Front Porch: Moving? Organizing is very vital

Published December 9, 2005

Last week, after years of living comfortably at the same address, I took on one of life's most stressful tasks: I moved.

And let me tell you, it was a nightmare.

As a writer, reader, art collector and closet pack rat (who adores Real Simple magazine and feigns organizational skills), I had somehow amassed several lifetimes' worth of stuff that I hadn't a clue how to corral. I own more than 1,000 books; numerous paintings and pieces of folk art; lots of pots, pans, glassware, china and kitchen gadgets; an odd assortment of flip-flops, bathing suits and sarongs; a cornucopia of weird old lamps (my prized 1950s Jean Nate advertising lamp included), a bunch of crazy throw pillows, piles of knickknacks and a collection of antique side tables hardly suitable for a writer with messy mounds of notebooks and papers.

Ah, the paperwork. It filled canvas totes, Kash n' Karry lettuce boxes, laundry baskets and duffel bags. And, after days of head-scratching and befuddled searching for wayward calendars and Rolodexes, I'm still not sure it all made it to its new destination.

You see, for nearly a decade, I've lived in a third-floor apartment of a former 1926 Davis Islands hotel, the Mirasol. My former pad, although charming, was a long hike from the elevator but situated conveniently next to a back stairwell that must have long ago been used by hotel staff.

Somehow, I had the bright idea that it would be faster to lug boxes down the stairs. After two days of this self-imposed, hyper-aerobic stair climbing, my neck, arms and back ached as if I had been in a car wreck.

In the end, I ran out of boxes.

In the end, I was shamefully lugging things out in black plastic garbage bags.

Do not try this at home.

Do not copy me.

This was the worst, repeat, absolute worst way to move, although I suspect, in the exhausting and frantic end, it's the method many of us resort to.

Days after I was completely moved in, bulging black garbage bags heaped in mountainous peaks in the living room, kitchen counters concealed beneath stacks of china (does one single girl really need two sets of both Blue Willow and Blue Danube?) I did what I should have done initially.

I called Jane Xiques.

Xiques is a North Tampa interior arranger. She works with homeowners to help ready their houses for sale and then helps make the transition into their new digs seamless. Xiques is also an ace on the art of organization. She can expound off the cuff on ways to move without developing a headache - or a hernia. Her motto: "Organization is the key to a happy life."

Write it down.

Her tips for moving, particularly if you are a collector like me, make a lot of sense. For starters, Xiques suggests that you "shed things you're not attached to and get rid of anything you never really liked."

Pack breakable collections yourself, like antique china teacups or Limoges boxes, rather than letting the movers do it. Mark each box clearly, outlining the contents in detail: "10 pieces of silver" or "10 pieces of porcelain."

She advises walking the rooms of your new home before moving in, and visualizing where heavy pieces of furniture or the big screen TV should go.

"That way, when the movers or your friends are carrying stuff in, you won't be standing there clueless," she says. "Things can always be moved later, but this way they have a home and aren't sitting in the middle of the floor."

If you have a family, everyone should have a task, "all the way down to the smallest child." And, she suggests, make it fun.

"If the grown-ups are happy, then the kids are happy," Xiques explains. "And if you're moving over the holidays, which can be one of life's biggest nightmares, remember to simplify. Instead of going all out, buy a small, pre-lit tree and put it on top of a table and make the best of the situation."

When unpacking, forget the collections and instead focus on organizing your kitchen and bathrooms first.

"Sometimes things like art and books can wait," she says. "If your kitchen's organized and you know where to find your silverware, plates and cups, you can do everything else later."

Xiques also recommends writing down everything you need to do - all the way down to the smallest detail.

Do it six months ahead of your move, if you have the luxury.

If you have only a couple of weeks, like I did, do what you can and then don't worry about it.

At all costs, she advises, remember to keep your sense of humor.

That might mean throwing yourself on the sofa and having a drink.

Right now, I'm seriously thinking about a Margarita because - Eureka! - I actually found the blender.

"Instead of getting stressed out," Xiques says, "remember this is an exciting time. It's an adventure, a beginning, and a chance to make a brand new start. And remember, once you're in, you don't have to unpack everything at once."