Moving can be physically grueling, exhausting and stressful. It can be expensive. And it can place your precious possessions in jeopardy.

It is so draining that people often continue to live in apartments they do not like just to avoid the hassle.

Now is the high season for moving, as people begin school years or cap off the summer with a change of residence.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a Department of Transportation agency that administers commercial regulations governing household goods, an estimated 1.4 to 1.6 million household moves take place each year.

That's about 4.2 million to 4.3 million individuals moving per year, said David Sparkman, spokesman for the American Moving and Storage Association, an Alexandria-based trade group responsible for the consumer Web site at www.moving.org.

"The number one thing you can do is plan ahead," Sparkman said.

Planning is especially important during the busy times. If possible, you should wait until low moving season -- October to April.

"A lot of people wait until the last minute to call a mover and then are surprised they can't find a truck," Sparkman said. "That's especially true this season, because after about three years of economic downturn for the industry, this year we've seen a big jump in business. It's not unusual that you might not be able to get a truck and crew for the time you want."

It is easier to get a truck if you schedule your move in the middle of the month, no matter the time of year, because lease terms typically end at the beginning and end of the month.

By the time you give notice to your landlord, you should have already begun planning your move.

Sparkman recommends starting to prepare eight weeks in advance, if possible. The earlier you inventory your possessions and bubble wrap and box them, the better. Same goes for finding a reliable mover or reserving a truck for self-hauling.

About 1.3 million people, or a third of all those who move annually, use professional movers, Sparkman said.

Chances are that's because lots of people do the work themselves or bribe their friends and family with pizza and beer.

Those who are willing to devote their time to packing and who have reliable people to help maneuver heavy objects out of narrow doorways, into freight elevators, or up and down stairs should remember that beyond renting a truck, they may also have to pay for child care, liability insurance, extra moving pads and rental equipment such as dollies.

If you go this route, then you should start collecting moving supplies as soon as possible. You can buy moving boxes, tape, bubble wrap and rope from hardware stores, online outlets and moving companies. Many neighborhood shops often give away their boxes to people who ask.

Before or during your packing, you should eliminate all clutter and save yourself the extra effort of moving things for which you have no use. You can give your extra stuff to charity or hold a sale to make a profit on some of your superfluous things.

Remember to carefully label the boxes that you will move to save frustration during unpacking.

For those who do not want to deal with the physical labor of packing and moving, good research on moving companies is essential. Because there are fly-by-night moving companies that are less than honest, consumers should do their homework before handing over their things. This includes talking to friends, colleagues, family members and anyone else you know who has moved recently. Check with the Better Business Bureau and your local consumer affairs office to check if there are any complaints about specific companies.

Then get several estimates. Sparkman recommends getting three estimates from movers who come to your home before estimating a fee, rather than having them guess a fee over the telephone or Internet.

"There are rogue movers out there -- crooks who pretend to be movers will give you a low-ball bid. You've heard the horror stories. People are given a low-ball bid and when the truck arrives at a destination, it's four or five times what it said it would be. A lot of those guys troll for customers over Internet. One big red flag is that if a mover offers a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is," Sparkman said.

When you are discussing your estimate with your mover, make sure to ask how you are expected to pay for the move. Many movers accept only cash, certified check or money order. Also consider purchasing extra liability insurance coverage from the mover.

Because so many people have trouble with moving companies, the motor carrier safety administration fields complaints about interstate moving companies on its 24-hour toll-free hotline (888-368-7238). The agency's Web site, www.fmcsa.dot.gov, also links to state offices that take complaints about local companies that move households within a state.

Below is a partial countdown to moving day, excerpted from the moving and storage association's "Moving Planner," reprinted with permission. On moving day, be sure to stretch your muscles well if you're moving yourself, scrutinize all documents pertaining to renting a truck or hiring movers before signing anything, carry with you valuables that you couldn't bear to lose if using movers, and remain flexible in case things do not go according to plan.

Eight weeks before you move:

* Inventory all household goods and decide what you want to keep.

* Solicit estimates from several moving companies and choose a mover.

Six weeks before you move:

* Fill out post office change-of-address cards.

* Send your new address to anyone who might need it -- insurance agents, credit card companies, magazines, friends, relatives, etc.

* Clean out closets and dispose of all items that you will not be taking.

Four weeks before you move:

* For self moves, reserve a truck or trailer.

* Obtain necessary moving supplies: boxes, twine, labels, etc.

* Start packing.

* If your mover is doing the packing, arrange for it to be done one or two days before loading begins.

* Begin to use up staple foods.

* Gather valuable personal papers that you may need at your destination, including medical and dental records, school records, birth certificates, etc.

Three weeks before you move:

* Arrange to have utilities (gas, electric, phone, cable, water) disconnected in your current home and connected at your new home.

* Reserve apartment building elevator for pickup and delivery dates.

Two weeks before you move:

* Arrange to move pets.

* Check with the mover about moving house plants. (Some movers won't do it.)

* Dispose of all items too dangerous to move, including flammable liquids.

Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at gebhardts@washpost.com or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.