By Claire Wood
Back in 2017, our family lived in three different states. We began the year at Fort Gordon, Georgia (now Fort Eisenhower). In June we did a quick six-ish months at Fort Jackson, South Carolina for my husband’s career course, and the first week of December, we moved to Fort Polk (now Fort Johnson), Louisiana. There was a lot of craziness with keeping our ZIP Codes and all of our worldly possessions straight.
Moving in any season has its share of difficulties, but a winter PCS can be particularly challenging. For some, the added frenzy of the holidays can factor into this difficulty. For those with school-aged children, switching schools mid-year presents hardships. For nearly everyone, a winter PCS can mean potential chaos.
Below are 4 tips for surviving your winter PCS so that you can arrive at your next destination feeling merry and bright.
1. Start by lowering your expectations for what your travel may look like.
For our family, when we have a PCS (in any season), our primary objective is to get ourselves moved and settled into our new house. In summer, extended family vacations may fall by the wayside. In winter, we might not get to see everyone for Christmas.
During our 2017 winter PCS we ended up driving separately through a significant snow event and both of our vehicles got cracked windshields. Both of these events felt incredibly stressful at the time. In hindsight, I have found that when I lower my expectations for our travels, I set myself and our family up for success. Expect snafus, inclement weather, and potential vehicle issues. There’s less stress and less disappointment when the bar is lowered. If you happen to skirt past any of these dilemmas, then count yourself blessed.
2. If celebrating the holidays is important, reorganize your holiday decorations in order of priority.
A year in advance of our 2017 winter move, I knew that our family would likely be in the middle of a PCS the following year. As I put away all of our Christmas decorations, I had a plan. First, I minimized and donated things that were no longer serving our family and threw away items that were broken. Once the clutter was cleared, I made sure my Christmas bins had only the essentials.
Next, I asked myself, “If I had to keep only one bin off the moving truck and in my personal vehicle to quickly set up Christmas in our new or even empty home, what would I need?” For our family that bin includes our kids’ stockings, a very small (2-foot) pre-lit tree in a galvanized bucket, some Advent ornaments we’ve used since they were young toddlers, and our Elf on the Shelf. Basically we kept out just what we would need to make Christmas feel like Christmas no matter the condition or whereabouts of our household goods.
The other bins of holiday items for a full Christmas would come back out the next year. It was just nice to know we had a “go bin” at the ready.
3. Make a list of what “future you” wants to feel like when the boxes are unpacked.
You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Begin with the end in mind.” This is actually a helpful mindset for PCS-ing. Ask yourself, come February once you have arrived and the boxes are mostly unpacked, “What do I want to feel?”
Perhaps the answer to that question is, “I want to feel settled,” or “I want to know we made our move without going into debt,” or “I want my kids to feel settled in their new bedrooms or school,” or “I want to maintain as many of our holiday traditions as possible.” Depending on how you envision your “end” in your mind, this will determine your priorities and your action steps to getting there. You likely can’t do everything. So, choose one or two main over-arching goals and give those your best energy. Everything else will work itself out.
4. Find a fun activity or outing at your new duty station to get everyone excited about it.
When you PCS during the summer, there can be a lot of excitement and anticipation about arriving in a new area or community. The trees and flowers are in bloom. Concerts and outdoor events are in full swing. School is out. Daylight hours are long.
When you are facing a winter PCS, it can feel gloomy driving to a new place when the weather feels bleak — and it may match how you’re feeling on the inside. Often many of your new neighbors are on holiday leave so the neighborhood is quieter than usual. There may be fewer community events planned. When you’re new in town, perhaps you haven’t yet been connected well enough to others to get invited to holiday parties and merry-making. So you’ll want to plan your own.
Involve the whole family or make it a surprise, but in advance of the move, research one big fun thing to do. Set out to find your new favorite restaurant. Plan to do an outing to a popular attraction in the area. See what your installation has to offer on their Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) website by way of post-sponsored events, tickets to nearby events, and more. On those short, dark, wintery days it pays to be intentional in your planning so that your new duty station offers some appeal.
If you are currently facing a winter PCS, don’t fret. It will all work out in the end. And when summer rolls around and your military friends are loading up their moving trucks in the sweltering heat, you will be sitting poised and cool inside your home with your feet kicked up!
Claire Wood is a military spouse who calls home anywhere the Army sends her. She loves reading, hosting friends, and keeping houseplants alive. She shares on Instagram @home_sweet_military_home and her 2015 book, Mission Ready Marriage is available on Amazon.