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10 Questions Still Baffling Scientists

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Science has done a terrific job of answering some of the world’s most difficult questions, but certain mysteries still elude researchers. How does gravity work? Can your pet fish really predict an earthquake? Why do we yawn so much? Here’s what we don’t know and how close we are to figuring it out.

1. Why Do We Yawn?

Theories about why we yawn are as common as grumpy toddlers at nap time, but two explanations seem plausible after experimental tests. One is that yawns help cool the brain and optimize its performance. Psychologists at the State University of New York at Albany say it explains why we yawn when we’re drowsy: Like the fan in a computer, the yawn kicks in when our performance starts lagging.

But if yawns are our brains’ way of kick-starting their efficiency, why is yawning contagious? The brain-cooling camp suggests that it’s a way to maintain group vigilance and safety. When a member of a pack yawns, signaling that he is not functioning at his best, the whole group may need to yawn for a collective cognitive boost.

That’s not the only theory floating around, though. Another explanation contends that contagious yawning builds and maintains empathy between yawners. A sympathetic yawn signals an appreciation and understanding of someone else’s condition and subconsciously says, “Me too, buddy.” So which story is the accurate one? Scientists aren’t ready to declare a winner yet—they need a little time to sleep on it.

2. Why Do People Spontaneously Combust?

Here’s what we know: Humans really do spontaneously combust. One of the first people recorded to have gone up in smoke is a poor Italian knight who burst into flames after drinking strong wine in the mid–17th century. The cause of the mysterious fireworks befuddles scientists, but they’re certain that each instance is less spontaneous than it seems. Over centuries, 120 cases of spontaneous human combustion have been reported, but because most of the cases involve smokers, a common hypothesis is that an outside flame is involved. The theory is that a cigarette scorches the skin and breaks it deep enough to force body fat to seep rapidly from the wound into burning clothing; together they act like candle wax and a wick.

It’s far more probable than the competing idea—that methane gases build up in the intestines and are sparked from inside the body by a mix of enzymes. But there’s a problem with testing both theories: Researchers can’t just walk around setting people on fire. They may have found a substitute that will answer the question, though. Pig tissue combusts in a way that’s consistent with the “wick effect,” and samples are far easier to obtain. Who knew bacon would help solve the mystery of one of Spinal Tap’s drummers?

3. Why Do Placebos Work?

When a new drug enters clinical trials, researchers need a control group against which to compare its effects. Members of this group are given what they’re told is the drug but is actually a pill containing no active ingredients, a placebo. Frequently, though, the control subjects feel the drug’s effects. Or at least they say they do. What actually happens to placebo poppers is still unsettled. Some studies have found objectively measured effects that are in line with a real drug’s results. Others have found that the benefits are only subjective; patients said they felt better after taking the placebo, regardless of their actual improvement. This mixed bag of evidence could support any number of explanations. There could be an actual physiological response, Pavlovian conditioning (a patient expects to feel better after medicating), positive feelings from patient-doctor interactions, an unconscious desire to “do well” in a clinical trial, or even a natural improvement in symptoms.

Whatever the cause, pharmaceutical companies are keen to figure out the placebo effect given its potential to throw clinical trials into disarray. Real drugs often can’t compete against the effects of fakers, and about half get scrapped in late-stage trials. For the researchers who’ve spent nearly 10 years trying to bring their drugs to market, that’s a bitter pill to swallow.

4. What Was Life’s Last Universal Common Ancestor?

A whale and a bacterium or an octopus and an orchid don’t seem to have much in common, but deep down they’re all the same. Research reveals that most of life’s tiniest components, like proteins and nucleic acids, are nearly universal. The genetic code is written in the same way across all organisms. A small core of genome sequences is also similar across major branches of life’s family tree. All this suggests that every living thing made of cells can trace its lineage back to one source, a universal common ancestor.

