What to Pack in Your Moving Essentials Box

Never move without a moving essentials box! While you may be in a hurry to get to your new home, these boxes will save you a lot of stress during the unpacking phase.

The moving essentials box gives you everything to hit the ground running upon arrival. This resource is especially useful when you have to get straight to work or have children to take care of. To save you time, we’ve created a list of what to pack in your moving essentials box.

We have a handful of resources to help you on your journey:

  • Moving Cost Calculator: Are you worried about staying within your budget? Our moving cost calculator will help you tally up moving and packing costs quickly!
  • Best Interstate Moving Companies: Which interstate moving company is best for your timeline and budget? Our top five list has verified affordable businesses.
  • Best Moving Container Companies: If you don’t have time to drive a moving truck, check out our top five list on the best moving container companies
  • How to Pack For a Move: There are more efficient ways to pack than you realize. We have a handy guide to make sure you do it the right way.

What is an Essentials Box?

An essentials box, also known as the moving essentials box or open-first box, is a resource you can tap into the day you arrive at your new home. This box can be split into a few boxes or one big box depending on the size of your move.

While you should complete your moving essentials box if you’re able, this part doesn’t mean you can’t ask for packing help. Check out our interview with Marilyn on how SMARTBOX helped her with moving and storage.

What Should I Put in my Moving Essentials Box?

Since packing is complex enough as it is, we have a handy list breaking down the ultimate moving day essentials box (or boxes).

Personal Items

What essential items or basic tools do you have difficulty living without? This section should be completed as soon as possible so you’re not scrambling to find necessities or important household items upon arrival.

Since these items are personal, they’ll only have a mild overlap with the next section.

  • Glasses and/or contact lenses (including glasses case and lens solution)
  • Prescription medications (make sure these are in an easy-to-find location!)
  • Cosmetics
  • A few changes of clothes
  • Laptop, phone, and accessories (such as a phone charger or extension cords)
  • Work materials
  • Documentation (such as important phone numbers, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports, or visas)

Everyday Items

This section involves items you use, well, every day! A good way to prepare your essentials box for moving is to walk through an average day.

Which items do you use every morning while eating breakfast or washing your face? How about most afternoons and nights as you unwind? You can swap a few of these everyday items out with disposable versions if you don’t feel like unloading silverware upon arrival.

Items for the Bedroom

These items will let you settle into your new home comfortably, but won’t take too much time to unpack.

  • Blankets, sheets, and pillows
  • Curtains
  • Change of clothes (two or three days’ worth)
  • Pajamas
  • Prescription medication

Items for the Bathroom

Don’t doom yourself to using the bathroom without any toilet paper or soap! Remember to pack the following toiletries in your essentials box for moving.

  • Toilet paper
  • Pads/tampons
  • Hand soap
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Towels
  • Rags
  • Floor mat
  • Shower curtain

Items for the Kitchen

Unless you want to spend extra money ordering takeout, dedicate one of your moving essentials boxes to the kitchen. These items will let you cook and clean without unloading all your boxes.

  • Non-perishable food items in cans, boxes, or bags
  • Water bottles and/or water pitcher with a new filter
  • Garbage bags
  • Paper towels
  • Coffee maker
  • Paper plates and plastic cups
  • Can opener
  • Toaster
  • Dish soap
  • Sponges and dish towels
  • Toaster
  • Cutlery (plastic or silverware)

Emergency Items

Your moving essentials box won’t be complete without a few emergency tool kit items. While we’ve touched on a few in the previous sections, there’s a few more you should add.

  • Emergency medication (such as an Epi-Pen)
  • Emergency numbers written on a notepad or wristband for easy retrieval
  • Toolbox (with items such as scissors, hammers, or screwdrivers)
  • Basic first aid kit (with items such as gauze and alcohol wipes)
  • Survival kit (such as a bug out bag)
  • Backup phone charger and/or laptop charger
  • Portable power station with a travel box (not to be confused with a portable generator)
  • Extra masks and gloves

Family Items

Do you have children or pets to take care of? How about aging family members? The family items in your moving essentials box ensures everyone’s happy when settling in on the first day.

Items for Babies

  • Diapers and wipes
  • Blankets
  • Toys and books
  • Baby food, formula and extra bottles
  • Night light (with extra light bulbs)
  • Extra pajamas, socks, and caps

Items for the Elderly

  • CPAP machine
  • Personal medication
  • Extra wool socks and/or gloves for cold weather
  • Portable air filter

Items for Pets

  • Collar and leash
  • Pet food and clean water (with extra bowls or water bottles)
  • Treats like peanut butter and dog bones
  • Favorite toys
  • Bedding
  • Pet carrier
  • All purpose cleaner or cleaning supplies in case of accidents

How Should I Pack a Moving Essentials Box?

The art of the moving essentials box is a little unique compared to your other packages. These boxes need to be easy to pull out in a pinch to reduce your stress and save you time.

Write Down Your Moving Essentials Box Items Weeks in Advance

Doing this step at the last second all but guarantees you’ll forget something important. Write down your moving essentials box items several weeks in advance. If you’re doing a last-minute move, review our guide carefully so you’re not missing out!

Make Sure Everything is Properly Labeled

The moving essentials box can be split into a few boxes, especially if you have a large family or a big home. Just make sure everything is properly labeled with tape and sharpies.

Keep all your bathroom items in one box, then all your kitchen items in another box. Tossing everything together willy-nilly runs the risk of stressing you out once it’s time to find something specific. You also don’t want to accidentally mix certain items together, such as liquids and electronics!

Don’t Overload Your Boxes so They’re Easy to Pull Out Quickly

If your move is a small one and you live frugally, you may be able to put most of your essentials in one or two boxes. On the other hand, larger moves should split up their items more so the boxes aren’t too heavy.

It’s also a good idea to pack your boxes with things that you’ll need first on top. The same goes for loading the car. Items you’ll need the first night should be in the last box you load. Important documents and valuables should also be kept close at hand.

Be Mindful of Storing Liquids

While you won’t have much to worry about concerning bedroom or everyday items, kitchen and bathroom items tend to have a lot of liquids. Store these items in sturdy plastic bins or pad them with newspaper in brand new cardboard boxes.

Liquids that spill run the risk of staining other items or weakening the integrity of your cardboard boxes. You could also get mold build-up if you leave your items in a cold area overnight.

Seal Your Boxes the Day You Leave

Don’t wrap your moving essentials boxes up yet! Keep all your boxes open until the day you leave just in case you need to add something else.

What Should I Not Include in my Box?

Since this box is only for the bare essentials to live comfortably as you unpack, there are several items you should leave out.

Wall Decorations and Knick-Knacks

While you may be eager to decorate your new home, this step can wait as you get settled. Save the paintings and the figurines until you get settled.


Furniture is too large to fit in the box, so this section pretty much goes without saying. Even a small end table or collapsable chair should be left with your other boxes.

Games and Movies

Entertainment will definitely soothe your nerves after a long move, but keep any games or comics out of your moving essentials box. Extra items will just pad things out and make it harder for you to find essentials in a hurry.

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