Monday, January 23, 2017

What We Learned During Our First Two Military Moves

*I started this post when we were still living in Oklahoma, but I never had a chance to finish it.  Now we have TWO moves under our belts, so hopefully I can offer even better information than I'd originally planned!*

Although our house may not be in perfect order yet (and honestly probably won't ever be because LIFE), we can officially say we are on the other side of our second military move.   In some ways, it seems like the process for moving multiple states away is pretty simple, however, there were definitely some challenges along the way during both of our moves.

I thought I'd type up all the helpful information and tips we learned, both for me to reference when we do this again in the not-so-distant future (and probably at least 5 more times in the next 20 years) and for anyone else who may be planning a big move, military or otherwise.  Some of these tips may seem obvious, but hindsight's 20-20 and we were really figuring things out as went along.

First, here are the basic steps we went through during our moves -

- We prepared for the move, as much as we knew how.
- Employees from a moving company came and packed everything but our furniture and larger items into boxes, creating an inventory list that included general information about what each box contained.
- A separate truck line company (one company packed and another company moved, but it was all overseen by a coordinator provided by the Army) came and made their own inventory of the boxes (based on the first inventory) and of our bigger items using stickers with a number for each box, piece of furniture, etc.  They loaded everything into a huge truck and transported it to our new city of residence, where it was placed in storage.
- During our first move, we were told it may take a while for our belongings to make it to OK, and the Mister had taken a good bit of leave, so we moved in with my parents (who luckily live in NC) for a couple weeks instead of living in our empty house or a hotel. For our second move, we headed on down to Texas right away because we were informed that our house was available.
- We broke both of our journeys up over two days.  On the way to Lawton, Oklahoma, we spent a night in Little Rock, Arkansas.  And we stayed in Midland, Texas, en route to El Paso, Texas.
- Upon arrival to Lawton, we immediately began looking for a rental house.  While we were waiting to find a house and for our rental approval to go through, we stayed at a hotel in town.  Luckily, when we got to Texas, we were able to move into our house a little sooner but still had to spend a couple nights in a hotel.
- Once we officially had our house, we immediately called the company responsible for moving our belongings from storage.  In Lawton, we had to wait a couple of weeks in an empty house (without a washer, dryer, or bed) for the truck to arrive.  But, in El Paso, our delivery was made the very next day!

Tips for preparing for the move:

- As you have time in the weeks prior to the move, go through your belongings to decide what you want to keep and what you don't!  I'm so glad I did this before the packers arrived for our first move.  Having to sort out things to be thrown away or donated as we were trying to unpack would have been such a hassle. I started in the kitchen because I knew it would be the biggest pain and decided what was going with us, what needed to stay in boxes once we arrived, and what needed to be donated/thrown away.  I moved everything to boxes, but this is optional as the packers will do that for you.  I'm so glad I got rid of all my extra tupperware lids, old greeting cards, etc. Much less clutter to deal with!  This wasn't as necessary for our second move, as we hadn't acquired much during our six month stay.  We did shred all of our junk mail and cleaned out our kitchen catch-all drawers, though.
-  Before our first move, the Mister made fun of me for packing everything up into boxes just for the movers to come redo it, but I'm happy I did.  As a representative for the packing company told us, if you have a McDonald's cup sitting out on the table, they will pack it!  It was reassuring for me that I had distinguished EXACTLY what was going with us and that I had separated out the baby items, clothes, etc., that I knew we would need for the trip.  Make sure you put those items that you can't live without during the move in a car or a distinguished "safe" spot that you identify to the movers.  The last additional stressor you need is to realize that your entire wardrobe or that toy the baby can't live without is in a truck on its way to your destination and you won't have it for weeks.  I let the packers do all the packing our second go-round.  However, I was still very careful to make a thorough list of what we needed for our travels and to stow those items away safely before the packers arrived.
- If you do choose to pre-sort as I did, don't feel like you need to wrap breakable items.  I did, just to be safe, but it really was a wasted effort because the packers will, without a doubt, re-wrap everything because they are liable for your belongings during the move.
- While pre-sorting, place items in the room where you want it to go in your NEW house.  For instance, if you currently have a lamp in the living room but want it to go in the master bedroom at your new house, move it to the master bedroom.  The packers will label the boxes according to the item the room is in and the movers will place it in that room in the new house, so it saves you a step.  I had a whole system with colored dots representing rooms corresponding with a key I hung on the wall for the movers, so I thought it would be safe to move all of our boxes to a consolidated location in the guest room to make it easier to get around the house.  I was wrong - the packers paid no mind to my system and all of our boxes were consequently labeled "guest room," so we were just guessing when we got to OK about what room the items were supposed to go in.  To make it worse, they had asked us to take everything off the walls, and we had put all of our paintings, photos, wall decorations, etc., in the guest room as well, so literally pretty much everything was labeled "guest room."
- On that same note, I wanted to distinguish some items to stay out in the garage for our time in OK, as I didn't see any point in unpacking everything we owned just to move again at the end of the year.  I placed those items in boxes that I labeled "storage," hoping the packers would label the things they packed out of those boxes the same way I had (they didn't).  What I should have done is just moved those storage boxes out to the garage, then they would have labeled the items as "garage," and I wouldn't have had to go through and sort them again upon arrival.
- Be mentally prepared for the potential reality that some items will be damaged and that you may never see some of your belongings again.  I understood that some things would get banged up in the process no matter how well they were wrapped/taken care of (Liesl's diaper pail took a beating, and I'm pretty sad about that), but I was not prepared for the fact that a few of our belongings were simply lost.  In particular, a little shelf that I had planned to use for Liesl's nursery (not something replaceable - I bought it for $20 at a thrift store) totally disappeared.  There were some other items on the inventory that didn't make it as well.  If something is really special to you and you can't imagine losing it, take it with you instead of allowing the movers to transport it.  We carried most of Liesl's belongings, my jewelry, our sensitive documents, our computer, a good bit of our clothes, and Chris's tools with us.  Although it made me nervous to allow the moving company to carry our heirloom fine china, I knew they could wrap it better than me, so it would probably be safer traveling with them.  You will be reimbursed for missing/damaged items.  It's just that some things have more than a monetary value, plus you'll have to deal with the hassle of replacing them.
- To avoid spending a ton of money unnecessarily, pack towels, washcloths, cleaning supplies, etc., to keep with you.  Buying a few of these things while you wait for your belongings to be delivered seems like it will be inexpensive, but it adds up!