In theory, this idea makes a lot of sense. Getting this ancestor to show up for a paternity test is tougher. Scientists estimate that the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) split into microbes and later eukaryotes (animals, plants, and the like) around 2.9 billion years ago. The fossil record from that era is scant, and by now, the genes that have traveled down the family tree have been lost, swapped, or shuffled around.

But some features of proteins and nucleic acids encoded by these genes—such as their three-dimensional structure—have been preserved throughout time. A survey of these molecular traits offers a glimpse at what the last universal common ancestor might have looked like. Researchers have found that tiny organelles (specialized subparts of cells) as well as their associated enzymes are shared by all major branches of life, meaning that they must have been present in the last universal common ancestor. This and other evidence suggests that the LUCA was as complex as a modern cell—which doesn’t make our forebear all that visually impressive. But on the plus side, until scientists get to the bottom of this question, we can all save money on Father’s Day cards for the granddaddy of all life on Earth.

5. How Does Memory Work?

For a long time, neuroscientists thought a memory was stored in a scattered group of neurons in either the hippocampus or in the neocortex. Last year, researchers at MIT proved that theory for the first time by causing mice to remember or forget an event by activating or deactivating the associated neurons.

It’s an essential piece to the puzzle, but to recall a memory on its own, the brain has to activate the correct assortment of neurons. And how exactly the brain pulls off that trick isn’t fully understood. Studies on rodents and brain imaging in people suggests that some of the same neurons that the original experience affected are involved. In other words, remembering something may not just be a matter of grabbing it from its storage space but re-forming the memory each time it’s pulled out.

6. Can Animals Really Predict Earthquakes?

The idea that our furry and feathered friends could warn us about impending doom is a nice one, but it’s been hard for scientists to prove. Pet owners have noted how their animals acted funny just before an earthquake since the days of ancient Greece. There’s no shortage of reports, but almost every one is anecdotal, based on opinions of what’s “normal” and “funny” for an animal. And the stories are generally reported long after the fact.

It’s not out of the question that animals may sense and react to some environmental change that we don’t notice—anything from seismic waves to changes in electric or magnetic fields. However, it’s not clear that earthquakes even produce such precursors. Plus, whatever the proposed cause, it’s nearly impossible to test. If we can’t predict earthquakes, we don’t know when to observe animals, and it’s even more difficult for researchers trying to reproduce the experiment later. The few “lucky” cases where quakes happened during animal experiments provide conflicting evidence. If you’re going to rely on a cat for earthquake advice, consult one with a degree in seismology.

7. How Do Organs Know When to Stop Growing?

Every mammal starts out as a single cell before growing into trillions of them. Usually, there’s tight control over the number and size of cells, tissue, and organs, but sometimes things go very wrong, resulting in anything from cancer to a leg that’s larger than its partner. So what’s sending the “stop growing” signal?

Four proteins that make up the core of what’s known as the Salvador-Warts-Hippo signaling pathway appear to help regulate growth for a number of organs. Shutoff signals sent down the pathway deactivate the protein that promotes growth, but that’s where scientists’ knowledge stops. Where these signals originate and which other elements are affecting SWH is unknown. Scientists continue to learn how to manipulate the pathway, discovering new triggers and working their way to the source, but there are still a lot of mysteries—including how we may be able to “turn off” cancer.

8. Are There Human Pheromones?

Can you actually smell someone’s fear? Or sniff out a rat? Plenty of animals communicate with chemical signals called pheromones, but whether humans are part of that club is a contentious issue. There’s some evidence of people making behavioral and physical changes in response to chemosignals, but scientists haven’t been able to figure out which chemicals trigger these responses. And despite what the labels on pheromone-infused colognes and hair gels will tell you, no compound has been identified as a human pheromone or linked to a specific response.

Moreover, if people are giving off pheromones, scientists aren’t sure how others are detecting them. Many mammals and reptiles have what’s known as a vomeronasal organ that detects pheromones. While some human noses contain the tiny organ, it may not be functional; sensory neurons have little or no connection with the nervous system. So for now, the answer to this question remains “maybe.” And that uncertainty truly stinks.

