“Here we go again…same old ‘stuff’ again…marching down the avenue”…..yes, that’s part of an Army cadence. It’s Groundhog Day, ala Bill Murray, and we get to do it all over again…you all know the drill right? Wouldn’t it be great though, if you had all your ducks in a row and there were no surprises and you could actually look forward to seeing and doing new things rather than drown in all the issues surrounding a big move? Well, it can be done. I am thrilled to have the expert advice of Jacki Hollywood Brown, a professional organizer help lead us through from start to finish on getting your family moved. Let’s get it done and move on to the next thing!
Your biggest challenge is going to be getting things packed up and gone and doing it with the least amount of hassle as possible. The Army does make it easy to get started on this quest with the ubiquitous transportation briefing. Your first milestone will be getting a copy of your husband’s orders to his new duty location. Absolutely NOTHING can happen without this valuable document. With this in hand, you can schedule your transportation briefing and all the other appointments you will need. You and your husband will attend this briefing together. If he is deployed, congrats, you get to do it by yourself. Make sure you have a copy of a power of attorney first though. Don’t fret…many thousands of wives have done it before you, and with the resources you will get here, you can do it almost blindfolded.
Don’t have your orders yet? Don’t fret that either. There are a few things you can do ahead of time, so when you DO get them, things will run ever so smoothly for you and your family.
I’ve already talked in the past about some things you can do NOW. Be sure to read
About a week ago, I also started sorting through our household junk. I also mentioned having a good property inventory of your stuff. It’ll make it so much easier when (notice I say when and not if) you file a claim, plus you’ll have a handy record of serial numbers and other identifying information in addition to the movers’ list. Don’t fret if yours is not as detailed as mine. The easiest way to do a property inventory is to take a video camera, go room to room (make sure cabinets are open so you can see what’s inside) and start filming with your commentary. I’ve even gone as far as to list what DVDs, videos and computer programs we have. These are all just material possessions, so if they get lost, stolen, burned up in a fire or dropped in the ocean (don’t laugh, I’ve seen a container of household goods dropped into the water up in Bremerhaven, Germany. It DOES happen, although very rarely), you can easily replace them. We knew someone who lost EVERYTHING in a warehouse fire, and they spent MANY MONTHS, trying to recreate their household inventory, to the point of having to call businesses where they purchased their TVs and computers, designer gowns and china set, trying to get duplicate receipts. They even had to comb through old family photos their relatives had, looking for photos where household items, such as their expensive leather couch, were pictured. Save yourself the headache and heartache and do a property inventory now. Please take the time to read
In your dealings with the transportation office, try to arrange for a door to door move. This is not always possible but ideal. The Army will actually pay for you to scout out your new location (at least for stateside) and find a rental or house to buy. This is called 10 days permissive TDY. If this home is ready for you when you move, your moving truck can drive from this house to your next home. If not, you’ll have to have your stuff offloaded at the destination, put in a warehouse (where things potentially get lost or disappear) and then reloaded on another truck before delivery. Sometimes you also end up waiting longer, because of trucking shortages or scheduling conflicts. If you’ve already got the truck, you can be that much ahead! Always, always keep the phone numbers and points of contact of the outgoing transportation office, the incoming transportation office and your movers’ handy. You may need to get in contact with them somewhere along the line. I’ve actually had to call our outgoing transportation office more than once when a mover insisted one thing, but I knew it was supposed to be another thing. Let your transportation office help sort it out, and don’t go it alone.
Let’s go over the general information on things that shouldn’t (and in most cases, can’t be moved)
- Hazardous materials (your lawnmower and powertoys have to be empty of gasoline).
- Explosives (fireworks), chemicals and compressed air (as a general rule, I get rid of anything liquid, except my aromatherapy bottles and our wine collection).
- You’ll find that different movers have different rules. I like to double bag small liquids I want them to pack. As far as the wine, almost every mover we’ve had did not have a problem transporting it, even overseas, but be prepared to be disappointed if they tell you they can’t do it! Research this ahead of time if you can.
You may also want to think about the following things if you’ve got them (if they are not covered in your transportation briefing, please ask about them)
- Boats, kayaks and larger items
- Patio stone, rocks
- farm machinery
- dog houses
- empty bottles and preserving jars
- hobby materials (rock collecting anyone?)
When I start going thru our junk, prepping for the move, I like to go room by room. I have a checklist (which frankly, I don’t use anymore cause it’s imprinted in my brain after all these Army moves). But, if you are not well versed in moving or this is your first move, use a checklist. Depending on how long you can keep your family from messing with your organization, you can start this up to a week out from moving day.
