PCS Diaries Part 2: The Pack Out

January 16, 2017

By: Jill Qualters at Keep Calm & Have a Cosmo (Missed Part I? Check it out here!)

The day before our packers were supposed to show up they called and told us that they would actually be coming a day later. They estimated they only needed two days to pack instead of three, so they would see us later in the week. This is not the first time this has happened: the mad scramble to organize and purge only to be told the night before that they’d be a day late. This works great if and only if their estimates are correct. When we moved out of Kansas they squeezed to two days and then only sent 1.5 people the first day. Watching them madly try to pack my entire kitchen (and pretty much 100% of my breakables) while the truck was idling outside with the annoyed driver staring at his watch was not fun.

Thankfully, this pack out went very smoothly. We were hooked up with Ace Moving and Storage out of Los Angeles and the driver helped with packing. If you have the opportunity to request a company out of Southern California I highly recommend Ace.

Some tips if you are being packed out:

1. Organize everything you can so that when you arrive at your destination things end up in the same room. If you are an overachiever, use different colored duct tape and go around the house after the packers leave and color code your boxes (for example: blue tape for boys room, red tape for kitchen, yellow tape for living room). Do it by rooms in your NEXT HOUSE. They will label boxes by your current house. If you know that your living room furniture will be going in the basement of your next house, label it so that your unloaders take it the right place.

** I found this especially important this move because of the change from sea level to 7,000 feet elevation. Carrying boxes up and down the stairs was… interesting… Exhausting. Where the hell is the oxygen?!?!

2. Use bags (we use the giant ziplock bags) to organize toys, kitchen goods, clothing, jewelry, desk items, and more. Sorry, environment.

3. Decide what is pro-gear and set it aside for the packers. MILSPOUSES GET PRO-GEAR TOO! If you are close to your weight limit, make sure that all of those textbooks you’ve kept get put in the pro-gear section with your husband’s flight gear, books, heavy uniforms, etc.

4. Section off a bathroom/small bedroom for items that belong to the house (fireplace screens, remotes for any lights, garage door openers, keys, etc). Put signs all over this door and keep an eye on it. Many packers get into a zone – if you can lock the door, do it.

5. In your “do not pack” room also include items you plan to move yourself (expensive jewelry, personal electronics, fire box with important documents, suitcases with clothes for the road, etc). Make sure you pack your necklaces in such a way that they don’t become a tangled blob in transit. I use snack size ziplocks but know people who use paper towels. I’m sure there are many great methods – just do SOMETHING.

5a. The things you haul in your vehicle are subject to reimbursement. If you are stuffing your car full of items, make sure you weigh your vehicle. It can easily mean a few hundred dollars in your pocket. Weigh empty at your current duty station, full at your current duty station, then full again at your final destination.** the military changes this policy and the rules surrounding it often, please look those up to make sure you get your $$.

6. Think carefully about what you will need on the road and at your new location. Creature comforts can mean quite a bit on moves where kids are cranky, you are tired, and everyone feels like fish out of water. Remember new climates and even climates along the drive. We pack in a few very large suitcases but then bring overnight bags so that we can transfer only what we need for that evening. We don’t like lugging in a weeks worth of clothing just for a one night pitstop at a hotel.

7. If you are living in your home while they are packing, ask them to pack your bedding last. Keep all toiletries and clothing you need in the “do not pack” room. It is easiest and most efficient if you give your packers a “free for all” to pack everything in sight. If you tell them “don’t pack this half of the bathroom” don’t be surprised if they pack your contact lens case and toothbrush. They are paid to be efficient – make it easy for them.

8. The tip vs. no tip debate rages in the military. Tipping is completely optional and up to you. I’ve read military instructions not to tip because not all military families can afford it. They don’t want higher ranking families treated differently because of the expectation of better tipping. I won’t talk about whether we tip cash or not, but what we do make sure to do (and recommend all families do) is to provide access to water (cooler full of bottled water) and food. They are in your house for a long time, allowing them access to snacks and drinks is a kind gesture. We also provide lunch for our packers and let them request what they want. Most are really sick of pizza so we don’t assume or plan ahead for those meals, we try and cater toward what they like. Our packers this time requested In ‘n’ Out the first day and Burger King the second. Easy trips through the drive-thru and they were very appreciative.

The pack out requires eyes and ears in the house. I try not to be overbearing or too picky with my packers, but I do make myself a presence and am assertive about certain items. For example, I had one move where they packed a lot of my art and framed items in boxes without separation. As you can imagine, my frames were scratched up (the backs of pictures scratched the fronts of others). In another move, packers packed a huge framed print of mine WITH MY INK ADDRESS STAMP loose in one box (I am still WTFing over that 3 years later). If you look closely, you can see a 3-moves-ago address lightly imprinted on the photograph. So now I’m annoying about how they pack my framed prints and canvas art. In my 6 PCS experience, they usually mean well, but many aren’t super careful.

Make sure you point out high value items. Not all $$$ items look like they are worth a lot. We have a tailhook that is very valuable and most people would just think it is a hunk of black and white metal.

9. Ask questions about how they are protecting your furniture. Because of the nature of government contracts, there is no standard practice for military moves. We’ve had moves where every tiny piece of ours was wrapped in a ton of plastic and others where there was almost nothing. If your stuff is going into storage and they are just using blankets (which usually belong to the driver) ask questions about how it will be protected in storage.

Which brings me to the last part of our own story…

When our driver arrived at our house on October 26th we started negotiating a delivery date with him. We had asked for November 7th when we put our move request into the system. Unfortunately, drivers do not need to heed requests from the customers. They only have to get items to locations within a timeline, not on a specific date. This can be stressful for families who want to try and actually enjoy a long drive cross country – they end up with the choice being “racing the truck” or having their stuff go into storage (with higher chance of damage because of extra handling and no promises about re-delivery).

In our case, the driver definitely needed to push the date up and asked for November 2nd. My husband couldn’t do that (he had to attend a work ceremony on November 3rd) but luckily for our family I was able to flex. So I booked my hotel for the drive out and made plans to arrive November 1st.

Then the day of the load up (10/28) he informed us that a job he had schedule on the way was cancelled. He would need to meet me in Colorado Springs on 10/31. At a house where our lease didn’t start until 11/1. **start panic**

Luckily I was able to call our landlord and pay for two extra days pro-rated to our lease. I was able to change my plans and on 10/29, MUCH earlier than I was hoping or expecting, I hit the road alone to make the drive between the LA area and Colorado. I arrived the afternoon of Halloween, saw our house for the first time (sight unseen rentals are a military specialty and something I may write about one day), and got ready for the next morning by placing signs on all the doors (girls room, boys room, master, living room, dining room, etc.)

Bottom line: moving is exhausting even with packers. One of the worst things you can say to a military family is “oh, it must be so nice to have packers” or “wow, moving must be easy when you don’t have to do anything”. Newsflash: there is a lot to do. There is a lot of prep (despite what the media may say) and there is a lot of oversight. There is also a lot of unknown and negotiation that goes into these moves behind the scenes. Younger military members may not know all of their rights or what to ask/expect out of their packers.

*Check out Part III of the PCS Diaries here!*


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