Well, this is a little off topic, isn’t it?
For those who don’t follow me on Instagram, here is the background on this post: after selling our condo in December 2018, we have been on the house hunt for about a year. We found our house at the end of last year, but didn’t plan to move in until the end of March.
You know, right when the world was turned upside down by Coronavirus, and Illinois was under a shelter in place order?
Yeah. That was fun.
But, we pulled it off, moving from the city of Chicago to a nearby suburb, despite the quarantine, our moving company cancelling, and uncertainty (at the time) about how the virus is transmitted – like via moving boxes? I’m still not sure how everything fell into place, but it did, and now we are happily sheltered in our new place.
But I know so many of you are still on the other side of the move. I have gotten so many requests for tips about moving in this unusual and uncertain environment, that I find it easier to just record all of my advice here. A move involves inevitable contact with a bunch of strangers, which is especially nerve wracking, on top of the normal stress of coordinating a move.
So here are my best tips, based on my experience moving successfully in the midst of a global pandemic.
Quick disclaimer: this is only applicable to those who are healthy, but sheltered in place. If you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, or have been advised to self-quarantine by a medical professional, please stay put!
Sanitize and quarantine packing materials
We packed using a combination of cardboard boxes and reusable plastic bins from Redi-box. I ordered the boxes from Home Depot (avoid secondhand boxes, which are generally easy to find in local Facebook groups) and picked them up at the register, which meant I was able to spend a minimal amount of time in the store. The boxes were transported in our trunk, to avoid touching any of the seats or other surfaces, and then we stacked them in the corner of our living room to quarantine for 24 hours before we started interacting with them.
Needless to say, there was also a lot of hand-washing. I also wiped down the plastic packaging of all the bubble wrap and other padding that we bought before it came into the house, since plastic seems to be much more hospitable to the virus..
The boxes were meant to replace the Redi-box that we had reserved, since I was concerned about how they might transmit germs. But we decided to go ahead with the Redi-boxes for a couple of reasons. First, it is a local, small business and I want to do everything I can to support businesses like this right now.
But, more importantly, when we went to cancel, the owner was understanding, but also offered a lot of information about how they were handling pickups, drop offs, and sanitization. He was very thorough, and clearly had thought this through very carefully. Becuase we felt he was taking every precaution, we decided to use some after all. They were dropped off in the lobby of our building, and the delivery person kept about a 10 foot buffer between himself and Bryan. Then, Bryan brought them upstairs to our apartment, stacked them outside the door, and we thoroughly sanitized each box, one by one. We sprayed down the inside, outside, bottom, and under the handles with a bleach-based disinfectant spray, making sure to use enough that each surface was wet for 3-4 minutes, and wiped it down with paper towels, and wearing rubber gloves, with paper towels that went straight into the garbage.
Pack for yourself
Given all the stress, and all you’re juggling lately, it is tempting to hire the moving company to pack and unpack for you – but don’t.
The name of the game is minimizing outsiders’ contact with your stuff, and moving boxes and furniture is one thing but do you really want someone else’s hands on every knick knack you own right now?
I didn’t think so. It is well worth the peace of mind to pack your own things, no matter how exhausting it might be on top of everything else you are shouldering right now.
Friends of ours who just moved on short notice called it “beast mode”: just power through and get it done! You’ll be glad you did for the peace of mind you’ll have knowing that the only people who touched the stuff inside your boxes are you and your family members.
Ask *lots* of questions ahead of time
With the risk of surface transmission taken care of, I then spoke to the movers about what sorts of precautions they were taking. Whether you are using professional movers, purchasing boxes, or renting reusable bins, make sure you are calling ahead and asking detailed questions about their sanitization practices. Remember, you are not being rude, or paranoid by asking questions like:
- How and how often do you sanitize the trucks?
- What precautions are you taking to keep your employees safe and protected?
- How are you monitoring symptoms and what happens if an employee displays any?
- Do we need to provide masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer for the movers?
It is also, in my opinion, considerate to offer up information about what you have been doing to stay safe and virus-free. I shared with the moving company dispatcher that we had been sheltered in place for a little over a week (at the time of the move), had not shown any symptoms, and that the home we were moving to had been unoccupied, so was virus free.
