In our combined total of 17 PCS moves, my husband and I have learned a few things on how to make the process go more smoothly. We’ve also learned that sometimes you’ve got the time, advance notice, and energy for a super thorough, well-organized, well-in-advance preparation…well, someone out there may have the time/notice/energy for this. We usually fall somewhere on the continuum of “just got orders, I was supposed to arrive yesterday” and “yikes, I have two more 12 hour shifts this week and the movers are coming Wednesday”. So I’ve organized some best practices below into three categories: the first are must do’s—no kidding, make time for these; the second group are really nice to do, if you can manage it; and the third are nice if you’re especially organized or have some extra time.
In your pre-move consultation with the movers (they’ll come to your house if you have a lot of stuff, or do it over the phone if you’d don’t), get a list of the items they won’t move. There are standard items on the DoD Moving Website list (https://www.move.mil/entitlements), but each moving company is different. Do a walkthrough of your house and discard everything on the won’t-move list.
Sort out anything else that’s going with you or that you’ll need after your stuff is packed (cleaning supplies, pet food, etc.). Set aside a space—bathtub has worked well for us, but if you have a lot of stuff a closet or corner of a room may be better—and putting up a do-not-pack sign. It may seem silly, but it’s a quick and easy way to make sure there’s no confusion on moving day.
Keep in mind it’s not at all uncommon to have to leave your HHG in storage longer than you’d anticipated. We’ve ended up with stuff in storage for months after five different moves.
PCS Must Haves:
- Uniforms: One of any uniform that you could possibly be required to have at the new duty station, even dress and off-season uniforms (see the point about unanticipated delays above). It’s just not worth the stress and money required if you show up at a new job without something you need
- Important papers: Multiple copies of your orders; all travel documentation; medical, dental, and school records; ID cards; Passports; birth certificates, marriage/divorce certificates, and social security cards; vehicle title and registration; wills and powers of attorney; one bank statement for each account. A couple of extra pieces of paper won’t take up much room, and could save you a headache on the back end
- All prescription meds, and any over-the-counter meds you use often
- Toiletries: Since this is usually one of the categories moving companies don’t like to move, we usually take a small box if we’re driving ourselves, or fit what we can into luggage and throw away the rest if it’s an overseas move
- Personal items – car keys, electronics (and associated chargers), camera, anything you’d be devastated if it were lost/damaged in the move (I bring our wedding album). I bring a tape measure to figure out where I’m going to put stuff in the new place
- If we’re driving: a small tool set, jumper cables, tire chains (if appropriate for the climate), and small cooler
- If you have too much to fit in your car or luggage, consider mailing a couple of boxes to your sponsor. You can be reimbursed for mailing expenses (though not insurance) on your travel claim
Sort out and/or label anything else that’s not going with you (appliances, cable box and modem, etc.). I’d heard stories about movers packing trash, family pets, all kinds of crazy things; I was skeptical until my move from Korea, when the movers packed all of the cleaning fluids and liquor I’d set aside to give away.
Bring down items from the attic or crawl spaces, if required.
Don’t forget your work gear. This stuff doesn’t count against your weight allowance, and anyway you may need to be able to find work gear quickly at your new duty station.
Prep any appliances, yard equipment, fish tanks, etc. you’re moving. Check with your moving company to see what’s required—usually you’ll have to drain and dispose of fluids and make sure items are clean.
Make arrangements for pets. And kids. You don’t want to have to worry about Fluffy getting into a half-packed box, or Fido (or little Timmy) escaping through a constantly opening/closing door. Moving day is stressful—if you have a friend or family member or Child Development Center who will keep the kids and/or pets for a day, it can be easier on everyone.
Consider your sleeping arrangements during and after the packing process. If the movers are going to do a pack day and then a load day, you can ask them to leave the mattresses out and set aside a box for sheets/pillows/towels to pack first thing of the load day. If you’ve been able to schedule the move so your Temporary Lodging Expense (TLE) will cover those days, book a hotel room.
Do the dishes, and any particularly bad laundry. This really is necessary—first, it’s wrong to create a gross situation for the movers, and second, it’s not going to be pretty when you open that nastiness on the other end. If this means you need to start eating takeout from paper plates and working out only in clothes you’ll be taking with you a few days early, do it.
Empty all trash cans. Double check in the morning before the movers arrive.
