Furnishing a Military Household

Whether you're a bride-to-be or a seasoned military wife, it is always a good idea to consider the military lifestyle when buying furniture or household items.  After all, these can be high-priced items that will hopefully last a lifetime or longer.  There are two things to consider when stocking up your household inventory: frequent moving and the need for storage.

The typical military family moves every three years.  That means having burly guys (including your husband) pack up your good china and collectibles.  So consider the following tips:

  • When entering military life, it's probably not a good a idea to start collecting antique tea cups or glass figurines.  
  • Select durable china patterns such as Wedgwood with colors that are baked in instead of painted on.  Patterns with gold rims may look durable, but it is really gold paint that chips off in the dishwasher.  
  • Choose thick crystal instead of the delicate thin kind.   
  • Let professional movers pack your china and breakables but tell them know how delicate they are.  They'll do a better job than you will.

Military families also tend to live in base housing or rentals -- and that means a lot of white walls, kitchens and bathrooms.  Despite your best decorating intentions, you are not likely to paint so you're better off strategizing a solid decorating theme that will look good whether you're stationed in Japan or California or Washington, DC.

  • When buying your first pieces of furniture, select a general color scheme for the entire house.  Every time you buy a new piece, make sure it fits into that scheme -- even if it is for a different room.  In a few years, all of your furniture may end up in the same room together, so it has to coordinate.  
  • Do not select color schemes with neutral colors like white, beige or black.  Your walls will always be white or beige, so you'll need to brighten things up with color.   Buy wooden picture frames and shelves that can be painted.  It's a great way to spiff up white walls.  
  • Recognize that "California Casual" style furniture does not look good everywhere. When selecting the cloth for your furniture, choose patterns that will fit in almost everywhere.  Then use inexpensive tablecloths, curtains and decorative pillows to make your look more casual or formal.  
  • Wood antique or foreign furniture are great collectibles, inexpensive, and capture the memories of where you once lived.  In Washington, DC, for example, you can get a beautiful dark-wood clothes drawer (circa 1900) at local antique fairs for around $70.  Japanese "stair" chests are another great investment.  
  • When you've finally convinced your husband that the Budweiser Girls are not considered as art, consider buying a mirror instead of a large poster or painting.  They're less expensive than good art and "go" with all decor.   

More ideas from Lindsey Kindt of Sheppard AFB, Texas and her friends:

  • Use liquid fabric starch to adhere fabric to walls.  Small pieces of cut-out fabric can be used as "stencils", and larger pieces of fabric (including flat bed sheets) work as "wallpaper."
  • Simply immerse your desired fabric, already cut to shape, into a bucket of liquid fabric starch (available at most commissaries for under $2 a bottle).  Wring out excess.  Using a sponge dampened with water, smooth the fabric onto the wall, pressing out any air bubbles.  Wipe any drips with a damp sponge or cloth. Allow fabric to dry. When it is time to move, fill a spritzer bottle with water and gently moisten the fabric on the walls.  Fabric will EASILY peel away, leaving walls clean and white again!
  • While in Europe, I made simple curtains for my child's bedroom.  Using cut patches of the extra fabric, I created a "stencil effect" on the walls.  When it was time to PCS, I packed the curtains AND the stencil patches into a bag and took them to the Thrift Shop, along with the "how-to" directions.  They sold right away, and now another child's room has been decorated with very little effort!"
Finally, the biggest challenge for military families is switching from single-family homes in low-cost areas to apartments or townhomes in high-cost areas.  How do you fit an entire house full of furniture into an apartment without giving half of it away?  Below are some tips to address all these problems:
  • Invest in a good sofabed.  They're more expensive than regular sofas, but you can put them in the living room or in a guest room.   
  • Use laminated bookshelves that must be put together and can be taken apart for easy storage.  Buy one neutral color (such as black or white) so that they can be mixed and matched in any room.  They can be used for books, children's rooms, clothes storage in closets, and bathrooms or dismantled and packed away in minimal space.    
  • For holding china, consider buying corner cabinets instead of traditional rectangular monstrosities that take up an entire wall.  Triangular in shape, corner cabinets hold a lot more that you think and can fit in almost any room.  They're harder to find, but you can usually buy them in any style at your favorite furniture store.   
  • When choosing bedside tables or end tables, select ones with drawers for extra storage space.     
  • Get a library card.  Buying books costs more money than you think, and their accumulated weight takes up too much of your allocated shipping weight.  They also require a lot of storage.    
  • Avoid buying tchockies, trinkets or bric-a-brac -- especially delicate items -- at all cost.  If you want to collect memories, get your family interested in photography.  Inexpensive jewelry such as beads are another option that collect less dust and require less space.     
  • Every three months, make your entire family review their clothes and belongings and give away any item that has not been used in the last year.  Not only will this improve storage and packing time, it will force every family member to think twice before buying something.

If you do have to give away furniture and sundries, make an effort to give it to another military family.  We'll all reap the benefits in the end.

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