By Carla Olivo, Marine Spouse
You know you are a ‘mover’ this year, but that’s all you know. Waiting on orders is frustrating. We usually had a short list of places where my husband might be sent. Sometimes you might have a say in where you end up, but we never did. And for whatever reason, his orders never came through before April. In the meantime, it seemed everyone around me got word on where they were going shortly after the holidays. It was especially annoying as we finished our year at the Army War College. When your spouse attends a school, everyone is a mover. Some got their orders as early as October. We didn’t find out we were headed to the Pentagon until the week before spring break.
PCS Prep – DIY Packing for Military Moving
But rather than just sit and wait to find out where we would end up, I’d start planning the PCS in late fall. One of the first things I would do is pack up my holiday decorations right after the holidays. Packing ornaments for a move is different from just packing away your Christmas stash for a year. I would individually wrap each ornament and then clearly label each box.
Another area that I would pack myself is my scrapbooks, photo albums, and all my scrapbooking supplies. These items are not used on a regular basis, and they are items that I prefer to pack myself. Look for other items that you don’t use all the time – collections, books, mementos – and pack and label in advance. I pre-pack my most valuable items and let the mover’s pack my packed boxes.
You don’t need to know your next destination to start purging. An on-post or neighborhood-wide garage sale is a great way to purge and make a little extra cash. Go through those boxes that weren’t unpacked during your last move. Donate outgrown clothes and toys that are no longer played with. With every PCS, there were things I knew I didn’t want to move, so I gave them away. It’s never too early to start that process.
The PCS Binder
Organization is often the key to a smooth military PCS. I never created a binder, but I did have a notebook that served the same purpose. It included all of my “To Do” lists. A PCS Binder is a great place to store all the paperwork that goes with a PCS: your orders (when you get them), shipping documents, medical records, dental records, passports or other travel documents, and school records.
When you finally get your orders, you can start compiling information about your new duty station in your PCS binder. You can check out potential on-base housing options, local neighborhoods, realtors, even moving companies at PCSgrades.com. Keeping all your info in one spot makes things a lot easier during a transition.
Take Stock & Photos
You don’t need orders to start documenting all your most valuable belongings. Start big with taking photos of all your furniture. Then break it down and take photos of your Grandmother’s china, your antique radio, or your prized sewing machine. You want a photo record of your most treasured possessions so that in the event something does get broken or stolen you have picture proof that you own it and what it looked like before the movers got their hands on it. The horror stories this past PCS season on the Lost During My PCS facebook page are enough of a reminder to document proof in case the worst happens.
Complete that Bucket List
Over your two or three years at this duty station, you probably had a list, even if it was just in your head, of all the things you’d like to experience at your current location. And chances are, you haven’t completed that list.
Now is the time to tackle all those things that you have put off or didn’t make time to do. It’s never too late to make your Bucket List and then act on it! You probably won’t be stationed here again so take advantage. Even those not-so-favorite duty stations have a few ‘can’t-miss’ attractions or experiences.
Start your Research
I know, your orders haven’t come yet, but that never stopped me from checking out those duty stations still on the list. I like to be prepared. So while my husband told me I was wasting my time, I didn’t see it that way. I checked them all out and made my lists and imagined life at each and every location.
Then when I knew where we were actually moving to, I was ready. PCSgrades.com has info on schools, neighborhoods, what the installation has to offer, commute times…. just about everything you will want to know about your new location. All the reviews are left by our fellow military and veteran families. PCSgrades also features Area Guides, Date Night articles, Bucket Lists, and Day Trip info on many of the major military installations across the U.S.
Once we start the purging, organizing, and pre-packing in prep for military moving, there is a tendency to check out mentally from our current location. I’ve known spouses who stop going to Bunco or Book Club, or stop volunteering in the classroom. There is a natural tendency to avoid new friendships. But this early step back, while psychologically might seem like a good thing, just prolongs that unsettled period of time where we feel like we don’t belong anywhere.
It’s also not an option for our spouses or children. Our kids can’t mentally or physically check out of school without repercussions, and our spouses don’t want to risk getting stuck with a “short timer” label at work.
Most of the mil-spouses I know, work or volunteer right up until the move. It helps to keep a sense of order to your life. And I’ve met some great mil-spouses in my last few months at a duty station, so I’m glad I didn’t close myself off to new friendships.
Sense of Control
Life doesn’t stop just because you are a mover. Prior commitments, school work, and community participation should all continue right up until the move. And while knowing where you will be moving to can give you a sense of control of sorts, it isn’t necessary to begin your prep.
This military life isn’t always easy. The more you can do ahead of time, the better. Enjoy your last few months at your current duty station and use these tips and ideas to start your PCS prep. If you are anxious to do location research start at PCSgrades.com where you can get a great feel for a potential new duty station. And while you are at it, help your fellow military families by leaving a review of your current duty station. Military families helping each other out and paying it forward can be especially comforting when you are stuck not knowing exactly where you will end up.
Carla Olivo has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting, and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel, and their two children. You can follow her on Twitter @olivowriter.