A military family pauses for a photo on vacation.

The Perfect Last Year

Something snaps in my brain during the last year at a duty station. Maybe this is true for most military spouses. Maybe I’m just too Type A for my own good, but in the last year at a station, I become the YOLO version of myself. I unplug from all the commitments, I schedule travel, and — in the interest of using up all the consumables — I prepare strange quantities of out-of-the-norm dishes like a contestant on a cooking show.

Upon arrival, my goals at any duty station are to:

  • Arrive prepared — Yes, I’m the lady who makes the color-coded binders.
  • Use time wisely — I like to find ways to better myself professionally, whether that is networking, volunteering, furthering education, or working in an actual job that matches my qualifications and skill level.
  • Leave with no regrets — This usually defaults to travel for our family. Did we visit everything on our list? Did we really experience life where the Marine Corps plopped us this time?

These goals look different with each move depending on where we are geographically and personally. But because stuff happens — like a potentially adventurous Saturday that is instead spent doing real-life things – we must check ourselves before that perfect last year passes us by.

Month 15
My family is currently sitting at this 15-month mark. Before we technically get inside the last 12 months, it’s time to check in on those goals. Did we maximize time? What is still unchecked on the must-do list? I’m looking way ahead at the calendar and:

  • Blocking out time for non-negotiable vacations. These are the things that, if they don’t happen, will make me revert to a moody teenager. We have pinned down where we’ll spend our last holiday season and Spring Break in the area.
  • Saving money. Start saving for some epic vacation woven into the looming PCS. Save for the purchase of a home or car or new furniture on the other side of the move.
  • Prioritizing smaller trips and experiences. I never like to do all the local things in the first few months; I prefer to spread them out. However, this can backfire when we get inside the last year and we’re out of time to promise ourselves we’ll do it later. We’re out of time to postpone and procrastinate. I like to pick from what is left and do one activity or day trip per month at least (keep in mind that some things, like annual festivals, have hard dates).
  • Turning over commitments or setting a personal deadline to do so. Military spouses are like the MVPs of volunteering. We step up and just make magic happen, but to keep that magic alive, a warm handoff of duties needs to occur. It doesn’t do anyone any good if we hoard all the responsibility in our volunteer or paid roles, just to drop it before we leave. Unplugging responsibly means doing it early — yes, even a year out. By relieving ourselves of responsibilities early, we have time to truly mentor our replacements if necessary.

Month 12
Once we’re inside 12 months, excuses should be the first to go in the name of PCS purging rituals. In the interest of leaving this place with no regrets, we go live our best life at this duty station. We take the day trip even when we just want to sleep in.

Month 6
If the military has shown us favor, we have orders by now and things are getting real. Pack-outs can be scheduled, and research can begin for a new place. Even if orders haven’t materialized, we usually can’t help ourselves from hypothetical planning.

Either way, we’re in the window to begin the PCS purge. Life is now full of porch pickups, making runs to the thrift store, and challenging the capacity of the trash can on a weekly basis. By spreading out the move prep, we’re freeing ourselves up to spend our last few weeks enjoying the friends we’ve made and squeezing in a few more memories.

Month 5 to Moving Day
These are the days when we’re eating our way through the freezer and refusing to buy a single thing because we’re “about to pack out.”  We’re also throwing away every extra piece of paper, toy, or other household object just because it got in our way.

The best advice I can offer in those final days approaching the move is this: Don’t be so focused on the journey ahead that you forget to write the conclusion for the one you’re currently on. This advice is something that I need to take to heart also — in fact, I’m going to print this out and put it on my fridge until the urge to purge strikes in a few months and it winds up in the trash. But, in all seriousness, part of ensuring that we leave a place with no regrets is soaking up all that makes it unique — the people, the places, the experiences — for as long as we possibly can.

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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