Thriving & Surviving Military Life: Dealing With Stuff That Doesn’t Fit In the New House!

Military Thriving and Surviving Life | Dealing with Stuff That Doesn't Fit in the New House!

In my Thriving and Surviving Military life posts over the last year, I had a tendency to focus (mostly) on the emotional toll this life takes on spouses. These are absolutely valuable posts (and they generate some of the best interaction with you guys!), but they take a lot out of me to write, and I have to wait until I’m ready to dive into certain topics. My hope with this series has always been to not only give a glimpse into the various challenges, opportunities, highs and lows of military life…but also to provide tips and tricks for weathering it all. It recently occurred to me that there are also some lighter, even comical, topics I can talk about too. Today’s topic came from a Reader Survey response, and is actually something I’ve wanted to talk about too: what to do with all the stuff you love but just doesn’t fit into the new house. I hinted on Thursday that I’d be sharing a dirty little secret with you today…are you ready to see it? Get your pin buttons ready folks…and take a peek at my Pile o’ Stuff!

Military Thriving and Surviving Life | Dealing with Stuff That Doesn't Fit in the New House!

(Hanging head in shame.)

I can’t believe I am posting these pictures on the Internet for all to see. I constantly tout that I hate clutter, I hate piles, I hate full garages, and I firmly believe in the power of regular purging. And all these things are true. But there is something else that is true for those of us that move a lot: sometimes things just don’t fit right, but it doesn’t make sense to get rid of it all every time either. And so…I would venture a guess that most of us military families have a pile like this sitting somewhere in our garage, basement, storage unit, etc. (Please tell me I’m not alone here!)

What all is in my Pile o’ Stuff, you ask? Oh! All sorts of things! To start there are the usual things many of you probably have stored too…baby clothes and furniture we’d love to be able to use again and random project items waiting for inspiration to strike. But what is mostly in this pile are good-quality, usable, functional items that we’ve used in homes in the past to meet particular needs, but we just don’t have space or place for them now. These things include drawer organizers, frames, floating shelves, lamps/lighting, bins/baskets, and decorative items.

Military Thriving and Surviving Life | Dealing with Stuff That Doesn't Fit in the New House!

It’s a pain to move stuff from house to house and never use it. It’s a pain to find storage places for these things (especially when base housing tends to be low on storage!). So if we don’t have a use/places for these items, then why keep them? The answer is a simple one: because we MIGHT need them in the next house or maybe even in the house after that.

Military Thriving and Surviving Life | Dealing with Stuff That Doesn't Fit in the New House!

If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, then you know I am passionate about making a house work perfectly for you during the time you live there. I thrive in brainstorming solutions, finding the right pieces to fill awkward nooks, and creating ultimate function where there is none. I don’t like cramming things in that don’t fit, and I really don’t like wasted space. And while some items translate from one space to the next, this approach often requires hunting down and/or creating new, tailored items specifically for that home. I certainly don’t believe in carrying around everything we’ve ever bought from house to house (we did have 4 garage sales last year, remember?!?), but it can be costly and wasteful to buy and sell off and buy and sell off with every single move. Because I am a purger and like to have clutter-free spaces, I have been guilty of selling things off (usually at garage sales) only to re-buy it years later because the need arises yet again. This is the frustrating (and sometimes costly) reality that military families face. Get rid of it and possibly have to re-buy it down the road, or carry it around from home to home…state to state…country to country…and maybe never use it again. It’s a fine line to walk and not an easy situation to wrap up into a clean little solution. And while I am certainly not perfect at it (do you see that big pile in our garage?!?), I do want to share a few tips that might help you keep a bit of control on the stuff you do keep and help you decide what to do with the stuff that just doesn’t fit next time you move!

Before You Move

I’m a big advocate of purging both before AND after a move, and this is why: there are things you just don’t want anymore no matter how much space or money you have…so don’t even bother moving them! On the other hand, there are items you may not love but they can fill a need in the new place until you find just the right thing. I say bring them along, and then get rid of them on the other side if/when you no longer need them. Before the moving trucks even arrive, I recommend the following:

  • Get rid of any items that you really, really don’t like
  • Get rid of any items that are broken or severely damaged
  • Get rid of any items that you know you are going to replace on the other side and you won’t need in the meantime
  • Get rid of items that will not survive a move in tact
  • Get rid of any items you absolutely won’t need again

When You Move In

For most of us (I think), a majority of our belongings are things we love and will make the “final cut.” Move everything you love and absolutely want/need in your home into places first. As you identify storage and/or decorative needs, visit that pile of things you don’t absolutely love and see if you can tweak/alter them to make it work in your new space. Depending on how badly you need to solve a functional or decorative problem (as well as how long you will be there and your budget constraints), then go shopping for items to make your new home work just right.

