What’s the Best Way To Pack Clothes for Moving?

Boxes? Bags? Vacuum packing? Here's how to keep your clothes in good shape and make moving a little less of a hassle.

I’ve moved at least a couple of dozen times in my life, all with pretty much the same strategy of just stuffing my clothes into garbage bags. It’s not elegant, and it hasn’t always ended well. So with another move on the horizon, I figured it was finally time to find a better way.

I asked some experts about the pros and cons of various ways to pack clothes for moving, and what they recommend as the best strategy overall. Here’s what Neat Little Nest founder and chief organizer Michele Vig and Bellhop vice president of operations Nick Valentino had to say.

Should You Start by Sorting Your Clothes?

Yes, if you have time. Your future self will be pleased with your past self when it comes time to unpack everything.

“The key here is to pack with your destination in mind,” says Valentino. “Every individual bag, box or container of clothes should be destined for the same room. This will make unpacking a much quicker and easier task.”

Adds Vig: “It will also provide you one last opportunity to declutter as you are finalizing things before you move, as seeing like things together might make it obvious that you have more than you need or want of one category.”

Clothes Packing Options

Here are some preferred options for packing your clothes for the big move, along with their pros and cons.

Suitcases

Suitcases save space, but they’re limited on the amount they can hold. “I’d recommend choosing one or two categories that might fit into the suitcase, like socks and underwear, so that it’s easy to keep track of what is where,” says Vig.

Pro tip: Fold your clothes first to maximize suitcase room.

Bags

Packing clothes in canvas shopping bags, laundry bags and the like saves money on boxes, plus they’re easy to carry. But there are some big cons, Vig says: “They’re almost impossible to label, can only carry a small number of items and might not be likely to be unpacked straight away as you would with a cardboard moving box.”

Pro tip: Stay away from single-use plastic and garbage bags, which are likely to rip and dump your clothes on the ground.

Cardboard boxes

Cardboard moving boxes are expensive but offer a lot of benefits. They’re lightweight and recyclable, and you can write on them to keep track of their contents. To save money, look for used ones, from a neighbor who recently moved or stores discarding them.

Wardrobe boxes

Wardrobe boxes, aka hanging boxes, are sturdy and come with a built-in bar for hanging clothes.

“These are absolutely essential for some items,” says Valentino. “They’re going to do the best job of protecting delicate, easy-to-wrinkle items, and they’re also the simplest way to move large numbers of items on hangers without having to individually remove them from hangers in the process.”

Vig agrees. “They are truly the best way to move hanging clothes long distances,” she says. The downsides? The price, and logistics. “They usually require a team approach to move and a large moving van, versus an SUV or car,” Vig says.

Pro tip: Pack shoes and other closet essentials in the bottom of these boxes, so everything ends up in the same space when you’re unpacking.

Vacuum packing

“This is an ideal choice for high-volume, durable items like T-shirts, socks, underwear and other things you won’t mind wrinkling,” says Valentino. It’s also an affordable choice, because simple vacuum packing systems cost less than $50. Plus, it saves space in the moving van.

Clothing as a packing material

If you don’t mind your clothes getting dusty and wrinkled, using them to protect fragile items is the ultimate low-budget solution.

“You can, for example, partly clear out dresser drawers and nestle items in among the clothes for safe packing, or use rags, towels or T-shirts to individually pack delicate glassware,” says Valentino.

What Is the Best Way To Pack Clothes for Moving?

Vacuum packing, Valentino says.

“This approach takes up the minimum possible amount of space, meaning that you’ll spend less money on boxes and moving trucks,” he says. “It’s not a good choice for anything that wrinkles easily, but otherwise, it works great.”

Vig votes for boxes, hanging and smaller cardboard ones. “Hanging boxes will keep those items looking nice and will save you a lot of ironing on the receiving end,” she says.

Then file fold non-hanging clothes into smaller boxes. “This way, you’ll be able to pull them right out of the box and put them in the drawer of your new home,” she says.

Also, you can make life easier by unpacking your clothes promptly to avoid wrinkles and a musty smell. “You’ll have a lot of priorities when you’re moving, but put unpacking clothes at the top of your list unless you want to spend a lot of time ironing,” says Valentino.

About the Experts

  • Michele Vig founded Neat Little Nest to help clients declutter, organize and build the lives they envision. Certified in the KonMari decluttering method, she’s a member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals.
  • Nick Valentino is vice president of operations for Bellhop moving services. He ensures his movers are certified and apply best practices on every move they conduct.

Karuna Eberl
A writer and indie film producer, Karuna Eberl covers the outdoors and nature side of DIY for Family Handyman, exploring wildlife, green living, travel and gardening. She also writes FH’s Eleven Percent column, about dynamic women in the construction workforce. Karuna and her husband and frequent collaborator, Steve Alberts, spent years renovating an abandoned house in a near-ghost town in rural Colorado before moving on to their latest project: Customizing kit homes and building a workshop and outbuildings on their mountain town property, all with economical, sustainable and environmentally sound features.
When they’re not writing or building, you can find them hiking and traveling the backroads, camping in their self-converted van, and DIYing house projects for family. Some of her other credits include Readers Digest, National Parks, National Geographic Channel, BBC, and Atlas Obscura. Karuna is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA), the Florida Outdoor Writers Association (FOWA), and SATW (Society of American Travel Writers).