Lizann holding moving boxes

Tips for a Short-Notice PCS

During one crazy week of military life, my husband’s PCS orders were revised on short notice. Instead of remaining at our base for the next three years, as he was originally told, he was sent to another base and told to report within one month. Our first phone call was to the housing office at that base, where we learned there was a long waitlist for on-base housing. But … there was a “hot-fill” house available immediately if we could move in within 10 days.

When you need to move your entire household unexpectedly, 10 days is not much time! We rented a U-Haul, bought a bunch of boxes and started packing everything we own. We had the entire home loaded into the moving truck just seven days after receiving his new PCS orders! Short-notice PCS moves are not the standard for military families, but they can happen for various reasons. Sometimes orders are modified, or a service member is promoted; other times families sell a home and need to move sooner than expected. Here’s how you can be prepared for a quick PCS move.

What to do with short-notice PCS orders

If you just learned you need to PCS and haven’t had time to prepare, you will need to take these steps quickly. Take a breath, make a list, and start working through one item at a time.

  1. Consider a PPM/ DITY move: If your move is happening quickly, within weeks, there may not be time to reserve military movers. If you prefer to have the military move, go to the Transportation Office immediately to see if there’s any chance movers will be available on your timeline. During the summer PCS season, it’s unlikely to get movers on short notice.

You are more likely to get short-notice moving dates if you pack and move yourself. A PPM (also called DITY move) means you’ll control the pack-out, loading and delivery dates … but you’ll also do most of the work yourself. Packing an entire house sounds intimidating, but once you get some cardboard boxes and start filling them, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can pack up your space! You can also hire local movers to help with the packing and loading process.

If you choose to do a PPM, the service member must file that decision with the Transportation Office and save the weight tickets of the truck both empty and filled, so you can be reimbursed for the weight of your belongings.

  1. Moving truck options: If you move yourselves, the standard option is to rent a moving truck, park it in your driveway, spend a few days loading it, then drive it to the next location. While this is usually the most cost-effective way to do a PPM (giving you the highest profit), it isn’t the only option.

Moving trucks for rent have a maximum length of 22 feet because anything longer requires a commercial driver’s license. You’ll need something else if you have a large family or your furniture won’t fit in one moving truck. There are also companies that allow you to pack and load a container yourself, which they will pick up and move to your next home. It costs more than a moving truck, but you won’t have to drive it across the country, so it’s often a good solution for a short-notice PCS move.

  1. Prepare your home for the move: Whether you pack and move yourselves or can secure a military moving company, you need to do prep work for moving day. Start by taking everything off the walls — pictures, décor, additional shelving, etc.

Then, go through closets and get rid of anything no longer needed. If possible, sell items on local consignment groups or donate to the base thrift store.

You may also want to group similar items together. Even if craft supplies, children’s books and hobby items are currently spread throughout the house, it will be easier to pack them and decide where to keep them in the next house if they are all grouped together now.

Many boxes in a moving truck

Moving truck

How to be prepared for a short-notice PCS

Military families don’t always know when we will have to move, and sometimes PCS orders will surprise you. The best way to prepare for a short-notice PCS is to have things organized long before you receive orders. Many families have learned to be ready for anything by following these tips.

  1. Keep a digital inventory: If you have collections, china sets, or any kind of valuables, make a detailed inventory of your belongings. This can be a simple spreadsheet listing each item, its brand, approximate value, and a link to a photo in a virtual drive. It is tedious to create, but if you start now, you’ll appreciate the time invested when you have to file an insurance claim. If you use military movers, this is an important document for any items that are lost or damaged during a move.
  2. Build up a savings account: Whenever you move, paying upfront for travel costs, security deposits, and disconnecting utilities takes money out of your pocket. If you do a PPM/ DITY move, you’ll have to pay in advance for packing supplies and a moving truck rental, and it will take several months to be reimbursed. To prepare for short-notice PCS orders, start saving now for a future move. Build an emergency fund by adding small amounts each month so you’ll have something to use if unexpected orders come your way.
  3. Purge storage regularly: It’s easier to move on short notice when you have fewer belongings. Don’t wait until you have PCS orders to get rid of unneeded baby items, broken furniture or clothes you don’t wear. Go through your closets, garage and storage areas at least once a year —even when you aren’t expecting PCS orders.
  4. Keep medical and school records updated: On several occasions, we completed a school year with the intention of returning in the fall … and then our plans changed over the summer, and we had to move instead! It’s difficult to get school records when offices are closed for the summer, so make a habit of gathering your child(ren)’s records throughout the year. Save a copy of each report card, along with contact info for recent teachers. Add updated vaccine records and any IEP information. You will need these documents to enroll in the next school district and it’s easier to have them on hand.

If you are going through an unexpected PCS move, know that you aren’t alone! It’s a whirlwind, but if you remain calm and work through one task at a time, you can do this!

Lizann Lightfoot
Written By Lizann Lightfoot
Marine Corps Spouse

Lizann is the Seasoned Spouse – a Marine Corps wife, mom of four and published author. She loves writing, exploring new duty stations and chocolate!

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