The Great Grad Student Migration: One Woman’s Journey

Two out of four WKU grads have no
idea how to wear their cap.

Well guys, I made it. One bedroom apartment. State College, Pennsylvania. In the five years since living with Rachel and Friends during our undergrad Wonder Years, I haven’t exactly had the best of luck with housing situations. Granted, living in the Chestnut Castle with my best friends really, really set the bar extra high.  Not to say that I’ve suffered through completely horrendous slum lord conditions with outrageous rent prices, but after spending half the time living with my parents and half hopping from place to place in New Mexico, I was absolutely ready for some stability in my own place. And it has been great so far.

I’ve been preparing for this move since getting back from last summer’s European adventures. Finding and getting into a PhD program was my main focus right up until the moment I was accepted back in March. After that, it was one big countdown until the next chapter in my life was ready to begin. And yes, my life chapters do happen to coincide with my academic life stages. I know a lot of you may have just graduated from undergrad, and it’s about time for the great grad student migration. Hopefully, since I made the move a little sooner than most, I can fill you in on what I’ve found to be most helpful during my transition. I started with a little research. First, checking out Rachel’s post from her move last summer, added a few other resources, and I deemed myself ready.


Part of preparing for a move is complete
 disregard for your soon to be former room, right?
Finding an apartment starting in June in a college town was a little challenging. Most leases run August-August, so my best bet was to find a summer sublet and then a more permanent situation. Searching remotely for apartments was a little frustrating, but I was able to ask around in my new department for advice. Remember, all of the other graduate students have already worked through these issues. They had valuable insight into where the best places to live were located. I used Craiglist to find possible locations, but ultimately it was talking directly to a potential landlord (instead of the subletter) that allowed me to find a place where I’d be covered for summer and all next year. Keep in mind you’ll have to pay rent and deposit up front, but your graduate stipend most likely will not kick in until a month after you start. Once you have a place secured, all you have to do is to move in. Sounds easy enough, right?

Step One, figure out what need to get done in advance. I don’t have a car, so that meant finding and renting a moving truck. Inspired by Rachel’s AAA computer discount (editor’s note: Props to my Dad for being wise to the ways of discount shopping!), I checked out the list of AAA member discounts. There were a lot more than I expected; I’ve been missing out. I ended up saving over $60 on the truck rental from Penske Auto. Next up, was to gather packing materials. I knew I didn’t want a stack of plastic bins taking up space in some closet or corner once I had arrived. Inspired by some of my research, I was able to fulfill all of my cardboard packing box needs in just one trip to my local Starbucks on their delivery day. I called ahead to find out what day they received shipments and inquired about acquiring their leftover boxes. Two relatively easy tasks, but getting them done quick and early helped me feel extra prepared.

Who says you can’t go from
disorder to order?
Riding high on this sense of accomplishment, I would’ve probably been happy to wait until the absolute last minute to pack.  But since my life wasn’t the only one affected, I had to get shit done accordingly. With some gentle prompting (and subtle threats) from my landlords/chromosome donators, I began packing things up a month in advance. I only have one bedroom worth of belongings and several kitchen items, but I am still glad I got started early. Packing took much longer than I anticipated. Every box I completed seemed to make only the tiniest of dents in overall progress. The boxes I packed early were all nicely organized with clear labelling on the top:  Contents, locations they belonged, which room to put the box in upon arrival. Textbooks and other heavy/breakable items were scattered into each box; a careful packing job! If you’re like me, you’ve acquired a giant collection of textbooks. If you have the option of leaving some behind, think about the ones you’ll really need for your program. I only took my math/stats related books and left my biology ones behind for now. My last few boxes were thrown together in a hurry when I realized the rest of the moving truck was nearly packed and I still had random items strewn about the room. We don’t ever have talk about The Crevasse between my bed and the wall. (Editor’s note: Mer shouldn’t feel too bad about this!  I think the “random stuff box(es)” happens to the best of us!)  

