More Moving Tips (From a Military Spouse)

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Amy wrote a super post a couple of years ago full of great tips and tricks to make moving as painless as possible.  You can read it {here}; it’s still one of our most-read posts.  Be sure to read the comments, too, as our readers left some great ideas to help everyone out.

Well, since she wrote that post, I’ve moved another one and a half times.  I say one and a half, because we are smack dab in the middle of the second move.  Our entire house is in boxes (more than 250; I hope you are appropriately shocked and appalled!) and our movers are coming to load the truck tomorrow.  So experience has given me a little more insight on this process, and I thought I’d write a Part 2 to Amy’s original post to distract me from the crazy that I’m currently surrounded by– you can see the current state of my kitchen above.

Because all of our moves have been military moves, that’s the perspective I write from; corporate moves are similar from what my friends tell me.  We have packers come in and put everything in boxes, which I usually consider a mixed blessing.  After all, it would take me weeks to do what they do, but I also hate unpacking boxes and finding breakage or a live plant packed in a box (true story).  I also had to stop them from packing the hamster earlier this week–that could have ended badly!!  Regardless of whether you’re doing it yourself or having the moving company handle it all, I think you’ll find a few good ideas below.  And, as always, please share your best tips in the comments.

In no particular order, here are the things I’ve learned over a dozen moves:

1.  Avoid storage whenever possible

Of course, sometimes it’s unavoidable, if you’re moving overseas or won’t have a house at the other end for a few weeks or months, but a door-to-door move gives you the best chance of your household goods (HHG) arriving undamaged.  It’s simply because items put into storage are handled more and that increases the possibility that they’ll be damaged, lost, or stolen.  We always ask for a door-to-door for an in-country move, even when we have to jump through some hoops to make it happen.

2.  Keep track of your last move

If you move frequently, keep your records so that you can tell the moving company how many packers, loaders, etc. that it takes to get your entire home in boxes and on the truck, because I find that their pre-move walk through is often a bit off.  I warn them ahead of time that it usually takes 6 packer days to get me into boxes and then they can allocate that however they want; two packers for three days, three packers for two days, or six packers for one day.  Make sense?  I also let them know what percentage of the truck we take (110% LOL) and how many pounds we had last time.  All of that helps to plan for the next move.  I store that information in my phone as well as keeping hard copies in a file.

 3. Ask for a full unpack ahead of time if you want one

So many military spouses have no idea that a full unpack is included in the contract price paid to the carrier by the government.  I think it’s because the carrier gets that same price whether they take an extra day or two to unpack you or not, so obviously it benefits them NOT to mention the full unpack.  So if you want one, tell them that ahead of time, and mention it to every single person who walks in the door from the moving company.

We’ve done a full unpack before, but I prefer a partial unpack.  Here’s why:  a full unpack means that they will take every. single. thing. that you own out of the box and stack it on a counter, table, or floor.  They don’t organize it and/or put it away, and they will place it ONE TIME, so they’re not going to move it to another room for you.  When we did a full unpack, I lived in an OCD nightmare for a solid week–every room that I walked into had stacks and stacks of random things all over the floor.  Yes, they took away all of those boxes and paper, BUT I would rather have them do a few key areas and let me do the rest at my own pace.  I can unpack the entire lot in a week and put it away, so it’s not a huge time drain.  I ask them to unpack and stack the dish barrels in the kitchen and dining room, the mirror/picture flat boxes, and the wardrobe boxes.

As a side note, I’ve had a few friends tell me how cushy we in the military have it, because we have our entire move handled by professionals.  Well, yes and no.  It is a huge blessing not to have to do it all myself, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a reason for it.  During our current move, my husband worked every single day that we were being packed, and the kids and I handled it solo.  He will take two days off and will be at work at his next assignment immediately…they’re not giving him time to pack up and move because they need him at work.  We couldn’t make that happen without help.  Also, we do this every two years (once we moved after only 6 months!).  Even with the packing/unpacking help, it takes about a month of my life every time we move, to prepare, move, unpack, organize, and handle all the things like finding a house and school, changing utilities, cleaning the old house, painting the new house, finding a new vet/dentist/doctor/hair stylist/summer camp/ballet studio…you get the idea.  There is NO WAY my husband would still be in the military if we had to move ourselves every two years.  Or maybe he would still be in the military, but he wouldn’t be married to me! 🙂

4. Keep your original boxes

This is my husband’s thing more than mine, but I have to give credit where credit is due.  He’s kept the original boxes for our flat screen TVs, computer, gaming systems, our printer, and many more items.  That includes the Styrofoam that cushions them during transit…we’ve never had any damage to our electronics when they were packed in their original boxes.

5.  Claim your “pro gear” for a military move

Pro gear is professional gear, and you are not charged the weight of those items as a part of your military move.  Items like uniforms, professional books, the 700 plaques that they receive when they leave a job, etc. all count as pro gear.  Spouses can claim up to 500 pounds of pro gear for their profession, too, as of this writing, and I always take full advantage of that because it is no joke to go over your weight allowance and have to pay the penalties!  (If you’re worried that you’re not going to make weight, remember that they should also subtract 10% for packing materials).