- Remove all batteries from electronic items (you don’t want a beeping timebomb to scare anyone, or batteries to leak or your items turning themselves on).
- Remove curtains, have them cleaned and put them aside.
- Take prints and paintings off walls. I dust them and then lean them up against the wall. If your house is too cluttered, then go ahead and just clean them and leave them on the walls. I know movers are so thankful when you stack your smaller frames into a pile. It makes it easier on them.
- If you are taking any ceiling fans or light fixtures, take them down, clean them and think about if they need any special packaging. I do have an antique light fixture that travels with us, so I do plan for this.
- Identify any awkward-shaped items such as antiques, hobby items, large mirrors or bicycles. Movers have special boxes for that stuff. I always mention our two grandfather clocks (they send a special person out to secure and pack those), bikes and our extremely large framed print (which so far, has made it every move…knock on wood…).
- If you have portable air conditioners you’ll be taking along and will get packed, you’d better unplug them and let them drain and dry out. You don’t want mold growing in your stuff as it travels.
- Rope in all your stuff. If you lent out books or other items, ask for that stuff back or go ahead and say good-bye to it now. Don’t forget your gym locker, storage locker, safe deposit box and any other place outside your home you might have items stored, including your local dry cleaner.
- For every item you have a box for, such as some electronic items, put the item on top of or next to its box. Don’t pack it yourself, or else the movers can shift liability to you should something happen to it.
- To try to take a bite out of identity theft, you might want to take personal files or items and put them in a smaller bin or box and label them as “children’s artwork” or “dollhouse furniture” or “whatever” and then tape it shut.
- If you have black shoes and lighter colored shoes, put them in plastic bags or shoeboxes first. Don’t learn the hard way that black shoe polish is almost impossible to get off white shoes, especially if they’ve been rubbing together for months as they travel overseas. Keep this in mind too with other items the movers might throw together to fill a box. Try to keep like items together and do some prepackaging if necessary. I use bubble wrap and Ziploc bags so the movers can still see what’s inside.
- Do not wax or stain your furniture in the weeks leading up to moving day. The furniture pads and blankets the movers use could get stuck to your stuff and leave a mark.
- If you have a piano, get a professional to prepare it for movement. Also let be sure your moving company knows about it before moving day. Some movers will send out a special team to pack it up.
- Decide what you will do about your houseplants. Will you give them away or sell them? Will they survive extreme temperatures in the truck? Can the moving company move them to where you are going? If you are going overseas, you won’t be able to take them along. If you can have them packed, don’t overwater them (mold growth) and guard against leakage. If you don’t want to deal with the plants themselves, why don’t you take cutttings of them instead. They should survive at least a few days if you prepare them properly.
- If you have highly valued collectibles, I would suggest transporting them yourself. My husband has a HUGE stamp collection and every move would bring tons of anxiety. He finally got over it by insuring his large collection separately and letting the movers pack it. He now takes a small binder of his favorites to take along. In the old days, he would break up his collection and have someone mail him each box insured..piece by piece (that would now take forever). Just think over how you would recover should your collection disappear, and plan accordingly.
- The movers can pack pre-packaged and canned food. I try not to do this. You never know what kind of temperature extremes the stuff will be exposed to, plus…it’s food and who knows what it will come in contact with, especially internationally. I start eating that stuff six months out and come up with some of the strangest meals in that time, and whatever is leftover gets donated to the local food bank.
- If you’re taking your refrigerator, dishwasher and washing machine, be sure to dry that stuff out at least 24 hours ahead of time. You don’t want to give mold a chance to grow. If that stuff is going into storage, investigate how to prep it for that too. Read Prepare Appliances for a Move.
- If you have firearms, know the moving regulations, especially at your next duty station. I know you can’t take guns overseas anymore. Have a plan for that stuff as well.
For electronics, I take a few extra steps:
- Use garbage bag twist ties to tie up cables.
- Clean and dust off the item.
- Lay the remote on top of the item, or tape it on top.
- Some electronic items need to be prepped for moving, such as tying down the arm of a turntable or parking hard drives (older computers). Leaf through the manuals to see if there’s anything special you must do.
- I keep all manuals in one central location (a drawer in our sideboard) and make sure the drawer contents get packed.
- I keep all additional cables and attachments in a bin labeled electronics. You never know what your set-up will be at your new location, and you want to be able to dig through your stash before running to the store to buy something you already have.
- I make sure I separate my local cable provider’s remotes, cable boxes, computer routers, modems and the like lest it accidentally gets packed with our stuff.
