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.

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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