Dragging boxes, dragging suitcases, dragging a king-size mattress through a twin-size door. Any way you pack it, moving can be one big drag.
At least you are in good company. If you are planning a move, you are among 36 million people who will relocate this year. And chances are you won't stay in that city or town: Studies show that the average American's lifetime includes 11 moves.
The trick to an efficient and relatively stress-free move is organization.
These days that's not hard, not when most of the resources are a mouse click away. Many moving companies feature Internet sites that answer frequently asked questions and provide tips. (Pack heavy items in small boxes, light items in large boxes. Allow your computer "breathing time" in a new room before plugging it in. Remove light bulbs before packing lamps.) The sites also link you with sources to learn about your new community.
Still, moving is a hassle. You dread that unsettled, suspended-animation feeling and the need to pay endless attention to detail. The whole thing can be overwhelming.
But the more you move, the more you learn how to move, say the people whose livelihoods depend on frequent relocation. Through trial and error, they say, you can develop a system to minimize the stress of a move.
Just listen to Stacy Stevens. After moving seven times in five years with her hockey-playing husband, John, she has moving down to a science.
She is an authority on how to get free boxes: "Call stores like Wal-Mart and Target," she advises, "and call them at about 9 p.m. That's when the supervisor comes in, and that's when they usually do their inventory and they're unloading. Go to liquor stores to get boxes to put glassware in, and egg and produce boxes have handles. . . . Staples has great boxes because they have lids."
An eye injury forced John Stevens, 33, a defenseman for the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League, into early retirement last year. But he stayed on as an assistant coach, and the Stevenses have settled into a permanent home in Sicklerville, N.J., with their two young sons.
Tanisha Kane, 21, is a veteran mover. A junior at Temple University in Philadelphia, she has moved back and forth from her dormitory room to her parents' home in Wyncote, Pa. After going through the drill for three years, Kane has a system.
"It has become easier," she said, "because now I know what works."
When she first went to Temple, Kane lugged two carloads of stuff, mostly clothes. Now she takes only what she needs and she starts ridding herself of her winter clothes in early spring, during her visits home.
Kane prepares days in advance of her move by washing all her lingerie and folding the items neatly in her drawers. That way, she can transfer them easily to her suitcase. She transports her clothes in big plastic tubs, which allows her to leave the clothes on hangers and then just hang them in the closet.
Kane's system of moving in dribs and drabs works because her parents live nearby. By the time she closed out her dorm room last month, all she had to do was pack a single suitcase and turn off her phone. Her clothes, computer, television, stereo and books had already been moved back to her old room in Wyncote.
As the wife of a retired Army major, Carolee Nisbet has uprooted her family 12 times, including stops in Louisiana, Kentucky and Maryland and two tours of duty in Germany.
More than the physical moves, Nisbet's overriding concern was the effect another relocation would have on the couple's son, Andrew.
"I would always make sure I sat down and explained to him where we were going," she said, "but, like most children, he resented having to go from place to place."
Nisbet, a public affairs officer at Fort Dix, N.J., said the Internet is an invaluable tool to research new locations. Military personnel can find out all about their new installations at the World Wide Web site www.armymwr.com.
But even with all the coordination that the Army's transportation office provides, there is still the challenge of dealing with quarters that are too small or nonexistent, Nisbet said. Both times they went to Germany, the family lived with sponsors while waiting for housing.
"Sometimes we would be put in a temporary guest house," Nisbet said. "Usually, if we had to wait any longer than a month, they would advise soldiers not to bring their families right away."
Like the Stevenses, the Nisbets tried to make each residence--military quarters in Kentucky, a new house in Louisiana, a third-floor walk-up in Germany--as homey as possible. Nisbet would lay her own carpets and find a way to display her collection of cobalt glass. "I think continuity is pretty much what you look for," she said.
Yet despite all the moving hassles, Nisbet said she wouldn't trade her vagabond lifestyle. While it is never easy to pack up and move, "there's always something to look forward to--new places and people," she said.
Her son, now 24, is better for the experience, she said: "He discovered the benefits of that kind of lifestyle. He has a lot more experience than other kids his age have."
But even though willing families can make moving an adventure, the mechanics of it don't get any better. "For me, it ranks right up there with cleaning ovens," Nisbet said.