Mastering the Art of Good Packing

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What a relief when nightmares fizzle into nothing. A whole string of them haunted me last summer when I left Florence, my home for 32 years, to move back to Canada. First I dreamt I'd never ever be able to pack up all my books, notes, pottery, dishes, glasses, plaster casts of works of art, and diverse irreplaceable treasures. Well, I finally did get everything into cartons – 134 of them – but then I was sure the freighter carrying the container with my belongings would be kidnapped by pirates. When I heard it had made it through the Suez Canal after all, I dreamt that my container would be ripped off the deck during one of those frequent, fierce tropical storms in the Indian Ocean. When I was notified that my container was sitting at the docks in Vancouver, I was sure that all my breakables had broken. When the container arrived at my house and the doors swung open, I could not believe my eyes. There they were, all 134 cartons, looking not a whit the worse for wear. As I opened one after another, I found every last item intact. Clearly, I had mastered the art of good packing. With a bit of determination and imagination, you can too, especially if you follow my tried and true technique, which I have distilled into a few simple steps.

First, make an inventory list, and assign a number to each item. Next, buy extra-sturdy cardboard cartons (such as those from Allegri & Allegri near Porta S. Frediano) in sizes that will not be too large, or end up being too heavy, for you to lift. Buy bubblewrap, thin foam wrap and tape. Buy a sheet, 1 cm. thick, of foam rubber (gomma schiuma, usually pre-cut 2 x 1 m., e.g. at the Centro Arredotessile in via Pietrapiana).

Go for a walk at a time when stores put their cardboard cartons out on the street for pick-up. Scavenge as many small and medium-sized cartons as you can carry. If you see any styrofoam chips, take those, too. Go to bookstores, erboristerie and profumerie and ask if they are throwing out any airpads (cuscini d’aria). If they have any, take as many as you can get. They are fantastic because they weigh nothing and can be stuffed into those awkward empty spaces that abound in packed cartons. For the same reason, don't throw out any of your old socks, hankies, pens or pencils, until after you've packed the last carton.

Start taping together your extra-sturdy cardboard cartons. Use lots of tape. Write your name on the outside, and number the carton, making sure to note the carton number next to the item number on your inventory list, so you can keep track of what you have put inside each carton. Line the bottom of the carton with a piece of bubblewrap (cut a second piece while you're at it, to lay on top of the carton before closing). Place something rigid and heavy, such as a big book, on the bottom of the carton and line the sides with more books (or similar rigid, flat items). In the empty space that is left in the center of the carton, place some of your smaller fragile items, wrapped in thin foam or bubblewrap, and ideally inside one of the small cardboard cartons that you found on the street. If you have any airpads, use them wherever you can. Stuff any remaining small spaces with squishable things like socks or scarves, or something slim like pencils, or tubes of cream—anything that will slip into the space and prevent the contents of the carton from shifting. Even the cardboard rings of your depleted packing tape, or poster tubes, come in handy for this purpose. Put clothes or towels on top of the contents to fill up the carton.

Pack sets of glasses, dishes or pottery using the box-within-a-box method: put all the breakables into a sturdy cardboard or plastic container, which will fit inside the larger, extra-sturdy cardboard carton. Wrap the glasses in thin foam or bubblewrap. This not only cushions them but also prevents them from slipping around. Cut pieces of the 1 cm foam rubber sheet to put in between each of your plates, and take a larger piece to wrap around them all, and also to wrap around bowls. Do not be stingy with extra foam. You need to protect your dishes and glasses from pressure and movement. If you have any blankets or pillows to ship, wrap them around the container with your breakables for extra protection. You want to make sure that it is padded all around and that it sits snugly inside the larger cardboard carton.

And her's a final bonus tip, whether you are moving or simply traveling. To keep shirts, pullovers, trousers, and other clothing from getting wrinkled in your suitcase, place a plastic bag inside each garment when you are folding it, and then slip the folded garment inside another plastic bag. You will have created a series of air cushions that surround and separate your clothes, with results that are astounding.

Buon viaggio!

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This page last updated: May 16, 2009.