6. Be a prepper

Moving stinks, but there are ways to make it easier.  I prepare ahead of time by getting rid of a bunch of stuff, and putting things in the rooms where I want them to end up. I also take everything off the walls (the movers request that). I used to throw all of the hardware in a “parts box” but the method I really prefer is to take a snack-size Ziploc bag, put all of the related hardware in it, and then tape it to the back of the mirror/picture/shelf etc.  It makes things much faster on the other end.

Moving tip:  put hardware in a baggie and tape it to the back of the item | 11 Magnolia Lane


7.  Put signs on everything

I’ve started labeling everything for the packers…signs like “don’t pack items in this closet,” or “please label all of these items Pro Gear.”  I’ll put a sign on the door saying “Please label all boxes in this room “office.”  When I know that my next house will have a different room configuration, I use the name of the room at the new house.  So, items from my computer station that was set up in my kitchen at this house I asked them to label “office” because they’ll be going into the office at the next house.  Make sense?

I put the signs up at the new house, too, labeling each room.  Before they unload, I show them through the house so they know where all the rooms are.  So when I tell them to please take that giant, thousand pound armoire to the bonus room, they know where to go.

My daughter has starting putting signs on her things, too (this cracked me up!):

Put signs on items when moving | 11 Magnolia Lane

8.  Keep essentials out and move them yourselves

This is kind of a no-brainer for things like medications, pet supplies, baby items, clothing, and the like.  A few other things that I always seem to need include pens and notepads, stationery/envelopes/stamps, Ziploc bags, cleaning supplies (don’t forget any yard equipment you might need if you can’t borrow a neighbor’s), trashbags, a skillet and a baking pan, a knife, a corkscrew, coffeemaker, cooler, and whatever else you need to get from Point A to Point B.  If it’s under an 8-hour drive, we’ll usually pack refrigerator/freezer items in a cooler and move them.  Cleaning supplies are obviously needed so you can clean your house when it’s finally empty.  I usually keep a bunch of old towels (we call them “dog towels”) out and we can either wash them or toss them when we’re done.  If I decide to wash them, they go with the rest of the dirty laundry in a trash bag until we get to the next washing machine.  All of these cleaning supplies and liquids are usually out, anyway, since they won’t take them on a moving truck.

Don’t forget anything you might need to patch or repair nail holes.  I try to leave my (labeled) paint cans behind so the next owners or tenants can touch up later if needed or get a new can mixed. A sharpie is always helpful for labeling boxes, and you’ll want every box cutter you own in your pocket on the other side as you unpack, so put them somewhere you can find them!

I always move my sterling silverware, my nice jewelry, and our tax forms and other financial records.  And all of Sunny’s tennis balls.  If we lost the Penn 4, I’m not sure what he’d do!

Tips for moving with pets | 11 Magnolia Lane

 9.  Ask the movers to leave you extra boxes, paper, and tape

It’s simply a fact that you are going to find additional items to pack after you think you’re done (because it never ends!).  If they’re items that are going to go on the truck, be sure to label them (use your Sharpie!) and make sure they’re added to the inventory list.  Keep a few boxes to pack the “hazmat” items that you’ll have to transport yourselves:  candles, batteries, liquor, cleaning supplies, etc.  As we pack up our beds on the morning of the load, I usually need two 4.5 cubic feet boxes per bed instead of one, because of my unholy addiction to throw pillows…these are all reasons to ask for extra boxes to be left behind!

10.  Hide essentials in your refrigerator

I realized long ago that the reason I own five corkscrews is because we move so frequently.  Every time we move, the corkscrew gets packed, and I have to buy another one.  By the way, moving time is not the time to become a teetotaller if you’re not one already!!  I solved that problem this time by putting the corkscrew in my refrigerator.  The packers never pack things that are in the fridge!  I took it a step further and stashed my husband’s medicine in there, too, and my favorite Lilly Pulitzer Tervis tumbler.  You truly never know what you’re going to find in my fridge, but at least I can guarantee I have a corkscrew this time!

11. Ask to pack your closet

I absolutely hate sitting around while the packers are hard at work, so this year I asked if I could pack my own closet.  I don’t pack anything that’s breakable, because of liability issues, but I can’t break clothes, now can I?  They were happy to let me (this will depend on your crew, to be honest), and I was able to make sure that all of my super-nice purses and shoes were wrapped in lots of paper and nestled in the bottom of the wardrobe boxes.  And even though we’ve never had anything stolen in all of our moves, I was glad to pack those expensive shoes myself!  When I packed my dresser drawers, because I was on a roll and just kept packing, I used paper to separate the clothes so I would be able to tell which stack of clothes should go in which drawer.  And I got to pack my own underwear!  Usually I take it in the car with me because I think it’s just weird to have some random person packing my panties!

Moving tips and tricks | 11 Magnolia Lane

OK, we’re back at it in the morning. Wish me luck and I’ll let you know if I have any more wisdom to share on the other side.

UPDATE:  Sadly, this was our worst move ever due to crazy damage on the truck.  Read all the sad details {here}, plus a few more tips on how I might have avoided some of it.

