Are congratulations in order? If you’ve decided to purchase a new home, you’re probably really excited about your new adventure. But before you pop the cork on that bottle of champagne, you’ve got some work to do.

We’re not trying to be party poopers. We’re trying to get you across the finish line so that you can enjoy that bubbly the way it’s intended, rather than down it like you just finished a double-marathon through the Gobi desert.

Go get yourself an old-school wall calendar, and hang it where you can’t ignore it. Put a big “X” on your move-in date, and get ready to set a timeline.

Ideally, you’ll have about four months to plan and pack, especially if you’re in the process of getting pre-approved for a home loan, or if you’ve just finalized your contract for new construction. So if you’re about four months away from your moving date, you’d better get cracking now, so everything doesn’t pile up until a week before your move. (You know who you are.)

Four Months Out

This is when you want to nail down your strategy for moving out of your existing home without the stress or drama we all associate with moving. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Three moves equals a house fire” when relating to the loss of belongings? We’ve also heard, “every few years one should move or have a house fire” to describe the benefits of decluttering.

Now’s the perfect time to ditch the dreck, and focus on protecting the items you cherish. If you decide to have a bonfire (outside, please) to celebrate your cast-off baggage, that’s up to you.

Set Up a Base of Operations

Designate an area in your home where you can organize and store your packing supplies. This is also a good place to store packed and labeled boxes, or at least stage them if you plan to use your garage or a rented storage unit.

Don’t keep your packing supplies too far away from the center of your home. You want them handy when you’re inspired to take a break from your regular routine to spend ten or twenty minutes packing up your collection of Star Wars action figures, or a few shelves on your bookcase.

Create a comprehensive packing list

It’s easier to assess what you have, what you’ve packed, and what you plan to jettison when you’ve got a good checklist (this will link to a PDF checklist) Keep it on a clipboard in your packing area, and be diligent about updating it as you go.

Add a note with your “packing protocols” so your family or housemates are all on the same page.

  • Clearly label the top and at least one side of each box
  • Use old newspaper, bubble wrap, or other filler material to make sure the box stays solid when stacked
  • Always tape up boxes when they’re full.

Triage your belongings

For the next four months, you’re going to put everything into four categories:

  • Keep
  • Sell
  • Donate
  • Trash

Take a look at that sofa. Is it worth the effort and expense to move, or should you rehome it and buy another when you move into your new place? If you’re downsizing, now’s a good time to start putting valuable but superfluous stuff at local consignment shops, eBay, Craigslist, or other online avenues. You’ll accelerate the decluttering process as you go.

By the time you’re ready to move, you’ll be looking at everything—and everyone—with the keepselldonatetrash mantra droning in your head; be careful not to donate your kids to Goodwill, and you certainly don’t want to advertise your spouse on Craigslist.

Begin researching reputable moving companies

Be sure to check online reviews, Better Business Bureau ratings, and referrals from friends when you select your relocation company. Insist on an in-home estimate so the agent is clear about what’s going, what they’re responsible for packing, and whether your access points will be a problem on the day of their pickup.

Set out a large carton for donation items

It’s easy to declutter if you’ve got a centralized container. It’s even easier if you challenge yourself to fill it at least once a week. Give your kids their own boxes, though you might want to rifle through them before dropping them at your local donation center; you never know if they’ve kidnapped their sister’s favorite book, or “accidentally” donated the expensive dress their grandma bought them for special occasions.

Three Months Out

Once you have a game plan and the self-discipline to follow it, the rest starts to fall into place.

  • Buy or find sturdy large and medium packing cartons. Try Craigslist or your Facebook friends; you’ll likely find someone who’s just moved, and who either wants to get rid of or recoup the costs of their boxes.
  • Purchase bubble wrap and boxes from a business supply dealer such as Uline.
  • Score some empty (or full…your choice) liquor cartons; they’re the perfect size and sturdiness for books, fragile collectibles, and small, heavy belongings.
  • Pack up or sell seasonal clothes and sporting gear.
  • Start paring down and packing books, knick-knacks, and tools.

Two Months Out

Have your moving company rep come and meet you for that estimate. By now, you’ll have done a lot to declutter your home, and you’ll have a better idea what you’ll be taking with you.

  • Begin deep cleaning those neglected spots so the final scrub-down will be a breeze.
  • Go through junk drawers and rarely-used closets and cabinets.
  • Pack all but the most-often used kitchen items.
  • Order “new address” postcards for friends, family, and other contacts from an online printing service. For best results, be sure to pose with your family after a long, dusty day clearing cobwebs from the attic for the front photo.
  • Decide if you want to hold a garage sale. If you do, begin planning it now. Schedule your sale as close to your move-out day as possible, and vow to have anything left unsold picked up by a local charity. Everything else of value should be packed, sold, or donated by then.

One (OMG!) Month Out

You’re almost there! You’ll want to confirm your move-in date to make sure everything’s on track and stay with your packing plan. By this point, you’re probably enjoying your somewhat Spartan surroundings, making it a heck of a lot easier to assign items to the charity pile as you continue to sort and pack your stuff.

Here are your goals for this month!

  • Complete and turn in USPS change-of-address forms. They usually recommend doing this two weeks in advance, but if you send them in three to four weeks out, you’re hedging your bets.
  • Contact your utilities, garbage collectors, and lenders to alert them of your new address, to give a date to stop services, and to pay any balances due.
  • Contact the utility and garbage companies at your new home to set up installations and open new accounts.
  • Ask your homeowners, auto, and supplemental insurance agent if they’re licensed in your new state. If not, ask for a referral. Either way, make sure they have your new contact information.
  • Obtain veterinary and vaccination records for your pets, and make sure they have everything they need (including updated microchip information) if your move is long-distance. If you’re flying with them, you’ll need to take them to your vet within a week of your trip for a health certificate, so make an appointment now.

Two Weeks Out

  • Locate a convenient pharmacy in your new neighborhood, and follow up with referrals for new medical providers. Make sure your electronic or paper records and insurance policies are transferred over and updated. You don’t want a gap in service.
  • Pack up everything but what you need until your move. If you don’t want to use paper plates, pick up a few cheap dishes and glasses at the dollar store or on one of your many trips to the Salvation Army. Simply donate them right back right before you leave, and pack your everyday silverware at the last minute.
  • Start cleaning! Book a professional carpet cleaner and treat yourself to a housekeeping service for the final touches, and schedule them to arrive a day or two before you leave. If you need to have a walk-through with a real estate agent or your landlord, plan accordingly.

One Week Out

If you’ve stayed on point, you shouldn’t have too much to do this week. Make it a priority to take care of yourself and your family, get some rest, and take a deep breath.

  • Throw out any perishable food (or give it to your neighbors) before your housecleaning service arrives.
  • Donate non-perishables you’re not taking with you to a local food bank.
  • Use this time (and excuse) to go out to dinner with friends and family, or to kick in for take-out parties at their homes.
  • Run your final errands (vet, vehicle check, dry cleaning pickup, final school and medical records, etc.) and follow up on your travel and moving company bookings.

Day Zero

You made it! As you take a final look around the place you’ve called home, you’ll probably feel a little nostalgic. You’ve made a lot of memories here. But as you take that one final item down off the wall—that calendar you set up just a few months back—it’s going to begin to sink in; you’ve got a whole new future ahead of you in your brand new home.