Eat breakfast before the movers get there. And set aside a snack in the no-pack room. If you’re like me, you’re pretty well worn out by the time you get to household goods day—don’t add low blood sugar to the mix.
If You Have Time, Consider These Extra PCS Prep Tips
Take lightbulbs out of lamps, and batteries out of electronics. (Many moving companies require this; even if they don’t, you don’t want to unpack to find glass shards or acid all over your stuff.
Remove wall decorations. For some companies this is mandatory; even if not, I like to gather all my artwork, curtains, etc. in one place to make for easier redecoration at the new place.
Consider whether there’s anything you should pack yourself. I usually pack a bathroom box and sometimes a kitchen/spice box—stuff that won’t melt or go bad only—double bag the contents and make sure the box is full (t-shirts are good for this), so it won’t collapse if it ends up under something heavy. Make sure it’s labeled. I’ve known others who pack up their lingerie drawer or box up nice shoes.
If you’ve kept any of the original boxes for high value items (we always keep the box for our flat screen TV, desktop computer, and china), get them out and put them next to the item they go with. Often the movers prefer to pack these items in the original boxes.
Moving with High-Value Items
Consider putting your high-value items together; it will save time on paperwork, and you can ask for that to be packed first so that you can observe.
Do all the laundry, and gather like-items together from wherever they’ve ended up (coats, for example, from the back of the closet, by the back door, and from the car). Remember things will be packed by room, not by type, so if there are things that ended up in multiple rooms in this location but would be easier to organize grouped together (office supplies, books, holiday décor), consider gathering them all into one location.
I like to buy cheap plastic mattress covers for our mattresses and box springs. For one of my moves, the movers put the mattresses and box springs in boxes; for the rest of them, they just grabbed them off the bed and slid them down the hall. The plastic covers are a small investment to help keep mattresses clean.
Purge. Or declutter, if that’s more your style. Or just do a quick walk-through and grab up anything that screams Goodwill to you. Whatever you have time/energy to accomplish. (I admit, I always seem to end up with a bigger give-away pile when I move in than when I move out, but it’s still a goal.) I’ve heard people recommend going through every item in your house to decide whether it gets moved, thrown away, or donated/sold; that, to me, is in the organized-freak-of-nature category, but if that’s you, my hat’s off to you!
Quick inventory: walk through each room and take a video of the stuff in the room and the room itself. (Download it to your computer so you have room for PCS road trip pictures on your phone.) Show electronics turned on and working.
Give away houseplants and rinse out containers.
Figure out how to dispose of hazardous waste (motor oil, paint, etc.)—most cities have special collection days or drop-off locations, so it can help to plan ahead.
Stick some bottled waters and Gatorade in the fridge—it’s nice for the movers, and for you too.
Think about a delivery lunch option for your family and the movers. Movers do this every day and get tired of pizza—if there’s another option in your neighborhood, it’s a nice gesture, or consider a fruit or veggie tray from the commissary.
Consider whether you may want to tip the movers and have cash on hand; definitely not required, but it’s appreciated. $20 per person for a day plus of work is pretty standard.
PCS Prep for the Super-Organized
Take inventory of what’s in the fridge and pantry. Plan meals during your last few weeks to use up what you already have.
Detailed inventory. Walk through and take pictures or video, both of your stuff and of the condition of the house. Take pictures of serial numbers on electronics. Take a picture of the back of the TV if you think it might help you set everything up more quickly on the other end. Measure furniture. I discovered I could plan out furniture placement ahead of time by using apps like TapGlance and Home Design 3D. They let you arrange furniture and do a virtual walk-through. Better to not need to move the piano or overstuffed chair after the movers are gone.
You’ve already purged/decluttered. Sell items you no longer need on Craigslist, eBay, Facebook, or an app like Letgo, Decluttr, or OfferUp.
Pack small items from drawers (bathroom stuff, office or craft supplies, silverware, etc.) in ziplock bags. Have some extra baggies on hand for moving day for hardware from disassembled furniture, etc.
Consider zip-tying hangars together or using garment protectors to group hanging clothes.
Label each room. This way the movers will know to write “playroom” or “boy’s room” instead of “bedroom 2” on the boxes.
Finally, whatever category of preparedness you fall into, breathe.
Good luck and safe travels!
by Jean Ann Kim