrap unless first completely covering it with furniture pads (or the large sheets of heavy brown paper many movers use). ALSO, be sure to leave some air holes when shrink wrapping upholstered furniture, to avoid trapping moisture and encouraging mold and mildew.
Bubble Wrap can be useful in protecting your flat screen TV, your large hallway mirror and your favorite framed painting. Just be aware that since bubble wrap is so bulky you’ll go through a lot quickly – making it a relatively expensive option. Consider pads and/or cardboard cartons for these items instead.
PRO TIP: When wrapping furniture pads around your china hutch, curio or any other item with a glass surface, give that glass some extra protection by placing a piece of cardboard big enough to cover the glass over the part of the pad that is hiding the glass – then shrink wrap that cardboard in place. This will also serve as a reminder that ‘Hey, there’s glass under here!’
STEP FOUR – Loading Your Container
There’s a definite method to the madness of trying to fit your material world in a box, even a box as large as a portable storage container. Here we break the process down not into steps but into concepts that, along with a few more Pro Tips, will help you pack up your material world safely and securely.
Tiers are walls of stuff, vertical layers of furniture and boxes that reach clear up to the roof of the container. Our aim in loading our container is to create a series of tiers, one at a time, using a mix of furniture and boxes all the way through.
Base is the foundation on which each tier is built. The pros always start their first tier by pushing a stout piece of furniture – a (well-wrapped and padded) dresser or desk or bookcase – flush against the back wall of the container. On top of this will go boxes and items of medium size and weight, topped with some of the lighter things from the home.
Base can – and often must – consist of a variety of items from tier to tier. A big rolling tool chest, a few dense and heavy book boxes, an armoire, an upright piano, a barbeque grill… Whatever you use for base, the aim is to build a neat and tight tier.
Balance means an even distribution of weight within each tier and throughout the load as a whole. It goes without saying that lighter items go on top of heavier items. What we should also remember is that once your container is all loaded up it is going to be moved. And if the left side of your tier consists of stacks of books and photo albums while the right side is all ceramic figurines and lampshades there’s a chance those books and photos will start leaning into – then falling onto and crushing – those lighter items. As much as possible, balance each tier all the way across.
Of course this is not always possible. The weight of an oak bookcase placed in front of a marble tabletop to keep it secure might be hard to offset in the same tier. That’s okay, shoot instead to make the right side of a subsequent tier heavier to maintain a degree of overall balance throughout the container.
Fit describes how tightly the items in each tier and in the load as a whole are packed. We don’t want to try to cram a square peg into a round hole, but we want to minimize any chance of our belongings shifting in transit. Finding items to fit in all the big and small spaces as we build each tier is a process that takes a bit of time and patience but is certainly not an impossible skill to master.
It might be tempting to build a tight tier by stacking boxes from floor to ceiling. But this will only leave us with furniture and garden tools and all that stuff in the garage. These are not the makings of a solid, secure tier. This is a recipe for disaster. Mix your furniture, boxes and loose items from beginning to end.
Extra Pro Tips:
- See all those loose and odd items in the garage? Don’t shy away from from using those folding chairs and garden tools, the sporting gear and the golf clubs, and even your bicycles for filling out the tops of your tiers. Wrap pads around those golf clubs, the dining room table legs and the shelves from the entertainment unit and slip those up there in the narrow spaces between your tiers and the ceiling. You’ll be using your space wisely while getting lots of odd-shaped items out of the way.
- Assuming you have them at your disposal, use adjustable straps every three or four tiers to hold your load even more securely in place. In transit the load will endure plenty of forward and backward force. Straps will help minimize the shifting. Make your load even more secure by using a couple of tall bookcases or a mattress to serve as a wall that can be strapped against the tiers of smaller items behind.
- Mattresses are also useful in protecting the glass surfaces common in items like china cabinets and curios. Keep this is mind as you build your tiers.
- Not all items in any given tier will be the same neat width. This is not a problem. Use these in-between spaces as homes for your flat items like mirrors and large picture frames (which will of course be packed safely in flat cardboard cartons, right?).
- Large items – dressers and armoires, pool tables and headboards – can be loaded perpendicular to your tiers, i.e. against the side walls. This is fine, just strap these items in and keep building your tiers around them.
- Avoid piling too much stuff on top of upholstered and cushioned furniture – sometimes called O/S for ‘overstuffed’. Loveseats and sofas, once properly wrapped and protected, can be loaded on end. Use furniture pads to create a sort of resting pad for the piece, particularly if the end is not flat (which it rarely is).
- As you near the end of the loading process and you find that you won’t be using every last foot of floor space all the way to the roof, you should begin to ‘tier down’. This means making your last few tiers successively shorter. A gradual curve away from the roof of the container will not lead to your load collapsing and falling all over itself as long as your tiers are tight and secure. It is much better to tier down to a four-foot tier that stands just inside the doors to the container than to have every last tier reach the roof – and have four feet of empty space between that last tier and the container doors. The only exception to this is if your final tier is made up of those couple of tall bookcases or a large mattress that, when strapped in tight, will keep the rest of the load in place. Just make sure those straps are secured and in good shape!
To Sum Up
The art of loading a storage container is well within anyone’s reach. A lot of it is good common sense. But knowing what the pros know, outlined in the steps above, will help you maximize your use of space while minimizing the chance of damage to your stuff.