Confirm and double confirm
Even though you have called ahead and discussed safety procedures, I would strongly recommend confirming with the movers and any other critical services (like your building management, if you need to use a service elevator, or a storage facility, if – like us – you need to move in or out of a storage unit) several times as your move date approaches. Ideally, you should confirm 2 weeks, 1 week, and 1-2 days before the move, at least, to make sure everything is on track to happen as you expect it to.
Don’t worry about being annoying. The situation is evolving so quickly now that something that was a given 2 weeks ago may be an impossibility now. For example, a storage unit that may have allowed you to freely come and go may require you to make an appointment, so they know how many people are in the building at a given time. Or, they may not allow you to close your account in person if they no longer have anyone manning the front desk.
Another example: our movers also needed to pick up some furniture that I’ve been storing at my dad’s office, which is in a mid-size building with a service elevator. However, in the interest of safety, the building management had stopped operating the service elevator, so that the building engineer doesn’t need to be onsite all day. So, we had to confirm that it would be okay to use the passenger elevators instead. Thankfully, it was, in this case. But you need to confirm all of this in advance.
Be prepared for things to change – and have a couple backup plans
Look, I’m going to be blunt with you: assume maximum disruption and inconvenience to anything you try to do these days. You probably know this already if you have tried to go grocery shopping / get your hair done / find Tylenol anywhere. Sometimes you just have to adjust or adapt.
With that in mind, have a backup plan for your move. And then have a backup plan for your backup plan.
Our original move date was March 28th. Then we moved it to March 23rd, then the moving company cancelled, and before I could find a new one, Bryan and I had to seriously consider whether we could move ourselves, or extend our lease. Then, when I found a new moving company, they could only move us on the 21st. So, we moved a week early with a different moving company, which was preferable to our backup-backup plan, which was to move ourselves a week or two later.
It was a scramble, but our landlord was very understanding and our subletters ended up wanting to move in early, too. So it worked out for us to move a week early, the subletters to move in an hour later (rather than three weeks later, as planned), but it easily could have been a disaster.
Since we were moving locally, I knew of a couple of other moving companies that I could call when our first one cancelled, and I knew that it was possible (though not ideal) to hire some extra help from Dolly and DIY this thing.
Understand what Shelter in Place Means
I kind of glossed over that whole “our movers cancelled at the last minute” thing, didn’t I? Well, here’s the story: at the time, the statewide Shelter in Place order hadn’t been announced yet, but some towns were implementing one and, lucky us, one of the first ones to issue the order was the town we moved to, just a few days before we moved.
Since Sheltering in Place was, at the time, such a misunderstood concept (it may still be, but we sure have learned a lot in the last couple of weeks about what is allowed and forbidden when you’re sheltered in place, huh?), and the moving company panicked. It didn’t help that the town issued this order abruptly and with a lot of vague language. (To make things more fun, the entire state went under a Shelter in Place order the morning we moved! Never a dull moment.)
Finally, I found a copy of the order and read it carefully. Listed as an exception to the order (i.e. allowed to be out and about) is anyone who is “returning home from outside the jurisdiction”. Since this is our home now, I decided we qualified. Plus, let’s face it: hiking was explicitly allowed, so I doubted they’d take issue with someone calmly moving into their home without bothering anyone else. We weren’t going around knocking on neighbors’ doors to say hello, or anything like that.
I was confident I could make an argument in our favor if we were stopped by police (we weren’t; no one bothered us at all), but just in case, I had a copy of the order bookmarked on my phone in case I needed to reference it quickly.
Basically, make sure you have quick access to the order, either electronically or in print, just in case. This is especially important if you are moving to or from an area that is under a recent SiP order. It may be less of a concern if you’re in a place that has been Sheltered in Place for a little while already.
Buy necessities before you go
This may be more or less relevant, depending on when and where you are moving, but it is something to keep in mind. When we moved, our new town had been sheltered in place for a couple of days, but the City of Chicago – under the state order – was a few days behind. That meant that the inevitable pre-sheltering-in-place hysteria was a few days more advanced in the town we moved to than it was in the city.
No one really understood how free people would be to move around town, even to buy necessities (It turns out: very), so everyone stockpiled groceries and other necessities. Before we moved, I had heard that the shelves were literally bare in most of the supermarkets in town, and I didn’t know the town well enough to know where else to try besides the grocery stores that I was already familiar with.