9. What’s the Deal With Gravity?

Of the four fundamental forces of nature, gravity is the runt of the litter. It holds the universe together, but it’s weaker than its three siblings: electromagnetism, weak nuclear forces, and strong nuclear forces. How much punier is it? The next step up, weak nuclear, is 10^26 (100,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000) times stronger. Gravity’s relatively feeble pull makes it hard to demonstrate with small objects in the lab.

Gravity doesn’t play well with the other forces either. Try as they might, scientists can’t use quantum theory and general relativity to explain gravity on small scales. And this incompatibility leaves us short of physicists’ grandest goal: a unified theory of everything.

Worse still, scientists can’t even figure out what gravity is made of. The other fundamental forces are all associated with particles that help carry them, but no one’s been able to detect the gravitational particle—the hypothetical graviton—even with the most super of supercolliders! And while some scientists are frustrated by its elusive nature, others know it’s just gravity’s way—the force has a reputation for bringing us down.

10. How Many Species Are There?

Taxonomists have been finding, naming, and describing species in an organized manner for more than 200 years, and they’re probably nowhere close to being finished. It’s not that they’re slacking off on the job either. In the last decade alone, scientists have reported more than 16,000 new species per year; in total, they’ve cataloged 1.2 million. It’s anybody’s guess how many are left undiscovered, though. Going out and finding every single species would take the 300,000 working taxonomists a lifetime, so they have to make educated guesses.

Making these kinds of extrapolations presents serious logistical hurdles. Biodiversity hotspots often fall in developing countries, which suffer from a shortage of taxonomists. Furthermore, up to 80 percent of the planet’s life may be hiding out in hard-to-reach places under the sea.

Given these troubles, it’s no wonder there’s a wide variance in expert guesses of how many species are left undiscovered. The most recent ballpark figures place the number between five and 15 million species, which makes the odds of someone discovering a unicorn just slightly better than we’d even dared to dream.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

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XOXO: 20 Things You Might Not Know About Gossip Girl
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Ten years ago, Gossip Girl became appointment television for America’s teenagers—and a guilty pleasure for millions more (whether they wanted to admit it or not). Like a new millennium version of Beverly Hills, 90210, the series—which was adapted from Cecily von Ziegesar’s book series of the same name—saw The O.C.’s Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage trade in their west coast cool for New York City style as the show followed the lives of a group of friends (and sometimes enemies) navigating the elite world of prep schools and being fabulous on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In honor of the series’ tenth anniversary, here are 20 things you might not have known about Gossip Girl.

1. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A LINDSAY LOHAN MOVIE.

Originally, the plan for adapting Gossip Girl wasn’t for a series at all. It was supposed to be a feature film, with Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino writing the script and Lindsay Lohan set to star as Blair Waldorf. When those plans fell through, the producers approached Josh Schwartz—who was just wrapping up work on The O.C.—about taking his talent for creating enviable high school worlds to New York City’s Upper East Side.

"The books are a soap opera, and TV makes a lot of sense," executive producer Leslie Morgenstein told Backstage of the decision to go the small-screen route. "When we made the list of writers who would be the best to adapt Gossip Girl for television, Josh was at the top of the list."

2. PENN BADGLEY INITIALLY TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF DAN HUMPHREY.

Barbara Nitke - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Though he was hardly a household name when Gossip Girl premiered, Penn Badgley had been acting for nearly a decade—and had a lot of experience working on first season TV shows that never took off—when he was offered the role of Brooklyn outsider Dan Humphrey, and his initial response was: thanks, but no thanks.

