It’s PCS season, and in just a couple of weeks our family will pack up our household goods for the fourth year in a row.
If you’re a military family, moving is part of the lifestyle, but typically every two to three years is the norm. Spending only 11-12 months at a duty station presents some different challenges than longer assignments, mostly because time is short, but it also offers some unexpected benefits.
I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been downright exhausting at times, as far as stressful life events go, moving is consistently ranked third, just after death of a loved one and divorce.
It hugely disrupts the whole family’s routine. Understanding that it’s no walk in the park is important, yet I’m also all about making the most of our circumstances. With anything, you get out what you put in, and every single time the rewards have far outweighed the efforts. Some of our moves have caught us by surprise, so whether you know beforehand that your next relocation will be brief, or you suddenly find yourself uprooting mid-assignment, I hope sharing some of the things I’ve gleaned from our experiences can help with a positive mindset.
1: Unpack Everything
I know there are a variety of opinions on this issue, but I have to say that fully unpacking, and doing so quickly, is the single most helpful way to work toward getting our entire family settled into our new home. Thanks to a wise tip I received early-on from a seasoned mil-spouse, always start unpacking in the kids’ rooms. It gives them their own space to play while we work on the rest of the house and helps restore a little bit of calm to their worlds amidst the chaos of moving. Next the kitchen and living room, because we’ve got to get that TV and internet connection up and running, stat. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and honestly this is the time when the TV makes an excellent babysitter.
And when I say unpack everything, I mean every single box, with a place for everything and everything in its place. When we moved to the first of our one year back to back assignments, we had no idea we would be moving so often. If we hadn’t unpacked everything, it would have spent three years in boxes. Three years without using fine china for special occasions, getting out decorations for all the holidays, or hanging pictures on the wall. These items may seem trivial in the scheme of things, but they are what make our house feel like a home. Unpacking does wonders for rooting you to your new surroundings. I’m grateful that with a little bit of extra effort we’ve been able to carry on our family traditions and provide a bit of consistency among the near constant change. So, keep that box cutter moving, and enjoy reuniting with your belongings.
2: Purging Belongings Becomes Routine
So many homes in our country have too much junk. According to www.becomingminimalist.com the average American home contains 300,000 items! Can you imagine checking off that household goods inventory list? But if there’s one huge bonus to moving frequently, it’s that unless you are a glutton for punishment, you know how to purge belongings like a beast.
No hoarders here!
It used to be that I would wait until the tail end of a long assignment to go through everything. It was stressful. So. much. stuff! Clothing and toys the kids had outgrown. Sorting through my own closet: shoes, handbags, scarves, jewelry. Paperwork, including old billing statements, kid’s schoolwork/artwork, moving documents, the list goes on. The mountain of things to sort through seemed never ending. But with a year turn-around I’ve learned to pace myself and purge along the way, with every changing season.
It quickly becomes a habit to deal with things in the here and now, to avoid dealing with it later. Mail gets sorted, tossed or filed on the daily. We keep a box in the garage for unwanted items and take it straight to the donation center as soon as it’s full. The pantry and freezer might not meet doomsday prepper standards, but they’re stocked with the basics and two months prior to the move will be whittled down with precision until all that’s left can most likely be mixed with eggs to make some sort of quiche surprise! for our final home-cooked meal. There is something to be said for having your household pared down to things you love and use the most. It simplifies the unpacking process. If fine china isn’t your thing, don’t keep it. And if that junk drawer or closet is overwhelming you now, I can guarantee it’s only going to be worse trying to find it a new home in your new home.
Use this next PCS as an opportunity to start fresh, purge what you can beforehand, and keep working on it once you arrive until you’ve established a system of routinely clearing out the clutter. Your next PCS self will thank you!
3: Have Something To Look Forward To
One of the most helpful things we’ve found to ease the transition to a new place, is to be sure to have something exciting awaiting you! For me this means seizing the opportunity to explore a new place. Start making a bucket list now of things to do and see in the area. This might seem more challenging in the rural, small town assignments, but we’ve been there, and I promise there are always hidden gems, it just might take a little extra digging. Check out the local Chamber of Commerce webpage, Facebook events, local magazines for restaurant reviews and places of business, area sports team and theater schedules, or more recently the Let’s Roam app for a scavenger hunt to explore your new town or city.
