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Moving Out of Your Apartment or Home? 9 Cleaning and Organizing Tips

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Moving out of an apartment, dorm or home can be a daunting task. While the process of getting your belongings into your new space may be your top priority, don’t forget to leave your old home in pristine condition — especially if you are renting your current place and want your security deposit back. In this guide, we’ll help you come up with a game plan for moving out, including a detailed move-out cleaning checklist, timeline and organizational tips to make the moving process as stress-free as possible.

In This Article:
  1. Start Early
  2. Check Your Lease
  3. Declutter Every Room
  4. Move Furniture and Seasonal Items Into Storage
  5. Start With Low-Traffic Areas
  6. Pack an "Essentials" Box
  7. Leave Time for Repairs
  8. Create a DIY Move-Out Cleaning Checklist
  9. Follow a Timeline

1. Start Early

Nothing’s more stressful than scrambling to pack your belongings and clean your home just a few days before your move-out date. That’s why we recommend sitting down and creating a detailed game plan about a month before you’re set to leave your current apartment or home. The general idea is to start packing and cleaning about three weeks out. You should start with the rooms or areas you use least — for example, guest rooms and storage areas like closets and attics — and gradually move to high-traffic zones like kitchens and bathrooms, which will need more attention and a final touch-up right before you hand over the keys.

2. Check Your Lease

Are you renting your current home? Before you start organizing and cleaning, go back to the lease agreement you signed when you moved in and review it carefully. There should be a section that outlines the specific conditions that need to be met for you to get your security deposit back, including the level of cleanliness and any necessary repairs that need to be made. Check for clauses that specify whether you’re required to have the apartment professionally cleaned (and whether you need to provide receipts as proof), or if there are particular areas like carpets or appliances that require special attention. It’s also a good idea to document the apartment’s condition with dated photographs right before you move out in case you run into any disputes with your landlord.

3. Declutter Every Room

Decluttering isn’t just about making the cleaning process easier — you’ll also have less to pack and potentially lower moving costs. Start by going through everything in each room. Create piles to keep, sell/donate or toss. Focus on getting rid of anything you haven’t used in over a year, anything that’s broken or things you have in multiples. It’s best to tackle one room at a time, beginning with the places that tend to collect the most stuff, like your closets, basements, garages and attics. As you sort, keep donation and sale items in clearly labeled boxes, and throw out the trash right away to keep it from piling up again.

4. Move Furniture and Seasonal Items Into Storage

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re dealing with a lease gap or moving in with a partner, you may end up with extra or duplicate furniture and belongings that won’t immediately fit into your new space. Using a storage unit can be a perfect solution to keep these items safe while you sort out what you need. This approach is also ideal for those who are downsizing and need to decide what to keep without feeling rushed or making any hasty decisions. Many self-storage facilities offer a range of unit sizes and flexible month-to-month agreements with no long-term contracts, allowing you to rent one for as long as you need.

5. Start With Low-Traffic Areas

When you’re dividing your cleaning and organizing tasks, start with low-traffic areas to make the process smoother. Low-traffic areas are typically guest bedrooms, spare bathrooms or storage areas like closets, attics and basements that you don’t use on a day-to-day basis. In other words, these are areas that you can clear out and deep-clean weeks before your move-out date. As you get closer to wrapping things up, you can shift your focus to high-traffic areas like the living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen.

6. Pack an "Essentials" Box

An essentials box is a must-have during moving. Basically, it should contain items you’ll need to have on hand throughout the duration of your move, such as toiletries, a few sets of clothes, medications, chargers, important documents, and basic cooking utensils or disposable plates and cutlery. The idea is to keep this box with you, separate from your other packed belongings, so your daily necessities will be easily accessible no matter what stage of moving you’re in. Clearly label this box to make sure you don’t end up putting it in storage or getting it mixed up with your other belongings.