Years of Tetris and Dr. Mario had
 prepared me for this moment.
As stressful as it may be, moving is still one of those nice reset opportunities. I’ve used mine as an opportunity to create a household where I can easily live an eco-conscious lifestyle, which means minimal plastic and buying new items. I have a wonderful collection of glass flip top jars for storing food that I got at thrift stores for about $3 each. Think about what sort of lifestyle you’d like to have and plan ahead. I’d recommend trying to get rid of/donate as many items as possible. Might I even suggest watching a few episodes of Hoarders to inspire you to purge some of your belongings? It’s seriously the best motivator for getting your clean on. Go through your closet and find items to donate. What doesn’t fit? What haven’t you worn? What shouldn’t you have worn? What’s been sitting around because you swear you’re going to alter or fix it? Let it go. That’s all less you’ll have to pack, haul, and unpack at a new location. Same goes for your other belongings. Pre- and post-move, I’ve keep a cardboard box in my room to chuck the stuff I’ve finally admitted I don’t need anymore.  


All ready to be unpacked!
Honestly, once the moving van was completely packed, it was all downhill from there. The drive was long, but made easier by my collection of podcasts on the ready and a driving buddy who made sure I was clear to switch lanes when needed (essential when driving a 12 foot truck with all of your belongings). I made the brilliant decision of moving somewhere I already had a close friend (10/10 would recommend) so when it came time for unpacking in a new city, she provided some extra hands that lead to a swift unloading leaving more time for beers! Everything else seemed to fall into place smoothly. We had lined everything up in the living room area since it was the most central. My box labels ended up being less useful than anticipated, but it’s only a one bedroom apartment, so nothing was ever far away. I had been waiting so long to have my own place and the ability to decide where everything went, so I found unpacking went relatively quickly. I just puttered around from box to box, focusing on kitchen items first. Because, you know…food in my face reasons. Several items I was glad to have packed on the top layer within a box include: tissues, glasses for water, and toilet paper. I did, however, forget a can opener and shower curtain. Can’t win them all.

How did your last move go? Any advice for all of the students that will be moving in August? We’d love to hear from you!

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Waste not, Want not on Moving Day

White Mt.  We climbed this as the culmination of our
orientation trip.

Note from Rachel:  I actually wrote this post during the last week of August when I was actively moving.  I figured I just needed to throw in a few pictures of the madness and I’d be good to go.  Little did I know, that was easier said than done.  Moving was insane, then I left on the 2nd to help lead an orientation trip for new graduate students…so this post is a bit of a flashback.  Hopefully it will still be helpful to someone!  Further disclaimer:  this post contains only iPhone pictures…mostly of my cat.

It seems like only last year that we moved all our stuff from SoCal, up along the I-5, to the central valley of California.  Oh wait, that really was just last year.  Can it really be that time again?  The painters that came to my apartment Tuesday morning imply that yes, yes it is.  It’s moving time!  Transplanting to a new place is always simultaneously exciting and annoying for me.  I love the possibilities.  This year I’ll keep my room clean.  This time I’ll really put an effort into decoration.  This spring the patio garden will happen!  However, I don’t love the hassle.  Will I get my security deposit back?  Where do I put all my stuff while I shampoo the carpets?  Will my cat finally hate me if I make him move again?

Cat drinking my H2O on hot moving day.

Yes, like almost every other thing in this wild life, moving to a new dwelling has pros and cons.  In times of stress and excitement, it’s very easy to forget our environmentally minded intentions and err on the side of convenience.  I can honestly say, been there, done that.  However, as someone who has moved 8 times in the past 8 years (one time I moved twice in one year!), I can offer up a few little nuggets of practical advice for keeping your upcoming move as sane and eco-conscious as possible.  The way I see it, there are three big things that make up the process of moving:  packing, discarding unwanted items, and cleaning.  I will address the first two in this post.  In the interest of being candid, I’ll say that I don’t currently use that many green cleaning supplies.  I’m hoping to make the switch away from the more conventional stuff (and will probably blog about it).  At the moment, I’ve amassed quite a collection of cleaning solutions/sprays/what-have-you from old roommates, and I’m currently working through the last of that.  Maybe you know the old runner’s mantra “Don’t try anything new on race day”?  Moving day is my race day and is not the time to try a whole bunch of new stuff.  So, here I’ll focus on what to use when packing and how to donate/reuse/recycle those items you might not want to move to your new abode.


