April 3, 2014

14 Tips for Unpacking Your OCONUS HHG

You've anticipated this moment since the day your household goods drove away, boxed and crated. And the day is finally here! Your moving truck has arrived, you can finally check in those boxes and start unpacking…

So, so overwhelming, isn't it?

Rule #1 - Don't panic! This is the only rule, because it's the only one that matters. We've all been there, and trust me, every last box will get unpacked eventually.

Ok, maybe not all of them. I know we have boxes from 2 moves ago that have likely never been unpacked. But, most of your boxes will get unpacked. All of the important ones, anyway. If you're a little OCD like me (hey, all the best people are!), then the crammed hallways and endless amounts of packing paper are driving you crazy. Here are just a few tips of what to expect, how to prepare, and how to deal with the mess of confusion:

1. Make arrangements for your kids and pets prior to moving day.

   Kids and pets underfoot can distract you from the process at hand, especially if you're dealing with everything yourself. Sign up to drop your kids at daycare, or with a neighbor, if possible. Do the same with any pets who can't be kenneled. This will make your life much easier throughout the day, and leave everyone less stressed.

2. If your spouse can't be there to help, enlist a friend.

    You really need two sets of hands and eyes while checking in your boxes. One person to stand at the truck and check off boxes, and another to direct the movers where to put everything. Often, our spouses can't be there on moving day. If that's the case, ask a new friend (perhaps your sponsor or their spouse) to be there with you. Heck, bribe them! Also, provide their lunch/dinner that day and send a small token of thanks later that week. Always remember how grateful you were for the help yourself, and pay it forward in the future.

3. Plan to have frozen pizza (or something similar) for dinner.

    Trust me, it's so much easier to plan a quick meal instead of struggling to find something edible at the end of the day, especially after hours of unpacking and dealing with your movers. Plan your meals for the day in advance, and make them simple. Sandwiches, pizza, eating out… these are all good options.

4. Keep several common items on hand for moving/unpacking day:

   a). Moving clothes - i.e. sweat pants, yoga pants, old t-shirts, sneakers. Be comfortable while you work!
   b). Snacks and drinks for movers (and yourself) 
   c). Entertainment for kids/pets, if not at daycare
   d). Cleaning supplies - Dishwasher soap and rinsing agent, laundry detergent and dryer sheets, Windex, paper towels, sponges, all purpose cleaner. If you've packed your basic supplies like mops, brooms, etc., then set that box aside as it comes off the truck. You're going to need it! 
   e). Tools to build furniture
   f). Scissors
   g). Box cutter (for opening boxes, duh!)
   h). Paper and pen (both for list making and notating damaged items)
   i). Small camera (for photos of damaged items)

5. Know your movers WILL unpack everything if expressly asked to do so. 

    The "asking" part is the trick. Also, you should have checked the box in your pre-move survey that states you would like the movers to unpack. Most movers will bring in your items and want to hightail it out of there as soon as possible. It's up to you how much or how little you would prefer them to unpack. I personally want them to place my stuff in the correct rooms, but leave the boxes for me. However, you can let them unpack everything, and technically they should place items where you want. BUT, if you choose this option, know this: Your movers are not your personal decorating fairies. They will only place items once, so you better be dang for sure where you want it. They're not going to move your couch 6 times while you change your mind. This is why I choose to get it all in the proper room and then deal with the rest myself. It can add a lot of stress to both you and your movers if you choose to go this route. 

6. All packing materials WILL be picked back up by your movers if you call and schedule an appointment. 

     This is a huge benefit if you choose to unpack yourself. Especially if your movers on the packing end were meticulous (mine were!), you will have a ton of paper, boxes, and wrappings. Again, if you're a teeny bit OCD like me, you'll want to keep some of the empty boxes and packing paper. This is a great resource when I'm mailing gifts home to family, or for packing some items before the next PCS move. If you choose, you can drag the remainder to a recycling center on your own. I did it half and half… I took some to recycling myself, and I stored some in my garage for a later date pickup. 

7. Call to schedule a return of your loaner furniture. 

     Exactly when you want this furniture picked up is at your discretion. You may choose to keep some of the furniture until the end of your stay. For example, we chose to keep a table and 2 armchairs. Keep in mind that pickup will not likely be immediate, so expect to wait about a week. What does this mean? If you want the furniture gone right away, you should plan to call a week or so before your household goods arrive. Please don't schedule your pickup on the same day your movers are coming. For the Hubs and I, we enjoy having the loaner beds for a bit longer. This means there is no pressure to build our beds, etc. right away. I like doing things at my own pace, and you never know what may come up while you're trying to unpack (for example, we had a Halloween interruption and some upcoming field time for the Hubs).

