Aug 25, 2014

Tips for Moving with the Military: Things I Wish I'd Known My First PCS

In the military, PCS is just a fancy acronym for "Hey, you're moving!" The acronym stands for Permanent Change of Station, but as all military families know, the move is never permanent. Some families will move every 2-3 years, while others may live at one duty station for 4-7 years. Sometimes more depending on the job. For D and I, it's somewhere around the every 3-4 year time frame...and once he gets higher in rank, it'll likely be every 2 years. One thing that's for sure is military families get really good at this whole moving thing. The entire process can be super stressful (and never gets any more fun to do year after year), but after the first 2 moves, you begin to get it all down to a science. Housing office meetings, TMO scheduling, out-processing, packing, unpacking, TLF living...I feel like I could write a book about it all myself! 

{Taken at D's deployment homecoming in 2010}
Since marrying into the Air Force in the summer of 2008, D and I have moved to three different duty stations. Our very first military move was from our hometown in North Carolina to Hampton, Virginia (Langley AFB). I learned a lot that first PCS, and even more when we moved from Virginia to Germany in 2011 (moving abroad deserves its own PCS post!). Just when I thought I'd gotten the hang of this moving thing, then we up and bought a house and moved to our next duty station in Florida after 3 years abroad. Needless to say, owning a new home and navigating a transatlantic move granted us a whole new learning curve for military moves. Just goes to show, every move can be different! Now that we've covered all kinds of moving situations, there are a few things that remain constant throughout the military moving process...

Here are some basic things I wish I had known my first PCS with the military:
  • Don't pre-pack anything in boxes. The movers will just unpack it and re-pack it to their liking. The reasoning behind this is because the movers are liable for any items they break during your move. If you pack it and it breaks, that's on you. It's their way of protecting you (and themselves) should anything happen along the way. If you have anything in large Tupperware bins (i.e.-holiday decorations, keepsakes, old clothes, random storage items, etc.), they likely won't re-pack those. It is a good idea, however, to organize your belongings and throw out anything you know you'll never use at your new duty station. Downsizing & simplifying are two of the perks of moving every few years!
  • It's always a good idea to have a few snacks and drinks (like water, tea, gatorade) on hand for your movers. It can be a long day (or multiple days depending on your moving poundage) packing up and labeling all of your precious belongings, so snacks help to keep their energy up and crankiness low. If you're feeling extra sweet (hint: just do this anyway!), buy the movers lunch. Nothing fancy or expensive, just something to show them you appreciate them taking good care of your stuff. And after they're full and happy, I guarantee they'll be extra careful with your grandmother's antique vase. 
  • Anything you don't want the movers to touch, LABEL IT! You can even go as far as placing all those things in a closed-off room and telling them whatever's in that room...stays. Believe me, if you don't tell them or show them what NOT to pack, they'll pack it all. I've heard horror stories about folks getting their household goods weeks or months later and realizing the movers packed their garbage as well. I'm sure that smelled lovely! If you're a super organized Type A-mover, you may also want to color code your boxes with tape or stickers to designate what boxes go in what room when you get to your new home. I've yet to try this, but I hear lots of good things from fellow milspouses who've tested this technique.
  • Keep a watchful eye, but don't hover. It's a tough thing, watching strangers touch your personal belongings, but hovering over them and dictating what you'd like to have in what particular box is overkill. There's a fine line for helpful monitoring and nagging over-protectiveness. Nit-picking and having unrealistic packing ideals won't make them go faster and it sure won't make for a happy packing environment. I know, I's YOUR stuff. You want to make sure it's packed away safe and sound (and that no one's stolen anything), but have a little faith that your movers know what they're doing. I'm sure packing your house isn't their first go-round. If you want them to take particular care of precious items or see something you rather them pack differently, then politely ask them. Or better yet, find a way to get those items to your new location yourself. We kept all of our fine china in my parent's basement for our move overseas. Just didn't want to chance it. If you do notice your packers completely disrespecting your belongings, call the moving inspector and let them know immediately so they can remedy the situation. DON'T take matters into your own hands!

