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How to Pack Your Kitchen and Pantry for a Move

Moving is a giant pain, especially when it comes to the kitchen. But it doesn’t have to be.

Assorted cardboard moving boxes on the floor with dishes and packing paper. Shutterstock

I’ve moved three times in the last eight years. Two of these moves were cross-country. All three of them were a pain in the ass, in large part because they meant moving my fully stocked kitchen. I cook a lot, and (pandemic notwithstanding) enjoy hosting dinner parties, which adds up to both a lot of tableware and a lot of stuff in my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. And so each time I’ve moved, the bulk of my packing efforts has been directed toward the contents of my kitchen.

As such, I’ve learned a few things about how — and how not — to pack up. These lessons can be generally grouped into three categories: Things That Break, Things That Spill or Rot, and Spices.

Let’s start with spices. People who care about spices will tell you that they can last for a year at most, after which they’re basically the sad ashes of something that once lived. Although I can personally attest to the greater longevity of certain spices, I will say that if you’re moving, stick to the one-year rule — after all, fewer spices means fewer things to pack. To pack what you do end up keeping, I’ve found that tucking a few jars snugly into empty kitchen canisters, plastic food storage containers, or zip-top freezer bags works well; if you’re using the latter, you can then bundle the bags into something soft like a towel or sweatshirt to prevent the jars from breaking. (We’ll address the beauty of textiles in a minute.) No matter what you do, the key is to keep the spices completely sealed so that they don’t spill everywhere.

That brings us to Things That Spill or Rot, meaning oils, vinegars, condiments, and really any perishable food. My personal MO is to go on missions to finish almost every edible thing in my kitchen before I move, but that, for any number of reasons, often isn’t practical. Obviously, you want to throw away any unfinished perishable food, but if you have, say, a bottle of nice olive oil or vinegar or an unopened jar of Brooklyn Delhi garlic achaar that you just can’t part with, I recommend the Russian doll packing method: First seal the item in plastic wrap, then put it in a regular plastic bag (old bread bags are great for this) or zip-top plastic bag, then wrap it in bubble wrap (or a towel/item of clothing you’re not particularly attached to), and then snuggle it, right side up, into whatever box you’re packing. Of course you have no idea what will happen to the box in transit, but the less room its contents have to move around, the better.

And that leads to Things That Break. After one early, semi-disastrous move that killed almost all of my dishware, I became somewhat fanatical about how I pack dishes. First, I line the bottom of each box with a towel, blanket, or coat — puffy winter coats are great for this, though because of their bulk they work better in larger boxes. (Also, a brief aside about towels, bed linens, cloth napkins, and clothing as packing material: They are way cheaper — and more sustainable — than bubble wrap, and for that reason I use them to wrap all but my most fragile glassware. True, you’ll end up with your clothing dispersed throughout who knows how many boxes, but life is full of compromise.) After lining the bottom of the box, I use packing paper to individually wrap each plate and bowl, and then stack them on top of each other, being careful to pack them snugly without cramming them together. After that, I cover the dishes with more towels, sheets, or clothing, working it around the edges of the stacked dishes to minimize how much they move around.

I pack appliances, pots, and pans in more or less the same way, and always end up distributing them in boxes with non-kitchen stuff, mainly because a lot of pots and appliances are heavy and can create a waking nightmare for movers if they’re all packed together. (Also, you can pack certain things inside of lidded pots and pans — lidded baking trays, for example, are great for packing silverware and various kitchen utensils. Just remember to tape the lid shut.)

Another big part of my kitchen packing strategy is timing, meaning what I pack first, and last. I start with appliances, tools, and dishes I haven’t used much in the last few months — the last time I packed, my ice cream maker, springform pan, grandmother’s dessert plates, and Jadeite citrus juicer were the first things to go. The closer I get to my move date, the more I pare down, until all I have left the day or two before is a plate, bowl, drinking vessel of some kind, knife, spoon and/or fork, and maybe a frying pan. I realize plenty of people will have already turned to takeout by this point, but that’s what works for me.

Oh, a brief word about knives: just wrap them, wrap them, wrap them, and then wrap them again. Doesn’t matter what you use, just keep those blades (and yourself) protected.

One last thing: At the risk of stating the obvious, pace yourself. Packing a kitchen isn’t that different from making Thanksgiving dinner, minus the leftovers and inappropriate questions from people you don’t live with. Moving sucks, but it’s going to be okay.

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