Move without stress: tips from a military spouse

August 29 | Guest post by Melissa
Alex moving out
Photo by Izzy Plante. Used under Creative Commons license.

Even though I have a Type A personality, moving has never been a great source of stress. Seriously: I get more stressed when I have to drive two hours to the airport by myself. I've moved overseas and back, plus across the United States, and it does not bother me. I packed the house and unpacked the house every time by myself; as a military wife, this happens a lot.

My friends often ask me how I stay so calm during the entire process of a military move, often referred to as a Permanent Change of Station, or PCS. Here are five tips for a no stress PCS:

Avoid accumulation

The less stuff you have the easier it is to put in your home inventory and pack. My partner and I only buy things we need, like a lawnmower, or we love, like a wooden sheep we purchased in England that serves no purpose other than looking cute. Sometimes when I'm walking the dogs I'll look inside the open garages in our neighborhood and they are FULL of boxes — so full no cars fit in the garage! I wonder what is in those boxes.

Create a moving kit

This is different from a first night kit. It lives in a small zippered tote bag. Obviously, this kit should be edited to your personal needs (e.g. don't bring a box cutter on an airplane). The kit should include:

  • Your family emergency binder. Every important document should be in it. If you don't have one, make one!
  • Your home inventory
  • The contact information for your moving company, hotels, and airlines
  • Pens, pencils, and Sharpie markers
  • A clipboard — it's difficult to check items off the moving list when you have nothing to lean on
  • Box cutters and scissors
  • Paper and tape: use them to label the rooms in your new house so movers know where to put boxes and furniture
  • A camera and charger to take pictures of any damage

I have found that having these items on hand when you unpack is invaluable. Also, I think being super prepared tends to make the movers a bit more careful with your possessions.

Attend the PCS briefing and take notes

This is especially true any time you are moving overseas. When we moved from England to the US we were provided with a really nifty timeline/check-list that was really helpful in planning and executing our move.

Is it ever bad to save money?

If you know that you are due for a PCS, even if you do not have orders yet, start setting aside extra money. There will be tons of little things you will probably need to purchase right away.

Don't pack dangerous items

If something has the potential to spill/leak I do not pack it. Usually these items end up in a box in the car or are given away. I would rather buy a new bottle of olive oil than deal with the aftermath of it spilling. And remember to remove the batteries from electronics!

I hope you find this quick post helpful in your next PCS — or even in your next non-military move. Happy packing!

Are you a frequent mover with more to add? List your tips in the comments!

  1. I'm not in the military, but I moved a lot during my college and after-college years. It wasn't nearly as challenging as moving an entire house, but still a lot of work.

    Melissa's first tip is spot on: limit what you own. Don't overcollect; if you're pondering a purchase ask yourself, "how will I feel when I have to pack and move this?" That mindset really helped me live simply.

    Also, if you're moving without professionals, try to have furniture that is easily disassembled and moved. Your sleeper sofa will not be fun to carry up a three-story tight apartment stairway. A table with removable legs, or a box spring that splits in half, will be much simpler. On that note, make sure you have wrenches, screwdrivers, a flashlight, and a tape measure in your moving kit.

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  2. Great tips for every family. I'll reiterate the need to limit the amount of stuff you have. We're moving next summer and have been steadily pilfering things we don't need in hopes that it will make things easier.

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  3. My favorite moving tip is this: Buy a couple of packs of colored dots to use as labels, and then assign each room a color: blue for the kitchen, red for the living room, etc… As you are packing, instead of writing the room on the box, just put a colored sticky on it for the correct room.
    Then, have a "legend" at the front door to show what room corresponds to that color. When you unload the truck, people can just look at the legend and head directly to the correct room with the box in hand. I have packed up a truck for a 3 bedroom house and then unloaded it in less than 3 hours because of this system.

    I would also include toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, a sponge and windex in the "moving kit." Maybe even a phone book for the new place, since you may need to call for pizza. We call it the "last-out-first-in" box, since it should contain everything you need to clean out the last place and clean up the new place.

