Tips for Moving From a Military Spouse

Tips for Moving From a Military Spouse

Guest Post: Hannah Pye

When you are a military spouse, moving is par for the course. With every move, you develop more strategies to help the process go smoothly and efficiently. Military spouses also benefit from the tight-knit community of military families, each with their own tips on how to navigate a PCS (which stands for Permanent Change of Station, the military term for a move). I’m blessed to be a part of both the military and the medical communities, and I frequently see questions about moving in medical spouse social network groups. Medical families also want their moves to be smooth and efficient, so I’ve compiled the best military move tips for civilian medical moves.

Make a move budget

Be sure to include expenses like eating out (because your kitchenware is in boxes), gas alone the route, etc. If you’re moving for a DWT (Done With Training) job, ask for a relocation allowance to offset the coast of the move

Consider Using a Moving Planner

Pick one like the one from Move Mama Move. Alternatively, you can make your own with a 3-ring binder. Pencil zip pouches make great holders for documents like move receipts, passports, social security cards, etc.

Do your Research on Move Options

Your final decision should take into account distance, budget, time constraints, and personal preferences. There are multiple ways to get your stuff from point A to point B, including:

DITY (Do It Yourself) move. This move is now called a PPM (Personally Procured Move) in the military, but the meaning is the same. You will pack, load, drive, unload, and unpack completely on your own. This tends to be the most economical option but is also the most stressful and time-consuming. Another option is to do some of the work yourself but hire professionals to do other portions. For instance, you pack your items but hire someone to load your truck; this plays to your strengths (hate to pack but love to drive? Hire someone to pack and then drive the truck yourself!) while eliminating the part of moving you hate the most. This tends to be less stressful than a complete do-it-yourself approach but more economical for civilians than a completely professional move. 

Completely professional move. In this scenario, you hire professionals to pack, load, transport, unload, and sometimes even unpack your belongings. The movers will disassemble and reassemble furniture as necessary, provide their own boxes and packing paper. This method requires the least physical work on your part, but remember to oversee every step of the process to ensure your belongings are appropriately cared for. 

Make sure your homeowners or renters insurance covers your items in transit from your old home to your new home

The last thing you want is damage en route to discover that your insurance doesn’t cover your belongings once they leave the insured residence.

Know what you own and what it’s worth. Know what your movers’ liability policies are in case something gets broken.

In the military, we write what’s called a “High Value Inventory,” which lists any and all expensive items. This should include serial numbers if possible, where the item was purchased, and FVR (full value replacement) of said item. If the item was custom-made or sentimental, do your best to approximate the value based on comparable items you find online. 

Take pictures of the current condition of items before your move. Include videos of any electronics in working condition powering on. 

Do A PCS Purge

This is the military term for going through all of your belongings and getting rid of anything you don’t want or need to take to your next home. A tip? If it’s still in the box from your last move, you don’t need it!

A good way to offset your moving expenses is to sell items you don’t want or need. Yard sales are often more trouble than they are worth, but with the rise of social media marketplaces, selling your items has never been simpler.

Plan your route.

In the military, long distance CONUS (that means within the Continental US) moves often mean a fun road trip for the family. If you have the time, plan to do something fun along the way. Just remember that if you are driving your own truck, that limits your ability to stop and sightsee.

There are simple ways to move certain items:


The newer style of wardrobe boxes are designed to lie flat instead of stand up. Either way, it can be helpful to group clothes and put them in a (clean) trash bag. The bag ties around the hangers, protecting your clothes from dust and the musty moving smell. This reduces the amount of laundry to do at your next location. This method also ensures any clothes that might fall off their hanger are safely secured in the trash bag.

If you, like myself, hate using plastic or being wasteful, remember that the vast majority of these trash bags will likely arrive in pristine condition and can then be used for trash after you unpack. 

Clothes/linens/bedding can all be packed in Ziplock Flex Totes or in vacuum pack bags to save space and maintain organization.


Similarly, silverware can be bagged in ziploc baggies, ensuring it stays clean and doesn’t need to be rewashed upon arrival. I highly recommend this to loading loose silverware in boxes, even if it’s wrapped in paper. You don’t want loose knives floating around when it’s unboxing time!

Drawers of small items. There are two ways to move drawers of small items:

Dump contents into a large ziploc bag and label bag “buffet drawer #3.” Then when you arrive at your new home, all you have to do is dump the contents back into that drawer. This method also works well for small toys like Legos or Barbie accessories. 

Wrap and tape the drawer with contents still inside. Saran wrap works better for this method than packing paper, which is more likely to tear. This is less recommended for long-distance moves but can work well for shorter moves. Keep in mind this will make the furniture much heavier. 

Liquids and opened food.

I cannot stress enough that liquids and opened foods (including spices) must be appropriately packed so they do not ruin your other belongings. At bare minimum, these items should be contained in a resealable bag or other waterproof container. 

If you are packing these items in plastic bins, tape the bin closed so it cannot come open during the move. A shampoo leak can ruin your furniture. 


Mattress bags are cheap and easy to apply and ensure your mattress does not gather dust or get dirty during your move. 

