Lessons Learned from Our Worst Move Yet

Over the past few months, I have casually mentioned our move this past summer to southern California wasn’t our “best” ever. In fact, now that the dust has settled for us, Greg and I consider it our worst move yet. Over the course of Greg’s 12-year (so far) military career, our 6 previous moves have been pretty standard with no major frustrations, loss, or damage. We’ve been both well prepared AND lucky. But because of some silly and stupid mis-steps on OUR part, we had all three this time around. I want to be clear that we have known and heard much, much worse than what we’ve been through in last few months. But for a family who pride themselves on being “moving masters,” we’ve been caught a bit off-guard on how big we goofed this time. I guess it shows that no matter how many times you do this or how much of a “pro” you feel like, moving is a hard, busy, complicated process…and lots of things can fall through the cracks without proper planning and diligence. So this post is not only to share our lessons learned with any one getting ready to move, but also a reminder to us how important proper planning is….for our stuff, our sanity, and our bank accounts!

This military family has done 7 moves in 11 years. Click through to see why this was their worst move yet and what they learned from it!

Pre-Move Preparations Really Are SO Important

This military family has done 7 moves in 11 years. Click through to see why this was their worst move yet and what they learned from it!

The last time I really talked about our move here on the blog was waaaay back in April when I outlined the 10 Things You Should Do in the Months Before a Move. Remember how I shard that I was struggling to get motivated and that post was supposed to kick me into gear to start working away on our usual preparations? Well….it didn’t. For a multitude of reasons, Greg and I just were not “in the mood” to move this time around, and as such delayed (or just didn’t do) a lot of our usual pre-move prep. It was the end of a one-year school assignment (one year moves are the worst!), I was in my first trimester, I was suffering from major blog/creative burnout (making me not want to do ANYTHING!), and as silly as it sounds, I just didn’t feel like being a grown up and doing what needed to get done. We kept saying: “We need to update our spreadsheet and get working on it,” but we never did. “We should start getting ready this weekend,” but each weekend would pass without any preparations. We never opened our spreadsheet, I never printed out my handy worksheets. I didn’t do any neighborhood research, school research, doctor research, etc. I was kind of in denial about moving and kept saying “One way or another, it and we will all get to California. We know what we’re doing. It will work out.” Well…we and (most of) our stuff did indeed make it to California; we found a great house and a great doctor and a great school. But EVERYTHING felt haphazard and stressful; and as such, a lot of things slipped through the cracks or were done by the skin of our teeth. Instead of feeling on top of our moving game, it felt like we were putting out fires and dealing with things as they occurred. By the time we got to California and our stuff actually arrived in our house, we were frazzled and exhausted.

LESSON LEARNED: Having now lived through several well organized/planned moves and one not-even-remotely planned move, I can say that proper preparation is KEY to reducing stress, closing timing gaps, and keeping out-of-pocket costs down. Yes…in a military move at least…everything and everyone will make it to the new location in tact whether you plan ahead and get organized or not. But your stress level will be a different story. Greg and I have come up with systems that work for us as a family, and we should have known better than to abandon them and just wing it. Next time around…because there will always be a next time…we will refer to all the things I outlined in THIS post and use the tools and systems we’ve created to execute a smoother move!

NOTE: As you will see, most everything else that happened during this move did so because we skipped our usual pre-move prep that I discussed above. Had we done what we usually we do, we could have avoided MOST of the following!

Don’t Leave All The Prep Until the Final Weekend

Because we weren’t following our usual timeline AND knew we didn’t have walls to paint or do a whole lot of work to restore the house to its original condition, we left ALL of our pre-move prep until the very last weekend before the packers came. Taking things off of walls, emptying out food containers, separating pack/no-pack items, packing the car, bagging and boxing up loose items/valuables, categorize like items that should be packed together for new house, unhooking electronics, writing down serial numbers, etc was all saved for the final 48 hours. Years ago, that was plenty of time. Now…we have more stuff to work through; and one weekend is just not enough time to get it all done. Because we waited too long, the final weekend was beyond busy and stressful as we tore through the house trying to get it ready. Tempers flared, exhaustion peeked, and there ultimately wasn’t enough time to do all the things we like to do. As such, our stuff was not packed up as organized as we typically like…meaning things came OUT of boxes on the other side in more of a disarray than we like (like thumb tacks all over the bottom of a box!)…meaning it took us MUCH longer to get unpacked and settled in our new home.

