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PCSing tips from a Navy wife and mother of three

This is our third PCS together. There were a lot of reasons why this past move went as well as it did, many of which you already know if you read my last blog post, "PCS to South Carolina." Here are the major reasons as to why this was such a good move:
  • My husband was home on both ends and did not have to go into work much. In North Carolina he was working with the ROTC after he graduated college; he took 10 days of house hunting leave during our PCS. Now in South Carolina he is on hold before he actually starts power school. We did not have to deal with a boat schedule or him being underway while I set up the move. That was a nice change (read "STA-21 'Officer's' Program").
  • Since we moved one state down (North Carolina to South Carolina), we did not have to ship any vehicles and try to figure out how we were going to negotiate having one car for an extended period of time.
  • Along the same vein, we also did not have to deal with getting specific power of attorneys to ship vehicles, do the pack out, accept HHG shipment, yadda yadda yadda... Plus I always have the durable unlimited power of attorney which has made our life much easier.
  • We had baby-sitters and friends to help when we moved from North Carolina. We even knew someone in South Carolina who brought us dinner when our HHG's were delivered.
  • We were able to load up our car with our pantry ingredients and a cooler with some of our refrigerator ingredients. We did not have to deal with empty cupboards for a week or two before making the World's Most Expensive Costco Trip like we have had to on every other move.
  • We were able to do a direct move. Our pack out dates were a Wednesday and a Thursday. They loaded our HHG's onto the truck in North Carolina on Friday and they were delivered at our address in South Carolina an hour after we got the keys to our house on Monday.
Tools for setting up your HHG move

With all that said, here are the things that I found extremely helpful when setting up our HHG move:
  • Our move notebook was awesome! I wrote a blog post about what is in our move notebook called, "Write it all down." Since my husband was home, I liked that we were able to keep all our information straight between what he was working on and what I was working on. He knew where to look for important phone numbers and I knew where to look to get a copy of our orders. When we actually moved, I did carry our file organizer with us instead of putting our passports and birth certificates, etc, in the move notebook since we just drove one state down. However, during our move from Hawaii to North Carolina, I would have put those documents in my move notebook and not had to carry the cumbersome file organizer.
  • Along with the move notebook, I kept a Greenroom Recycled Clipboard from Target handy. This is where I kept notes when I talked to housing and where my husband and I wrote our pre-pack out to-do lists. I tore off sheets of information I needed to keep and put those in the move notebook, but for general notes, I liked having the clipboard. It was also much easier to carry this clipboard with me when waiting for a return phone call from housing than lugging the entire move notebook to our son's park and rec class.
First Day Bag

Once we actually got the keys to our new house in South Carolina, our first day bag was awesome. This is the first time that I did a first day bag; every other move I kicked myself when I realized I didn't have toilet paper or soap or some other necessity, impatiently waiting for lunch break so I could run to Target. So a huge thank you to my husband for reminding me to pack a first day bag. I know some people do a first day box that gets packed with their HHG's and is clearly marked FIRST DAY BOX, that way they have those supplies in their new house. We just put the first day bag in our vehicle and drove it down with us. Here is what I put inside:
  • A pack of toilet paper
  • Hand soap-- put in 1 or 2 soap dispensers
  • Small size of dish soap
  • Roll of paper towels
  • White cleaning rag
  • Clorox wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Ziploc bag of dishwasher detergent
  • Ziploc bag of Tide Pods for laundry
  • Several plastic Target bags
  • Box of Ziploc bags, quart size
  • If you have young kids: Extra baby wipes
  • If you have young kids: A couple of diapers
  •  If you have room: a couple of hand towels
This was to get us through the first day or two before we started unpacking our bathroom boxes and to tide us over in case of laundry emergency with kids (plastic bag for dirty clothes, laundry pods for loads that need to get washed at the hotel or after our washer and dryer got hooked up). I only packed one hand soap dispenser and I really wish that I had put in at least two. We ended up using the dish soap in the kitchen and putting the hand soap in the bathroom. The Clorox wipes were a stroke of genius. I used those a lot the first couple days. I don't know about you, but I like to clean my new house before using the amenities. I felt much more at home with this Mary Poppins-esque bag at my disposal. The paper towels worked fine, though I do wish that I had thrown in a hand towel or two for the bathroom and the kitchen.