- Make sure important information from your computer is backed up. I like to back up My Documents folder and make sure my photos, music and video are included as well. I have a pocket-size external drive that we carry with us, along with my husband’s laptop. Be sure to note any passwords and other documentation you won’t have access to. You can put some of this stuff online, let’s say in your Google Mail account. Take an email message and type up any information you may need (I use clues and not the actual passwords, as well as alternate names for the websites they go with. Be sure not to have any identifying information, such as your first or last name or address anywhere in this email account, just in case it does get hacked).
- For small items, such as craft items or Legos and kids’ toys, I will package them in Ziploc bags or small bins. Your movers will love you for this. If the stuff is breakable, I wrap the little stuff in bubble wrap and then put them in a whatever size bin works best. I do this for Christmas ornaments, and honestly, I accept the responsibility of those items packed, because I know I packed them well in bubblewrap, and they are secure. It would take the movers days to individually wrap all my ornaments, and I know they will travel safer with the way I packed them.
- For your well-packed small items, such as my ornaments that are in large Rubbermaid bins, ask the movers if they will just move the bin with the stuff inside. Just get them to tape it shut and stick a sticker on the outside. I had a mover once take everything out of each bin and put the items in a box. He then stacked the bins and bubblewrapped them separately. That just created more stuff and more work at the other end.
As I tackle each room, I separate out stuff that will not be moved with the movers. Set that stuff to the side, along with your suitcases. I stack things there as I go along. If the stack gets too big for our vehicle, I realize I’ll have to put some things back. With everything in one location, this is much easier to notice! Instead of boxes, I like to use small bins to keep things organized and tidy. Of course, with this overseas move, I won’t have this small luxury…everything goes and nothing but a few suitcases gets stacked. As I’ve mentioned before, if we must take items with us, before shipping our vehicle, I make sure it is not bigger than a medium size box worth of stuff and plan to have a friend or relative ship that box over to us once we have an address. Or, you can ship it to the headquarters address of your new unit. You can get that information from your sponsor. When you move, you are supposed to be assigned a sponsor who can help you with lodging arrangements, airport and travel arrangements upon arrival and any other questions you might have about the unit and the location. I believe having a sponsor is even mandated by Army regulations, so if you don’t immediately get one assigned to you (it will be a fellow soldier, most times, higher in rank than your husband if you are enlisted), ask for one.
Some things to keep in mind while going from room to room
- Wash your bedding a few days before moving. It just travels better that way. That goes with anything else too. Don’t pack dirty or broken items, cause believe me, it’ll be depressing dealing with that stuff on the other end. You also want to make sure these items are completely DRY before they get packed. Mold is not your best friend.
- Make sure the movers wrap your bedding and couches in plastic. Your mattresses will get so dirty and icky without it and your couch will too. If it’s leather, it’ll get all scratched up. Insist on this. Many movers want to take shortcuts
- I like to leave the disassembly of furniture to the movers. Again, because of the liability and responsibility issues. You don’t want the movers to say, hey, we can’t do anything about the missing pieces, cause it was noted on the inventory form that YOU disassembled the thing. On moving day, I keep Ziploc bags on hand and request that they tape the bag to the item. How many times have you hunted for stuff at the other end? Part of your job on moving day will be to walk around and make sure that is getting done. Don’t totally rely on the movers!
- You don’t want to move with dirty clothes. Wash your dirty stuff as close as you can to moving day, and make sure that stuff is DRY.
- Don’t let the movers take all your clothes off the hangers. They have special boxes, called wardrobe boxes, for clothes on hangers. When the movers do their walk through before actual moving day, they should be calculating how many of what type of boxes they will need. I had a mover show up one time with not enough of these wardrobe boxes, and since dumb me didn’t know any better to stop them, ended up taking TWO FULL days at the other end, trying to separate a puzzle of over fifty hangers and then rehanging each item that had been put in a regular box. Insist they use the right box for the right item. And while you’re at it, take off all your dry cleaning plastic to keep moisture out as well as replacing your metal hangers with plastic ones. It’s amazing when you go overseas especially, how sea water can corrode things it doesn’t directly touch!
There are a few things I just don’t pack because of the “ick factor”
- kitchen trashcans
- outside garbage cans (mine are almost destroyed anyway by the time we move)
- bathroom plungers and toilet brushes (these things are very inexpensive, plus there’s something that can be said of a fresh new home with brand new toilet brushes, plungers and even bathroom rugs and doormats)
The day before moving day, I make sure I do these things
- Keep electronics usage to a minimum. For example, you don’t want to pack a hot computer in a cold environment. This will create condensation and could damage your computer.