After You’re Moved In

Once you are moved in, everything you love has been given the right place inside the house, and you’ve solved a majority of your functional and decorative situations, you are most likely still left with a slew of stuff that didn’t make the final cut (see my pile above). What do you do now? Again, the answer is not a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re going to be living in the new home for a while, I tend to suggest that most things can probably go (unless it’s something super special or a family heirloom you just don’t have space for). Three years is a long time to keep items stored, and if you really loved or needed said item you probably would have found a place for it. However, if you’re going to be re-locating fairly quickly (within 18 months), I suggest keeping a reasonable number of items that might be useful in the next home.

What to Keep

I’m a purger (and a shopper), so I try to get rid of a lot with each move. Here are things I tend to always keep from home to home:

  • Storage solutions: good quality bins, baskets, containers, organizers, and drawer dividers. You just never know what kind of cabinets and closets you’ll encounter!
  • Furniture: it must be in good shape, has solid future potential, can be easily stored/protected, and/or can serve multiple functions.
  • Shelves: we find that both floating and cubby shelves are worth keeping. Not only can they usually be used from home to home, they are also easy to store. You can even use the shelves to store other items you choose to keep/store!
  • Lamps: lamps are expensive and when you find some you love, I say keep them. Since each room and each house has a different lighting story, it’s worth holding onto good lamps for the next space.

All that said, I do try to corral what I keep into a single, defined area. It can be easy to keep anything and everything, but then you may be left with a garage or basement you can’t use. Give yourself a defined amount of space to keep what you want/need, and stick to it. Get rid of the rest.

My #1 Tip

Re-evaluate everything with each and every move. It can be really easy to keep dragging items from home to home and never use them. It is also easy to never unpack certain boxes and just keep moving them along. Because many of us have a tendency to buy at least a few new things for each new house, things can really start to pile up if you don’t take the time to re-assess every few years. You don’t have to do a major purge and overhaul every single time, but try to be intentional about what gets moved and what ultimately stays in your life home after home!

Ha! I thought this would be a short and sweet post! I think this post is somewhat driven by guilt, because I do hate that pile of stuff in our garage so much. But I also know that since we are literally moving into another home in 5 short months, it would be silly to get rid of things that could fill certain needs in the next house. My goal for our next home, which we should be in for three years, is to not have such a pile but to be more intentional and committed to the things in our home. That said, it’s a reality that there will ALWAYs be a pile, it’s just a matter of how big 😉

Military friends or frequent movers, tell me your best tips for making decisions on what stays and what goes. And how do store it all? How do you make sure not to be wasteful but not keep too much? Share in the comments below!

Happy weekend friends! See you back here Tuesday with the next FREE printable!Megan Signature

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18 Responses to Thriving & Surviving Military Life: Dealing With Stuff That Doesn’t Fit In the New House!

  1. Even though we are staying put, I have two areas-one of organizational bins and one of extra frames and decor. I too hate clutter and purge often, but it’s great to have extra storage solutions handy when reorganizing a space (which I do often -taking inspiration from you and other bloggers) until the organizational system truly works. I do love the knowledge (thanks!) that an organizational system can be tweaked until it functions best.

    The same can be said for decor and frames as I love making old Goodwill canvases over for family photos to I have a few lying around. I think you can add you can purge things you can easily find at a Goodwill/Salvation Army if moving again.

    I totally support the keeping of good bins, furniture and lighting!

  2. Well, after 22 years as an officer’swife moving 17 times, and now 20 years retired and in the same house….purging is easier as you go along. We are now purging as we just retired again. There is no way to not keep special things…and I have regretted throwing out stuff because I had no room for it…your solutions are great…because it has to be a fine line you walk. And honestly, even after three years in storage, it is like Christmas…opening the stuff you haven’t seen. I hand carried my sterling silver to Germany, knives and all…pre 9/11…Do you still have weight limits? I came home one day in our third floor stair well apartment in Germany with my husband weighing himself with our dining room Ethan Allan ladder back chairs and multiplying by 8. “We might be overweight” , he says. I said, ” Pay the bill, Major, those chairs are going home no matter what!” Yes, we still have them. And we were never over our limit! And my husband hated to have our house look like a motel with Army issue furniture…so we always tried to make it look almost nice as you do….but truly you are the Army wife queen!!

    • Hi Holly!