Expand your search a few hours in all directions to find some awesome weekend destinations. Knowing we only have a year to do all the things has motivated us to seize the day and do them. How lucky are we to get to explore parts of our country and world that many people never have the opportunity to visit? Summer PCS’s are also great for kids’ camps and Vacation Bible Schools at many local churches. These are such a great way for them to sample a variety of activities in the area before committing long term in the fall, they can start meeting other kids their age, and start to feel a part of their new community.
4: Engage in your community
Nothing like a short year encourages me to dive right in and engage. Start with meeting your neighbors, and for this I highly recommend taking an unpacking break and getting to your nearest local pool. Hands down, this has been the best way to meet people for myself and the kids, find out about school information, what’s going on around town or the base, get info on doctors, and recommendations for babysitters (hello, lifeguard!) and pet sitters.
Of course, spouse Facebook pages can be helpful sources with this info too, but nothing really compares to a face-to-face interaction that could possibly lead to a new friendship in the process.
Also, go to a gathering of the spouses in your new squadron or unit. It’s hard to be the new person, I totally get it, but no one quite understands what you’re going through the same way as a fellow mil-spouse. They’ve been there, done that, too. These have truly been some of the richest, deepest friendships I’ve experienced and been supported by. But life is also bigger than our military bubble, and I encourage you to expand your involvement into the local area, whether it be through employment, volunteerism, or a faith community. It can take some trial and error before you find your niche, but there is literally something out there for everyone. Consider your talents and interests and find a place where you can contribute and make an impact. Few things are more rewarding and fulfilling.
5: Give yourself permission to have a meltdown and then press on
Perhaps you’ve spent hours cleaning your old house to ensure the return of your security deposit only to arrive at your new house to find someone else’s disgusting mess left behind for you to clean. Maybe it’s the hottest summer in recent history, and you show up at your destination to find the air conditioning in is not working and can’t be repaired for a week. The parts box has gone missing. Or your kids are crying themselves to sleep because they miss their friends. Then you realize you’ve misplaced or worse, unpacked your favorite coffee mug, a gift from someone special, to find it shattered into a million little pieces and the tears start to flow.
There is always a straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Remember when I mentioned moving is the third most stressful life event? Let yourself have your moment. You are doing hard, trying things. You’ve said goodbye to friends, the comfort of familiarity, a life you’ve spent months investing in and building. It is good, normal, and healthy to process and mourn that loss. This may happen in one fell swoop, or it may come in waves, but let it and know it’s okay to grieve. Just don’t continue to dwell there. Trust that there are good things awaiting you in this new assignment, even if they are not immediately apparent. For all the friends I’ve been heartbroken to leave, I think of the ones I would never have met if not for the leaving. Look back over your shoulder and remember, but then turn forward and press ahead on a new adventure.
6: Keep a sense of humor
The single most important thing you can do to retain your sanity during a PCS is to not forget to laugh. Before one of our moves I packed the “important keep with us box.” It included our recently filled prescriptions, a year’s supply of new contact lenses, important documents, and more… that box! Well, arriving at the new house we decided the large bathtub would be a brilliant place to keep said box for safekeeping, while the movers unloaded the truck. We also decided the bathroom was an excellent place to keep the dog contained. It was a while before we noticed the sound of running water in all the commotion. Somehow the dog had bumped against and turned on the faucet, and we discovered the box floating in a foot of water! It was such a hassle replacing everything, I can’t begin to tell you.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned from moving besides DO NOT put anything important in a bathtub, it’s that something, okay many things, will not go as planned. Headaches are bound to happen, but most of the time it makes for a good story to tell later, and hopefully a good laugh, too!
There are quite possibly a thousand different practical tips to PCS like a pro. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface, nor have I figured out a way to do it perfectly. It’s always a challenge, but it can be a rewarding challenge. As we approach this PCS season, may we be comforted by the fact that we’re not alone as we open the random box the packers labeled “what nots,” pick up our
fourth fifth dinner in a row of take-out, peel off the 450 millionth inventory sticker from our belongings, and transform yet another house into a home.