“The reason I turned it down initially was because I was just frustrated,” Badgley told Vulture in 2012. “I was frustrated and I was broke and I was depressed and I was like, ‘I cannot do that again. I can't.’ … Stephanie Savage, the creator [of Gossip Girl], she said to me, ‘I know you might not want to do this again, but just take a look at it.’ And I actually was like, ‘I appreciate so much that you thought of me. I just don't want to do this. Thank you for understanding that I wouldn't want to do this.’ And then they couldn't find anybody for it—which is weird, because a million people could play Dan Humphrey—and she came back around, I was about to get a job as a waiter, and I was like, ‘Okay.’”

3. ULTIMATELY, BADGLEY PROBABLY WISHES HE HAD FOLLOWED HIS INITIAL INSTINCT.

Badgley told Vulture that, “I wouldn't be here without Gossip Girl, so I will always be in debt and grateful. And I've said some sh*t that ... I don't regret it, but I'm just maybe too honest about it sometimes.”

But executive producer Joshua Safran had a different view on the situation. “Penn didn’t like being on Gossip Girl, but …. he was Dan,” Safran told Vanity Fair. “He may not have liked it, but [his character] was the closest to who he was.”

4. THE CREATORS GOT THE IDEA TO CAST BLAKE LIVELY FROM THE INTERNET.

According to Vanity Fair, when it came time to casting the show’s main roles, they cruised some of the online message boards related to the Gossip Girl book series to see which actors fans of the books were suggesting. One name they kept seeing for the role of Serena van der Woodsen: Blake Lively, who had starred in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. “We didn’t see a lot of other girls for Serena,” Schwartz said. “She has to be somebody that you believe would be sitting in the front row at Fashion Week eventually.”

5. LIKE BADGLEY, LIVELY WAS ON THE VERGE OF QUITTING ACTING.

© 2008 Warner Bros. Television

Like her onscreen (and eventually off-screen) love interest Penn Badgley, Blake Lively was also considering leaving Hollywood when Gossip Girl came calling, so she turned the producers down.

“I said, ‘No, I want to go to college. Thank you, though,’” Lively told Vanity Fair. “Then they said, ‘OK, you can go to Columbia [University] one day a week. After the first year [of the show], it’ll quiet down. Your life will go back to normal and you can start going to school. We can’t put it in writing, but we promise you can go.’ So that’s why I said, ‘OK. You know what? I’ll do this.’”

As for that going back to school and life going back to normal? “When they say, ‘We promise, but we can’t put it in writing,’ there’s a reason they can’t put it in writing,” she said.

6. LEIGHTON MEESTER DYED HER HAIR TO GET THE PART OF BLAIR.

Because Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen were both best friends and occasional enemies, it was important to the show’s creators that the characters did not look like the same person. That fact almost cost Leighton Meester the role of Blair.

“She came in and she was really funny, and really smart and played vulnerable,” Schwartz recalled of Meester’s audition. “But there was one problem: she was blonde. And Blake was blonde, obviously; Serena had to be blonde. So, [Leighton] went to the sink and dyed her hair. She wanted it.’” (Sounds like something Blair would do.)

7. THE NETWORK WORRIED THAT ED WESTWICK LOOKED LIKE A “SERIAL KILLER.”

Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Ed Westwick, who originally auditioned for the role of Nate Archibald but ended up playing bad boy Chuck Bass, almost didn’t land a role on the show at all. Though the show’s co-creators, Schwartz and Savage, loved the darker edge that Westwick brought to the group of friends, The CW worried “that he looked more like a serial killer than a romantic lead.”

“He's menacing and scary, but there's a twinkle in his eye,” casting director David Rapaport told BuzzFeed. “You want to hate him, but you would also probably sleep with him. He's one of those guys you hate for always getting away with things, but you also want to hang out with him and see what he's up to next. He's the guy that's going to give you a joint for the first time or get you drunk for the first time, so you know he's wrong for you, but he's fun.” Fans clearly agreed.

