“Prepare, prepare, prepare. I can’t say enough about how important that is,” said Army wife Telisha Thomas, who has made at least 10 moves in their 25 years of marriage.
U.S. Transportation Command and industry officials advise making sure you are ready to go on packing and moving days. Make sure your home and belongings are clean and organized.
Thomas has taken that preparation to a whole new level following some moves early in their military life resulted in loss and damage. For example, all their CDs disappeared, big footprints have appeared on sofa cushions and a leg was broken off an antique dining table.
Years ago, she began sealing items in various ways using bubble wrap, plastic wrap and various sizes of sealable plastic bags. She goes room to room, drawer by drawer, closet by closet, and does a pre-pack, grouping items such as CDs together, labeling and sealing them in zippered plastic bags. She puts folded clothes from drawers in larger bags. She bubble-wraps things like removable sofa cushions. Decorative pillows are grouped together in bags. When her two boys were younger, she wrapped their assembled toys, such as Lego creations, in plastic wrap to keep the pieces together.
She leaves the dish-wrapping to the packers, but she slides her entire kitchen utensil drawer organizer into a sealable plastic bag.
This prep work means all the packers have to do is put those wrapped items and plastic bags with accompanying paper in the boxes. And if the packers put linens in with items from the garage, at least the linens won’t get dirty, she said.
At the other end, it makes unpacking easier, as she just slides the contents from the bags into their new spot. This system has come in handy at every turn. And that organization has helped in some cases when unexpected things happened during moves.
During a move to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, her father passed away suddenly and the family went to Houston. Her husband had to fly back earlier to start his job, and he accepted the household goods delivery. “I was glad I did the pre-packing, because that made it easier for him. When we got back, he had everything put away,” she said.
“Moving is a challenge,” she said. “Make life easier by preparation. Life still happens during moves.
“Mental stability goes a long way in a move, anything that can help make a happier, smoother experience, and for me it’s being organized in a move and being prepared,” Thomas said.
Her system has worked for her family. “I’ve noticed we don’t have as much damage as we used to. … Once I started wrapping and grouping together, and labeling and numbering. … It’s almost like people see there’s accountability for the items. We haven’t had anything missing since then.”
Other Thomas tips:
♦ Catalog your belongings. She does this on her Pinterest page, uploading pictures of her items and of comparable items from the store’s website. It’s come in handy when she’s had to file a claim.
♦ Be an advocate for your belongings. When something needs more care, let movers know. “I’m not shy about going to the packers and saying something needs extra support in these areas, and telling them what needs to be done,” she said. These are your items you’ve worked hard for, and you have every right to be proactive and to be in control when it comes to how your things are being packed, she said.
♦ Keep original boxes for things like lamps. The box has molded material to help protect the lamp and keep the shade intact. She boxes those lamps herself before the packers arrive.
♦ Separate the items you’ll take with you — documents such as passports, fine jewelry, cash, copies of military orders — and put them in a bag either in the car or in the bathroom labeled “Don’t Pack” on the door. That includes prescription medicines, and over-the-counter items for unexpected tummy aches and headaches. Bring your child’s academic binder which includes school records, recommendation letters, shot records, anything you’ll need to register them in school. Don’t forget pet shot records.
♦ Make sure you have plenty of snacks and entertainment for your children for the trip. Thomas used art bags that fit on the back of the front seats, with all kinds of treasures such as stickers, puzzle games, crafts. Her boys were big Lego fans, and she allowed them to pick out new, smaller Lego items to take on trips.
♦ If your spouse can’t be there to help, ask someone you know to help with an extra set of eyes and hands during the packout and during the delivery. After one move to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, her husband had to travel elsewhere, so she did it by herself, with two young boys. “You can’t be everywhere,” she said.
♦ Put things packers may need such as paper towels and soap in a dedicated area such as the powder room or kitchen.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.