Zero waste moving. Not something we typically consider until we’re faced with packing up our entire lives.

Moving has the potential to create a huge amount of waste if you leave the slightest thing to chance. Unfortunately, this means planning.

Thankfully, I’ve got you covered in the form of all the things my husband and I did right – and could have done better in our zero waste moving experience from Indianapolis to Lafayette. I broke it down step-by-step to make the whole process a little less intimidating!

1. Get your new space ready

If you have the chance to get into your new space before you move everything, embrace a day of deep cleaning! For our house we had about a month of overlap between buying the house and moving out of our apartment which was great since the house had sat empty for a while and was pretty filthy.

Start by opening all the windows to let fresh air in. Then, get ready to clean.

I was lucky enough to get a sample package of Meliora Cleaning Products which were a lifesaver! Vegan, organic, non-toxic, and low-waste, these items were so helpful as I got the house ready for move-in day. (Plus, they’re Midwest-based which is awesome!) I used the All-Purpose Home Cleaner for pretty much every single surface of the house, wiping it all down in preparation for move-in day. It comes in a lovely, reusable glass spray bottle with soap flakes already inside. I used an extra pack of soap flakes to mix in with hot water in a large bucket and scrubbed the floors with a scrap cloth I had lying around.

Want to DIY your cleaning products? I’ve got a full post of zero waste cleaning recipes.

Next I tossed baking soda on the one room with carpeting, let it sit for a few hours, and then vacuumed it up. (We did end up bringing in a natural cleaning crew to deep wash the carpet as we couldn’t get it clean enough on our own.)

Finally I cut up some of my rag stash into inch square pieces. I balled them up, dabbed on 5-10 drops of my favorite essential oils and put 1-2 in each room/closet. This is especially helpful if your space has been closed up/unlived in for a while since it helps cut that musty smell really quickly.

Zero Waste Moving Tips

2. Optional pre-move

Because we had so much time between our purchase date and actual move-in date, part of our zero waste moving strategy was to start bringing things early as we spent time fixing up the house. We tried to be pretty strategic about it – not bringing too much to a dirty, in-process house, but enough to make life comfortable.

Make a list of items that are most important to you (or will make your life easier if you end up spending the night before the big move-in day).

Our list included:

  • our inflatable air mattress and our spare pair of sheets and blankets so we could stay overnight while working on the house.
  • a bare pantry of basically all the components to make good tea and coffee (priorities).
  • these adorable stainless steel cups sent by SeaTurtle. They’re super lightweight, wash up easily, and don’t even dent if you drop them on tile (not that I’d know or anything…). I was really happy to have this set as they’re low maintenance during a time when we really didn’t have the time or the resources to do any heavy cleaning.

A guide to zero waste moving, from start to finish

3. Gather your moving materials

Once I made peace with the idea I didn’t need tons of cardboard boxes and packaging materials, I was able to get pretty creative with how we packed our stuff. Repurpose any typical storage items (like baskets, wardrobes, and trunks) instead of getting boxes. Use towels, linens, and clothing in lieu of traditional plastic packaging materials, wrapping them around fragile items.

If you do end up needing more storage, there are some easy options to source cardboard boxes that don’t involve the (economically and environmentally) wasteful practice of buying new:

  • check out local moving companies like U-Haul or Budget. These companies have give and take boxes inside their locations where people can drop off still-good items from their move. It’s a crapshoot as to what you might find, but it’s worth a look when you’re picking up your moving vehicle.
  • Do you work in an office or somewhere that gets food deliveries? Ask the office manager when delivery days are and grab some cardboard boxes to use. Most places simply toss them in the dumpster anyway, so you’re doing them a favor!
  • Ask stores for leftovers. I’ve had great luck asking the produce stockers in grocery stores for extra cardboard boxes. Liquor stores are also a good bet. Most of the time they just head to the back and grab as many as you might need.
4. Moving day!

One of the ways you’re absolutely going to create an environmental impact is on the actual moving day. Unless you’re moving within a city and have a bike moving company (yes! that’s a thing!) available in your city, you’re going to have to use a truck.

Because we were moving between towns and our tiny car can hold about two people and two boxes max, we ended up renting a truck. Not ideal, but our king-sized mattress was not going to fit on top our our Chevy Spark, no matter how hard we tried! We ended up with a 10-foot truck that fit all of our belongings pretty comfortably.

In terms of rental companies, I’d recommend U-Haul if you’re in the States. Not only do they generally tend to be the cheapest option, they also have a super handy gauge on the side of the dash that shows you whether you’re in the green ‘good gas mileage’ range or the red ‘not at all fuel efficient’ range. That was really helpful to keeping fuel costs low, particularly on the highway.

Want to go a step further? Calculate your carbon emissions for the trip and purchase a carbon offset! Make your zero waste moving day carbon neutral!

Once we were at the house, our zero waste moving day was pretty much done: move everything in, store any cardboard for future use (or composting!), and start to enjoy the house. Easy. As. Pie.

Have you ever experienced zero waste moving? What tips and tricks can you share to help make the move easier?

How to: Zero Waste Moving Tips & Tricks - Green Indy Blog


An online resource here to help you break down the complex issue of zero waste into simple, actionable steps.


Aidan · October 5, 2017 at 5:01 pm

Freecycle is a great place to find moving supplies(or pretty much anything). People post leftovers from moves and is then one less box made/sent to the landfill!!!

    Polly · October 5, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Great idea! Can’t believe I didn’t immediately think of Freecycle!

Masha · October 6, 2017 at 3:50 pm

During my move because I have a lot of books that I use for self education. I didn’t want to put them in boxes (I would need a lot of boxes for them) I used robes to tie them together. And robes I reuse a lot in garden. 🙂

    Polly · October 11, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Nice! Great way to reuse items!

Jamie · March 21, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Do you have any tips for covering cloth furniture or your mattress without using plastic covers? Im moving in a few days (have my own rental truck, like you) and I’m trying to think of something!

    Polly · March 21, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    We used our extra fitted sheets – just wrapped them around the stuff and washed super well when we arrived! Worked great!

Richard Sean · October 10, 2018 at 8:44 am

Great information. I like your blog. Moving is very stressful work. I get the right info about moving work. Thanks a lot for this beauty Enjoying article with me. I appreciate it very much!

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