8. WESTWICK CHANNELED HIS INNER CARLTON BANKS TO PLAY CHUCK BASS.

In order to perfect his posh American accent, Westwick—who was born in London—looked to another iconic American television character for help: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro). “There’s a slight thing in Carlton Banks,” Westwick told Details Magazine in 2008, “that kind of über-preppy, that I did pick up on.”

9. GRETA GERWIG AUDITIONED FOR THE SHOW … IN OVERALLS.

In 2015, Golden Globe-nominated actress Greta Gerwig—who just wrote and directed Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan—talked to HuffPost Live about the mistakes she made early on in her career as an actress. “I have had moments when I was starting out when I was auditioning for things like Gossip Girl," she said. “And they would look at me like, 'Why are you wearing overalls to this audition?' And I'd be like, 'They said she was from a farm!' and they would be like, 'Well, this is Gossip Girl.’” (The role she was auditioning for, Eva Coupeau—a love interest for Chuck—eventually went to Clémence Poésy, who played Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter movies.

10. BLAIR WALDORF HAD TWO MOMS.

© 2008 Warner Bros. Television

In Gossip Girl’s pilot episode, Blair’s mom—popular women’s clothing designer Eleanor Waldorf—was played by Florencia Lozano. In episode two, and throughout the rest of the series, Eleanor was portrayed by Margaret Colin.

11. IT WAS ONE OF TELEVISION’S FIRST STREAMING SUCCESS STORIES.

Years before House of Cards changed the way we watch, and even define, “television,” Gossip Girl served as a sort of precursor to the streaming generation. While the show’s Nielsen ratings were mediocre, New York Magazine reported that, “New episodes routinely arrived at the No. 1 most-downloaded spot on iTunes, and then there were the hundreds of thousands who were downloading free week-old episodes on the CW's site. Even executives at Nielsen threw up their hands and admitted that Gossip Girl appeared to be speaking to an audience so young and tech-savvy they hadn't really figured it out just yet.” (Lost and The Office had followed similar tracks.)

12. THE SHOW WAS BANNED BY SOME NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS.

Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

According to Vanity Fair, some of the elite New York City private schools that might have shared some similarities with the show’s fictional Constance Billard and St. Jude's banned their students from watching it. (Which, the outlet noted, “only served, in all likelihood, to make the students want to watch it more.”)

13. THE SERIES TURNED ITS CRITICISMS INTO A MARKETING CAMPAIGN.

Even by 2007’s standards, Gossip Girl—for a show about high schoolers on what was mainly known as a teen-friendly television network—seemed to relish in pushing the boundaries of what might be acceptable. It didn’t take long for parental advocacy groups like the Parent Television Council to take very public, and vocal, issue with the show's in-your-face sexuality. When it was criticized as being “mind-blowingly inappropriate” and “every parent’s nightmare,” the show turned those critiques into a marketing campaign to help promote viewership.

14. A WRITERS STRIKE HELPED THE SERIES GROW ITS VIEWERSHIP.

While the show struck a chord with certain audiences immediately upon its release, the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America Strike proved to be a boon to the series. “The CW, because they couldn’t just run repeats or game shows, [Gossip Girl is] all they had,” Schwartz told Vanity Fair. “They kept re-running the show during the strike so more and more people were watching.” Which led to even higher ratings when the show returned for a second season.

15. DESIGNERS WERE BEGGING TO SEE THEIR FASHIONS WORN ON THE SHOW.

Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Just like New York City itself, the fashions in Gossip Girl essentially served as another character. According to a 2008 article in The New York Times, “Merchants, designers, and trend consultants say that Gossip Girl … is one of the biggest influences on how young women spend."

“When we came back with Season 2, so many designers were lining up and wanting to be a part of it,” the show’s costume designer Eric Daman told Vanity Fair. “They wanted their stuff on either Blake or Leighton.”

16. IT SPAWNED ITS OWN CLOTHING LINE.

To capitalize on the show’s influence in the fashion world, Daman and designer Christine Cybelle (a.k.a. Charlotte Russe) created a Gossip Girl-inspired clothing line.