LESSON LEARNED: Yes..the professional packers pack up our boxes, but we’ve learned that how smooth unpacking goes on the other end is very much affected by how organized and categorized items are on the front end. A single weekend is not enough time to get everything we have as organized as it needs to be to guarantee a smooth unpack on the other side. So while it isn’t very much fun to live with a house pulled apart for a few weeks, allowing a few weekends of prep time is worth it in the end!

Put Clear Signs on the No Pack Pile

This military family has done 7 moves in 11 years. Click through to see why this was their worst move yet and what they learned from it!

If there is one tip I give people who are moving for the first time (especially if using professional packers) is to CLEARLY mark a “no pack” zone. Professional packers come in and often move very quickly to get everything into boxes. You can’t be everywhere at once to make sure certain items aren’t be packed up, so it really is best to have rooms or zones dedicated as “no pack.” This time around, we designated our master bathroom as “no pack” and just shut the doors and told the packers not to go in there. However, there were also things in the garage that were set aside as “no pack” that we didn’t feel like dragging into the upstairs bathroom (like maintenance items that belonged with the house, luggage, etc). So, we just set these items aside in a pile and told the head packer to leave them be. Well…sometimes instructions aren’t fully communicated to the entire pack team…and then when you throw a tornado warning and torrential rain and wind in the middle of your load…all hell breaks loose and everything gets thrown on the truck in haste anyway. This meant that snow shovels and brooms (that belonged to the house), my luggage (that we needed for our cross-country trip), and a few other things were packed when they shouldn’t have been. Guess who had to buy new luggage for our trip even though she had very good luggage on the moving truck heading to California?!? This girl 🙁

LESSON LEARNED: Setting aside “no pack” areas is often sufficient, but you just never know what’s going to happen during a load. CLEARLY mark and label items that shouldn’t be packed up, and even consider putting items in your car or utility closet to avoid last-minute confusion!

Re-Label Boxes For Destination

This military family has done 7 moves in 11 years. Click through to see why this was their worst move yet and what they learned from it!

When using professional movers, they box, tag and “inventory” everything. But their inventorying and labeling is often void of specifics and details; usually, boxes just say “toys” or “craft supplies” and then which room they were packed in at origin. However, these basic descriptors don’t help much when it’s been weeks since you’ve seen your stuff AND you are going to have a somewhat different layout on the other end. I know other military families who go through and re-label boxes after the packers leave to 1) make the descriptions more specific and 2) re-designate which rooms they should go in at the destination. I’ve NEVER understood the reason for this until we moved in here. As boxes came off the truck, the descriptions were so vague, we had no idea what was in each box and therefor had no idea where to instruct the movers to place them. All of Greg’s office supplies ended up in my office because they were labeled “Office;” all of Henry’s play art supplies ended up in my craft room because they said “Crafts.” It’s not a huge deal, but when you are trying to get settled, it helps to at least have the right boxes int he right room.

LESSON LEARNED: While everything (what’s in the boxes and what room they started in) is still fresh in your mind, go back and re-label boxes with descriptions that will help you unload easier. Also, if you know where items are going to go in the “new” house…label them with their destination room rather than their origin room. I just discovered THIS tape, and I am totally using it next time!

Ensure ALL High-Inventory Items are Documented

This military family has done 7 moves in 11 years. Click through to see why this was their worst move yet and what they learned from it!

In addition to the standard inventory, the packers also fill out a “High Value Inventory” of any and all items you deem “high value.” Not only are these items tracked on a special sheet, but more details are recorded (like serial numbers, quantity, and condition) and you often sign special seals on the boxes containing these items. Because we were not prepared enough, we did not set aside (or have our own list) of all our high-inventory items. It was mid-pack and even after the fact that we were all “Oh shoot…the XXXXX should have been marked high inventory” on several items. We thought we eventually caught and recorded them all, but it turns out we didn’t. After getting fully unpacked and settled, we discovered that both my Apple laptop and high quality camera lens were both missing. Not only were they missing from our things (packers fault), but they were not written anywhere on our inventory sheets (our fault). Guess what? If it’s not recorded in detail on the inventory sheets, you will not receive financial compensation to replace them. Major.Ouch.

LESSON LEARNED: Before the packers even arrive, go through your entire house and set aside, inventory, and write down the serial numbers of ANYTHING and EVERYTHING you deem high value. Beyond your own inventory, ensure ALL of that information is on the official inventory sheets completed by the movers. Even if the packers don’t want to do it, require them to document the high-value items. Make copies of your forms and take pictures of your items. We’ve NEVER had anything high-value missing in our 6 previous moves. We’re now completely out a laptop and lens because WE didn’t prepare and ensure they were documented right.

