Packing and Schlepping

This is the second installment in a series on moving.

Packing and schlepping your books is what most folks think of when they think of moving, and most of the sad stories I hear about moving books come from poor packing. Boxes get dropped, books shift inside them during transit, and just the weight of stacked boxes can do a number on poorly-packed books. Using good boxes and following a few basic principles can save you a lot of heartache down the road.


Here are the principles I pack by.

Firstly: group books by size. I generally sort one or two shelves at a time by size, pack most of them, then add any stragglers to the next couple of shelves and repeat. This has two advantages: my books wind up packed mostly in the right groupings, so I can label the boxes by section, and it makes fitting the books together in the box a lot easier.


Secondly: Any books that will be vertically oriented in the box should go spine down. This is non-negotiable for hardcover books, and I generally do it for paperbacks too. Why? If you drop the box, any hardcover book with spine up or spine to the side will be subject to the momentum of the pages when the covers stop. Especially if they’re spine up, it can damage the spine a great deal, even tear the text block loose from the cover. Bad stuff. For paperbacks, the spine is stronger and less likely to get damaged in the event the box is dropped. Books are heavy, boxes fall or get dropped, it happens. Better to be prepared.

Thirdly: when possible, make two stacks in opposing corners of the box of books lying flat, and have those stacks go from the bottom of the box all the way to the top. This helps the box keep its structural integrity when other things are stacked on top of it. Cardboard isn’t actually all that strong, as I learned when I packed 70 or so boxes of books for a book drive last year. Stack poorly-packed boxes more than two or three high and they’ll start to collapse under the weight of the boxes on top of them. Not good!

IMG_20111016_125032.jpgFourthly, and worth saying in spite of being obvious: pack the boxes all the way full. Don’t let your books slide around! They always seem to find the worst possible direction to slide and wind up getting damaged. Use soft, light things like pillows, fluffy sweaters, towels, tshirts, or just about anything else that works well to fill in any gaps in your book boxes (in the photo here, you’ll see a weird rubber knick-knack holder I tucked in there — I shook the box around a bit before taping it closed and it worked to hold the books in place just fine).

Another practical thing to consider when packing your books is how much detail to use in labeling the boxes. I’m a fairly lazy labeler when it comes to my own moving, and it seems like every time I move I swear that next time I’ll do a better job. In this move, I just scribbled a letter or two on each box to indicate which part of my library it belonged to (U for Unread, SC for Special Collections, etc).


You’ve probably heard all the standard advice: lift with your legs, not your back! Take breaks! Another less-well-known thing to watch out for: don’t pivot while holding something heavy! If you are picking things up from a dolly and lifting them into the back of a truck or car, be careful that you aren’t rotating without moving your feet while you’re holding the box. Generally one can get away with it a few times, especially if the rotation is only 90 degrees or so, but more than that and you will almost certainly throw your back out. This, I know from personal experience. Learn from my mistakes, my friends! Be nice to your back. Use a dolly! Get friends to help you! (Be sure to stock up on their snacks/beverages of choice, especially at the new residence. Friends help you move, good friends help you move books.)

A Final Note

Be careful when unloading wall-mounted book cases, even those where the brackets are attached to the boards. Books are very heavy, and an unbalanced shelf can very easily shift unexpectedly — at best, it dumps some books on the floor, at worst, it can rip half your bookcase off the wall. I’ve seen it happen! So be careful. Even with regular bookcases, it’s wise to unload them from top to bottom so that the center of gravity stays nice and low. Packing and moving is bad enough without adding injuries to the mix!