How to move house sustainably

Make moving day more eco-friendly and less stressful with our simple tips.

Does anyone enjoy moving house? Doubt it. It’s stressful to fit your whole life in a box and cart it across town — even more so when you see the mountain of waste created from tossed belongings, endless packaging, and new stuff to fill your new home.

Hard data on the carbon footprint of an average household move is difficult to find, due to the huge amount of variables at play. That said, we do have some numbers to consider.

First, the sheer volume of people packing up each year. Nearly 30 million Americans moved in 2020, down from 40 million the prior year. Let’s do some math to estimate impact. If each one of those people used just 15 cardboard boxes per move, we’re looking at 450 million cardboard boxes every year. If each of them used only two rolls of tape, that’s 80 million rolls of tape, mostly made from non-recyclable plastic. If each of those moves produces only 10 bags of trash, that’s 300 million bags, filling landfills and emitting methane.

And what about the energy needed to transport all that stuff? Moving vans aren’t the most fuel efficient — the average midsize moving truck only gets five kilometers per liter of gasoline (12 mpg). That means if your move is across state lines, you could emit nearly 150 kilograms of CO2 from fuel alone.

Moving sustainably 2

So what can you do to make your move greener — and squash that eco-anxiety along the way? Turns out, a lot! Here are our top five ideas for a more sustainable moving day.

Five tips for more sustainable moving

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Get started early. If you have the luxury of time, use it to plan ahead. First, sort your belongings. Make a pile of things you want to keep, things you want to throw, and things you’re not sure about.

Taking stock will help you move fewer things into your new home — which means fewer trips to get there and a lighter load. Added bonus: You’ll arrive at your new space with a clear mind and fewer random pieces doomed to the junk drawer.

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Give things away. Remember that pile of things you want to get rid of? Enter freecycling! Freecycling is simply giving away what you no longer need to someone else who can use it. Not only is it satisfying, but it saves money for the recipient, and reduces emissions for you both. You’re likely to find a local freecycling group online.

Many items, especially used electronics, winter coats, and furniture, can also be donated. Check to see if there are non-profits who could collect your used belongings and donate them to someone in need.

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Limit your trips. Alright, you’ve sorted and slimmed down your belongings. Now it’s time to actually move it all into your new home. Our biggest tip here? Cut down on fuel emissions by limiting the number of trips from your old place to the new one.

Even better — see if you can move without using a car at all. If you’re only moving down the street, your movers (or the friends you roped into helping out) may be able to transport everything by hand, cutting out fossil fuels entirely.

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Invest in secondhand and sustainable stuff. Okay, you’re all moved in, keys in hand and surrounded by boxes. Congrats! Now it’s time to unpack — and you’ll likely need a few new things to outfit your new space.

For smaller items, like lamps, kitchenware, and furniture, shop secondhand. Not only is vintage undeniably cooler, you’ll be keeping older items out of landfill by extending their lifecycle. Maybe you could even benefit from freecycling!

The one exception to the second-hand rule is appliances. If you need a fridge, washing machine, or other big energy-user, it might pay to go new instead of secondhand. Most new machines use much less energy than old ones, shrinking your bills and your footprint.

Push for longer and better rental contracts. Lastly, we can push for policy change. Many people move because they have to, not because they want to — especially renters. Renters are often squeezed between short-term contracts, poorly-made apartments, and an influx of tourists taking up space for holiday stays.

According to the latest US census data, 40% of moves last year were housing related, as opposed to 21% for job-related reasons or 27% because of family.

Landlords often have little incentive to invest in their rental properties, because in many places, they can hike prices with every new tenant. If we push for longer rental contracts and more rent stability, it’s likely renters will stay in their homes longer, reducing the need to constantly move and thus helping the environment.

The big picture

Let’s take a step back. While your single move isn’t going to change the world, you can still make it more climate friendly, and avoid the stress of acting against your values. By using fewer resources, either when moving or in daily life, we can all do our part in reversing climate change.

Next up: The latest report from the IPCC outlined the crucial importance of individual action in averting a climate catastrophe. Brush up on all the details in our deep dive on the IPCC leaked report.

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