Benefits of a Do-It-Yourself Move

When a service member receives PCS orders within the United States, they have two options for moving all their belongings from point A to point B. The first option is to sign up for a government move, where a professional moving company packs up all your things, drives them to your new location, stores them until you have housing and then delivers them to your next home. The second option is to do the packing and moving yourself. Formerly called a Do-It-Yourself, or DITY move, this is now called a Personally Procured Move, or PPM.

Even though a PPM is a lot more work, there are many reasons it is beneficial and still a popular choice for military families. Yes, it’s sweaty and exhausting, but in the end, it might be the right way to move your family.

You can make money doing a PPM.

This is the main reason a PPM is attractive to military families, since the Department of Defense is approved to reimburse families a percentage of the cost of hiring a professional mover. Rates are based on service member’s rank, number of dependents and distance to the next duty station, so it’s easy to look up what your move is worth.

Of course, that amount won’t be your total profit, since you will have to reserve a moving truck, purchase boxes and packaging materials, pay for the gas in the moving truck and possibly ship your other vehicles. You will have to weigh your moving truck when it is empty, then again after it is loaded, and keep your receipts to request reimbursement. But if you do your PPM correctly, you can walk away with some extra cash. You can use that money to get new furniture, to cover your first month’s rent or for any of the other major purchases you face after a PCS move.

A PPM gives you more control.

For years, military families have been sharing stories of their bad experiences with the military-approved moving companies. With thousands of moves every year, it’s not surprising that there are problems. But potentially having your items lost, mislabeled, or broken upon delivery, can be scary.

When you move yourself, you have control of your belongings the entire time – you decide how to pack precious items, you choose where to stack them in the truck and you ensure they are locked up each night when you drive. When you do a PPM, your boxes won’t get lost in a warehouse or accidentally shipped to another family.

A PPM happens on your timeline.

Have you ever spent half the day waiting for the movers to arrive because one of their crew members couldn’t make it through the base gate security? Or had your delivery date changed at the last moment? How would you feel if you paid money to board your pets or send your kids to child care, only to find that the moving company had changed the schedule?

When you do a PPM, you don’t have to deal with any of those changes. You can get a mobile storage unit and start packing weeks before your move…or get help from friends and move everything in one day. When you are driving the moving truck, all your household belongings arrive at the new place the same day you do, so there’s no sleeping on the floor and waiting in an empty place for your furniture to be delivered. One great benefit of a PPM is being independent and making the move fit your own schedule.

You can pack things the way you want.

No one wants to see their box of heirloom china tossed onto the moving truck or crushed below a larger piece of furniture. It’s frustrating when movers throw clean clothes into a box of greasy parts from the garage. You can tell the difference between dog toys and toddler toys…but maybe your movers can’t. Careless packing can ruin your items or cause a lot of extra cleanup on unpacking day.

With a PPM, you control the packing process. You don’t have to direct traffic or repeat your requests. You can gather items into the correct rooms, label the boxes in a way that makes sense and organize things according to your own system to make unpacking go more smoothly. That peace of mind might be worth all the extra heavy lifting.

Next time you are preparing for a PCS move, consider doing a PPM. If you’re willing to put in the extra time and work, and you can round up some friends to help out on moving day, then you can enjoy the benefits of a PPM.

The Big Things that Aren’t in Your Moving Binder

My sister-in-law sent me a binder with tabs and pockets for Christmas 2019, and I’ve honestly never felt more seen in my life. I’m an unapologetic planner. So, when PCS rolls around, I crack my knuckles and sit down and get to work. The checklist writes itself: orders, housing, school, job search and so forth. It’s a choreographed routine I know well by this fifth move. But as I laundered and stuffed my daughter’s stuffed animals (otherwise known as her stuffies) into vacuum seal bags early in move prep this time, I found her sitting on the laundry room floor watching her stuffies spin round and round in the dryer. And she was crying. That was definitely not on the move checklist — comfort emotionally scarred 7-year-old while her stuffed animals tumble dry. This was new territory that couldn’t be anticipated, and as I would soon learn round about March 2020, that wasn’t the only PCS hiccup in our forecast.