If you are packing yourself, consider the following:

Ask for boxes and packing paper from neighbors, family, friends, and your local BuyNothing group. This cuts down on your moving costs and is environmentally friendly to boot!

Use linens and t-shirts to wrap fragile items such as plates, art, etc. You have to pack the linens anyway – this cuts down on the number of boxes you need. (If you do this, I recommend washing those clothes/linens after unpacking.)

If you are having professionals pack your belongings, consider the following:

Communicate in advance with the company about their expectations. Make sure you are prepared to their standards to make the day(s) go smoothly. Common expectations include:

  • Your house and items are clean.
  • All artwork/mirrors to be packed are removed from the wall.
  • Belongings in attics/crawl spaces are removed from the attic and placed in a more easily accessible location for packing/moving.
  • Assume the packers will pack anything they can see. Ensure anything that is NOT being packed (items you need to take with you in your car, that stay in the house, or that you are not keeping) is housed in one location with a DO NOT PACK sign on the door/drawer/cabinet. It is a common joke among military families that movers will pack a full trash can if it’s in view. It seems silly, but double check that your trash can is emptied if it’s being packed or in your DO NOT PACK location if it stays. 
  • If you have pets, keep them safely corralled and out of the movers’ way. Aside from the potential tripping hazard for your movers, there’s also the danger that your beloved cat will decide a box looks like a cozy napping spot and get packed away. Don’t believe me? It’s happened on multiple occasions to military spouses.

If you are having professionals load/unload, consider the following:

Have water bottles available for the movers. It’s a small kindness that ensures they are healthy while they are working for you. 

Label each box with a color (using a marker/stickers/etc.) that corresponds to the box’s contents. When the movers arrive to unpack at your new home, this makes it easy to direct the boxes to the desired room. All you have to do is stand at the door, look for the colored stickers, and tell them where to go. No turning the box to locate the label or having to open the box to see what’s inside.

Another option is to use moving QR code stickers instead of a color system. You and/or the movers can scan the QR code on a box and know where the box should go. 

Have a plan for where furniture will go and communicate this plan to the movers. Knowing where the furniture will be placed should also affect where you instruct movers to place the boxes in that room.

If you are using PODS/UPack/etc. or are hiring a company to transport your items, consider the following:

Ensure each box has your last name and contact information on it in case there is an error with delivery. If you do this, make sure you censor this information on the boxes before the boxes leave your house after you are unpacked. 

Carry any sensitive documents (passports, medical license, tax documents, etc.) and smaller high-value items such as jewelry with you in your car instead of packing them into the truck. 

If your items will be transported to storage for any length of time, consider the following:

Avoid packing in plastic totes or bins. These do not breathe and increase the likelihood your items will mold in storage.

Ensure each box has your last name and contact information on it in case there is a mix-up at the storage facility. 

Do your research on the facility – is it climate controlled or not? This will determine how items should be packed. Anything electronic, instruments, or heat/moisture sensitive items should go to a climate controlled storage facility. 

If you have children, make a plan for them to be occupied during the move.

Ideally, send them to a friend or family for the day. If that’s not an option, cue up their favorite movie and put them in an out-of-the-way location. Some ideas:

  • If it’s a nice day, set them up on a towel outside in the shade. 
  • Pack the easiest room first, then let your child(ren) settle into that room for the remainder of the move process. 
  • Make sure you have enough snacks and a water bottle set aside – don’t let these items get packed!
  • Set expectations about when it is appropriate to interrupt you during the move day and when it is not. My kids know I’m serious when I ask them to please only come get me if it’s an emergency. Your attention needs to be on moving details, not on who ate the last goldfish cracker. 
  • Older children and teens can be given jobs such as watching a room (if you’re having professionals pack you), cleaning once a room has been emptied of its items, or labeling and taping boxes (if you’re packing yourself). 
  • I highly recommend letting your children choose one or two things to keep with them that will make the new residence feel like home those first few nights when everything is still in boxes or your stuff has not arrived yet. My children typically choose some stuffed animals to sleep with, a few books, and a blanket. 

Everyone has their own move style, but moving is a pain no matter what. I hope these tips are helpful as you begin to plan and execute the transition to your new location! 

Remember to give yourself and your family some grace during the moving process. All the planning and physical preparation for moving do not change the fact that transitions are difficult. At this point in our 11 years of marriage, we have moved 7 times (this summer will make 8!). My husband learned pretty quickly that I am not a fun person during moves; the stress makes me short-tempered and grumpy. Being aware of how your spouse and children respond to stress and change can help you be prepared emotionally for the move. 

Wanting to stay organized during the moving process? Check out the Move Mama Move Relocation Planners to keep you on top of it all. Subscribe (in the sidebar →) to Move Mama Move, and you will receive a special offer on items in Move Mama Move’s shop, including the Relocation Planners.

About the author: Hannah Pye is the wife of an Army physician and the mother to two energetic little girls. They lived in Hawaii for the three years of residency and now, after a few years of attending life, are headed to yet another residency. She is so passionate about building and maintaining strong and healthy medical marriages that she literally wrote the course on it! If you want to strengthen your medical marriage, you can sign up for the Residency-Proof Your Marriage course here: Residency-Proof Your Marriage | The Scope of Practice Academy

tips for moving from a military spouse

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