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!