Well, that escalated quickly

It wasn’t long after the teary-eyed stuffed animal goodbye that I (like so many of you) saw my beautiful, seamless PCS game plan unravel before my very eyes. COVID-19 shook up the 2020 PCS season in a way no one asked for or anticipated. We won’t even get into just how and to what extent since that is still developing every day at this point — too soon. But we can learn big lessons from this pandemic-sized plan change:

  1. It came out of nowhere.
  2. It escalated quickly.
  3. It reminded us just how small we are with our little plans, and that we can’t control everything, no matter how much we try.
  4. It made us eat the words we so often deliver as pearls of wisdom to our kids: “Life isn’t fair,” “Just control the things you can control,” and a personal favorite “This is the way it is, and the sooner you get on board, the happier you’ll be.”

Anticipate vs. plan

Could we have planned for the pandemic stomping on our PCS plans like a toddler mid-tantrum? Of course not. Could we have anticipated it? Yes ­— OK, well maybe we couldn’t have specifically anticipated a pandemic, but we could have planned for snags.

How does one “plan for snags” per se? If you want my personal opinion, that planning is two-fold:

  1. Don’t get too emotionally invested in Plan A. If that is too hard, just know you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak. Sometimes it’s impossible not to get attached to a plan — I get that.
  2. Have viable backup plans. You don’t even have to write them down or flesh out every last detail until necessary, but keep them (yes, plural) in the back of your mind and make sure your spouse is also tracking.

Need an example not of pandemic proportions? Here’s one. Back to my daughter lamenting over her stuffed animals being packed up. My plan was to pack all of those on the Sunday before our Tuesday pack out. But laundry takes forever (am I right?) and I got behind schedule. So, I let her have them back that night and we tried again the next day. Then the tears came. So, just for the sake of keeping the peace, I let her hang on to just a few more that would be packed in the unaccompanied baggage (or express shipment) later. I know, I know, I caved. I’m usually more of a tough love parent, but I know my kid, and she needed a win in that moment. Five more stuffed animals weren’t going to put us over our 2,000-lb. weight limit, so no harm done.

“Just in case” of what?

Contingency plans, or backup plans, are really just-in-case plans. We fall on them when something has gone awry. If only we lived in a world where it was possible to know what to expect so we could protect our pretty plans (picture those pretty plans as a balloon) from anything intending to pop them.

While we can’t very well see anything coming, there are some things we might anticipate based on what we know about the PCS process:

  • Move dates may slide right or left.
  • PCS destinations can change.
  • Weather may impact travel. No one understands that more than a Patriot Express passenger trying to move in peak typhoon season.
  • You may have to travel ahead of or behind your service member to accommodate check-in dates, your own job or school schedules for the kids.
  • Your current house may sell or rent faster or slower than anticipated.
  • Your new house may be a total disaster when you arrive. Hands up if you’ve rented sight-unseen!
  • The base housing wait list may be long and slow-going.
  • Your shipment may take way (way) longer than desirable to arrive.
  • Your shipment may arrive damaged or lacking items from the inventory.
  • Your kids may have a harder time than you expected leaving friends, teachers and the comfort of their community.
  • Your kids may have a harder time than you expected with pack-out.
  • Your kids may just flat out protest the move and have an attitude or legitimate fear about the entire thing.
  • You (and this is absolutely a collective “you” for any member of your household) might overlook details, misread contracts or flat out forget something. We’re human. Moving is a lot. It happens. Give yourself a break if plans must change because of your own human error.

Keeping perspective in mind

The to-do lists of PCSing are big. The move can’t happen without forms and signatures. But don’t let the momentum and the need to get there and get things done overshadow the much bigger things that aren’t in the move binder. Take the extra time to console your kid who might be taking the change a little harder than expected. Soak up the farewells (even though you’ve done it a million times). You’ll never be in this place with these people again. Don’t take it for granted.

I’ll leave you with this little thought. No matter how many times we move, I have to remind myself of all the steps and offices and signatures that will eventually move our family from Point A to Point B. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget just sitting with my daughter on the laundry room floor saying “see you soon” to each stuffy. The documents eventually get shredded, but those little moments stick with us if we let them.

The Reality of Grief

My name is Karlijn Jones. I am an upcoming sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park and I am majoring in Animal Science with a pathway in primatology conservation. I am writing today to share my experiences with grief, to hopefully explain the reality of healing and how support systems work for the individual. My hope is that with COVID-19 affecting families all over the world this article may help at least a few of them.

In 2017, my life changed when my father was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – also known as ALS. The world as I had come to know it was going to change completely. For those of you who do not know much about ALS, it is a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease; it paralyzes you, taking your ability to walk, talk, breathe and eventually to live. There is no fighting it, there is no cure and there is no hope. I suddenly had to accept that my father was going to die, and that I had to sit idly and watch it unfold.

