Seasoned Spouses Share Their Secrets
As a new military spouse, it can be intimidating when you find out that you are PCSing for the first time. A Permanent Change of Station (PCS) is always a bit daunting. But, with each move, it gets easier to prepare yourself ahead of time.
My PCS History
My first PCS experience began about six years ago, when my high school sweetheart and I decided to get back together. We’d been dating for about two months when that unexpected email showed up in his inbox. When he called with the news, I thought he was pranking me….Germany? Moving in six months? No way! He was insistent that it was true, and when I was finally able to pick myself up off of the floor, I immediately felt completely overwhelmed. But, decisions had to be made.
My initial line of thought was how are you supposed to pack up your entire life and move across the ocean? I’d spent 22 years living in one house (aside from my college dorms and apartments). Even through college and moving back to my hometown to start my teaching career, my childhood belongings were displayed like a shrine to my entire adolescence, in my old bedroom at my parents’ house.
It took a few days to digest the idea of relocating my entire life and future for this man. Being that I wasn’t actually his spouse yet (until about four months later), and, also, he had never PCSed before, I was clueless on where to go for information on how and what to do to prepare.
Later, I learned about resources like the Military and Family Readiness Center and, most importantly, other spouses! Opening up about my insecurity and lack of experience with a major move like this allowed me to receive great support from other spouses who had the experience.
Two official PCS moves later and a few other moves in between have allowed me to better mentally prepare myself in advance and feel less overwhelmed when the movers rush into our home and start packing everything we own.
If you’re in the midst of prepping for your first PCS, trust me when I say, it does get easier. But in case you still need some reassurance, I asked some of my favorite military spouse friends who have also been in the game for a while now to share their tips and tricks on surviving a move.
Meet the spouses
Let me take a minute to introduce five wonderful military spouses that I’m lucky enough to call my friends.
Jenny Wayne is an Army spouse of 17 years and has PCSed five times. She is a mom and, currently, a hair dresser in the San Antonio area, working to build her own empire, now that her hubby is on his way toward retirement.
Alisha Brooks is an Air Force spouse of 12 years and working mom with 14 moves under her belt. In all fairness, those moves haven’t all been during her time as a spouse. Alisha grew up as a military brat and was also active duty for a few years.
Jessica Frey is a Marine Corps spouse of nine years and has PCSed four times. She is also a mom and an awesome photographer.
Meghan Hernandez is an Air Force spouse of 13 years who has PCSed four times. Plus, she works full time as a pre-k teacher and raises two sweet boys.
Ashley Swingle is an Air Force spouse of 14 years PCSing three times. Ashley also spent time on active duty and is currently finishing her nursing degree, while raising two boys.
I wanted their experiences to shed light on the scary – but exciting – time of PCSing. I asked them the top five questions I remember stressing out about before my first move.
What are the top three items you recommend to keep on your person instead of sending with the movers?
Every spouse unanimously agreed that you should always keep your important documents on you instead of sending them with the movers. This would include birth certificates, passports, social security cards, and other records.
Jenny: Private or intimate items that you wouldn’t want others to see and anything with great value.
Alisha: A video inventory on a flash drive.
Jessica: Personal electronics to include phones, iPads, chargers, tablets and laptops.
Ashley: I always pack and carry my own jewelry.
What etiquette do you follow on the day(s) of packing? Do you provide any drinks or food to the packers?
Jenny: We always provide food and drinks to thank them for their hard work.
Jessica: Be ready. Military movers know they get paid by the hour so, generally, they’ll be taking their time. Once they arrive, stay out of the way, but maintain a general observance. If you leave trash in your trashcan, they will pack it. If you leave food in your pantry, they will pack it!
Movers usually bring their own drinks, but offering water, soda or whatever you need to clean out of your fridge is always nice. I’ve gotten lunch each time – several large taco packages from Taco Bell or a few pizzas. The gesture goes a long way, and gives movers a nice break. If it’s an early morning start, I’ve also had donuts for them.
Meghan: I stay out of the way, but am around to answer any questions the movers may have. I always provide drinks and lunch. The movers work very hard, and I want to show them my appreciation. As they finish up a room, I begin sweeping and cleaning up what I can, while they are there.
Ashley: I always offer to buy lunch and, sometimes, they accept, and I always have Gatorade and bottled water on hand.
The packing out day(s) can be stressful when trying to manage children, pets and movers. How do you prepare yourself (and family) for the day(s) of packing out?
Alisha: We sort our house into rooms. Hold baggage (smaller shipment that goes first) is in one room, and our clothes we are traveling with are packed into suitcases and stored safely in another room that movers are not to touch. We let the movers take all the rest that is visible.
Jessica: Load all the non-moving items into a bathroom or bathtub and mark it with a sign “DO NOT PACK.” Have all the non-packed items ready before the movers arrive. Make lists, empty the pantry and fridge, and make sure to cancel all utilities, cable, etc.
Meghan: I try to prepare my children for what will happen during the day. I make sure there are snacks and books or toys to keep them busy, while the packing is going on. We talk about TLF and how we will be in a “hotel” for a while. I pack up our clothes and make sure we have all the things we need with us before the move.
Ashley: Take each room one by one, and purge anything that you don’t absolutely need and can repurchase once resettled at your next base. That weight limit will sneak up on you, if you aren’t careful. Join a neighborhood yard sale page or post items for sale online through websites like MilTribe.com, and make a little money to save for later. This is a great opportunity to start setting aside the items you must have with you and to remove batteries from anything that will be packed, especially if your belongings will be stored for a long period. The storage warehouses aren’t as quality-controlled as you would hope. Trust me. I have personally experienced melted items and corroded batteries. Not good!
What resources do you use to help prepare for the move?
Jenny: My own personal experiences and other military spouses.
Alisha: (Using the military community) we start selling or donating/gifting items we don’t want packed for the move.
Jessica: Have a pre-move pantry and fridge clean out party! The movers will literally pack everything – food, trash and so forth.
Meghan: Military One Source is a great resource. I also utilize other spouses who have been through this transition before. Sometimes, spouse Facebook pages can give a lot of help on housing, schools and neighborhoods in your new location.
What is one thing you wish you knew before your first PCS?
Jenny: Be sure to keep your eyes on the movers at all times, especially when they are taking apart any furniture. Have a Ziploc bag for each set of screws and bolts, label it, and tape it to the piece of furniture it came from.
Alisha: What to do for pets.
Meghan: One thing I wish I knew before my first PCS was how long it was going to take to get our household goods actually into our house. Sometimes it can be several months!
Ashley: Cheap furniture doesn’t travel well, and something will get damaged. Keep track of time, in case you have valuables broken in the move. Make a point to unpack quickly to find any damage within the time limit given to make a claim, which is usually about 60 days. Nothing is more painful than finding a ton of broken stuff, after the time limit.
Although each of us have had different movers from different locations, the experiences are very similar. Use this advice to help guide you on your first PCS journey. Just remember to breathe and always, always ask questions. Good luck!
About the Blogger
Melissa Rogers is a professional organizer and USAF military spouse whose organizational skills were put to the test, right after graduation, as an elementary school teacher. The management of the classroom depended solely on the systems Melissa created and her ability to teach those systems to others. As a military spouse, she developed her own unique brand of systematic organizing to accommodate moving four times in three different cities, over six years. Melissa’s passion for teaching her organizational tips and tricks inspired her home business, Modified by Melissa.