Here are a few related posts you might like:  my tips for decorating a rental (or military quarters), Amy’s moving tips, and how I find a great rental house when we move to a new location.

Happy moving, and please share your best tips below!

Final New Christy headshot 2015

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  1. Hi Christy!
    I’ve missed seeing what’s going on with you and Amy. I want to thank you for being so kind and checking in on me. So much going on lately and just haven’t had it in me to blog.

    I can’t wait to see your new home and see what you do with it! I know it will be stunning. These are great tips for moving although my stomach rolls at the thought of doing so. 🙂 I’ve had professional movers just twice in my life and oh my, what a relief to have packers and unpackers! Moving is such a challenge but I do believe you have it down to a science.

    All good wishes for an easy move!

  2. Hi Christy! Like you I have been through Many moves with the military. I am in the middle of one now. The difference is I have to pack us out ourselves this time. It’s taking me several weeks since I am not a professional. Not to mention having to find boxes. Good thing this is moving time on the base! Thank you for your tips. They make a lot of sense. Good luck to you with your move. I can’t wait to see what you do with your new house!

  3. Carol Ann says

    Wow. This post took me back to our military moving days. As you described the boxes and the packing I could almost smell them – that unsettling smell of packing paper, boxes and sweat, of being in flux and having strangers in your home handling everything that you own. We have lived in the same house here on the south side of Atlanta since before my husband retired from the Army in 1992. Prior to that we had both been moving every two to three years all of our lives – our dad’s were both Army officers as well. Physically, I have not missed moving but mentally/emotionally I feel like it is time to move every three years. :D. My husband also was a box saver for the very same reason as yours is. Not too long ago I went up into the attic and started looking around at all of the boxes we had up there for appliances that we no longer own! They are gone now but we still have way too many boxes up there. I hope that your move goes extremely well. You are so much better organized than I ever was. Glad you never lost or had things stolen. Ah, the stories I could tell. Lol

  4. Christy, you’ve really brought back a lot of moving memories. We are not in the military, but I just counted and I’ve moved 9 times in my adult life – and I’ve never left Dallas! From started house with no kids to second house semi-custom and two kids to custom-built from scratch house and another kid, to be closer to kids’ school house to rental during bad economy house, then economy got better house, then yea remarried big remodel house for blended family, to all the kids are gone apartment while trying to find the perfect after kids house and moving to almost perfect just-us house. Moving is exhausting, but sometimes cleansing. This last move we had two storage units for our stuff while living in an apartment. After finding this house and six months of remodeling, when our stuff from the storage units were moved in, it was like saying hello to old friends. I hope this is the last move until we go to the old-folks home. I laughed at what you move yourself. No one ever moves my silver, china, and crystal but me. Panties are optional.

  5. 14 military moves under my belt. All great advice, esp. about the screws in snack bags and taped to the item it goes too. We learned that early on. One thing we always did was put our valuables (silver, jewelry, etc.) in our cars or in the master bath under the sink and restricted use of that bathroom. We would put everything we wanted packed from that room into the bedroom and had the packers label the box(es) master bath. We also would always take with us some desk items–pens, markers, tape, stapler, scissors. You won’t find them for a week and will invariably need something long before. The last week I would take down shower curtains and hooks, wash them up and tie the liner with string and just cut them down (with the scissors I was bringing!!) and toss the string and liners. At the next house I would have a new liner packed with the old shower curtain and hooks and everything would be ready to go. And definitely save the electronics boxes. They are a life saver for your equipment. Just beware of the CP that they may put on. You want to make sure they are carrier packed, not customer packed. If there is any damage, the carrier will deny payment. Finally, make sure the post or base you are moving to weighs your shipment when the carrier checks in. With our last military/retirement move, our nearby post did not weigh the shipment and the carrier said we were 5000 pounds overweight. We had never been overweight before. We had the paperwork and weights for our prior 13 shipments, told them that we sold many items after those moves, my husband had been promoted after the prior move and was authorized several thousands of more pounds and the shipper lost 25% of our shipment to boot. How could we possibly be overweight??? The post screwed up but refused to back down. We ended up negotiating the fine down to about $500 which my husband’s new employer paid, but what a nightmare. I won’t even get into all the lost items. Good luck. Enjoy your blog.

  6. My friend is a military wife and I’m fairly certain she has no idea that a full unpack is part of the contract price for her moves. This info will be a life changer for her! She has two very small children and it always takes her ages to unpack with each move. I’ll be sending her this article right away! Thank you so much!

  7. I totally agree in the idea of keeping boxes. These boxes can be life savers when you really need to move. It keeps things organized and it makes it easier to unpack. I usually put labels on those to help me sort out our stuff faster.

  8. I like to read moving tips any time I can. For some reason, my family seems to move a lot. I know that you can relate, being a military spouse! It’s interesting that you say to avoid storage whenever possible. It does make sense that your items will be damaged.

  9. Michael Griffin says

    My family would transport our household goods soon… Again, for the 2nd time! This tips are really helpful to us right now since we are already starting to pack our things.

  10. Your moving tips are really good. fortunately for me I won’t be needing them… for now. but I’m taking note on this in case our situation might change.

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