Don’t Pay for a House Until It’s Ready

This military family has done 7 moves in 11 years. Click through to see why this was their worst move yet and what they learned from it!

When we arrived in San Diego (with no plan, no research) we hit the ground running to find a house…admittedly with a bit of urgency (we had been living in a hotel for 3+ weeks and without our stuff for 5+ at this point). We were ecstatic to find the house we did, in a neighborhood and school district we loved, so quickly. And because of my anxious personality, people-pleaser tendencies, and the desire to just be in a house, I (not Greg) agreed to move in and therefor start paying rent on the house BEFORE it was truly ready for us. However, the house still needed some painting, cleanings, and final repairs; all of which were inconvenient enough that we elected to stay in the hotel until they were done. This meant we were paying rent AND hotel fees for about 4 days. This isn’t typically a huge deal, but it added up to extra money (for the hotel) that we shouldn’t/didn’t need to spend since we were paying rent on the house.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t pay for a house that isn’t fully ready. We easily could have asked for the lease to start the day the maintenance items were complete, saving ourselves several hundred dollars in an already very expensive move.

When They Ask You To Pick Paint Colors, Just Do It

We're moving into our 7th home in 11 years! Come tour this "blank slate" of a house...our home for the next few years!

This is a mistake that I feel like will haunt me for our entire time here. As I mentioned above, several of the rooms (the kitchen, office, and two kid bedrooms upstairs) were going to be repainted because they were really strong, intense colors. Instead of painting them back to the neutral color already throughout the house, the owner was happy to let us pick the colors as long as we painted to the neutral color upon move out. Seriously. I’ve never been allowed to pick my colors!!!! But you guys….whether because of pregnancy brain, moving exhaustion, or total overwhelm, I didn’t know what to do. We had to make a decision somewhat quickly, and I had NO plan what I wanted to do in this house. Heck…we were still trying to figure out what was going to go where. I was very sensitive to the open-concept and flow of the house and worried if I picked random colors in haste, the whole house would feel really choppy and potentially not work with the light and our stuff. Somewhat in panic, I told them just to paint everything to the neutral beige color. WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?! Honestly, in a big, empty house with all the windows open, the brown walls didn’t look that bad, and I thought having everything consistent throughout the house would be better. Little did I realize how dark and dreary the paint color feels with our stuff in the house and with the blinds pulled (because it is SO hot here!). Not a day goes by that I say to myself “I can’t believe I didn’t just have them paint the rooms white.” Henry’s room, the nursery and my office would have still worked with the rest of the house AND with our stuff AND made me feel better in this house if they were just painted bright white. I honestly don’t even know why that didn’t occur to me.

LESSON LEARNED: Paint is not the end of the world. But at the end of an expensive and complicated move (and being pregnant!) I just don’t have my usual excitement and willingness to paint every single room..especially when we had the chance to get it done for FREE!!!!! (Can you tell that I am still reeling?!?!) We just got permission to paint the master and nursery, but that is now hassle and money we didn’t really have to deal with. If I could turn back the clocks, I’d have them paint the rooms bright white because it still works with the trim/ceilings of the house but works better with our style and palette. I still don’t know why it didn’t occur to me. So the lesson here…if they ask you for paint colors, put your big girl/guy pants on and just make some decisions. And when you just don’t know…paint it white!

Because of our very poor planning and overall unwillingness to just embrace the move and do what needed to be done, this move was our worst one yet. However, we know it could be so much worse: we have friends who have lost more; dealt with mold, re-locations, un-safe homes, etc; and had sentimental items lost or broken. While it was a VERY stressful and haphazard move and we lost some high-value items, we are safe, happy, and healthy in our new home. Maybe we needed a move like this to prove to ourselves that our systems do work and shouldn’t be abandoned just because we’re not in the mood to move. Moving is part of our lifestyle and never easy or fun. But proper planning can sure make an already crazy time a little more manageable…which when you do it so much…means everything!

I hope you guys enjoyed this deeper look into our summer move that was! I know a lot of my readers have moved a lot and I would love to hear some of the tips and tricks you’ve discovered are worth the hassle! Next up on Thursday…nursery progress! See you then!