Instead, I found it much more comforting to stock up – within reason! – on food and household necessities before we moved. Yes, it meant more to move, but it also meant that, after we got there, we could shut the doors and settle in, without having to worry about going from store to store in our new town looking for eggs and toilet paper, and being exposed unnecessarily to lots of strangers.
Once we got to our new home, I knew we had what we needed for a long time.
Offer the movers gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you have a few extra paper or cloth masks, or happen to have extra disposable gloves on hand, those are great to offer to the movers. I did not have masks, but I did have gloves (I keep a box on hand for handling raw meat!) and one of the movers took me up on them, while the other guys brought their own.
I also offered hand sanitizer, and made sure all of the sinks were stocked with soap in both the apartment we were moving out of, and the house we were moving into, so anyone could wash their hands at any time. I know hand sanitizer is hard to come by, but if you have some handy, now is the time to share generously. My mom made us some with rubbing alcohol and aloe vera, which we had on hand for the movers. I think they just washed their hands with soap and wore gloves, but it is a nice backup to have hand sanitizer available.
Don’t forget that everyone is just as concerned about this virus as you are, so the moving people will be grateful for whatever supplies you can offer to help keep them safe.
Stay 6 feet away from the movers, if possible
Per the WHO:
“The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick.” (source)
So, yes, there is a concern if an infected person were to sneeze or cough on one of your boxes, but my greater concern was being in the vicinity of any unexpected cough or sneeze – or vice versa. Look, movers aren’t in your house to hang out and make friends. They want to come in, do their jobs, and get out – even when the risks aren’t what they are right now.
Get out of their way so that they can do the job that you hired them for and, bonus, you’ll reduce your, and their, risk of exchanging germs. It’s a win/win!
My 3 YO son was fascinated by the movers and I did everything I could do keep him out of the way of their work and potential germs – but you can only do so much. He got within 6 feet of one of the moving men a couple of times, before I could encourage him to stay out of the way.
But I chose not to worry about it. The man he was engaging with not coughed, sneezed, or barely even spoken while my son was nearby. My son didn’t touch anything the mover was working with, and I swooped in for one of many hand sanitization sessions as soon as I saw him getting so close to the action.
I know that the virus doesn’t come out of people’s pores, and even if the mover had been asymptomatically infected, he couldn’t have transmitted it without coughing, sneezing, or talking. So it wasn’t in the air, it wasn’t on surfaces (which I’m pretty sure my son wasn’t close enough to touch anyway), and I sanitized my son’s hands right away.
There is a lot to worry about right now, so don’t make it harder on yourself by worrying about things that are pretty close to impossible. If you’re taking lots of precautions, you’ll probably be fine.
Sanitize the house as you go, especially high touch areas
Speaking of those precautions: make sure you don’t forget to sanitize high touch surfaces during the moving process, as well as your boxes and furniture, before you incorporate them into your new home.
I did this in a couple of ways:
- After the movers loaded up our things, Bryan went with them to the storage space, while I stayed back at the apartment we were moving out of, and cleaned and sanitized the place top to bottom. I also talked to the incoming tenants, who planned to do the same when they got there.
- While the movers were unloading things into our new house, I buzzed around with a can of Lysol wipes, attacking doorknobs, countertops, and really anywhere else people were touching a lot.
- Bryan and I unwrapped our furniture and discarded the plastic right away, then immediately washed our hands before touching anything else.
- I wiped down all of the non-pourous furniture surfaces that I could, after they had been unloaded from the truck
- At some point, we were running so far behind that Bryan and I started helping to unload the trucks and bring boxes into the house. That meant that I could no longer sanitize each item as it came into the house, so I settled for a lot of hand washing. At that point, I assumed nothing had been sanitized, so I washed my hands every 10-20 minutes.
- Anything non-essential was stashed in the basement to quarantine for 1-3 days. (For reference, the general consensus is that the virus can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to 72 hours on plastic.)
- Anything I knew my son would want was unpacked so that he wouldn’t start touching all the boxes.
- As we unpacked over the next few days after the move, I treated every box as though it was crawling with Coronavirus, wiping it down before I opened it and washing my hands before starting to put away the contents.
