Sundays were always the best times at the old house, and on the last Sunday we spent there, after dinner my husband began removing the spices from the shelves, the canned goods from the closet. It was all I could do to watch.

"Feel like you're being ripped off?" he asked as he dropped a large can of tomatoes into the box. We were both depressed. "We've had fund here," he said.

Sunday evening I went out behind the house in the dark and saw how brilliant the stars were and wondered how they could possibly be that clear from the back yard of the new house we were moving to. It'll be on the corner, I thought. The headlights from the cars will distrub the night. I went back inside the house and looked out at the willow tree, a dark shape, a great head of Medusa hair by the back fence.

All across the country this time of year, families facing school schedules are packing up, picking up and getting going. Our move was a little different.

We didn't have much furniture, still don't. Actually, you don't really notice furniture when you live with it -- or without it. So we had been a little nonplussed when an insurance salesman came in, stepped into the living room and said, "I see you just moved in." "Well, no, actually we've lived here for a year," I replied. The next day I bought a hanging plant.

Then there had been the dishwasher repairman. "You just move in?" "Well, no, actually we're getting ready to move out."

The prospective renters: "I see you're already moved out."

As the move came closer, the rooms started looking a little fuller -- the downstairs rooms, anyway -- filled with boxes of things that had been in the basement and attic. Finding boxes was the biggest problem. There was no end of notes left at the top of the stairs: BOXES. But still it didn't penetrate; we rarely remembered to stop and pick them up on the way to work. The image of driving to work surrounded by cardboard is perhaps too ridiculous.

"You know the worst part?" asked my husband. "The worst part is begging for boxes."

Paradoxically, we chose to beg for them out of pride. We could've bought boxes from the movers, at $1.35 apiece for a small one. But wasn't it enough that we were paying them to move us five doors down the street?

Instead of hiring movers, we'd conisdered gathering friends and passing furniture along like buckets of water to the Chicago fire. Or tropping with dressers on our shoulders like ants to an anthill. But we don't have the stamina of ants, and decided it was worth $500 to have the movers load the truck, drive down to the corner and unload it. The fact that we were moving to almost the same model was quietly perplexing to the workmen, who kept their thoughts to themselves most of the day, but sighed heartily when I mentioned that we were buying this one and the other was only rented: "Well, it didn't make sense," observed one.

Yes, we were willing to pay for being moved half a block; but we were not about to pay for cardboard too.

Mornings are best for salvage operations in supermarket backrooms. One evening I tried that morning's successful gambit of barging through the swinging doors and gaily asking for boxes. The man in the storage area of the Giant solemnly told me to "wait outside the door," and then presented me with one soggy-bottomed apple box. Morning is the time when the really quality finds are available.

The boxes filled up faster than we could grab them. We even tried cruising the neighborhood -- scavengers for any left curbside for the trash collection. Boxes from the liquor store were recommended by the broker, but we never managed to get to the store before it closed.

Back to the supermarket again the next morning, having accepted the routine, coming away with two big paper-towel cartons and a smelly banana box: slim pickings. The men in the back give curious lectures, explanations. "Come back at 2:30, 3 in the morning. That's when we start filling the shelves," one said. "We don't keep the boxes around. You gotta be there when we empty them." Then he added cryptically, "Unless you want the egg boxes." Another said, rotely, "No, no boxes. We compact 'em as soon as we empty 'em. You an take those over there."

Three nights before Moving Day, we stood in the family room in the midst of camping gear, boxes of china and books obscuring the fireplace. "It's not going to happen," said my husband. "We'll never get enough boxes, so we'll never be able to leave."

But we did leave. The last and first days are a blur, now. I remember cleaning, cleaning like I'd never cleaned before, as if I were competing for the Holly Homemaker Award. I leaned into the oven so long I began to feel like Gretel.

It rained, of course. If it rains on your moving day is it good luck? It rained on the movers. Suddenly it seemed as if we had a lot of furniture indeed. It rained in the front door, which the movers left open all day. And naturally, as I was cleaning the powder room downstairs, in walked the new tenants. "Hi! Thought I'd show my mother the place!" I looked up from my mop, vision blurred. They went into the family room, where the rain suddenly began cascading down from the chimney into the fireplace. "Get the bucket from the car!" the new tenant called to her son. Yes, I thought, it's all yours now. At last I have been able to pinpoint the cause of an odd sensation of forgetting something when leaving and entering the new house. It is this: There is no longer any need to go get boxes. In fact, there are so many empty boxes around it's been suggested that a counterpart be found to pass them on to, by canvassing the houses with SOLD! signs in front. But some boxes still are useful: hardy boxes that held quarts of ginger ale now hold books awaiting bookshelves ordered two months ago. And there's a special pleasure in filling the Live PLANTS FRAGILE box with grass clippings and pruned branches. As for the other boxes, the trsh collectors will charge a minimum of $25 to cart them all off at once, so it just seems easier, don't you know, to pile them up in the garage and dole them out to the trash truck a couple at a time. At about the same rate the boxes were gotten in the first place. A Few Tips It's discouraging to look in the Yellow Pages for a mover: in the District, there are 60 separate entries under "Moving" that begin with the letter A , all trying to be first, it seems: in the 1981 book the place is occupied by a moving company whose name starts A-aaa . Letters M (as in Moving) and C (as in Company?) tie for second with 18 entries each.

But for starters when you are planning a move, the Interstate Commerce Commission has some recommendations:

Be sure that agreements between you and the movers are in writing, and on the service order and the bill of lading.

For your protection, make an accurate inventory of your household goods and their condition; then be sure that everything is accounted for before the van leaves. Be at the new house with your inventory when the truck is being unloaded to check things off. Don't sign a receipt until everything's there and there is no apparent damage that hasn't been noted on the shipping papers.

Carry valuable personal items like jewelry, silver and important papers in your own car.

Don't leave your old residence before the moving company does. If you can, go with the movers to the weighing station for the weighing of your shipment. (This applies if you are moving to another state.)

Make sure you understand the limited liability of the movers: they aren't liable for the full value of lost or damaged goods unless you pay an additional charge for such protection.

File a claim for any loss or damage noted on the delivery papers as soon as possible.

And remember: An estimate is not a final cost of your move; nor will the carrier provide free boxes or other packing material.

The ICC also gives good advice on saving money in your move. The chief means is to cut down on the weight of your shipment. Be merciless on throwing things away: sell it, auction it, give it to your favorite charity and keep the receipts. It may be cheaper to sell a heavy appliance and replace it than it is to move it. And it may be cheaper to mail books at the book rate to your new address.

Looking to the future, you could write the present owners of your new home asking for warranties and service manuals for furnances and built-in appliances and the names of competent service people.

These and many other tips are available in the ICC's consumer package, which is fee on request from the consumer assistance office. 275-0860.