7. Leave Time for Repairs

Don’t forget to leave plenty of time to make any necessary repairs to return a rented apartment or home to its original condition (or as stipulated in your lease). Start by addressing common issues like holes in walls from hanging pictures or shelves. These can usually be patched up with some spackle, sanded down and touched up with paint. If the walls look particularly worn or if there are larger damaged areas, you might need to repaint entire sections or rooms. Be sure to look at the floors as well — hardwood should be polished and any deep scratches potentially refinished. For tasks that are beyond basic DIY fixes, such as electrical issues or plumbing problems, consider hiring a professional contractor or TaskRabbit to help.

8. Create a DIY Move-Out Cleaning Checklist

Professional cleaners can make the move-out process less stressful, but at a cost. If your lease doesn’t require professional cleaning or you’ve kept your space in excellent condition, consider doing it yourself. Making a move-out cleaning checklist is much like any cleaning checklist, except the goal is to restore your unit or home to the condition it was when you moved in. Here’s a basic checklist you can follow:

Entire Home

  • Remove all nails, screws, pins and hardware from the walls
  • Remove any stick-and-peel wallpaper and tile from the walls
  • Remove any personal light fixtures and replace with the original fixtures
  • Dust or wipe down all surfaces, including baseboards, windowsills, window tracks, etc.
  • Fill in any holes in the walls
  • Repaint walls or wipe off scuffs
  • Sweep and vacuum the floors
  • Mop the floors
  • Polish any hardwood floors or fill in any gashes/scuffs

Kitchen

  • Clean exterior and interior of all appliances (like refrigerators) that were provided by landlord
  • Clean the sinks (and dishwasher, if you have one)
  • Clean the stovetop
  • Clean the oven
  • Empty and clean the insides of all cabinets (and wipe down the tops of cabinets)

Bathroom

  • Remove your bidet (if you installed one)
  • Scrub the toilet bowl
  • Scrub the bathtub
  • Wipe down the mirror
  • Empty the medicine cabinet and clean the inside
  • Clean the sink
  • Clean the countertops
  • Clean the fan

9. Follow a Timeline

If you’re moving out of (or into) a house and need a complete move-out checklist that walks you through changes of address, services to cancel and other helpful tips, you can print out a PDF of our Ultimate Moving Checklist. If you’re simply ending an apartment lease, you can follow the more general timeline below to minimize stress and keep you on track:

Three Weeks Before Moving Out 

  • Check Your Lease: Review the terms of your lease to make sure you understand how to get your security deposit back.
  • Declutter Every Room: Sort items into categories to keep, donate, sell or throw away. 
  • Start Deep Cleaning Infrequently Used Spaces: Tackle areas like guest rooms, basements, closets and attics that you don’t use on a day-to-day basis.

One Week Before Moving Out

  • Clean High Traffic Areas: Thoroughly clean the kitchen and bathrooms, focusing on appliances, cabinets, fixtures and tiles.
  • Make Repairs: If you put up artwork or shelves, painted the walls or put peel-and-stick tile on your backsplash, now is the time to remove them, fill in any holes, paint walls, etc.
  • Pack Up Non-Essentials: Box up items you won’t need in the remaining week, such as extra linens, books and seasonal clothing, and place them in a short-term storage unit.
  • Pack an Essentials Box: Prepare a box (or two) of essentials that you’ll keep on hand throughout your moving process, including important documents, clothes, toiletries, etc.

A Few Days Before Moving Out

  • Pack Most of Your Remaining Belongings: Leave out only the essentials needed for your final night and the next day’s cleanup.
  • Move Items Into Storage: If you’re expecting a lease gap or downsizing, move your belongings into a storage unit to keep them safe in the interim.
  • Perform Final Touch-Ups: Address any last-minute cleaning areas, like wiping down surfaces after packing and checking for items left behind.

Move-Out Date

  • Clean Remaining Areas: Once all your belongings are gone, vacuum the floors, mop as needed and do a final check of all rooms.
  • Final Walkthrough: Do a final inspection with your checklist to ensure you haven’t missed anything. Take photos of the cleaned rooms for documentation.
  • Turn Over the Keys: Secure all the windows, turn off lights and make sure all appliances are turned off before handing over the keys to the landlord, new owner or broker.

Looking for more moving tips and hacks? Visit the SmartStop blog. If you’re ready to move your items into storage, find a unit near you.

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