 Making unpacking easier

I think a lot of people make unpacking a harder process than it needs to be. Sometimes it is really overwhelming opening up a box to find it full of random mail from your old house, DVDs that you don't have room for, blankets you haven't unpacked the bin for, and tchotchkes you had sitting around your old living room. Even harder (for me): figuring out how to set up your new kitchen. There you are, standing in a kitchen with empty cupboards, stacked high with boxes marked kitchen, and you don't know where to begin. Where to put the cooking spoons? Or the silverware? Or the spices? And as you unpack boxes, good Lord, where am I going to put this small kitchen appliance that I had totally forgotten about?

In all honesty, one of the most stressful things for me about unpacking our house is when my husband is home to help. We have totally different styles. He wants to get everything out of boxes and see everything that needs to go in a room, like the kitchen, before putting anything away. To me, this is a wildly unrealistic way to unpack because 1. we have kids who will break everything we leave sitting around and 2. if we unpacked all our HHG before putting them away, we would have so much clutter for weeks that I would probably lose my mind. My style of unpacking is much more "me do it." I can figure it out; I just want to get it done. This is why I always have my grandmother move with me because she is the same way. She works in one room; I work in another. I move boxes for her; she asks if I use something often, and we just unpack and file everything away one box at a time. This move, my husband and I talked about things before our HHGs were delivered and it actually went perfectly-- so perfectly that I don't know what I'll do if I have to move without him next time! He was such a huge help and totally organized our garage while helping me in the house; I don't know how he got everything done that he did-- plus he hung everything in our house beautifully. Sometimes combining two different styles is just what you need to get a house unpacked quickly and efficiently. :)

Here are my tips on unpacking your house:
  • Communicate. Whether you are unpacking your house with your husband or a relative who came to help, figure out who is unpacking what, even if it is room by room. If it is your house and you have someone helping you, tell them what you need help with and give them the freedom to do it. Give them a specific job. "Would you mind organizing this hall cupboard? I need the medicine up high, out of the reach of the kids, but everything else is up to you. I do like things grouped together, like hand towels, or children's medicine." When unpacking with your spouse, figure out what your plan of action is. "I plan on doing the closets next; what about you?" If you really want something done a certain way, tell your spouse so there isn't conflict later, especially if it is one of "your" areas of the house. For instance, my husband spends a lot of time working in the garage and so he set it up how he wanted to. He asked if there was anything special I wanted in the garage and I told him I wanted the kids' toys easily accessible.
  • Prioritize. Unpack your house by order of priority. Since we have small kids, we needed their room unpacked so they could sleep safely each night-- no boxes stacked in the corner or loose screws laying about. We pulled the boxes out of their playroom and unpacked enough of their toys that they had a safe place to play while we unpacked the rest of the house. I then unpacked enough of their bathroom that we could do baths at night. The kitchen is a big priority because that is where we cook our meals. Laundry room is a huge priority so I can start washing sheets and clothes. I got those areas squared away before doing things like my closet. I wanted my closet unpacked so I could get ready quicker, and then I went back and finished things like the bathrooms, before going to lower priority things like finishing the playroom and unpacking and organizing my books. With small children, things like hanging pictures becomes a big priority once you have unpacked the majority of the pictures because they become a hazard stacked in a corner of the room.
  • Organize. This doesn't mean folding all of your towels just so as you put them away or putting every dish in the cupboard exactly how you want it the first time. As you unpack, you will have those "oh, crap" moments of you-forgot-just-how-many-towels-you-own or when-on-earth-did-I-get-so-many-small-kitchen-appliances or where-the-Hades-am-I-going-to-store-my-canned-goods. You will be shifting things as you unpack. However, plan. Eyeball your house. Where do you want to keep your household linens? Or your medications? Or your shoes? Figure out rough ideas of homes for these things and congregate items as you go. Where is a safe place (safe meaning out of the reach of toddlers) to put your trinkets as you unpack them? Right now I have a shelf in the garage with our decorative vases, many of which will eventually find their permanent places inside the home-- just haven't gotten to it yet. When you unpack those random boxes, it won't be so stressful if you know where you are planning on keeping extra blankets or your office files.
  • Re-purpose. As the movers brought in our furniture, they would ask me where I wanted large furniture items that-- I kid you not-- I had completely forgotten about. I had to shift the room to accommodate those pieces. Some things ended up where they are because that was the only place I had room to put them. Our night stand is now in my closet. Just because a piece of furniture was an end table or your toy organizer at your last house doesn't mean that it can't become your new nightstand or a bookcase in your living room at your new house. Look at your furniture with a new eye as it gets unpacked. Would that work as a desk in your office? Or could that now be the dresser in your kids' room? And wouldn't that be just the thing to organize your playroom? Use your storage bins creatively. What if you took this bin out of your kitchen and used it instead in your guest room? Or organized all your homeschooling things with it?
  • Donate. As we unpack, we keep a sturdy medium size box open at all times marked clearly DONATE and another marked TRASH. Don't keep what you don't need. Sometimes it is hard to throw things away at your old house because you can't see that house without it-- what would you put in that odd corner if you got rid of that chair or lamp? In your new house, you see that you don't need it. You don't need these toys or these clothes or those books or that desk. Get rid of it. Do it while it is fresh, before you settle in. Designate a corner of your garage or porch as your DONATE pile. Don't move your junk drawer from one house to another. Start your new junk drawer fresh, only putting in it some pens, paper, and a flashlight. Get rid of the rest. I like to think of it as paying it forward. Give these things to someone who wants them or needs them. Give them to a charity. Welcome your family to your new home with some good Karma and a fresh start. The donate box is also especially useful because if I have something that I'm really stumped with finding a place for that I rarely use, I donate it.
  • Simplify. I know a lot of people wash all their sheets and towels before putting them away after they move, or wash all of their kitchen appliances, dishes, and silverware before putting them away. I wait. I'll fill the dishwasher with our everyday dishes and our everyday silverware, but everything else waits. I wash the kitchen appliances before I use them. I eventually wash all our kitchen gadgets. We've been in our new home for two weeks and today I pulled all our kitchen gadgets out of their drawers and washed everything, filling up the sink and soaking them in hot, soapy water before washing them all and laying them out to dry over towels on the kitchen counter. This move I packed clean sheets for all the beds with me, eliminating the loads of sheets before making the beds. I've slowly washed the other sheets these past two weeks. You don't have to do it all right away when your house is in boxes! Clean as you go. Don't make it more stressful.