17. KRISTEN BELL PLAYED AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE SERIES, BUT WAS NEVER CREDITED.

Though viewers had to watch all 121 episodes of Gossip Girl to learn the identity of the titular tattler, Kristen Bell provided the voice for “Gossip Girl” for all six seasons, without credit. And while she sort of hoped that the finale would have revealed that she was indeed “Gossip Girl” all along, that ending was not meant to be. “I’m sure that it would’ve been really cool had I got to play some vicious part and actually come out as Gossip Girl, but I think it was appropriate for one of the main cast members to have surfaced as Gossip Girl,” she told Perez Hilton.

Though she was a key part of the series, she didn’t learn GG’s true identity until the very end of the show—and she was surprised. “I don’t know that I ever forethought it being Dan,” she admitted. “That was a bit of a shocker!" (If it makes her feel any better, Badgley reportedly didn’t learn Gossip Girl’s identity until that scene was actually shot.)

18. JANUARY 26 IS "GOSSIP GIRL DAY" IN NEW YORK CITY.

© 2008 Warner Bros. Television

At least it was in 2012, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed January 26 “Gossip Girl Day” in celebration of the show’s 100th episode. “I don’t have a whole lot of time to follow what New York magazine has called ‘The Greatest Teen Drama of our time,’” Bloomberg said. “But I am interested in finding out who the real Gossip Girl is—Serena’s cousin, maybe? And I don’t see how Blair could marry Prince Lewis while she is clearly in love with Chuck, although she and Dan became pretty close when they interned at that fashion magazine. And I just wish that Nate and Vanessa had been able to work things out, I guess Nate was preoccupied with everything that was going on with his father and Jenny and, I mean, it was a tangled web, I guess Dan would have ended up making their relationship impossible anyway, but I’m just a casual fan.” 

Super-fans of the show can still take a Gossip Girl tour of New York City.

19. IVANKA TRUMP AND JARED KUSHNER MADE A CAMEO.

Over the full course of the series, plenty of familiar faces popped up, but two in particular seem kind of funny in retrospect: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner played themselves in a club scene. (Ivanka was apparently a huge fan of the series.) “They did it for the money,” a chuckling Schwartz told Vanity Fair.

20. IN AN ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE, SERENA IS A SERIAL KILLER.

In 2002, von Ziegesar published a bloody take on her famed book series with Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer, which she said she’d love to see adapted. "I took the original text of the first book and whenever I saw an opportunity, I layered in this story of Serena coming back from boarding school as this coldblooded psychopath, which, to me makes total sense,” von Ziegesar told Entertainment Weekly. “She’s sort of like the Ryan Gosling of Gossip Girl world. She has that deadpan style, doesn’t seem to have much personality, and she’s really gorgeous, but then underneath she has this kind of scary ability to kill people. So she’s murdered people up at boarding school. She’s always had this dark side and everyone is a little bit scared of her.”

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8 Big Moving Mistakes—And How to Avoid Them
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Your wine glasses are smashed to pieces, and your toiletries are nowhere to be found. No wonder moving day is the most stressful life event for 62 percent of adults, beating out divorce or a new job for 43 percent of people, according to a recent study by the energy company E.ON. Many times, however, the moving day stressors can be avoided. We’ve got the dirty moving deets straight from the pros so you can move in one piece.

1. THE MISTAKE: LABELING JUST THE SIDE OF THE BOX

Ben Soreff, a professional organizer with House to Home Organizing in Connecticut, says that when the boxes get stacked, you can’t see their labels—so you may spend hours at the new house searching for your toiletries or bed linens after a really long day of moving. Instead, label every side of the box, and you’ll be able to spot your belongings quickly.