Here are some general guidelines from the CDC about cleaning and disinfecting, regarding COVID-19, that I followed on the move day, the few days following, and – honestly – every day since.
After a few days, I stopped worrying because things had been left to sit for long enough for the virus to die off. But I still wash my hands like crazy every time I touch a box, even one that has been quarantined in the basement for 2 weeks ?
Group outsider visits to within the same day or two
To be clear, I don’t mean inviting friends over to see your new place. I’m talking about the movers, the cable guy, and other technician visits or deliveries you may need to have in your house.
If possible, schedule these visits to within the same day or couple of days. That way you are limiting the time frame in which you are, basically, exposing yourself to possible germs.
Self-quarantine for 2 weeks after the move
After you’re done with your couple days of exposure to movers and technicians, close those doors and keep them that way!
When you’ve been exposed to new people, you’ve been exposed to everyone they have been exposed to. Despite taking every precaution, there is a worst-case scenario in which you have contracted COVID-19 from a mover, or the cable guy, or whatever.
I hope that’s not the case, and you will probably be just fine, but it’s important to make sure you aren’t passing anything along. That’s why I suggest trying to combine all of your service appointments into the same day, like the day after you move, and then closing the door for up to two weeks, if possible, to make sure you don’t develop symptoms before you start engaging with the outside world again.
Don’t be this guy.
DIY home improvements
This seems like a really good time to learn to fix minor issues in your home yourself. Not only do you (maybe) have some extra time on your hands, but every DIY job minimizes the number of outsiders that have to enter your home.
Before you call a repairman, Google it. You’d be surprised how easy it is to fix – temporarily or permanently – some of the issues you might be running into in a new home. YouTube is a surprisingly valuable source of education and step-by-step tutorials for fixing things you didn’t know you could fix.
Obviously, this doesn’t hold for major or emergency repairs, and anything that could be dangerous or destructive if not done just right. Don’t burn your house down because I told you to DIY, mmkay? But there are a lot of minor fixes you can figure out yourself just by doing a little research, and save yourself from one more potential exposure!
Order what you absolutely need, and live with some inconvenience
A new house usually means a lot of shopping, returning, and endless trips to Home Depot.
Er, that is, a normal new house that you don’t move into during a global pandemic.
Back in the days before COVID-19, Bryan and I had all these plans for interior decorator, custom window treatments, a few cosmetic updates, and other work that would involve lots of new people coming in and out of the house. Not anymore.
We’ve avoided going to stores by ordering what we need from Amazon, Target, and Home Depot (tip: reduce the pressure on already-strained warehouse workers and delivery people by planning your orders in advance and placing fewer, larger orders, rather than smaller, more frequent ones) for home delivery.
But we’re also being really realistic about what we NEED need, vs what can wait. For example, I ordered blackout curtains for my son’s room so that the sun doesn’t come pouring in at 5:30-6am, waking him – and, then us – up too early. But other than his room and one bank of windows in our room, we have NO other window treatments in the house. It’s inconvenient, but it doesn’t hurt anyone, and we just work around it.
There are a million other things like this, but just remember: if your house being imperfect is the worst of your worries right now, you’re extremely lucky.
Accept that some risk is inevitable
This is sort of along the same lines as worrying realistically.
Unless you are able to close your doors, and live off your land for weeks at a time, life these days involves incurring some amount of risk. We’re all doing a thousand risk assessment calculations a day, anytime we need to go out into the world or need to bring anything from outside into our homes.
We are doing what we have to do, as cautiously as possible, and moving is no different.
Take every precaution you can, but recognize that there is no way to interact with anyone or anything from outside your house, without incurring some degree of risk – no matter how small.
But put it in perspective:
- You’re not a frontline healthcare worker, without adequate PPE.
- You’re not an essential worker who has to go to different homes day in and day out to collect the trash, install cable, fix pipes, or you know, move them.
- You’ve incurred risk every day of your life, just by riding in a car or an airplane.
- And did I mention you’re not a frontline healthcare worker, without adequate PPE?
Chances are, your move will be challenging and nerve wracking but it will all turn out a-okay. You’ll be healthy and secure in your new home before you know it – and that’s something to be thankful for, not something to get anxious about!
Good luck with your move, and don’t forget to wash your hands – as we say in Chicago (about voting, but it applies here) – early and often!!!