Moving with young children
We have three boys: a five-year old and two-year old twins. I really worried about moving with all three of them. I stressed over whether I should go buy plastic bins to organize their toys, put all the Matchbox cars in one, all the action figures in another, etc. I agonized over what toys I should bring for them to the hotel and our drive, what movies, what games. I stressed about how to make this transition easier for them. In the end, we packed our Jeep so tight that we weren't able to get the train table out once we checked into our hotel (yes, I planned on bringing the whole dang train table into the hotel room with us) and I forgot to pack any DVD's at all before our HHG's were packed up. What worked best for them was keeping naptime the same and having fun, individual activities, like sticker books and magnetic drawing boards. I did bring some of their favorite books with us to the hotel so that we could all read together and they liked the time in Mommy and Daddy's lap before bed and we had a bag of Duplos with us. All three of the boys played with those in the hotel and in our new house before their toys started coming off the truck. The biggest thing to remember is that the kids feed off of your energy. The more stressed you are, the more stressed they are. I had to remind myself often that it will all come together, it will all work out. There were many times during unpacking that I changed tactics to include the kids, "Hey, can you put all the paper in this box? Can you put the toys in the bin?" or that I took fun breaks, like hooking up the sprinkler and sitting outside with them. The best times, I found, to get real work done were during mealtime (strapped in their highchairs), naptime, and bedtime. While my husband fed them, I would work on projects I didn't want three small sets of hands involved in; this usually resulted in me eating standing up at random times of the day. Big, time consuming projects that involved both my husband and I, like hanging the pictures in the house, we did first thing in the morning when the boys were still fresh and upbeat.

And if you are PCSing soon, best of luck to you on your upcoming move!


Holy mother load of amazing tips!! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog - can't wait to read more from you as your newest follower :) I hope you'll join in for Military Monday next week. I'd love to learn more about how you prepared for your gorgeous family!
Kimber said…
So glad you checked out my blog! I will definitely check your blog out for Military Monday!!! I've been enjoying your posts! :)

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