At the time of diagnosis, my father was given up to six months to live and ended up living for two years; his battle ended in August 2019. For those two years, my family became his main caretakers – helping him with all the capabilities he had lost along the way and managing the hordes of medical equipment that came with it. Throughout the process I became fully aware of grief, loss and how to heal.

The first thing I learned: Grief is a completely personal experience. While everyone will experience loss at some point in their life, it does not look the same for everyone. People who go through a traumatic experience may feel a lot of things – or they may not feel anything. Maybe some emotions don’t make sense, and that’s okay. You are allowed to be mad, sad, hurt, relieved or whatever it is you may feel. These emotions are not a mistake. Your body and mind will handle the experience in the way it needs to. There doesn’t always have to be a clear explanation of why you feel things – or even why you feel nothing. For my family, we often used humor to get through things. At my father’s funeral, my sister-in-law and I laughed until our stomachs hurt because that’s the way my dad would have wanted it.

Even though I had two years to prepare myself for my father’s passing, the day he died, everything I had ever felt since his diagnosis hit me all at once. I won’t lie to you and say that the hurt goes away, because here I am almost a year later and it still lives in me. However, I will say you do get stronger. You learn to live with the experience. And perhaps even learn to turn it into a positive. There will come a day where you think about it a little less, and then the next day maybe not at all. That is something I personally struggled with. I had to acknowledge that moving on is normal and to not feel guilty because I didn’t cry today. I had to accept that I could be happy and that I was allowed to move on. I had to learn that it did not mean I was forgetting him. There are good days and there are bad days. It comes in waves, but the trick is learning to go with them.

You may dwell on every experience ever shared with the loved one and that’s okay too. Every laugh, every hug, every fight and every tear shared is sacred. This is how you keep them alive. Hold onto those memories, write them down if you have to – you may be surprised at all the little moments you can recall. For me, I remember every day my dad would make me hot cocoa to go with his morning coffee; a memory I had forgotten until I lost him. Now I hold that close to my heart and I think of him when I make my own morning coffee.

For those learning how to heal: don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Don’t let them tell you to “buck up” or “move on.” You are allowed to feel stuck – you can be upset. Not a single person on this planet will understand exactly what you went through unless you decide to share with them, and even then, it’s still not the same. You are not required to share your experiences with anyone. My entire family experienced the same loss – but it was different for me than it might have been for my siblings living across the country. This isn’t to invalidate their feelings or my own, but to show that your experiences are personal to you; therefore, no one can tell you how to deal with your grief.

For the friends of those dealing with loss: all you can do is be there. No one ever really knows what to say in these situations and that’s okay. There isn’t always something to be said. The thing is some people don’t necessarily need to hear anything. Sometimes all they need is for someone to listen. Telling someone “try not to think about it” or that they should get their mind off it does the opposite of your intentions, because I promise you, they are already thinking about it. Admittedly, deciding whether to approach them or wait for them to come to you is hard. You have to really know the person and even then, it’s a shot in the dark. For me, I tried to ignore my hurt for almost two years until I suddenly couldn’t anymore. By then I called my best friend every other day just to vent – and she would just listen. I didn’t need encouraging words or a course of action. I needed someone to hear me. In a situation where I had no control, all I wanted was to be heard.

The greatest lesson I took from this experience was the message to live my dash. Well into my father’s illness, we discovered a poem by Linda Ellis called “The Dash.” It explains that when you die, on the tombstone there lies your birth date, death date and the line in between. This line represents your life. This poem is a lesson to live your life to the fullest. You never know how long or short it may be so take advantage of each day. Eventually, the money and cash doesn’t matter. They don’t define your life. Instead, your dash is measured by the love given and received, and the experiences that make you.

Soon after our discovery of the poem, my family decided to get a tattoo together: a little dash on our wrists. Then before we knew it, it had turned into a whole movement. Over 200 people have gotten the dash in remembrance of my father and the lesson of “The Dash” he tried teaching. We even have a page on Facebook, where people post pictures wearing their Dash shirts to share moments of their own dash adventures. So, go on that vacation. Ask that person out. Set a new goal. Make the most of your time here… and don’t stress on the little things. Enjoy your time with your loved ones – hold them close.

I hope that my experiences serve as some help to people going through loss, and to those who are witnesses to it. I want to wrap this up with a reminder that your feelings are valid. Not everyone has two years to prepare themselves for the loss of a loved one. But even then, it’s no easy feat. Please don’t be afraid to talk to your loved ones about how you’re feeling, and please seek professional advice if you need it. It is okay to need help.

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