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Move In Checklist Empties Boxes Fast


I’m thinking about committing a felony. I am going to break into my neighbors' 6,000-square-foot home and empty their moving boxes.

These people have lived in the house for 15 months. They still have moving boxes in their dining room stacked to their coffered ceiling. They have stacks of boxes in their three-car garage. They have boxes peering through bedroom windows like forlorn little prisoners.

Clearly, these people are civilians. For one, the coffered ceiling and three-car garage. For two, all those boxes.

If there is one thing military life teaches a person is that you gotta get rid of those boxes. Move in to military housing a few times, and you learn that a house is small enough without all those boxes soaking up your square footage -- and sapping your energy.

Move in to your new place with our checklist and move on to a much better life:

Never pack anything you do not want to unpack. The best move into military housing happens before you move in. The minute you get orders, every time your hand touches something in your house, start asking yourself: Do I want to unpack this? If the answer is no, get rid of it. Psychologists have found that periods of transition (like a marriage or a move) are a time when people can let go of stuff more easily.

Map the kitchen before your boxes arrive. I have befriended military spouses who know exactly where every item in their home is going before a single mover crosses their threshold. These women tend to wear Keds and pearls. I’m not so peppy. But I have found that it is totally worth my time to take a picture of all the storage in my new kitchen. Then I map out on paper where things will live. That way, the prime real estate in the kitchen (the cabinet above the dishwasher, the drawer next to the stove) is filled with the most essential items, not Christmas cookie cutters and grapefruit spoons.

Never start opening a new box until the old one is finished. When I first started moving, I would open boxes because I was looking for something. I needed to find my shoes. Or I thought that there was some silverware in here somewhere.

All those half-emptied boxes turned into a big undoable mess. One of my neighbors in military housing taught me that the secret to clearing boxes is to open the box, find a home for everything in the box, then cut the box flat and stack it outside.

Avoid the biggest moving mistake. The biggest mistake military families make when they move is to open a box of nonessentials. When they don’t know exactly where an item is going to go, they push that box to the side and open another box. Wrong answer. Instead, take a deep breath and make a good guess about where that item should go. If you can’t find a home for an item, maybe that should tell you that the item belongs in someone else’s home. Start a box of items that is headed to your new local charity shop.

Empty every box within two weeks of the move in. After the initial two move in days when you need to find essentials (like towels and sheets), the goal is to empty all the boxes within a week. One of my neighbors in Japan taught me to move clockwise through a room from the top box to the bottom. Don’t let yourself read the mover’s description of what is in the box. Just methodically empty boxes. That way, finding a box with just a lampshade or two in it is a fun surprise.

Anything that has not left its box in two moves is dead. After your first couple of moves, you start developing these boxes that have more than one moving sticker on them. It is probably OK for something to go unused in one house -- wool coats in Tampa, anyone? When boxes go unopened in more than two houses, that means that you don’t need that item anymore. You don’t even have to open the box. Let it go before CSI comes poking around.

Remember William Morris was talking to you. Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The English textile designer was originally talking about the golden rules that surround the art of the home. But really he was thinking about you military families stuck in that old housing with the concrete block walls.

Housing is small. Life is short. Empty those boxes now or I may have to come over and help you with that.

Related Topics

Jacey Eckhart PCS

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Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs at and a military sociologist.  Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan??

Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times.  Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.  

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