You know the spiel, military families—it’s your fourth move in as many years and the moving truck has just sputtered down the road. You’re surrounded by stacks of boxes, and you’re not quite sure how to fit everything from your previous kitchen (which boasted ample cabinet space and a large island) into your “vintage” circa-1980s kitchenette. And never mind the rest of the house! But if you’re like me, I can’t function for weeks on end in a half-unpacked state, so I try to get our belongings settled pretty quickly.
But where to begin taming the post-PCS mess?
Be brutal. Even though I’m sure you spent time sorting and organizing before the movers came, you’ll be faced with moments during unpacking where you’ll pull something out of a box that seemed so necessary on the other end and wonder aloud, “Why did we ever pack this?” Don’t even for a moment think of keeping an item that inspires that question. Designate an empty box or two for donation/trash. It may seem silly to donate things that just traveled their way across the country or world to you, but trust me—follow your gut reaction! How many melted spatulas does one really need, anyway?
Enlist the family’s help. Even small children can help unpack, and they may be especially motivated to “help” with their own rooms. Whether or not it’s done perfectly is another story entirely, but they can at least take their own possessions out of boxes to stack them neatly (or not so neatly!) on beds and await further instruction. I’ve found that my teens can unpack a room almost faster than I can at this point! And don’t forget that giving kids a practical task gives them ownership of the new place, too.
Unpack essentials first. Even after many years as a military spouse and more moves than I care to count, I always underestimate how exhausted I'll be at the end of a day of unpacking! Before tackling the mountain of boxes, take time to set up beds, locate sheets and blankets, make sure you have a shower curtain, and arrange chairs and couches so you have a place to sit and rest weary legs. I hope you packed and marked an “essentials” box on the other end that will be a great help to you now! Ideas for that include toilet paper, shower curtains, bed sheets, towels, and anything else you might want right away (coffeemaker!!). Unpack a few necessary kitchen items as well, so you at least have some semblance of order before dropping into bed that first night.
Plan the room. Before you dive into unpacking a room, take a moment to plan how you’ll set it up. I know one family that sketches out a plan for each room first before placing any household goods. That’s a great activity for lag time in temporary lodging if you get a chance to view your new home before the movers arrive.
It won’t all fit! Along with your donation box, set up another area for household goods that may need to be stored. Have you ever unpacked something and wandered around the house with it in hand, unable to find the perfect spot for it? Items like this which are more given to storage can go in that box. This also has the potential to turn into a second donation box! Place seasonal clothing, holiday decorations, and large items you know you want to keep but don’t have a spot for yet in your garage or storage space. You can deal with all that later when your indoor space is livable.
Get creative. Have you seen the home design shows where interior designers do home “makeovers” and reuse what was already on hand? Homeowners are always surprised when they realize something like Aunt Mildred’s forgotten birdcage they'd stowed in the basement actually makes a great piece for a mantel. Moving gives you the opportunity to look at your possessions with fresh eyes. Arrange furniture in different groupings, in a different room, or for other purposes than you normally would. For instance, we own one table with a huge leaf that ends up either being a long dining room table that seats 8 or a casual 4-seater for a breakfast nook, depending on the size of our current house. Just because you’ve always used a specific item one way doesn’t mean you must do so in the new house. Change it up!
Remember this too shall pass. Before you know it, the boxes, packing tape, and upheaval will all be a faint memory…just in time for the next PCS!