  • Put your bedding, sheets, curtains, pillows, towels...anything fabric (aside from clothing) folded nicely in those giant Ziploc moving bags. They are absolutely wonderful for keeping moisture out and dirty hand prints off your linens. That way, when you finally get them back, you can just pull them out and not worry that they're moldy or soiled.
  • You'll have to take down everything of your walls (the movers won't do that). For all the screws, bolts, photo hangers, curtain tiebacks, mounting fixtures, etc. (the little things that help hang something to your wall), place them in labeled baggies and store them all in one box labeled "DECORATIVE HARDWARE". Then you'll easily find them all in one place ready for hanging. Such a timesaver!
  • Have the movers and packers lay down moving cloths or cardboard boxes for them to roll their dollies over and pack (or unpack) heavy items on in your home. This way, you'll save your precious floors some serious scratches. If you do find any damage to your home, address it with the movers and with the moving inspector before the movers leave your home.
  • Make sure to pull out any important papers, passports, bills, password sheets, medical info...anything you might need to keep your life going while your stuff is moving, don't let the movers pack those! It's a good idea to have a "PCS Binder" full of all the important paperwork you might need in one organized place, that way you won't be wracking your brain looking for Sally's shot record when you register her for school in your new town. Here's a great list of things your PCS Binder should include.
  • Make sure to talk with your moving inspector pre-move to find out what items the movers will or will not pack. Most moving companies will move any non-perishable food items (i.e.-boxed dry food, flour, rice, pastas, canned goods, etc.), but anything half-opened they'll leave for you to discard. I've had moving companies tell me they won't move candles, batteries, alcohol, opened liquids/toiletries, lighters, cooking oils, aerosol cans/sprays or anything that could be flammable. In our recent transatlantic move, alcohol was permitted (as long as the state we were moving to allowed for it) and they packed my candles & batteries. Proof every company is ask before chucking them out! Hiding half-opened toiletries wrapped up in Tupperware bins is also a trick of the military moving world, but you didn't hear that from me! ;)
  • If you're moving abroad (OCONUS locations), the second you can start making plans (scheduling movers, out-processing, being medically cleared, no-fee passports, etc.), DO IT! Don't wait until the last minute to do any important things that will help you get abroad. You know the military works on their own schedules, so being ahead of the game on your end can save you a headache later. Also, it's wise to stay ON TOP of whomever you need to to get stuff done. Don't be afraid to pester the housing office, TMO, your sponsor, EVERYONE...if you need something done ASAP. Sometimes things fall through the cracks during peak PCS season. Don't let that something be you!

Any move is stressful, but moving with the military can be a different beast of its own. You might think you're out of control, but take heart, you're not! You have many military entities in your corner during the moving process, so don't let the stress get the best of you. PCS season can be exciting, too! Moving to a new city, starting over, experiencing new places and making new friends...think of the possibilities! Take a deep breath, make lists, and go forth with minimal worries. It will all get done! And if you've got any PCS questions (abroad or otherwise), don't hesitate to email me! Always happy to help a fellow MilFamilies!

Any more tips you'd add to this list? Share the wealth!


  1. We are about to get our very LAST military move underway and you are 100% RIGHT! You had me nodding along with every SINGLE one of you points, especially the one about keeping snacks on hand because no one wants to get hangry mid move.

  2. Another tip "you didn't hear from me" is that if you have stuff like half open toiletries, the movers will often pack one day and load the next and they often leave tape lying around. When they leave just toss in a box (CAREFULLY) and retape. We threw ours in a box of old towels. We figured we could wash them if they got soap on them and in the worst case situation if they were ruined we would just toss them and not put it on the moving company. Everything was fine, but it's definitely an "at your own risk" kind of deal. :)

  3. please, you should write more tips on this moving thing. i just got my self settled in one place in the last 8 months (with lots of travel for work in between). i moved a lot because of work and lived as a nomad with only 2 backpacks went with me everywhere i go. i can't imagine the hassle and all the this and that of moving a family. i never get my head around this packing things even though i do it often. ha!

  4. I just wrote a post about this the other! We are getting ready for our 5th move with the Army and I always learns something new with each move.

