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10 Hacks for Your Military Family’s PCS Move

A family with little boy moving into new home

Post from MilitaryByOwner

You simply can’t prepare for every possible scenario when facing a PCS (Permanent Change of Station), or military move. A few memorable situations our family’s been through while relocating: a sports-related ER trip for the accident prone child right before boarding a plane for an overseas flight; movers showing up on the wrong day or not showing up at all; an entire shipment of household goods erroneously put into storage instead of delivered to the next duty station; and handling an overseas PCS alone while my spouse was deployed, in which his orders changed as I watched the moving truck rattle away down the road after packing up the house (you can’t make this stuff up.)

If you’ve been connected with the military for any length of time, I’m sure you have your own PCS ‘war stories’! And while the military has a system firmly in place for all the official must-do’s—after all, they’ve done this a few times—there will be other nuances to consider if you’re moving a family, as well as strategies to make the whole process easier.

Not much is certain about military life, but relocation is almost assuredly one of them. With over 17 moves under my belt and another one looming, there are a few things I’ve learned to do each time.

1) You can’t be too organized, so plan ahead.

Plan, plan, plan and then plan some more. If you’re like me, having tasks on a checklist and out of my brain gives me a strange comfort, so take a few minutes to consider what you need to accomplish each step of the way: several months’ out (if you have that luxury), one month out, week of the move, and so on.

For helpful checklists, check out MilitaryByOwner’s series of free PCS ebooks!

2) Get acquainted with the new location ahead of time.

Schools: Use resources such as this Pre-PCS School Checklist and sites like Great Schools and SchoolDigger. If you’re homeschooling or using a private school, research state laws and options at your gaining location.

Your new neighborhood: Check out neighborhood reviews such as those provided at Military Town Advisor or the installation’s website and social media.

Check in with your sponsor. The active duty member’s “sponsor” at the gaining duty station should give you the low down about the area, to include housing options and other information.

Kids can have their own sponsor! If you have children, connect with the military’s Youth Sponsorship Program. Children will be assigned their own same-aged sponsor who will make contact before arrival, answer questions, and show them around on arrival.

3) Make time for goodbyes. While this can be the most difficult part of a PCS, it’s important to make time for farewells. Some ideas: throw a goodbye party, take photos in front of your home, and arrange final get-togethers and playdates. Note all of this on your calendar, as the final days and weeks fill up quickly.

4) Create a "don’t pack" closet or room. This will be the space for items you don’t want the movers to pack such as luggage, jewelry, electronics, medications, pet food and gear, legal documents such as orders, passports, and medical records, as well as other personal items you’ll want to hand carry. In the hecticness of moving day, it’s easy to misplace or forget something important (take it from the woman whose husband had to dig through the moving boxes to find passports inadvertently packed—oops!).

5) Keep creature comforts as long as possible. Ask your movers to leave your beds and bedding until the last possible moment in case you can squeak in one more night at the old place. A chair or two will help as well. On that note…

6) Request that movers on the move-in end put the beds together first. That will help with naptime for small children and for you to fall into at the end of a busy moving day.

7) Secure pets or take them to a friend’s home. No matter how much you love your furry family member, it’s doubtful your pets will be a welcome distraction on moving day. Aside from that, there’s also the risk of your pet accidentally getting out. Even if your pet fusses at being in a kennel or a closed room, “better safe than sorry” applies here.

8) Treat your movers well. And offer sodas or at least water; food is even better. A fed mover is a happy mover! One feedback we’ve gotten is ‘anything but pizza,’ as this seems to be a common offering. Simple sandwiches or easy-to-grab snacks can be a big hit.

Offer a tip at the end of the job if it’s customary in your area or you feel it’s warranted. Opinions are varied on this, but we’ve learned that erring on the side of generosity for the people handling our belongings seems to be a good policy.

9) Mark an "unpack first" box. Fill it with items you’ll want right away at the other end: bedding, towels, toilet paper, paper plates and plastic ware, cleaning supplies, a few pots and pans, wine glasses(!), sippy cups, or whatever else you consider essential.

10) Keep your sense of humor! The best laid plans will come unglued! One memorable relocation for us included me hugely pregnant with our third child and my husband battling a raging stomach flu as he loaded the moving van for our DITY move. Even if everything goes right, there’s nearly always a point where you can either laugh or cry. And if you don’t yet, you’ll have your own moving stories to laugh about one day!

While there’s no way to prepare for every possibility, planning ahead will go a long way towards a smoother PCS. What is your best moving hack? Tell us in the comments below!

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