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!
Pre-Move Preparations Really Are SO Important
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
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
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
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
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
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!