Packing with Small Children: A Parents’ Guide to Sanity

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In an ideal world, when the time comes to move our households we will snap our fingers and a friendly, and why not attractive, team of professional movers will ascend upon our old dwelling, pack up all of our belongings and stash them in neat, safe, labeled piles in a moving truck.  Once at our new home, the same process will work in reverse.  It will take a matter of three days, at most, and our lives will pick back up where we left off just in a new, better, home.

Unfortunately, this is very rarely the case.  Our last move was prompted by a new job for my husband.  We received the notice that we had been selected for the position but it took nearly two months to get a start date established for his job.  Of course, once we had the start date we had less than a week to get him there, and the job was several states away.  That week was a crazy mess of getting things ready… and then he was gone.  Over the next month his task was getting settled into his new job while also trying to find us a new place to live.  My task was to keep the kids and the house running while also packing everything.  This was not easy.

My best advice to anyone looking to pack themselves while still trying to care for small children, is to find someone else to watch them.  This has to be done by getting the kids out of the house, having a babysitter in the house might be somewhat helpful but inevitably the children are still going to want you, and will thus be underfoot.  I was lucky enough to have my children enrolled in a ‘Mother’s Day Out’ program through a local church, so two days a week I have five hours to get some serious work done.  I had to pay for this service, but it was worth every penny.  I also got friends and family to take them for short periods of time over the month.

However, there was still a huge amount of stuff to pack and the couple of hours a week I had child-free was not enough to get the job done.  So I had to get creative and come up with ways of occupying the children while I worked, and now I am going to share some of those with you:

Use media to your advantage

While I do not generally recommend popping your kid in front of a screen for hours at a time, it can be very effective when push comes to shove.  So do it, pull out the tablet, turn on the TV, throw Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu on the computer, shove a DVD into the player, or hand over your smart phone (just be sure to keep apple juice and PB&J’s away from it), and let them soak in some media.

Mealtime is work time

Meal times became a great time for me to get something done.  I could put the kids at the table and give them a drink and something to eat and I would have about half an hour to run around.  I would pick out a project that was already near the table, or that could be dragged into that room so I could keep an eye on them.  I simply ate while I worked.  Once the table was taken down, or sometimes when it was too cluttered from being a work space during this time, we would do ‘picnic’ lunches.  I would simply throw down an old blanket on the living room floor and give them finger foods, they thought it was a special treat.

Tables aren’t just for eating!

I found that putting my kids at the table could be useful even when they weren’t eating.  I could lay out crayons (or markers if I was feeling nice), or play dough, or even a pile of books and they would entertain themselves at the table for a good twenty minutes.  (To be honest I still do this… while I am writing this, they are across the room playing with some homemade play dough.)

Bathtubs hold a lot more than water

Do no overlook this great fixture in your home.  I decided to use mine a few times to occupy my children.  However, I did not fill it with water.  Since I couldn’t sit and watch them the whole time I decided to fill the tub with things that they couldn’t drown in (although when packing up the bathroom, why not throw them in the tub with water and soap and get a bath out of the situation while you are at it).  Basically I raided the pantry and found things I was going to part with anyway and created a sensory table in the tub.  One day it was coffee creamer that was going to expire in a month, another day it was a mixture of Kool-Aid and dish detergent that made a fun foam, another day I mixed up some bath paints.  I stripped them down to their diapers and let them make a mess.  Everything, including the children, could then just be sprayed down and life went on.

Let them ‘Help’

Sometimes they simply wanted to be with me and I had to give in.  The trick is to have them ‘help’ while keeping them out of the way.  Both kids were intrigued by the idea of writing on boxes, so I gave them crayons and had them mark up the sides of a pile of boxes.  I would also find empty boxes and give them a pile of things to put in the box, this had to be dumped out and reboxed later but while they worked on a pile of stuff I was not ready to get to yet I was getting the pile I was working on put away.  They also enjoyed pushing boxes around the house (just make sure they are light and non-breakable).  And don’t forget cleaning, small children love to clean, so hand them a sponge and let them go to town on the kitchen floor, while you work on boxing up some of their toys.

Forts are always fun

As the house becomes dismantled this can be great fun.  Blankets should be packed nearly last as they can be great for protecting valuable items and even furniture, so use them.  Use the boxes too, use good sturdy boxes to make a small fort on the floor and drape a blanket over them.  Clear out part of a room and set up what is left of the furniture and throw blankets over that.

Be creative

Find ways to keep them in sight but not underfoot.  If you are going to be getting rid of something see if it is something you can give to the kids and let them demolish it first.  Sometimes I would have to put some time and effort into setting up an activity and cleaning up after, but if I spent ten minutes on that and got twenty minutes of free time for me it was worth it.

Just remember to try and use the time you get, whether the kids are out of the house with a family member, down for a nap, or just in the next room watching another Disney movie.  Having a plan for what you want to get done during that time is important, and sticking with it is even more important.  Good luck!


Samantha is the newest member of the team here, and when she is not wrapped up in writing she is a full time mom of 2.5 children (two toddlers of her own and sometimes her lovely step-daughter as well).This mom loves to cook and craft and stay as organized as possible while living in this chaos.Beyond this useful blog she also runs a personal blog,

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