By Anna Larson
SpouseLink Ambassador
& Guest Blogger

One of the HUGE benefits of being a retired military family is not having any more Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves! For two decades, moving every other year was an inherent part of my life. And, the final move into retired military life was the gathering of all our household goods from five different locations into our “forever for now” home.

That’s to say that I truly understand the challenges of packing up and relocating as a military family. And I can empathize with the pain and overwhelm that comes from trying to declutter decades of our military life!

We just hit the summer season and many of my active-duty military spouse friends are facing a PCS move. Let’s talk through those things we already know (but hate to do) when trying to declutter your home and plan for a smooth PCS.

Start Early and Plan Ahead

Did you just roll your eyes? I know that military life is unpredictable and it’s hard to know when exactly “early” is. But, as soon as you know your move cycle is on the horizon, you can begin the process of sorting through your belongings a little at a time.

Here are six different decluttering activities you can try as you plan your move.

1. The “One-In, One-Out” Rule

This rule is one that works as a long-term strategy for decluttering and helps you and your family practice conscious consumption. For every new item you bring into your home, you have to choose one to toss or give away. It’s an easy concept to understand, but not so easy to do. There is no requirement for the items to be equal in value so that offers freedom of choice in your decluttering decisions.

2. The Reverse Hanger Method

To identify which clothes you no longer wear, turn all the hangers in your closet backward. After wearing an item, return it to the closet with the hanger facing the normal direction. After a few months, it becomes evident which clothes you haven’t worn. Donate or sell these untouched garments. Exceptions include all military ball gowns and seasonal items! You can put a spin on this and use the Reverse Hanger Method for each season of clothing you own. Remember that anything gently used can be donated but if it’s got holes, tears, or stains, you’ll need to toss it out!

3. The 30-Day Minimalism Game

This is a game the entire family can get involved with. On day one, each participant gets rid of one item. On day two, two items, and so on. The goal is for each person to eliminate a cumulative total of 465 items throughout the month. Feels like a lot to get rid of? It’s not when you open your junk drawer and realize you’ve got a pile of items that have traveled with you from duty station to duty station. You can absolutely make this game your own, too. Just try it for 10 days and see how easy it gets to find items to remove from your space. When the entire family is involved they can suggest items for each other.  

4. The Four-Box Method

Take four boxes and label them: “Keep,” “Donate/Sell,” “Trash,” and “Undecided.” As you go through each room, place items in the corresponding box. The “Undecided” box is for items you’re unsure about. Seal it and revisit it after a month. If you haven’t needed or missed those items, donate or discard them without opening the box.

For a twist on this game, why not incorporate this method into your annual cleaning plan? Instead of doing all the rooms, choose a single room each month to fill the four boxes.

5. The Declutter Scavenger Hunt

This is another declutter game that the entire family can play. Create a checklist of different categories or specific items to find. For example, “five unused kitchen gadgets,” or “three outgrown children’s books.” 

If your family is the kind that likes to compete with each other, assign point values to each item, and whoever accumulates the most points wins a prize or gets to choose a family activity.

6. The 10-Minute Dash

Set a timer for 10 minutes and challenge yourself to declutter a certain number of items as possible. This is a great way to get kids excited about cleaning and sorting items. The short timeframe makes decluttering less overwhelming and adds urgency to get it done.  

Moving Just Got Real

Whether you choose to incorporate any of those games or not, you still hit “go time” for a PCS move and the panic begins. In the turmoil of pre-packing and sorting, I always felt like my home was a step away from becoming an episode  on the TV show “Hoarders.” However, that show taught me to categorize and separate belongings into three main groups: keep, donate/sell, and discard. 

When the PCS heat is on, the pressure might make it easier to assess each item’s usefulness, sentimental value, and condition. Here’s a tip from “Hoarders”: Don’t spend more than 10-15 seconds on each item. You’ll know instinctively what category it belongs in which will help you determine the fate of items quicker. 

Another useful tip is to embrace the 80/20 rule. We tend to use only 20% of what is in our homes 80% of the time, so be ruthless in deciding if an item really serves a purpose.

With so much change in our lives, military families can get attached to items that remind us of family, experiences, or our childhood. It’s important to strike a balance. For documents, photos, and letters I suggest creating a digital file to preserve them while reducing physical storage needs. For the rest, our family allotted each person a single storage box of items that have the most sentimental significance. 

Are you feeling motivated and ready to declutter before your next PCS move?  Remember, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have a fully clean and decluttered space before the movers come. As we military spouses know, life happens but if you have the time and energy to declutter now, there’s something wonderful about beginning your new duty station with a refreshed and simplified living space. Happy decluttering!

About Anna Larson

Anna is a copywriter and digital marketing strategist, and owner of NomadAbout, a digital marketing strategies company that helps entrepreneurs and other business owners showcase their organizations through social media, websites, and marketing campaigns what they are passionate about and how they do it better than anyone else. She is active in the military community, co-hosting a weekly business-oriented livestream and co-leading the Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood) Cha Chapter of the Association of Military Spouse Entrepreneurs.

Europe, Africa, and the United States, her family made the leap into military retirement. Anna is also a SpouseLink Ambassador with two kids and two dogs. She’s a long-time homeschool mom that loves dance parties, popcorn, camping, and snorkeling in the ocean. In her spare time, you’ll find her traveling the world with her family, relaxing around a fire pit, or on a long walk with her pups. 

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