How to Do a PCS Move Like a Pro from a Military Spouse

Written by Valerie McCarley


Love it or hate it, Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves are typical in military life. On average, military families relocate to a new duty station every two to four years. These moves are so frequent that military children entering their senior year of high school are likely to have moved 6-9 times. Moving is hard on all members of the family, including kids, but there are ways to make this daunting task more manageable.

Whether this is your first PCS as a family or your sixth (ask me how I know!), these PCS moving tips will help take some of the stress out of the moving process:


1. Declutter, Declutter, Declutter

This is not a drill. Declutter. Now. And again later. Continue to declutter. Things have a sneaky habit of making their way into our current homes. Think about whether or not you want to open a box and find this item staring back at you in your new home. The sooner you declutter, the easier the packing, moving, and unpacking process will be. Plus, it’ll help you stay under your allotted weight for the PCS move!


PCS Move: Bonus Tip

Once you’ve downsized, begin to organize. With items grouped together, it’ll be more likely the movers will pack like with like. Also, consider items the movers won’t pack, such as batteries. My favorite move-related purchase from the past few years has been a battery organizer. With a place for every battery type, I can easily tell if I’m running low and it makes grabbing the batteries super simple for the car ride to our next duty station!


2. Pre-Pack Bedding

Okay, so this goes against most traditional advice for PCS moves. You’re usually encouraged not to pre-pack if using a moving company, but trust me on this one. Buy a super large, heavy-duty, clear plastic tote (bonus if it has wheels!) and place all the bedding you’ll need for your first night in your new abode. Include your favorite sheets and comforter/duvet from your primary bedroom plus any bedding you’ll need for the kids. You may even need two or three bins, depending on the size of your bedding. Feel free to leave the lid off the bin if you want the movers to officially inspect, secure, and pack the tote.

Why does this help? Although they’ll likely place packing paper around your bin before loading it onto the moving truck, this tote (or totes) will stand out from all the other standard-size cardboard boxes the movers brought, making it a cinch to spot and grab before making your bed for the night. Because who wants to look through a million boxes just to find sheets after a PCS military move?!?


PCS Move: Bonus Tip

Buy new bed pillows on your way to the duty station or shortly after you arrive, but before your Household Goods (HHG) are delivered. Because sleeping on brand-new pillows in your favorite bedding on your first real night in your new home is glorious. Sleep well, my friend.


3. Take the Parts Box

If this is your first military move, you may not know that the movers will create a box for any small, miscellaneous parts. For example, if they take any furniture apart (your bed, desk, etc.), they’ll place all the tiny assembly bits into a small cardboard box that they’ll label as the “Parts” box. Do not let them pack this onto the truck or in the crate. If this box is misplaced for any reason, they’ll be unable to reassemble your furniture. Take this with you when you move, if at all possible.


PCS Move: Bonus Tip

It can also be really helpful to have sandwich bags and a Sharpie available on your pack day to help the movers corral and label these small parts. This will make finding the right screws for the right furniture a gazillion times easier for your military move!


4. Hotel Breakfast

If you’re driving to your next duty station, look for hotels along the way that provide a complimentary breakfast. Some even offer a light dinner or appetizers! You’re already paying to stay at the hotel, so take advantage of these perks. Does this make me cheap? Maybe. But military family moving is expensive, so save where you can.


PCS Move: Bonus Tip

Always ask for a military discount when reserving your room and check to see if the hotel is pet-friendly when traveling with furry companions. You’ll also want to know your per diem rate to make the most of your travel budget for any PCS military move.


5. Moving Boxes Go to the Garage

You’re finally in your new home! Larger pieces of furniture are brought in and placed or reassembled. Within no time, it will start to look and feel like home — a place where you can relax after all the hustle and bustle of the move. So why crowd your new space with rows and rows of moving boxes?

With the exception of the kitchen (kitchen boxes are heavy!) and your handy-dandy clear plastic tote full of bedding (see tip #2), ask the movers to place all other boxes in your garage, zoning different areas for various rooms in your house. Unpack, wash, and put away all kitchen items that first night or within the first few days. All other boxes can be slowly unpacked as needed. This way, your home is fully livable, neat, and tidy from day one, ready for all the memories you’ll make there.


PCS Move: Bonus Tip

Some people find it beneficial to buy or create colorful labels to designate each room. By adding these color-coded stickers to your moving boxes before the packers load the truck, you can then ensure that each room is sorted appropriately in the garage on unload day.


Let ASYMCA Help You Settle In

PCS moves are exhausting, fun, exciting, and overwhelming all at the same time. Once you’ve finally landed in your new location, find your nearest Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA). With educational services, day camps, after-school programs, and more, ASYMCA can help you and your family feel at home at your new duty station. And don’t forget to check out the Neighborhood Exchange food distribution to help restock your pantry, if available in your area.


Learn About the ASYMCA


What are your best PCS tips? Post to social media using the hashtag #ASYMCAPCSTips to continue the conversation. Your insight could make the next PCS so much easier for a fellow military family!