Moving in the military is very much a learn-as-you-go process. Which, I have to admit, totally stinks because that means you’re basically gambling for success while using your stuff and your family’s comfort as collateral. Talk about high stakes — no pressure, right?
My first move as a military spouse was textbook disaster. A PCS was described to me (by my brand new husband) as a piece of cake. “People come in and do everything for you,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about a thing,” he said.
So, I headed off to a full day of teaching seventh graders without a care in the world. Long story short, we lost the deposit on our apartment for lack of cleaning — which, by the way, I will still contest as my expensive, custom bleach trays were lost forever, and I unpacked a trashcan full of trash in North Carolina. Those were just some of the highlights.
Lessons learned, right? I would never again be so trusting. The helicoptering, micromanaging mover was born. Our next PCS was with a dog…and a kid. So, obviously the challenges changed. Our stuff arrived accounted for and in one piece, but I was teetering on the brink of lunacy strategizing what toys and snacks to pack in the car. We ended up packing two full cars (and full is not an exaggeration). And I completely spaced on the logistics of pit stops with a dog. Obviously, we couldn’t all spend an afternoon experiencing a museum or taking an hour to venture into an actual restaurant instead of fast food because there was a dog in the car. And hotels — I learned an important lesson: pet-friendly hotels fill up quickly during PCS season.
Then there’s the most recent move. Things were broken. Things were lost forever. A half-eaten sandwich that we bought for our movers was packed in a box along with my office supplies — we found them when we unpacked a month later. I’ll never eat another roast beef sandwich as long as I live.
There are mistakes to make and lessons to learn, but, luckily, I’ve made enough PCS mistakes to teach us all a little something:
- Never assume anyone cares about your stuff as much as you do. Movers work against the clock. They start rocking and rolling, and when quitting time rolls around, they’ve been known to roll anything in sight into the last box. Keep your eyes peeled for haphazard packing, and speak up for your stuff.
- Always buy lunch and water for the movers. I used to feel like this was a matter of preference, but I’ve changed my mind. Failure to provide food and drinks can mean your heavy lifters take off for a 2-hour lunch. Your one-day job might just turn into a two-day job. That being said, offer to take their trash. That’s the best way to ensure that leftovers don’t move with you.
- Always purge clutter and toys, books and clothes you’ve outgrown before the move. If I had a nickel for every time I asked myself why in the world we moved “blank,” I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now because I would be independently wealthy. If you don’t like something now, you won’t magically fall in love with it in a new place. Kick it to the curb — better yet, kick it to a donation bin.
- Always isolate items that you plan to hand carry on the move. Hide your keys. Hide your purse. Hide your phone charger. Lock up the dog food. For any other suggestions, see a full list of items to hand carry. If you will need it, lock it up — no exceptions.
- Always handle utility hookups and cutoffs in advance. Waiting until the last second could make you the lucky recipient of double utility payments, cancellation fees or a week without Internet at your new place (oh, the horror).
- Always clean. Clean after the truck is loaded. Clean before the truck arrives. It might just save your deposit at point A and your health at point B.
- Never wait for “them” to call you. It doesn’t matter if “them” means the moving company, your landlord or even the monitor while you wait for orders. Be proactive and be impressed with how efficiently stuff gets done.
- Always factor travel expenses into your moving budget. Hotels, gas, airline tickets and food add up during a move. Sure, there’s an allowance, but don’t always count on getting that on the front end of the move. Make sure to save any receipts you’ll need as documentation for reimbursement.
- Always scout out pet-friendly hotels on your route. Your fur babies can make it tough to stop for the night, so give yourself some options.
- Never be so preoccupied by the destination that you forget the journey. Even the speediest of moves leave a little time for sightseeing. Break up your trip and see something new or someone you haven’t seen in a while.
- Always use your network to learn about your new home. Get to know that friend of a friend of a friend at your new duty station. Blast private Facebook groups in your new area with questions. Word of mouth is a great way to learn about neighborhoods, schools, physicians, dentists, activities for the kids and more.
- Always, always take pictures of damaged items. If you expect anyone to care about your dented ironing board or your whale statue that is now tail-less, take pictures before you trash them or glue them back together.
Yes, there’s always something to learn with each PCS, but my face-palm moments don’t have to only teach me. Hopefully you’ll walk away less likely to find a fuzzy sandwich while you unpack.