      Thank you for this awesome comment! The visual of your hubby weighing chairs had me laughing because we’ve been there too! Yes, there are still weight restrictions, but it changes depending on where you’re going….we’ve never had a problem so far! I’m finding that one of my problems is that we are starting to buy nicer stuff, so I’m less inclined and willing to get rid of things each time, lol!

      Getting comments on this post was so encouraging to know I’m not the only one!

      Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  3. We are coming up on 20 years and our 12th move and you are most certainly right, it is a HARD choice to make each time. I use many of the rules you do above – do I like it? Does it still work/look good? Is it a useful piece? Is it a memorable piece? As for what we do with the excess, it changes every time (just like our houses change) Some moves (going overseas) the military has stored the extras (especially things like appliances or bulky items that they REALLY don’t want to move). Some moves we have an attic, some a basements, and sometimes a corner of the garage. We currently own a home in Texas that we have family living in, so we have a few furniture items stored there. I also store two boxes at my dad’s house, one with my wedding dress and the other with a few selected baby items that we are keeping as memorabilia, I just don’t trust the lowest bidder with those!

    One thing I’ve had to learn is NOT listen to the “professional organizers” out there who encourage you to “purge what you don’t use!” That’s all well and dandy if you live in one state for the next 10 years, but when you move from climate extreme to climate extreme then you need to keep snow pants/shovels/sleds in south Texas and sun tents/snorkeling gear/beach towel in northern New Jersey.

    This next move we will be purging a LOT. Usually as you move along in your career your homes get a little larger each time, but then you move someplace that has “historic” homes and you are back to a three bedroom 2 bath bungalow with a basement that you pray is somewhat dry. This will likely be the next move for us. That combined with the fact that many pieces of furniture in our house have hit their lifespan will result in a lot of sales. We currently have much of the furniture that we bought when we got married a lifetime ago. Eleven moves will shorten the life of even the nicest pieces!

    • Hey Jen!

      This is all SOOO true…love the shared experiences! I stored a lot of my precious/childhood stuff at my parents’ too…but when they cleaned out and sold the house, I had to take it. Having to find places for all those things in these small houses has been a challenge for sure. It is also hard not knowing what kind of home you’ll end up in each time. I tend to be an “expanding gas” and fill whatever space we have…the problem then comes when we go to a smaller place. This house is a generous size for us, I’m a touch worried about what this next move brings 🙂

      Hope you’re safe and dry!
      Happy Sunday,

  4. Hi Megan
    What a nice post for the frequent mover I was. Yes it’s a nice opportunity each time to purge, you have to take each object so you decide what to do with it. Now that we haven’t moved for many years it’s harder to purge or sometimes I say to myself I should pretend we move. Yes of course, we could miss some things, I remember one of the move when I really threw or give too much, but it is done and it was the mood I was in at that time. I think there is no law about what to keep or get rid of, ie really dépends as you say of the numbre of years you will stay, of the period, of the mood, on the room you hav to store. Wat I know too is that one day you got in your house which is still the home of your children a lot of their things they can’t put anymore in their college place or tiny flat. We have a lot of piles and boxes in our garage even in a room so I decide myself at least to open the boxes and put the possessions on shelves then one day when the daughters will have a family they could purge themselves too ! Have a nice Sunday. Michèle

    • Happy Sunday, Michèle!

      I think this topic of “piles of stuff” somewhere is a shared experience as we grow older no matter what kind of life or home we have! I just helped me Dad clean out a lifetime worth of stuff from my childhood home. I saw firsthand how quickly and easily things pile up and get forgotten about. I promised myself then I would always try to be intentional about the things we keep. The problem then becomes that I get rid of too much 😉

      Hope you’re having a great Sunday!

  5. Hi Megan!
    I love your blog and all the wonderful inspiration you give me with each post. I grew up an Army brat and remember moving every three years or so. My mom would tell us to go through our belongings and pick 8 things we could not live without. That was what we kept. The older I was the easier it became. Now I have been married for 26 years and lived in the same house for 17 years. For the last two years we have slowly began our purging. It is amazing what a family can collect in 17 years! Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Hi Michelle!

      Yes, it IS amazing what can accumulate over the years. I’m even amazed what can accumulate in 1 year. Two summers ago we cleaned out my parents house that they lived in for 35 years. Amazing the amount of stuff we had to go through…and I swore I’d never keep un-necessary stuff again. Easy to say, tough to follow through on. Still, each and every year I try to purge to keep some handle on it!

