As if we needed any other reasons to thank the brave men and women who volunteer to join the American military, there's this: They've signed on to pack up and move to new states, countries, even continents -- often multiple times.
In fact, military personnel move an average of once every three years. Sure, it's adventurous, but if you've ever stuffed your possessions into boxes you know full well it's also a hassle -- especially when you do it again and again. So how do they deal?
Well, one upside to all this packing and unpacking -- at least for you, dear reader -- is that members of the military and their families possess some hard-won knowledge on how to make moving as easy and stress-free as humanly possible. So we asked them to share tips everyone can use to successfully transition a home, and a life, to a new place.
Purge, purge, purge
Rachel Tenpenny Crawford, a military spouse and co-founder of Teamotions (a line of "teas for emotional well-being"), has moved seven times in nine years. This is a lot of upheaval. One of the biggest mistakes relocators make is paying to moving stuff that they should trash.
Three months before your movers arrive, Crawford suggests, "systematically go through every cabinet, drawer, and room in the house and garage." She keeps an eye out for "the clutter of life that I don't want following me, like papers that have piled up, clothes my boys have grown out of, and toys that are no longer played with." She gives items that are in decent shape to Goodwill or neighbors, and bids a fine farewell to the rest.
Says Crawford: "Slowly but surely getting rid of everything you don't need to take to a new house makes unpacking on the other side emotionally and logistically easier."
Take keepsakes with you
If life itself is fragile, belongings are (thankfully) way more so. "It's a fact as sure as the sun will rise and set that something will get broken or lost during a move," says Crawford. That's why she wisely keeps important items with her instead of entrusting them to movers.
"Nothing gets you off to a worst start in a new house than finding your favorite memento or keepsake destroyed," she says. Amen.
Let children keep important items, too
Moving means crating up your entire life and sometimes not having access to it for weeks. So during a move, Crawford makes sure her boys have things that provide security and comfort.
"A favorite stuffed animal, their pillow, and a few toys in their backpack ease the transition," she says. Another huge plus? It will save parents "the panic of ripping open every box to find Snowy Bear to calm the jitters of sleeping in a new house on the first night."
Never lose important documents
Alison Maruca -- former active-duty military and current Navy wife -- has moved a whopping 13 times. She warns to never pack important documents. Instead, keep marriage and birth certificates, passports, checkbooks, Social Security cards, and family medical records with you when you travel to your new home.
"This is to ensure we can sign a lease, open accounts, and establish our life in a new location without having to wait for the delivery of household goods," says Maruca.
Keep an eye on your packers
If you hire movers to pack up your belongings as well, remember this: "Packers don't care nearly as much as you do about your items -- or how things will be put back together when you arrive at your new location," says military spouse Nancy Grade. She advises keeping an eye on packers and to speak up if any behavior makes you feel uncomfortable. And always hand-carry furniture hardware.
"We've had movers lose hardware to our furniture twice," she says.
Reach out to your network
Moving is not just about transporting physical objects, it's also about transitioning to a new community. Jed Bratt -- prior-duty Navy and now a Realtor working with military clients in San Diego -- advises relocators to reach out to friends and family who may have lived in your new neighborhood.
"Asking for tips and advice on the area will save you loads of time when you get out there," says Bratt.
Pack an essentials box
After her nine moves, Crawford knows what's absolutely essential to hit the ground running in a new home. For the bedroom: sheets and pillowcases. For the kitchen: forks, knives, spoons, and bowls ("for the cereal you will live on the first two or three days"). For the bathroom: "a shower curtain and rod, towels, and toilet paper."
Crawford says these essentials need to be packed up, labeled, and put on the truck last, so they'll be the first off. And she promises that this box will make your postmove life much easier.
"It allows you to prepare beds (even if they are on the floor), take showers, use the toilet, and eat from the moment you arrive. Your stress level will go down the instant you see this box come off the truck," she says. "Putting down roots so often requires a bit of finesse and can be exciting when done wisely."
Plan, plan, plan, but stay open to change
Maruca says moving can be "super easy, or the most challenging hurdle you've ever faced. There are certainly horror stories out there of terrible moving experiences." To keep stress levels low, she says, prepare as much as possible, but be ready and flexible for the inevitable changes that come your way.