  5. This is a really neat post! I am not in your situation at all, but I still enjoy reading this :) Enjoy Florida!

  6. I love this post especially since we are going through all this right now and pcsing to Germany! It has not been an easy process but with posts like these and other military wives helping along the way, I can honestly say we are ready to move next month! :)

  7. This post could not have come at a better time. We're PCSing for the first time next month and my inspection for my HHG shipment is this Friday. Thank you, thank you for this post!

  8. I have moved a total of 6 times so far. Which I have gotten lucky and have boxed a few boxes my self. Which the movers didn't unpack. It was mainly my costume jewelry.

    1. Oh my gosh, I've only moved twice and it's been hard work, I can't imagine 6 times!

  9. Oh military PCSing! What fun! We have a PCS coming up next month so these reminders always come in handy!

  10. Is it wrong/weird that this makes me want to move again? I love PCS time and I'm so ready to go to our next location whenever that may be. I know all moves and movers are different, but they always took stuff off our walls; I'll keep that in mind for next time, though, just in case they don't do it for us again!

  11. So crazy enough, I'm Cayce, from North Carolina, married to an Air Force guy, about to make our first OCONUS move to England in a few weeks. Small world, huh?! These tips couldn't have come at a more perfect time! I just keep telling myself that if our first move is overseas, we can handle any move after that.

  12. I think the more one moves the better one gets at moving I haven't moved houses since 1988 and have no plans to do so

  13. I love this post, and I feel like I learned SO MUCH for our first PCS - which was OCONUS to Okinawa! I literally went through the house and created color-coded posters for the movers/checklist for me, but the best advice I got was to separate all unaccompanied baggage & things we wanted to travel with - put it in a different room, close the door, and put a sign DO NOT ENTER - I know so many families here who arrived without any unaccompanied because they were packed with their full shipment OR they packed things incorrectly. Made it worth it when we arrived and our unaccompanied things were here waiting for us!

  14. We just finished our 8th PCS! This move to Germany was a doozie! I thank the good Lord for blogs, Facebook and the internet that helped me prepare for it. One thing I did differently this time was that I purchased about 6 different colors of duct tape and I assigned 1 color per room. When the packers were finished packing, I put a piece of tape on each box in each room. Before our HHG were going to be delivered, I put a piece of duct tape on the door frame that the boxes with the matching color were supposed to go in. THIS WAS EXTREMELY HELPFUL TO THE MOVERS! They didn't have to ask me 100 times where the box was supposed to go. They just matched the box to the room and TA DA...easy peezy! I only wish I would have started this with the first PCS 15 years ago :). It is also important to not pack important papers and documents. I keep all birth certificate, Wills, POA's, etc. with me. Because you never know if you're going to need them during the move!

  15. No matter how many times we have moved in the past nine years, I always like to read PCS posts just to refresh the information and get inspired for our next move. We are potentially here for the next year and a half, and I'm already purging. It is a constant in our house! There is nothing worse than opening up a box at your new house, looking inside, and then closing it back up because you have no idea what to do with it!

    I highly recommend for everybody to do a partial DITY if they are moving CONUS. Even if you are not interested in renting a Uhaul or finding moving boxes, you have to move your suitcases and any items you pack in your car. You might as well get paid for moving that stuff! Along with color coding boxes, I always preprint labels with our names, email and telephone and put one each box. I had a friend who told me about this, after one of her friend's shipment was split between two trucks and packed with another families. If someone else gets one of your boxes, it makes it WAY easier for them to contact you and get your box back! I also make sure to make an inventory of all of our books and CDs/DVDs. I started this, after the movers lost a box of our friends, and while the box was labeled, they really were not able to do a comprehensive list of the actual items they were missing. Now if the movers ever lose a box of books, I will be able to figure out exactly which ones are missing.

  16. Hello! Going through my first overseas PCS, these are all such great tips. We've already made a couple of rookie mistakes - forgetting to leave a mirror, drying frame and ironing board out for the movers to pack :( for one....

  17. What a great post! We didn't do a PCS, but my husband's job relocated us a year ago and the company hired professional movers for our entire move (packing/shipping the house, shipping one of the cars, etc). There was a lot of unknown to us at the time and we learned a lot from it!

    Had I simply taken a couple of days to go through our things and then be there to monitor the packing, things would have gone much smoother. Hindsight, right?


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