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  4. Great post! I would def add that it's important to move anything that c a n n o t be replaced with you, in your own bag or vehicle when PCSing or if using any 'professional' packing/moving service…and remember that unless you have a receipt to back up the cost of a replacement, you prob won't get back what you paid if something is damaged, like if someone at the warehouse drives a forklift through your grandfather's writing desk. I've also made a habit of picking up a six-pack of Coke to have chilling in the fridge (or my kettle, a few mugs, PG Tips, milk + sugar!) for the movers…plenty of smooth moves with little effort.

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  5. My PCS tips are: designate a Do Not Enter room/closet so your shoes and important documents aren't packed accidentally (like extra checks if you're a check writer) & have a yard sale/give away box for when you get into your new house. Somehow you may have forgotten that waffle maker that you've never used was in your old kitchen.

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  6. Before packing for ANY move, take pictures or video of everything that's coming with you. If something is broken or missing afterward, it'll help with insurance claims. (Video is often faster and easier than taking pictures. If you don't have a video camera, borrow one and transfer the footage to a flash drive or cloud storage.)

    And notify your renter's/homeowner's insurance provider of the new address!

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  7. this may sound like a "duh" item- but always remember the toilet paper! if you're lucky enough to be able to go back & forth between new & old abodes, take a roll the first time you go to the new place. otherwise, make sure it's in the "essentials" box.

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  8. Always make sure you have your conveyancing and legal stuff sorted out as well before you get all your stuff packed up!

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  9. LOVE the tip about setting aside extra money for a 'potential' PCS! We received orders one year ago to come to Guam and have been here 6 months now. I wish someone had been insistent on this, because not only did moving overseas mean that we had only and exactly that amount of time to prepare our pets for the trip, but we didn't realize how Expensive$$$$ it was going to be. And not just for the vaccines or bloodwork or document notarization, but due to a certain airlines Major Faux Pas in the booking department, we were booked on the exact day when cargo does not receive a fucking thing (this is Delta btw) so I was forced to stay behind at our expense until TMO could reschedule the dogs and I while my husband went ahead to meet his report-by-date. This meant rental, hotel, buying essentials like clothing, toiletries, etc. We were not reimbursedfor these expenses even though we were not at fault for the mistake. Now, this is worst case scenario, but you Must be prepared for anydamnthing to happen. And yes, Get Rid of the Shit You Do Not Need/Don't Use!

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  10. I am SO glad that I remembered this post. My Mister is being brought home from the Middle East early to make an emergency replacement at a location 12 hours from here. We're moving within the next 6 weeks (probably more like two, but he has to get through a conference call at the office here tomorrow afternoon first – and he's still in the Middle East at this moment!), which also happens to be the same period of time for my first class within my major… I've been stressing the last day or so about moving in the middle of the semester (online classes, so yay!), until I remembered this post. Now I feel like I have a plan of attack, and now I can breathe again.

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  11. Another thing that people don't really think about, especially for in town moves, is that you should pack an overnight bag. The first two times I moved (I moved about 12 times in a 3 year period) I spent an hour or two every night searching for stuff I needed to go to bed. Pack some spare clothes, your toothbrush, shower stuff, etc. in a suitcase and keep it with the stuff you are taking care of yourself. And don't forget to put your phone charger in there.

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  12. Yay! This, this! So good to see the phrase "PCS" used again. Tried and true military brat, moved so many times I get itchy when I'm somewhere for more than 3 years. It really does instill a sense of "Moving? No problem" to the extent that non-military family/friends wonder how you can be so calm.

    I've helped so many friends move- because they marvel at how I can pack everything up so quickly. My trick is to not get too crazy with the organization. If it's in the room, pack it in that box- and, if you have a little extra room in a box that's "done" in that room… don't be a purist, go grab something from another space.

    For the incredibly organized, this may sound like blasphemy- but truly, you're gonna have to reorganize and redecorate wherever you go anyway- so don't get too crazy w/ the box labeling down to the details, or the "boxes reserved for ______".

    Also, on a sadder note for those using moving companies, generic labels like "bedroom stuff" or "kitchen supplies" are far less likely to get stolen than "copper pots and pans" "jewelry & DVD's", etc. I wouldn't say it if it hadn't happened. Many times. (sigh)

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  13. Military spouse on moving stress free? Well, have the military do it! I am in the middle of PACKING AND MOVING 6 states away as a DitY move and was looking for ways to save on stress. I guess the money at the end is my reward for the stress now.

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