What to unpack first when you move into a new home

As long as you know what to unpack first when moving, you'll be able to set up your new home fast and easy.More about Ethan Greenfield

Depending on how you look at it, unpacking after a move can be either a daunting task you have no energy for after the taxing relocation process or an exciting opportunity to turn your new place into your sweet home – functional, comfortable, and cozy – as soon as possible.

No matter how you feel about it though, two things are certain:

1) You need to unpack quick in order to be able to resume a normal life (even if the mere thought of it makes you feel tired and bored);

2) You can’t unpack everything in one day (most likely, not even in one week), no matter how much you may want to.

So, what can you do then to ensure your comfort, convenience, and peace of body and mind during the first days in your new home? The answer is simple enough – you need to tackle the basics without delay (so that you can properly eat, sleep, and bathe) and then you can continue unpacking at a much slower pace that suits your time, needs, and frame of mind.

To do so, however, you need to know where to start unpacking after a move and what items to take out of the boxes first.

Fundamental unpacking tips

Unpacking boxes is quite a simple and straightforward task (even if somewhat exhausting), but it can result in a huge mess unless you follow some proven unpacking strategies. Besides, there are several important things you should do before you even start unpacking:

  • Upon delivery, check your items against your moving inventory list to make sure nothing has been damaged or gone missing during the transportation;
  • Sort out the moving boxes and household items and take them to the rooms where they belong (provided that your belongings are properly labeled, this will take no time at all);
  • Plan the rooms, so that you don’t need to move larger items around several times (this is where going to the effort to create a floor plan of your new home before the move will pay off as you’ll be able to take your items directly to their rightful places);
  • Give your new home a good cleaning before you begin unpacking – the rooms will be much easier to clean before your items are put in place. If you don’t have the time for a thorough cleaning before your items arrive, consider hiring professional cleaners to do the job for you before move-in day;
  • Unpack the items you need the most and the ones you use on a daily basis first. Once your new living place is fully functional, you can take your time decorating it and making it feel like home;
  • Unpack larger items first. Make sure your household appliances and bulky pieces of furniture (such as beds, tables, dressers, armoires and couches) are positioned in place before you start unpacking your smaller items. Things will be easier that way and you will save plenty of time as you’ll be able to put the small things that sit inside the larger furniture directly in their rightful places;
  • Stay focused and do not procrastinate – the faster you get the job done, the sooner you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your new home and your new life;
  • Don’t leave an item in a box simply because you can’t decide exactly where it will fit best – just pick a place and put it there (you can always move it to a more appropriate location later);
  • Clean as you go – sweep the floor after every unpacking mini-task and get rid of packing materials on regular intervals to keep your new home tidy and neat at all times;
  • If you have young children, ensure a safe place for them to stay and unpack some of their favorite books, toys, and games during the very first hours in your new home to keep them happy and occupied (so that you can concentrate on your work and finish it faster). Do not forget to tend to your pets’ needs before you commit yourself to the unpacking process either.

Now that you’re familiar with the most essential unpacking principals and know what to do before opening up your boxes and taking out their contents, you can get down to work. But how to start unpacking after a move?

What to unpack first when moving

It’s only logical that you will want to have access to your most essential items as soon as you find yourself in your new home. Most of them – everything you need to survive for a couple of days without the rest of your possessions – should be packed in your essentials box that should have traveled with you and arrived at your new place when you did.

The essentials box for moving is also called an “open-first box” for a reason – it should be the first box to open in your new home as it should contain everything you’re going to need immediately after arrival (food, toiletries, medicines, clothes, linens, tools, basic kitchenware, and other essentials that will allow you to take a shower, prepare a simple meal, have a good night’s sleep, open sealed boxes, reassemble furniture, give first aid, etc.).

If you drive to your new home, you may take not a single first-night box but several essentials boxes with you – in this case you will have all the basic necessities from the moment you arrive in your new home. If not, you’ll have to wait until your goods are delivered and unpack the boxes containing your most important items first – food and kitchen essentials, bathroom essentials, sleeping essentials, kids’ essentials, pets’ essentials, cleaning supplies, and basic tools.

Once you have your immediate necessities unpacked, you should proceed to unpack the moving boxes designated to be opened first in each specific room – they should contain the basics that will allow you to make the room usable straight away and will help you unpack the rest of your items quickly and easily.

What rooms to unpack first

What room to unpack first depends on the time of day you and your items arrive in your new home:

  • if it’s still early and you have several hours (six or more) before bedtime, you’re advised to unpack the kitchen first and then set up the bedroom(s) and the bathroom;
  • if it’s a late afternoon or an evening arrival, you should leave the kitchen for the next morning and turn your attention to setting up the beds and unpacking the bathroom, so that you can take a hot shower and go to sleep as soon as possible.

Regardless of your specific unpacking schedule, you will most probably not have the time to unpack the entire rooms on day one, so you need to prioritize your items and unpack only the most essential ones first:


  • Set up the beds and dress them up with fresh linens – reassemble the beds (if necessary), unpack the mattresses and put them in place, lay down the sheets, unpack the pillows, and spread the blankets so that you can get a decent sleep during the first night in your new home;
  • Unpack your nightwear and make sure you have a change of clothes and appropriate shoes for the next morning;
  • Hang the curtains to ensure your privacy;
  • It’s a good idea to unpack a night lamp and an alarm clock too.


  • Put out toilet paper, hand soap, and hand towels as soon as you arrive in your new home;
  • Hang the shower curtain and the bath towels;
  • Unpack your personal care items (toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo and hair conditioner, deodorant, etc.) and the cosmetic products you use on a daily basis;
  • Fill in the medicine cabinet and don’t forget to take your prescription drugs on time.


  • Hook up the major appliances – the fridge, the stove, the washer and the dryer;
  • Line the cupboards and unpack your plates, glasses, silverware, pots and pans, and other basic cooking utensils;
  • Put out the dishwashing supplies and dish towels;
  • Set up the small appliances you use daily – coffee maker, toaster, microwave;
  • If you have the time, unpack your pantry items as well.

Good to remember: If you have small children or a baby, it’s advisable to unpack the nursery or kids’ bedrooms first – your kids will have a safe, familiar space to stay and will be able to resume their typical daily routine from the first day in the new home. This will give them a sense of comfort and will help them overcome the moving stress. Besides, it will be easier for you to take care of your little ones when their items are in place.

Your unpacking checklist should continue with the rest of your furniture, the clothes you wear most often, the kitchenware you use on a daily basis, the electronics that will provide you with the entertainment you need, the books you enjoy the most, and the decorations that will make your new place feel like your own. Out-of-season clothes, specialty items, and storage spaces can wait a bit, but the sooner you complete the unpacking process, the sooner your new surroundings will stop looking like a warehouse full of boxes and start feeling like home.

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