1) Packing Materials Matter

Cats also love scavenged boxes.

My ideal moving scenario would be this:  I scavenge cardboard boxes and day old newspapers from around town.  I pack my life away, then promptly unpack it at my new pad.  Then I either put all the boxes on Craigslist for someone to come and pick up, or I recycle the lot.  Following that plan, you get total reuse value out of all the paper and cardboard before, finally, recycling it.  Also, avoid using packaging tape by folding the lids of your boxes closed (PS: this video is really funny to me).  Probably everyone knows how to do this, but if not, now you do!  And hey, that’s one less little bit of disposable plastic you are using!  Editor’s note in retrospect:  Pro-tip, listen to the dude in the video and don’t overload these boxes if they have no tape on the bottom.  I had two near blow outs due to this carelessness.

Here is how it has actually played out this year.  We have been doing really well on getting used boxed from the co-op and businesses around town.  The co-op even has this area right in front of the store just for boxes which can be reused.  Thanks for being awesome co-op!  We also have several large plastic bins that we have had forever.  I wouldn’t personally suggest buying any of these, but if you feel you just need a couple, go down to your local Goodwill or thrift store.  The last one I purchased about three years ago was from a Goodwill, and it cost 1 dollar.  Buying used, better for the environment and your wallet (reuse forever!).  And remember to donate it back after moving if you don’t have room to save it for next time.

We got down to packing our fragile belongings, and realized we needed some sort of packing paper.  We were in a hurry (read: no time to scavenge!) and ran to the FedEx to buy some.  But we were thwarted; the FedEx only sold plastic bubble wrap!  As you have probably gathered by now, I think single use plastic items are pretty pointless (extremely slow to biodegrade, made from petroleum, general health concerns), so this was not going to fly for me because we needed a pretty large amount of the stuff.  We walked to a nearby newsstand and asked for day-old papers, of which they had none, so we ended up buying a few papers.  It only cost 4 dollars, and I read some of it before using it to wrap my plates.  Does that count as reuse?  The next day I went to the co-op and they had some day old papers, so I used those for the rest of our fragile goods.  

2) Donate NOT Dumpster

It happens every time I move.  I wonder, “How in the world did I get all this stuff?”  As a result, I always end up with a pretty hefty pile of things that I just can’t find the heart to move to my new place.  The paring down process is probably my favorite thing about moving, actually.  I think this happens to almost everyone.  This begs the question, what should we do with all those unwanted treasures?  First and foremost, please please please don’t just throw those things away.  I choose to believe that people are generally good about donating things that are nearly new or gently used.  Additionally, there are many thrift shops which will give you cash for donated items of a certain ilk (high quality, name brand, etc.).  In that case, you could, literally, be throwing away money by not taking time to donate your unwanted items.

Sad kitten in a cage on moving day.

However, I’ve had several conversations with people who put the standard a bit too high on things they are willing to donate.  A pair of pants with a stain on them?  Someone could add a decorative patch to cover that.  Missing buttons on that shirt?  I’m sure someone would be willing to mend them.  Have a lamp with a busted lampshade?  There are about a million Pinterest ideas for making new lamp shades for very little money, and I’m sure some thrifty person would be glad to give your naked lamp new life.

Am I advocating that you donate destroyed or broken things?  Certainly not, I threw out several things that were, quite literally, broken with no hope of repair and could not be recycled.  However, just tossing things out mindlessly or because “they aren’t good enough to donate” is a very privileged attitude.  Further, all those things took resources to create, and if you can give these items longer lives by donating them, you are doing a very good thing.  Yes, this does mean making an extra car trip with your load of unwanted items, but I think we can all agree that donation is one of those actions where we get maximum benefits (helping others, saving resources, reducing waste) from minimum efforts (driving 10-20 minutes).

Don’t worry, I’m climbing down from my soap box now.    

