You’ve moved. Congratulations! Now you’re standing in your new place, surrounded by all those boxes. What now?

Turning your belongings into a functional, appealing, well-organized home can feel like an overwhelming project, but it’s doable if you take the time to analyze your needs, and consider how your new space can serve those needs. 

To help us unpack this topic, we sought the advice of John Monte, who with his wife Sherri, founded and runs Elegant Simplicity, a Seattle-based firm specializing in interior design and home organization. Here, Monte offers his tips on how to turn your new address into a place you’re delighted to call home. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What preparations can people make before moving to set themselves up for unpacking successfully?

Monte: We say, “Plan your work, work your plan.” It’s so important to start it on the front end. Packing starts with a foundation of decluttering before you move. 

Start by asking yourself a few questions, like what do you want to keep, what should you get rid of, what will make travel easy to accommodate? Maybe you’re moving from Texas to Seattle, and there’s travel that’s involved in that. Is that going to be air travel or is that going to be road travel? Before packing, ask yourself what you should be setting aside that you’ll need to use in the short term. 

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Q: So you’ve decluttered. Now, how do you pack?

Monte: Start by roleplaying in your head how this is going to unfold. How are we getting ourselves there? Are we hiring movers? Who’s doing the packing and unpacking? That process starts to indicate for you how to go about packing your belongings. If it’s summertime and you’re moving somewhere that’s warm, you won’t be needing anything for the winter yet. You can start packing those things earlier. 

Then create a system for what’s priority No. 1, priority No. 2, priority No. 3 — the higher the number, the less important it is. Or you can use color codes. It might be red tape or green tape or blue tape. It’s a way to say these are the things that you’ll need to unpack first. For most people, that’s things like cutlery, the dog kit, a set of clothes. Consider packing a bag that you’re going to live out of until your boxes arrive with the mover if you’re flying and the movers are driving. 

Q: What’s the best way to start the unpacking process?

Monte: Again, it starts with asking yourself some questions: What do you need right now? What will your spouse or your kids or your pet need squared away? And “need” is different for everybody. It could be simple things like which bathroom you are going to be using as you’re beginning to get things unpacked. From there, unpack items that you and the kids are going to want to have right away using your priority codes.

Creating the functionality of the space really can’t happen if you’re not comfortable, if you can’t start to wrap your head around how you’re going to use this space. That starts with getting your basic necessities unpacked.

Q: Once you’ve unpacked those basics, how should you tackle the rest of the boxes?

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Monte: You can do it room by room, or you can start with what you’ve given the highest priority. Unpacking the kitchen first, for a lot of people, can lower the stress of moving. 

When you’re moving, you can feel unbalanced. There are a lot of things to do and it feels like it’s taking a bit of time. So start by unpacking the spaces that make the most integral aspects of your daily routines easier. A lot of times that’s the kitchen or the bathroom or the space where you sleep. 

When we start to feel better about the basic functionality of a space, then we can start to process how we truly want to go about unpacking each box in each space. That doesn’t mean it has to stay the way that we set it up. It’s about progress, not perfection. The worst thing we can do is fail to unpack because we’re so focused on it being perfect.

Q: Should people arrange new storage areas, such as buying or installing shelves, before unpacking?

Monte: No. Part of the process of unpacking is assessing what you have, then determining if the physical space limits you. If there’s no space to hang your clothes, then certainly there’s some functionality that is needed immediately. But we wouldn’t recommend any closet renovations ahead of time. You’ll need to know what’s going to go on that shelf first so you can determine the proper shelf depth or length, or how many are needed. 

Even if you have the most organized closet in your existing home, and you know exactly what you’re taking and exactly what’s going to go in the new space, you still won’t know how it’s going to function because you haven’t gotten yourself ready in that space before. 

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Q: What advice do you have for those of us who still have unpacked boxes in our homes, years after we’ve moved in?

Monte: There are so many people that have this exact challenge. They get in, they start using the space and then they realize, “I never unpacked that box of books!” Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. 

When you start unpacking, the very first thing to do is to get them all out and open so you can assess and see what each one is. Ask yourself, where does this go? How does it make my everyday life better? But simply unpacking it allows us to start assessing what’s in it without it getting left behind.