2. THE MISTAKE: THROWING AWAY RANDOM CORDS AND ELECTRONICS

It can be tempting to throw away what appears to be a spare cord, but Annie Draddy, organizer and co-founder of Henry & Higby, a professional organizing company in New York, thinks you should fight the urge. Instead, put all the random chargers, cords and electronics in one box. Then, as you go through your home prepping for the move, you can look for the mates, and be sure that you’re only tossing random cords that don’t have a purpose anymore.

3. THE MISTAKE: PACKING THINGS YOU MIGHT NEED TO HAVE HANDY ON MOVING DAY

Everyone wants to be fully packed when their movers arrive, but everyone will also find that they need last-minute items on moving day. Michelle Hale, organizer and co-founder of Henry & Higby in New York, recommends creating and properly labeling a moving day box. “Ideally, this box should include a hammer, screwdrivers, scissors, box cutters, tape, duct tape, dust cloths, basic cleaning products, paper towels, glue, sticky notes and pens, snacks and trash bags,” she says. You might need a bunch of those items even right up to when the last box has been moved (we’re looking at you, snacks and tools), and you’ll also want easy access to them the second you get into your new pad. You should also pack a separate box for your overnight essentials for that first night, which should contain sheets, towels, and toiletries. “Basically, anything to make the nighttime and morning rituals as normal as possible,” Hale says. “And remember to label it appropriately, and flag it to the movers as important.”

4. THE MISTAKE: PACKING LAMPS WITH THE LIGHTBULBS STILL IN THEM

Lightbulbs break easily—you don't want to be unpacking and stab yourself with a piece of bulb shattered during the move. Lamps and other large items can be bubble-wrapped and placed into boxes, but you should remove all lightbulbs before packing the lamps, said Nicholas Boorom, logistics director at Everything But the House, an online estate sale marketplace. If you have lightbulb boxes handy—or even have room in your Christmas ornament box—pack them up and bring them along. Otherwise, toss them and start fresh in your new place.

5. THE MISTAKE: LOSING PARTS OF DISASSEMBLED FURNITURE

There's nothing worse than getting to your new home and attempting to reassemble your furniture, only to find that you're missing a piece. Mike Glanz, co-founder and CEO of HireAHelper, a company that offers hourly movers throughout the United States, suggests having a Ziplock bag nearby when you're disassembling furniture in anticipation of your move. Toss all of the nuts, bolts, washers, and flanges for that item into the bag, then duct tape the bag and its contents to the item for an easy and quick find when you’re ready to reassemble.

6. THE MISTAKE: PACKING HEAVY ITEMS INCORRECTLY

Dense, heavy items like books should be backed in small boxes so that carrying them is manageable, says Nimrod Sheinberg, vice president of sales at Oz Moving and Storage in New York. “Movers can’t handle the box if you can’t lift it,” he says. On that note, a dresser full of clothes is a dresser that's too heavy to move. Movers aren’t superheroes, and some will refuse to move a packed dresser, Sheinberg says. Empty everything before moving day.

7. THE MISTAKE: LEAVING EMPTY SPACES IN BOXES

Leave space in your box, and whatever you've packed in there will move in transit to your new place. Sheinberg recommends filling the spaces with packing material or newspaper.

8. THE MISTAKE: FORGETTING TO PREP YOUR PLANTS

Your plants can survive a move ... if you get them ready about three weeks before moving day, according to Atlas Van Lines Inc., a moving company based in Evansville, Indiana. About three weeks prior to the big day, move your plants into unbreakable pots. Two weeks before, prune your larger plants to make them easier to handle (but skip this step if you’ve got jade plants, aloe, cactus, or other ferns and succulents). Two days before, water your plants normally, but don’t overwater because your plant could freeze or get moldy (depending on the weather). Finally, wrap your large plants with a bed sheet or tissue paper on moving day. Put them in a snug box, and put paper around them in the box so they’re snug. Put air holes around the box so it can breathe, then label the boxes and mark them so they aren’t turned upside down.

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