military family moving tips

Spring is prime moving season, and my social media feeds are filled with announcements of people who are uprooting their lives and moving away. Some are headed toward a new job or a job relocation. Others are moving across town to a new apartment. Still others are finishing school or getting married and moving to a new home.

How do you feel about moving? I was never particularly troubled by moving — I’m pretty good at focusing on the adventure of it all and am confident that the list of things that must be done, will eventually get done. But I realized that after this last big move (from France to Oakland, almost 4 years ago now), I’m much more resistant to the idea of moving. 

Moving is hard. And the farther the move, the harder it is. There’s often emotional trauma as you leave dear friends and a beloved home. There’s likely to be financial hardship because even the best planned move will come with surprise expenses. And there’s a mental exhaustion too, from the thousand or more decisions that have to be made — every room, closet and cupboard has to be emptied, and for every object, you have to decide: pack it, give it away, or throw it away. It’s rough. After our last move, I had a total mental breakdown.

But. Moves are also amazing. A move equals a fresh start, discovery, adventure, learning, new friends, new foods, new views. Change brings excitement and inspiration.

Our kids have been pushing us for another adventure. “Let’s move to another country!” they say, “Just for a year! No big deal!” I feel that same pull but find myself resisting. More boxes? Can I manage it?

Who knows. Happily I don’t have to decide today. 

But I know some of you do have to decide today. You have a move looming and you’re worried. Well, my sister Rachel, has been a military wife for almost 30 years now. And as you might expect, she has lived in many, many homes, all across the country, and in Europe too. She is a total moving pro. I asked Rachel to give us her very best moving tips. Yes, moving is never easy, but she’s figured out a way to make the process as smooth as possible.

Here’s what Rachel says:

As a military wife I have had lots of addresses, made lots of friends and tried my best to learn from women who have been there before me. Here are a few things I learned about moving that made my life easier, inside and outside of a military life; I hope they will be of use to you too.

Have all your important papers in one place.

I keep mine in a binder and always know where it is. This has saved me more than once when trying to get a new driver’s license or sign kids up in a new school. Click here for a copy of the list I work from and get yours together today. You’ll be surprised at how much peace of mind it brings to you to have this in order.

Don’t own anything that you will cry over when it’s broken by the movers.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate really lovely (and sometimes expensive) items, but during a move, I didn’t want to worry about something getting stolen or at ending up at the bottom of the ocean — and I didn’t want the grief of having to work with the claims office when something did break. Instead I purchased things knowing that I would replace them in a few years. Other than our journals and family photographs (which are slowly being digitized and saved) I have tried not to put much emotional value on “things”.

Finish moving in quickly.

Three days is always our goal to be moved in; everything put away, boxes at the curb and pictures on the wall. (You can always change things later.) We did this for two reasons, 1- We wanted to get things back to normal quickly so we could relax and explore our new town. 2- There are few things more depressing than those last 6 boxes in the corner of the garage. Yuck!! Which reminds me, if you open a box and you aren’t happy to see the contents, take the whole box to the curb immediately.

Embrace your new home.

No one said this has to be your favorite place in the world but you can appreciate where you are. No matter where we’ve lived, there were great people, interesting histories and cool things to do nearby. Whether it is a state park, castle ruins or Friday Night Lights; we try to take advantage of the experiences available locally (we especially love free experiences).

Stay positive. If you are happy your kids will be too.

Early on in our military life someone told me that she loved growing up in an army family because her mom made it so much fun. She described with excitement in her voice, how her mom would get out maps and travel brochures and they would read and learn together about their soon-to-be new home. This was a life changing conversation for me and I saw this “make it great” idea confirmed again and again in every family I met. If the kids were happy and excited and adventurous, I would find the mom to be the same. If the mom loved living in Europe, it didn’t surprise me that the kids did as well. If the mom seemed to handle deployments well, the kids usually did too.

Most importantly, enjoy the time your family is together. Those times can be taken away so easily and so quickly; love every second!


Thank you so much, Rachel. This is super helpful.

What’s your take, Dear Readers? Have you moved a lot? Does the idea of moving stress you out? Or maybe it excites you? Have you ever had a particularly hard move? Or a particularly easy one? What advice would you add to Rachel’s list?

P.S. — The number one best strategy for packing boxes. And a recent article from the NYT on how to avoid stress when moving.