The late spring/summer is traditionally PCS season for the military community. For those unfamiliar, PCS refers to Permanent Change of Station aka moving. There are hidden expenses that always seem to pop up along the way, but for the most part, we’re not financially responsible for the move but we are responsible for coordinating the process. Seeing as how psychologists routinely state that moving is considered one of life’s most stressful situations, it’s absolutely imperative that military families develop a system to help schlep their worldly processions from Point A to Point B.
This past summer, our packers told us that our framed Billy Joel concert poster is the whitest thing they’ve packed yet. True story.
This blog post will not be an article about the need to put together an important documents binder, nor will it advocate for developing a color-coded system for boxes to assist in the deployment of said boxes into the new house. This blog post will not talk about the best resources for researching schools, veterinarians, and hair stylists. And this blog post will not discuss the importance of documenting high-value and moderate-value items is because stuff will inevitably break during the moving process. This blog post is going to talk about the really important stuff when it comes to PCSing.
6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS
1. Keep a Winged Butterfly Corkscrew Near You at All Times
Rumor has it that there are a few unicorns out there who are able to resist alcohol during PCS season. I am not one of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re calling preschools begging for a slot or searching for the cast iron skillet that you’ll eventually find in the box marked ‘Downstairs BATHE towls’, it is imperative that you keep a winged butterfly corkscrew near you at all times. Not only will it open bottles of wine, it can assist with the opening of an assortment of beers and mini-bottles. It can also be used as a box-cutter and while not preferable, the arms can be used to spread peanut butter. And in a fit of desperation, it can also be a toy. It wasn’t my proudest parenting moment but once, I gave my then three-year-old daughter a winged butterfly corkscrew and told her it was a metal doll in order to keep her occupied as I frantically opened boxes searching for her prized pink elephant that had somehow managed to be packed earlier that day. The winged butterfly corkscrew was all I had within reach.
2. Don’t Forward Your Mail to Relatives with the Same Last Name
Learn from our mistake and you will avoid a lifetime of political mailers and AARP membership requests. Many moves ago, we had a transition period of about 30 days before officially reporting to another installation 2000 miles away. Obviously, we took advantage of this ‘free’ time and traveled our little hearts out. Because of this, we had the not-so-smart idea of forwarding our mail to my husband’s parents. It has been 6 years since that particular move and all parties involved are still suffering from the consequences of our ill-informed decision. When it came time to forward our mail to our new duty station a few states away, all of my in-laws mail somehow ended up at our new place. For months. And months. And we have lived in three different states since that particular move and yet we still receive the occasional piece of junk mail addressed to my in-laws. On the positive side, we always have something to use to start a fire. #glasshalffull
3. There Will Always Be Someone Who Hates Where The Military Is Sending You Next
Facebook and other forms of social media are invaluable tools during PCS season. Yes, there is a seedy underbelly in the world of military-related Facebook groups and there are some that certainly #leanin into the military spouse stereotypes. I’ve even personally witnessed a close friend get hit with the ban stick because she accidentally posted something twice that was deemed self-promotional (it wasn’t). And being the great friend that I am, I didn’t take a stand and leave the group in solidarity because it really is a great source for information. The joke is on the all-knowing administrators though because I sometimes post questions on behalf of my shunned friend. Muwhahaha.
When I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal (which involved a plaid fold-out couch and a satirical book – try not to be jealous ladies), it didn’t take me long to learn that in addition to raving about favorite assignments and duty stations, people love to complain about the places they’ve hated with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. You may be excited that you have orders to Hawaii but there will always be a Debbie Downer who chimes in with school data, traffic patterns, and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Delighted about going to Germany? Negative Nelly will likely talk about the gray skies, ridiculous recycling standards, and the abundance of wursts. No matter where you are going, there will always be someone who hated that installation/assignment. It’s best to ignore them and not let them get you down. On the flip side, you will also find people who loved assignments that are traditionally looked down upon. So for every person you meet who despised Italy, you’ll someone who really enjoyed their time at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Keep that in mind.
4. Make Sure The Truck Driver Locks the Back Door of the Truck
The load-out from when we PCSed from Washington DC to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas was quite disastrous but we emerged with an important PCS lesson – always make sure that the truck driver locks the back door of the truck before driving off. On the night of that pack out – around 11:05 pm, my husband and I sat on the front steps of our townhome and watched the truck holding all of our worldly possessions drive away. And at 11:06pm, my husband took off running toward the truck to alert the blissfully unaware driver that the back door flew open (pictured above). The driver’s response? “Oh, it’s been doing that a lot lately.” We’ve moved two times since then and have incorporated checking the lock of the truck as part of our move-out process. You should probably do the same.
5. Ziploc Everything!
While unpacking kitchen boxes after having the military move us for the first time, I was absolutely aghast at the amount of packing paper that was used to wrap a fondue fork. Four (!) large sheets to wrap one teeny tiny fondue fork. We have 16 fondue forks (I like fondue – don’t judge!). You do the math. From that move on, I learned to dump the contents of every drawer in the house into corresponding ziploc bags. My schedule may not be as demanding as Renata Klein’s (any other Big Little Lies fans out there?) but I am not going to spend the time it takes to unwrap every single wine cork I’ve saved over the years (trophies of my accomplishments) or each magnet from our travels. It’s not good for the Earth and it is not good for my sanity. Ziploc anything and everything that can be bagged. Toys? Sure! They have large ziploc bags available now – they even come in 3-gallon sizes. Office supplies? Bag ’em up! Clothes? Fold ’em and bag ’em. I recommend zip-ties as well. You may look like Dexter checking out with your haul but at least you’ll be prepared for your PCS.
6. Flatten Packing Paper as you Unwrap and Unpack
Life is so much easier if you flatten packing paper as you unwrap and unpack the Target and IKEA showroom that is your house. Of course you can always request the movers to unpack for you but HAHAHAHAHAHA. We have moved 10 times in the last 13 years and it didn’t take me long to realize that shoving crumbled up pieces of packing paper into garbage bags was the least efficient method of packing paper removal. Perhaps you will be assigned the fabled moving company that will return at a later date to pick up your boxes and packing paper but if you’re like most of us plebeians, you’ll be at the mercy of your town’s recycling program and people ISO of packing supplies on Facebook. Make your life easier and flatten paper as you go so it can be smacked, whacked, and stacked to the max (oh dear – I’m now quoting Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown – this is what my life has become).
So there you have it – my six tips for surviving a PCS and doing so with grace and aplomb (ha!). I’ve been a part of this rodeo for over 13 years now and I’ve learned that no matter how stressful the uncertainty, the planning, the execution, and the settling into a new life feels – it all works out in the end. Life has a funny way of doing that. A sense of humor is a crucial ingredient of the military lifestyle. Without it, life just isn’t much fun.
So what are you some of your tips for surviving PCS season? How do you handle PCS envy? How do you tell the kids – do you keep them informed of the process from the beginning or do you not break the news until orders are in hand? How do you say ‘see you later!’? And most important – what drink of choice is in your hand while tackling everything like a boss? Bottoms up!