- I pick a bathroom, a room or our car and EVERYTHING that will not get packed by the movers, goes in there. If it’s a room, put a sign on the door to not pack the stuff inside! This also becomes my oasis when I need a breather from the movers or let’s say you have a baby whose diaper needs some changing. One of our very first Army moves we made the mistake of having a party and having to scramble to get cleaned up and ready for the movers the next morning. A bag of garbage got packed overseas. It was NOT pretty.
- With that being said, make alternate arrangements for kids and pets. Set up a playdate or get a friend to help out. Most are very happy to be helping you in some way. Kids can get very upset, especially the younger ones, when they see their stuff getting packed up, and pets just plain get in the way. I’m sure you’ve heard of countless cats disappearing and showing up hungry or worse at the other end.
- Be sure you have your prescriptions and medications put away. Make sure you have plenty of your prescription medications to carry you over the next appointment timeframe at your new location. Sometimes your current prescription can’t be moved to another pharmacy. Plan for this.
The day of your move
- The movers will descend on your home like a colony of ants. I keep my wallet, keys, cell phone and personal stash either locked up or on me. I take one part of our house while my husband takes the other. We kind of supervise what the movers are doing and are there to answer questions or make comments. At the same token, we don’t get in their way. Many of these guys have been doing this for MANY years and don’t need someone to tell them how to do their job. You may want to point on items that need special packaging to the head boss (you’ll know who he is right away). To sound less threatening, I say something like, “last time, the movers packed this item using x and the item came out on the other end damaged, broken, etc”.
- Have your military spouse’s professional items stacked separately. Anything that has to do with his job, such as books and gear, even his computer, can be counted as a professional item. Why bother? When you’ve been around as long as I have and accumulate tons of stuff, you want to stay below your weight limit and considering how heavy books are, this makes a big difference for us. Just something to keep in mind.
- Try to group your “high dollar value” items together. These are things more pilfered than your normal junk, such as stereo equipment, computers, cameras and TVs. They will get identified on your moving inventory by serial number. Double check these serial numbers against your list from your property inventory.
- Next to the furniture items on the movers’ inventory list, you will see combinations of letters. This identifies the condition of your item. For example, “CH” means chipped and “BR” means broken (this may be mover-specific, so check the top of the inventory form). Don’t let them write the wrong code on there. If something is labeled as broken…and it isn’t…good luck trying to get a claim paid should the movers actually break it!
- Each box and each item will have an item number sticker. This number will correspond with the matching item on the movers’ inventory sheet. Make sure each box makes it to the truck. Make sure the boxes also say something on the outside, such as “kitchen” or “master bedroom”. This is why when you first start going through your junk, you put things back in the correct room and with like items.
- Watch as the movers move your boxes and items into their truck. If it is a cross country move, the items will go directly into the truck. If it is an overseas move, they will go directly into shipping containers on a flatbed truck. It is your responsibility to watch that each shipping container is sealed after it is filled. Look for the seals. I have heard that you can request shipping containers for stateside moves as well. It’s not highly publicized, because it is more expensive, but you can request it at the Army’s cost and not yours.
- If the movers take more than a day packing your items (which most times, they will…it takes them three days to pack our 20 years worth of stuff), don’t let them talk you into putting items on the truck and then coming back tomorrow. You don’t want to leave items out of your sight until you see that the shipping containers are sealed and your property inventory is complete and signed. If you have any problems, have the number to your transportation office handy and call if any issues arise.
- Borrow a cooler and fill it with water and ice for your movers. They will be more inclined to treat your stuff nicely. Along the same lines, order pizza for all for lunch and make sure you tip them when they leave. When they are finished packing, we like to tip about $20 per person. Don’t give the money to the head boss, give the money to each packer individually and thank them for their work.
- Before the movers leave, do one last sweep of the house. Open EVERY cabinet and drawer. I had to box up and move an entire kitchen cabinet of spices overseas one year, because the movers had inadvertently forgotten to open the thing and pack the stuff.
I think that wraps about everything up…literally. Be sure to read the booklet It’s Your Move, put out by the military. Lots of helpful tips and resources can be found there too. Also don’t forget the monster moving guide at about.com. I guess I’ll be revisiting this subject again, AFTER our move to Germany in June. Maybe I can do a little After Action Review, as the Army calls it. Review what went right and what went wrong in hopes that I won’t make the same mistakes next time! If you have any tips and tricks to add, please add them in the comments below! I’d also love to hear your moving stories, whether good or bad!
Related post: Yet Another Military Move (what you should be doing six months out)