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Do’s and Don’ts of PCSing for Newbies

During my first PCS as a new military spouse, I thought I was living the dream! I walked through the door of our apartment after a day of molding seventh graders into literate young adults and the work was all done! The next day I came home to an empty apartment and I didn’t lift a finger!

Hold on folks because I’m not even finished; it gets better. Without the stress of hauling our stuff across the country, we turned our move into a vacation! I couldn’t understand why people had so much moving anxiety; this was great!

When we arrived at our first official duty station as a married couple, my rose-colored bubble burst, and things got ugly… quickly.

My husband, through no fault of his own since he was used to nasty bachelorhood before I came along, hadn’t made a big deal out of packing, shipping, pulling out essential items for us or arranging living arrangements at our new installation.

The days that followed our little cross-country road trip were some of the most stressful and uncomfortable days of my life, but they were not in vain because this newbie got wise real quick! I made more mistakes than I can count, so to prevent anyone else from living in basic overnight quarters (BOQ) for a month on take-out and cereal, followed by living in a new house with no furniture for several weeks and unpacking things that should have never made the trip, I give you the do’s and a lot of don’ts for your newbie PCS.

  • Decide ahead of time: rent, buy or live on base. Don’t wait until you arrive to make this call. If you’re buying, you need to get on the ball and use that house hunting leave because it can take weeks or even months to close on a house.
  • Research, research and research some more. Find out all you can about the moving process and your new duty station. You might as well learn early that your service member isn’t always the best source of information. Make phone calls, ask around and use the Internet (that’s what it’s there for)!
  • Leave some essential items out of your shipment. I forgot to set aside an air mattress. If not for some generous friends, we would’ve spent weeks sleeping on the floor. For a complete list on what to toss in the car with you, check out the first day box list.
  • Go trash and donation crazy! If you don’t use it or like it now, you won’t at your new duty station either, so in the weeks leading up to your move, re-evaluate everything you own and why you own it. Do you ever plan on wearing that freshman homecoming dress again? If it looked anything like mine, I hope not. Donate that thing! Troll through the pantry and toss things past their prime and use perishable foods before moving day. And, darling newlyweds, you don’t need two toasters, blenders or any other household appliance.
  • Be present and involved in the packing and moving process. I made the mistake of letting my husband handle this while I was at work. In the honeymoon stage of our marriage, I’d completely forgotten the state of his apartment when I moved in—unorganized and smelling like boy.
  • Overestimate the movers. No moving company, no matter how great, is going to care about your stuff as much as you do. Show you care by inviting them into a clean and organized house and stick around to offer help. And, if you can swing it, cold water, lunch and/or a tip can go a long way.
  • Forget to organize before the movers arrive. So you’ve tossed what you don’t need, but don’t forget to organize what you’re keeping. If you expect things to be organized when you unpack them, you need to put like items into baggies or boxes. The packers won’t do this; their job is to pack things quickly and efficiently, not necessarily orderly.
  • Be afraid to pack a few things yourself. No one wants to unpack a box of holiday decorations in the middle of a summer move! Items like rarely used linens or kitchen utensils, office supplies, seasonal decorations or child hand-me-downs not currently in use can be boxed, labeled (write “do not unpack” and list the contents) and taped ahead of time. If the packers ask, tell them not to unpack and repack these boxes. They will label them “packed by owner” and load them on the truck. Disclaimer: I don’t recommend packing anything fragile yourself since the moving company won’t be responsible for it if it breaks.
  • Forget to finalize living arrangements before you move. Use your house hunting leave to view properties and sign leases if you’re renting. The sooner you have an address, the sooner you can alert the moving company to deliver your shipment so you don’t have to camp in your new house for a month while your stuff is in a storage unit down the street.
  • Forget about your pets! If you’re traveling with a pet, identify pet friendly hotels and temporary lodging ahead of time. If you’re flying or PCSing overseas, research the process of bringing your pet as soon as possible! Some countries require certain vaccinations and quarantine periods.

Your first PCS doesn’t have to be a headache; mine was headache enough for all of us! Do your homework and get organized in advance and your first PCS will be so smooth that you’ll be able to keep pace with those veteran movers!

Kristi Stolzenberg
Written By Kristi Stolzenberg
Marine Spouse

Kristi started writing for Blog Brigade as a new Milspouse in 2008, and all of a sudden, she’s a seasoned (but not overly salty) Marine spouse.

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  • Elizabeth Westman says:

    Movers are no longer allowed to write PBO on boxes. They either accept responsibility as packed or you have to let them repack. Also, please advise readers that while some may be able to house hunt and sign a lease before they move some can’t. They should NOT sign a lease sight unseen just to have the “peace of mind” of an address. The nightmare that can ensue is not worth a few less days in the Q.

  • Najáh Lambert says:

    Thank you; this blog was very helpful. As an army child, all I can remember about PCSing is my mom doing every while my dad, sibs and I stayed in hotels and BOQs. Now that I’m a wife, I’ve been a bit hesitant about our upcoming (1st) PCS. I don’t know if you could answer this as situations differ, but about how soon after your husband received his orders did you two have to officially move?

  • Beth says:

    Is the link broken to the first day box? I am curious to review your contents of the first day box.

  • Blog Brigade says:

    Beth, thank you for the heads up! We’ve updated the link to the first day box, and you can also access it here: What to Put in Your First Day Box.

  • I thought it was interesting how you said that when you are relocated in the military, you don’t have to lift a finger when it comes to packing and moving all of your belongings. My brother is serving in the United States Air Force, and he is given orders to relocate on a regular basis. Next time he needs to move, it would be great if he had a company that specializes in Military relocations real estate in order to make the whole process easier.

  • I have finally received my first PCS. In my opinion, I think I’ll hire a military relocation service while I donate my family’s unwanted items. Thanks for saying that I should do my research so that I can be sure that I can trust the company that I’ll hire.

  • My sister told me that her family is recommended for military relocation soon and this is going to be the last move that they’ll do. I think she should buy a real estate property since they won’t be moving again. It’s true that it can take weeks to close on a house, so I’ll help her find an expert who can help her find their permanent home.

  • My husband is in active duty in the military, and I just got orders to relocate for the first time with my baby. Thanks for mentioning that I should hunt houses as soon as possible so that moving will be easier for us both. I think I’ll look for some with the help of a real estate professional so I can get some good selections to pick from.

  • I like the tip about making sure to organize everything before the movers get there, they are there to pack quickly and may not organize things the same way that you would. It will also make for an easier unpacking if everything is already organized in the way that it should be. I will have to keep this in mind, as we are beginning the packing and moving process.

  • I like how you said to use that house hunting leave because my husband recently joined the military and it looks like we might be moving soon. It’s been interesting trying to find a house. We’ll definitely have to use these tips to get moved out easier.