How to Pack and Unpack Your Dishes

No room is more time consuming and harder to pack than the kitchen, and nowhere is it as important to get the packing right. Otherwise, you may get to your new house and find your boxes are full of chipped or broken dishes. You’ll need several medium boxes, plenty of padding, and several small to medium boxes. It should go without saying that dishes should be clean and dry before you start packing. 

Clean foam wrap or blank newsprint are two of the best choices for packing dishes. You can also use bubble wrap, but we find it takes up more room than the thin foam sheets. If you use newspapers, you may need to wash black streaks off when you get to your new home. You can also buy a package of disposable Styrofoam plates to use between plates. There are a lot of recommendations out there to use towels, sheets and clothes as padding for your dishes, but we don’t recommend this, because it causes problems as you unpack. 

First, place a layer of padding to the bottom of your boxes – a couple sheets of crumpled paper, or a layer of foam or bubble wrap. Then start with the largest dishes – serving plates and dinner plates. Wrap completely with two to three sheets of paper, foam or bubble wrap, and tape closed. If you place a Styrofoam plate between your dinner plates, you still need to wrap them to prevent chipping. Stack the plates, being sure to tuck extra padding into the corners. Once your large plates are finished, move on to the next size, continuing to stack. 

Once all the plates are wrapped and stacked, move on to items like cups, mugs, and saucers. As you wrap your cups and mugs, be sure to fill the insides with padding. Smaller items like cups and mugs can be fit into the empty space above large plates and around the smaller plates.

Bowls should be completely wrapped and taped, then stacked. Start your wrapping with large serving bowls, again padding your boxes and tucking padding around the bowls. Then wrap smaller soup, cereal and ice cream bowls and stack them inside the large serving bowls, again filling empty nooks and crannies with padding materials. 

Fill your dish boxes to about a quarter of an inch from the top, then fill the remaining space with paper, bubble wrap, foam or dish towels. You don’t want them so full that the box top isn’t flat, but you don’t want any empty space that can collapse when other boxes get set on top. Give the box a couple of shakes, and if you feel the contents shift, take the time to add more padding around the sides of the box.  The tighter and more securely your dishes are packed, the less likely they are to break.  Seal and label boxes, including detailed information like “dinner plates, box one of three” in the labeling. This will make unpacking easier. 

When it comes time to unpack, decide what goes where before you start unpacking. Take the time to think about how you’ll use the kitchen, so that mugs are near the coffee maker, glasses are near the water, and the items you use every day are easiest to reach. Unpack as close to where items will live as possible. Try to keep counters clear so you have space to work.  It’s best to get all like items unwrapped before putting them in cabinets, because then it’s easier to see how much space all items take up.

Keep a large box to throw packing materials into as you unwrap items, so it’s all easily contained, and flatten boxes as you unpack them. Here’s where using clean packing materials, instead of newspaper or thrifted or recycled material pays off: Your dishes shouldn’t need to be washed, although you may want to wipe dust or paper lint off with a towel as you put them away.

This is where the idea of using clothes, towels and sheets to pack dishes is revealed as inefficient. In addition to unpacking the dishes, you have to fold the clothes and sheets. Rather than simply tossing the packing materials, you have to carry them into other rooms, where you may not have a good place to put them yet. 

With a lot of padding, enough boxes, and some advanced planning, packing and unpacking the dishes can go smoothly.