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13 Responses to Lessons Learned from Our Worst Move Yet

  1. Relabeling the boxes after the packers leave for the day. Why didn’t I think of that?! Three months after we left Australia, when our household goods finally arrived, we discovered the movers labeled almost every room “spare room”. Trying to put the boxes in the right room (of a much smaller house) was a nightmare and mostly unsuccessful. I wish I had relabeled every box!

  2. I am right in the middle of a move (civilian) so I can identify with everything you are saying. I’ve moved multiple times and this one has just felt like chaos. Are the planets in some sort of weird alignment? 🙂

  3. I just want to say that you should please forgive yourself for any and all of these issues! You are pregnant. As you know, that is an enormous job that changes everything: your energy level, your attention, and your emotions. You are extremely busy growing a person!

  4. Wait, did I read this correctly that the packers stole your laptop and camera lens?

    We are in the middle of a move so really appreciate you taking the time to write this post. I have no tips & tricks, just using everything from your blog!

    • Hey Lauren!

      We have no proof or evidence, but we do have our theories. All we know is both were in our house on the day(s) we were packed out in KS, and they are not here in CA. And we’ve checked everything. There is no way to point fingers since we don’t know on which side they went missing. And since it’s not on our inventory, we have no course of action with the moving company. Unfortunately, these things do happen – that’s just part of using professional movers – but there are systems in place to prevent it…we just didn’t use them.

      Good luck on your move – sending all the good vibes I’ve got for you!
      Megan

      • I am so sorry that happened to you — I’m guessing it was the lovely Mac in your photoshoot image above…the thought of having my life & personal information in someone else’s hands makes me nauseous so I give you a lot of credit for being so rational about it!

        So sweet of you to reply — I know you have better things to do!

  5. Pregnancy brain is no joke! I’m glad nothing more serious happened to you, though.

    Whenever I pack, I “assign” each room’s boxes a different colored fluorescent sticky note. So for instance, living room would be labeled in hot pink vs. yellow for the kitchen vs. blue for the bedroom, etc. On the sticky note I write the name of the room and what’s in the box; then I cover the sticky note with packing tape so it’s sealed against water.

    Visually, it makes it so easy for helpers to put your box in the right place and it is faster to catch mistakes (whoops, there’s a pink box in with the yellows!). You can even “label” the doors to the rooms with the same color key to make sure boxes get to the right place.

  6. I’ve been there done that! Unfortunately preparation doesn’t always lead to a smooth move. Due to the way the military moves have changed in the last few year our last two moves have been the worst of the bunch.

    Despite the great labeling that I did the movers took items from rooms and packed them in others. My daughter’s stuff was in with linens, guest bath, craft room , guest room, and the master. The same happened with EVERY room upstairs. Several items were taken OUT of the storage boxes they were in and dumped in other boxes. We had about 25% of our storage boxes damaged during this last move.

    Some of these things can be prevented, but sometimes they can’t, even under the best of circumstances.

  7. I’m so sorry your move was so rough! We had a bad one two moves ago (piles of broken items), and it totally sucks. I had no idea about the high value stuff and my husband has been in 18 years. Definitely going to do that next time! I am shocked that you get zero compensation for your missing stuff. That’s awful!

  8. Hi Megan, being pregnant is enough, let alone move. You should give yourself a lot of credit for doing so much. A relative of mine once moved & used large Colored Poster Boards taped on doors of every room thinking that moving companies hire daily help for heavy loading/unloading & hired help may not know the written designation words in the boxes… it worked!. Every box of similar colored tape was placed in the right rooms. Then again, every move is a different experience. Please allow yourself some time to rest, you did fine!. Looking forward to your posts.

  9. update to my previous note: He used colored tape all along/across the top and on the corners of the boxes so colored tape would be visible to the movers (maybe that & large poster colored boards on each door helped movers). He basically put himself in a mover-type frame of mind moving a lot of boxes in a limited time and what would be best for the movers to unload and place a lot of boxes in a 2 story home with many rooms.

    • Hi Anna!

      This is a really great system! I have known other military spouses to do the same thing. We’ve never really needed to have that much detail on our boxes before, but this time around a system like this sure would have been helpful! You are spot on about daily help, and you just never know what you’re gonna get 😉

      Thanks for sharing and have a great start to your week!
      Megan

  10. GREAT referral to the moving labels on Amazon! Since we’re in an apartment, we are guaranteed to be moving at some point, and these will be waaaaay easier than the duct tape/Sharpie system we used this past summer (and actually cheaper than all that colored duct tape we bought)! Already ordered. 🙂

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