8. Plan on washing all your linens, sheets, and clothing items. 

     If you've got a lot of towels or sheets or clothing, this one can be especially time-consuming. Because the items have all been at sea (literally) for weeks on end, I find that these smell a bit musty and oceany (is that even a word?). You could, of course, put all these things away as is, but I have a feeling you might regret it. Start a load right away, and keep them going as you finish unpacking. It will  be done in no time, I promise.  As an extra tip, I suggest washing any dirty clothing you have lying around before your movers arrive. This way, you don't have any every day chores to deal with for at least a few days while you're unpacking. 

9. Also plan on washing all your dishes, glasses, and gadgets.

     You would think these items wouldn't need cleaning if they were clean before being packed, but somehow they do. Dust settles during the long journey to your location. Also, any items with some residual grease (for example, George Forman grills or pots and pans, cookie sheets) can cause that stickiness to spread to whatever else is in the box. I'm not saying you didn't clean them, I promise! It's just that some cooking instruments tend to hold oil which you wouldn't notice unless it's been sitting a while. Or, if you had cooking supplies that were rarely used, they might have collected dust prior to packing as well. Plan to use disposable plates for the first week after you receive your HHG. This relieves the pressure to unpack quickly. Plus you don't have to waste time washing dishes, you can keep unpacking instead. An extra tip: Run your dishwasher empty at least once before adding your dishes. This way you know it is clean, and it gives the pipes a chance to clear out after their disuse. 

10. Pick ONE room and unpack everything in it first.

    I usually pick the living room, because this is where the Hubs and I relax after he returns from work. If you have kids, having your TV and game systems hooked up also helps keep them out from under your feet while you keep unpacking. You wouldn't believe how much stress will be relieved if you have one, fully completed room to settle in for a while. Perhaps it is a psychological thing, but who am I to argue? You'll feel much more settled if you have that little piece of quiet and organization amongst the chaos. After the living room, I always unpack my kitchen next, as this is where I spend a lot of my time. A place finally feels like home when I am able to cook in my own space and stop eating takeout or frozen pizza. 

11. Place all your pictures, shelves, and wall hangings in a separate area until you are done unpacking.

    Why, you wonder? Because if you're anything like me, you might hang a picture in the living room, then finish unpacking and realize you'd rather have it in your bedroom. Enter the annoying hole in the wall that nothing else seems to properly fit. Of course, if you're not as OCD as me (translate: anal), then this may not matter too much. I know the Hubs appreciates my waiting, because then he only need to hang things once. Furniture now, that's an entirely different story. I'll probably move that 12 times before I'm satisfied.

12. Plug in and turn on all electronics, appliances, etc. 
     Make sure all these items are in proper working order before filing your claim. Basically, plug in and test anything that has a plug. Hopefully you've kept your receipts for all expensive items, and taken a dated photo of the item in working condition prior to the move. 

13. Keep a list of all damaged items, take photos, and THROW AWAY NOTHING.

    Why do I say throw away nothing? Because you never know what will be required for your damage claims, and it is always better to be safe than sorry. Also, turn in your claim in a timely manner, peeps! You don't want to be that person who didn't get reimbursed because they waited too long. 

14. Block off at least one week of time to deal with the unpacking process. 

      You will feel better and more settled once your house is in order. This week (or more) should include all your unpacking, furniture arrangement, washing of dishes and laundry, hanging of pictures, cleaning, and the filing of your claims form.  Honestly, I've lived in Germany for 6 months now… and I am soooooo not unpacked. Don't be like me! I quickly became distracted by traveling and shopping, and all sorts of new and exciting things. But now I wish I had done all my unpacking at once. One week of quiet time, completely devoted to the unpacking process, would have been perfect.

Of course, I lived without all my things for weeks (heck, months!) on end. What did I learn? I really don't need as much stuff as I think I do. A little more time on either end doesn't make or break me. So don't let the unpacking stress you out, peeps! If you feel like melting down, I will happily send you a pictures of my as-yet-unpacked office, and I'm sure you'll instantly feel better about yourself.

I'm working on several more posts about moving, including a guide to PCS survival cooking. If you have suggestions on what you'd like to hear or tips you want to share, please feel free to email me or comment below. I'll be back soon!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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1 comment:

  1. Great advice. Will be my first PCS move so the insight about how the system works and movers helps a lot. Thank you