Tips for traveling:

- Leave early in the week so you arrive by midweek.  When we departed for Lawton, we made the mistake of scheduling our arrival for the weekend, so we were in the hotel for extra days waiting for the real estate company to be open Monday to finish processing our rental approval.
- If you're moving somewhere close enough, take a weekend trip prior to your move and recon the area.  That way you'll know what neighborhoods you like, and you may even be able to meet with a rental company or a realtor and get the ball rolling on securing your new home.  If that's not possible, start the process of finding a house as soon as you roll into town.  The longer you take to decide on a neighborhood, house/apartment, and rental/real estate company, the longer you'll be paying for and staying in a hotel room!
-  Stay at extended stay hotels, especially if you have little ones!  They're usually cheaper and you'll have a big sink, microwave, dishwasher, and full kitchen in your room.  Plus a separate room for the bedroom area, so you can put kiddos to sleep by themselves and not have to creep around in the dark.  And they usually have good laundry facilities, which is ever so important!
-  When making hotel reservations in big cities, ask about the parking situation.  We had to cancel a reservation on the spot because we didn't feel safe about leaving everything we'd brought with us in the hotel's offsite, valet-only parking garage.  With a lot of begging and acting pitiful, we were able to get our money back, but it would have been better not to be in the situation at all!
- Books on tape, y'all!  We listened to a biography about Stonewall Jackson during our first trip, which sounds pretty boring (and it was after a while) - even so, it made the time pass SO much faster than listening to music or riding in silence.  During the second trip, we drove in separate cars, and I had Liesl, so her and I mostly listened to nursery rhyme songs and Disney Christmas carols.       : )
- My parents were a HUGE help during the first trip because they brought the dogs and my car out to us a couple weeks after we got settled.  That way, we were able to take one car and not have to worry about dog potty breaks and booking dog-friendly hotel rooms in addition to taking care of the baby and finding a house.  I would definitely advise going that route if you have someone willing to help!  That wasn't feasible for our Texas move, but we made it work and we were able to find some nice hotels that welcomed doggies.

Tips upon arrival:

- Be ready to spend a lot of money.  Utility companies require deposits, rental companies also require deposits (big ones!), and you're going to have to buy incidental items for your new home, no matter how prepared you are.  The good news about deposits is that you usually get them back when you move again, but it is hard to fork over so much money all at once.
- Before the moving truck arrives, plan where you want to place your furniture and other big items.  That way you're not standing debating on which side of the room you want your dresser while the movers wait impatiently. And you're not making a rushed decision that you'll regret, which would result in moving it yourself later.
- While you have the time and you and/or your spouse are off work, explore your new city together!  You'll be glad you did this when you have to navigate by yourself, and it's a great way to become acclimated with the area and learn what's fun to do in your spare time.  Think parks, museums, restaurants, nature trails, etc.  I'll never turn down some quality family time, even if it's in the craziness of moving.  Better than sitting in a hotel room or an empty house!

General tips:

- Do your very best to go into the process with a peaceful, calm mindset.  There will be times during the car ride when you're bored out of your mind or completely on the edge of losing it from listening to your little one cry in his/her car seat.  You may have to hand wash three days worth of laundry in a hotel sink.  You'll probably come close to a car accident or two while navigating new traffic patterns and unfamiliar interstates and streets.  There will be moments when you're tired, overwhelmed, and missing your old home.  I struggle the most in the week or so after the movers have dropped off our belongings and the house is a wreck and our schedule is out of whack.  I panic because, for some reason, I have a feeling that we'll never have our house together and our lives back in order.  But we eventually do.  Just do your very best to accept it as an adventure that comes with a lot of excitement and new experiences and friends.  It's tough.  It's also wonderful.
- Feed your packers and movers!  And have waters and Gatorades for them in your fridge.  Not only is it a nice thing to do, they're most likely going to be kinder to your precious belongings if you're kind to them.

Well that was a long one... and it took me six months to finish! : ) Here's hoping it'll be helpful to someone else in the future.  At least it will be for me next time we have to move and I've forgotten a lot of the nitty, gritty details.

I would love to hear any differing or additional suggestions from other military folks or anyone else who has been through a big move.  Crowd-sourcing can be very helpful with this topic!  I know I've had LONG conversations about the drama and thrills of moves with my Army wife friends.  What works for one family doesn't always work for another, but every little bit of advice helps.