3) Reuse and (finally) Recycle

Okay, so donating clothing that has gone to the other side of gently used is one thing, but what about stuff donation centers simply don’t want?  Here, you have a few very good options for both reusing and recycling these goods.  For electronics that are on the fritz, I think Craigslist is a great way to go.  If you want it off your hand quickly, put a posting up on the “Free” section detailing what’s wrong with the item and that it will be left in such-and-such alley or at the corner of so-and-so.  You can also try FreeCycle, which allows you to list things to given away for free.  People build things from used electronics, and those people love these sorts of websites.  If your item isn’t in horrible condition, it will likely be picked up very shortly (PSA:  Don’t abandon this stuff on the side of the road.  Put it in front of your house or near your house so you can retrieve it for recycling if no one comes to claim it.).  If it’s a nice piece of equipment, you could also try selling it or taking it to a local electronics store to see if they can fix it!  If you get no takes on the electronics, make sure and recycle them properly.  Electronics have lots of precious metals in them that can be reused.  E-waste could be a whole post unto itself, so I’ll stop here and provide you with this link to NCER, a database for electronics recycling facilities in the USA.

An example of something which will NOT be thrown out.
Hilarious gift from my BFF on my 16th birthday.

Other tricky items are mattresses, box springs, and older couches.  Note that if your couch is newer or at least sturdy, you can probably get a Goodwill/Salvation Army/etc. to take it; however, these organizations will very rarely accept used mattresses or box springs.  Again, Craigslist and FreeCycle are your friends.  For these items, you will probably have an easier time getting them off your hands if you live in a larger city or if you are moving in the “off season.”  Around the beginning of September, in my area, Craigslist is saturated with mattress offers.  I actually went down a research rabbit hole looking for places to recycle mattresses and sofas.  If you check out Earth911 site you can enter in your zip code and look for a place near you that accepts mattresses.  There was not one in my area.  It seems like your best bet is to try and give it away or sell it for reuse.  There is also the option of breaking down these items yourself, then recycling or reusing the parts.  In the interests of practicality, you should try to avoid this until the end (if you end up doing it at all).  I’d love some other ideas on this front if you have them, because I honestly don’t see myself (or many others) dismantling a couch.  

Really old shoes and clothing also needs to find a home that, hopefully, isn’t the dumpster.  For shoes that are just no good anymore (see tip #2 to assess how good is no good), the best option I’ve found is the Reuse-a-Shoe program run by Nike.  I’m not a huge fan of Nike in general, but this seems like a very cool program.  Essentially, they take all brands of shoes (aside from dress shoes, flip-flops, and sandals) for recycling and convert them into athletic surfaces such as running tracks, turf fields, or playground surfaces.  You can drop your shoes off at your local Nike store or mail them to the recycling facility.  They encourage local drop off to maximize positive environmental impacts.  For super old clothes, first and foremost, try to think of ways that you could reuse those items.  T-shirts can be turned into quilts, headbands, scarves, and about a million other things.  Check out this Pinterest board I started for some cool reuse ideas.  If you’re of the less creative persuasion, like myself, you can always just cut up these clothes and turn them into cleaning rags.  After you’ve exhausted your own creativity (or if personal reuse just isn’t your situation), you can still take these broken and soiled items to the Goodwill or Salvation Army!  Check out this really cool article from the LATimes blog about how these organizations actually work with a secondary organization to reuse (mostly in the form of janitorial rags) these things or pass on clothing items and shoes to developing nations.

In sum:

My new balcony.  Possibilities…

DO:  Reuse cardboard boxes and newspapers for packing materials.  And at least attempt to donate before you ditch unwanted items.  If donation does not work, make sure to reuse and recycle when possible.
DON’T:  Buy single use plastic packaging materials or boxes.  If you must have plastic items, try to get them second-hand.  Throw out unwanted or used items all willy-nilly like.

Last Word:  Wow.  This turned into a way longer post than I thought it would be.  In general, I’d just say to remember that moving can be very hectic.  Try to plan ahead for how you will pack and dispose of items, otherwise you might end up throwing out more than you would really like.  It’s happened to me many times in the past.  As always, remember to go easy on yourself.  If you did your best, that’s really all there is to do.

What do you think?  What do you do to make your move go smoothly?  Any cool reuse or recycling tips or websites?  Mention them in the comments section.