17 Awesome Military PCS Hacks

(U.S. Air Force/Kedesha Pennant)
(U.S. Air Force/Kedesha Pennant)

PCS season is upon us. If you’ll be joining the masses rotating duty stations around the world, your stress level may be ramping up just thinking about packing and unpacking all over again. Whether you’re doing a DITY, partial DITY or letting the movers do all the work, we have some tips to help you with the bits and pieces left over.

So purchase ziplock bags, permanent markers, duct tape, plastic wrap and tubs, because this is your road map to a less stressful move!

The First Box

When you do an OCONUS move, you get to pack an express shipment that will (hopefully) arrive as soon as your family gets housing, even if it’s weeks before the rest of your stuff shows up. That is the same idea behind The First Box. Pick a large suitcase or a bright bin. If you have room, you may even want to schlep it in the car with you. The First Box should contain everything you will need your first night in your new home. Think: toilet paper, soap, a shower curtain, bed sheets and pillowcases for each bed, bath towels, Lysol wipes, paper towels, a few plates, utensils and cups, ramen noodles, scissors, a (screw top) bottle of wine, a box cutter. Tell the movers you want this to be the last thing on the truck so it can be the first thing off. Avoid the common mishap of spending the moving day with no toilet paper.

The Moving Binder

Inventories of your stuff, warranties, paperwork from the movers, housing contracts. Copies of old and new military orders. House deed and car titles. Checklists and contact information. Make it a separate binder, or designate space for these categories in a larger accordion file in which you keep all important documents to hand-carry to your next destination. Items like passports, birth certificates, wills, bank information, social security cards, immunization and dental records, veterinary records for each pet, marriage license, important certificates and awards.


You will not remember which specialty screws hung which piece of wall art. As you remove brackets, hooks and screws, put them in a snack-sized ziplock bag. Label it with a sharpie immediately. Immediately! Put the bag in a bin for all your moving hardware, along with tools to rehang: a hammer, leveler, screwdriver or even the drill. Holes in the walls? Instead of spackle and paint, try lightly rubbing white soap over the holes. You may not even have to repaint.

Wires and Plugs

You will not flawlessly recall which cord plugs into which socket. First, take a photo showing where cables are plugged in. As you unplug, coil and seal cables in zip-top bags. All printer cables in a bag. All computer cables in one, all game system cables in one, all TV cables in one. Label bags immediately. Put the bags in a bin for cables.


Movers may helpfully stick the bolt nuts that keep light bulbs in lamps into helpful places for safekeeping…somewhere so safe no one will ever find them. While inexpensive, they are very troublesome to replace. Remove all light bulbs yourself. Screw small loose pieces back in tightly, or put them in a labeled bag and into the moving hardware bin. Put the light bulbs in a box for Christmas ornaments, socks, those little nets that come on fancy fruit or even egg cartons. Keep them in a light bulb bin, which you may have to move yourself.


Collect all candles and put them in a candle bin with a tight-fitting lid. Moving trucks can get hot in the summer, so if you’d be crushed if the candle melts, make other arrangements for them. A 9x13 pan with a silicon lid is perfect for taper candles. A flat plastic sandwich tub can neatly hold tea lights.


Take the lids off, cover the bottle with plastic wrap, and rescrew the tops to prevent spilling. Or group similarly sized liquids in zip-top bags. Put these bags in the bottom of (clean) plastic trash cans or bins, with a towel packed on top. Now the rest of your stuff is protected from leaks!

Pantry Items

Most movers will pack items in sealed containers. Pack all your spices in your kitchen food storage tubs, or in a bag, then in a covered pot or pan. Unopened cans of soup, boxes of pasta and tomato sauce not in a jar can also be packed.

Got a junk drawer?

Use plastic wrap to hold items in a drawer organizer, or dump the drawer into a large ziplock bag -- two gallon bags work well here. The last thing you want to unpack is 500 pencils wrapped individually. Also, bag cooking utensils for easy unpacking. Consider bagging napkins, table runners -- anything in kitchen drawers -- to keep it clean and grouped for easier unpacking.

Mattress Tip

Protect yours by putting a fitted sheet on the top and bottom to keep clean in transit. You can also ask for a plastic covering for your mattress from the moving company. And make sure they bring the appropriate size and number of mattress boxes.


Keep them sorted and clean by pre-packing in vacuum-sealed space bags or even (labeled!) garbage bags. Keep closet items from falling off the hangers and getting lost by securing groups of hangers with a zip tie or rubber band, then slide a garbage bag up over the bottom.


For the love of everything holy, collect all the toys into one place and bag the suckers. Here’s another great use for two-gallon ziplock bags as you can put a lot of Legos in there. Put a rubber band around board games and make sure you purged before they start packing.


Hand carry all sentimental and fine jewelry. To keep chains untangled, use press-and-seal plastic wrap to flatten them to a firm surface.

Duct Tape

Assign each room a color and put a square of that color of duct tape on each box in that room. When moving in, put a piece of that color of duct tape on the door frame of the room those items should be moved into. This is especially helpful if moving OCONUS and dealing with movers who speak another language!


Drain gas and oil from lawnmowers, gas-powered edgers and other tools, motorized scooters, etc. Otherwise, you’ll have to move it yourself. Don’t leave all that garage and basement stuff the movers won’t move for the next renters. Contact your waste management company ahead of moving day to find out how to dispose of chemicals, fertilizer, pesticide or paint.

Kids and Pets

Nope, you can’t have the movers pack these. Ask a friend to keep an eye on them for packing and moving day. No one wants to unload the van before moving because Fluffy may have been accidentally packed. And watching their toys and the family belongings disappear over the course of the day can distress kids. Thank your friend by handing off any houseplants or liquor you won’t be taking with you.

Check Insurance Coverage

Whether you own your home, rent or life on the installation, having insurance to protect your property and belongings is always a good idea. Get free quotes and choose a plan that works for you.

There are definitely more than these 17 tips to get you through a PCS unscathed. In fact, you can do all of these things and still suffer from broken furniture and a delayed shipment. But, hope for the best and plan, plan, plan.

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