      Keep it up, you’ll get there! Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  6. I have never had to move this often. Growing up we were in the same house for 17 years, before my parents moved down the street to a bigger place. And it was a horrible move. Rather than get rid of stuff, it was just throw it in a box and put it in a car to move it down the street. WORST IDEA EVER! I have watched my mom struggle with this idea of purging/getting rid of stuff. Her mentality is that someone in the family will use it or she might need it… five years. 🙂 It just seems that there comes a time when it is either sentimental, or costs too much to replace and you keep it. Otherwise it needs to go. I am so not good at this. We have been in our cute house for almost 7 years. And I love how big it is. Big enough that we can have our stuff, but still small enough that we don’t need to keep a bunch of stuff. Always a project to stay ahead of keeping a bunch of stuff. But your suggestions are very helpful in looking at what to keep and what should go. I need to jot them down/pin this for reference back to. Thanks so much!

  7. Don’t be ashamed of that pile! To be honest I thought it would’ve been much worse. There is always the extra stuff and as much as I don’t move, being in a small space almost feels the same (you should see my storage room..YIKES).

    Your tips are great and super helpful to even stay organized when you can’t ENTIRELY stay organized.

    Lauren | Lovely Decor

  8. I’m not military, and normally professional movers are way out of our budget. Since we pack it, load it, drive it, unload it and then unpack it, if it doesn’t work where we live, it should probably go. Thinking about my back aching from hauling it up a flight of stairs in the middle of August is normally the push I need to part with something. As of right now, my storage pile is a set of dishes we love, but our current apartment’s dishwasher breaks them. I will use these in our next place, and I may even pull them out and hand wash them now. at this point in our life I think we need to know we will use it instead of keeping it just in case.
    I don’t always want to be SO cut throat, but it’s necessary for this season of my life.

    • Hi Stacey!

      I think these are all such great points! We do have the luxury of professional movers…and I can’t tell you how many times myself (or some of my military friends) have said “doesn’t matter, we don’t have to pack it up and move it!” Shame on me, and I am sure I would feel differently about the amount of stuff we had if I was doing all the heavy lifting! I am getting closer and closer to getting rid of everything and anything we’re not using after this move. Let’s see if I can actually bring myself to do it 😉

      Thanks for sharing your experience, and I hope you’re having a great weekend!

  9. I love this behind-the-scenes look, Megan! I can totally see how it would be challenging to make everything fit perfectly in your new home, but how it doesn’t really make sense to get rid of it when you know you’ll move again soon. I give you big props for dealing with all the moves! And I totally think it’s alright to have a stash like this, especially in your situation. I lOVE this post!

  10. Hi Megan,

    I’m right there with you! We just moved from a fairly spacious (by base housing standards!) 2-bedroom condo with an office to a 1-bedroom apartment. I think we lost at least 1,000 square feet, and though we purged a bunch of unnecessary items before we moved, we’re still finding ourselves with boxes, piles, and closets full of items that don’t have a place in our new apartment.

    I definitely agree with Holly that purging is easier to do as you go, rather than saving up items after years of living in one space. I just watched my parents move to a new home after spending about 7 years in their previous one, and their basement is now full of piles and boxes. (They also keep trying to send me home with my old things, to which I tell them I have even less space than they do!)

    It’s never easy to get rid of things we own. I know I always say “But what if I need this later?” But the truth is, if you’re not using it now it’s not doing you any good. In fact, it may be detracting from your level of happiness by being an eyesore or just taking up space! And it may do someone else more good. So I keep regularly donating our unused items (in small batches) to the local Goodwill. 🙂

    • Hi Katie!

      Such great thoughts!! Thank you so much for sharing. I couldn’t agree more about how stuff, even when you might need it, can detract from your everyday happiness. For whatever reason, clutter and piles make me super anxious…so often times I opt for purging rather than keeping items just in case. With every move, I try to accumulate less…but this blog hobby of mine sure makes that difficult 😉

      Hope you had a great weekend!

  11. Loved this, reading through your military life archives. Naval Aviator’s wife here, and we are constantly lamenting, “how do we have so much stuff?” Our housing in Japan was tiny and it pretty much felt like living in a storage unit because things just didn’t fit. Our stuff became a detriment to everyday life and made an already stressful tour more stressful. We’re still purging but between tours and deployments and the like, we’ve found it is hard to “set aside” time to purge and go through things as a family. We even tried to take extra leave to organize after the last PCS but serendipitously all got sick! I’ve been trying to Kon Mari my house slowly and then add only when it is a useful “edit” meaning one thing in, one thing out. However, we still have too much stuff! I know my eternal quandary is this, “what if it works in the next house?” And conversely, this house has no closets – so we’ve got armoires and cabinets now, lots of case pieces that probably will not fit in the next house… I enjoyed reading the comments and knowing we’re in the same boat!

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