Moving Tips from a Military Wife and Mother of Five

military family moving tips

Spring is prime moving season, and my social media feeds are filled with announcements of people who are uprooting their lives and moving away. Some are headed toward a new job or a job relocation. Others are moving across town to a new apartment. Still others are finishing school or getting married and moving to a new home.

How do you feel about moving? I was never particularly troubled by moving — I’m pretty good at focusing on the adventure of it all and am confident that the list of things that must be done, will eventually get done. But I realized that after this last big move (from France to Oakland, almost 4 years ago now), I’m much more resistant to the idea of moving. 

Moving is hard. And the farther the move, the harder it is. There’s often emotional trauma as you leave dear friends and a beloved home. There’s likely to be financial hardship because even the best planned move will come with surprise expenses. And there’s a mental exhaustion too, from the thousand or more decisions that have to be made — every room, closet and cupboard has to be emptied, and for every object, you have to decide: pack it, give it away, or throw it away. It’s rough. After our last move, I had a total mental breakdown.

But. Moves are also amazing. A move equals a fresh start, discovery, adventure, learning, new friends, new foods, new views. Change brings excitement and inspiration.

Our kids have been pushing us for another adventure. “Let’s move to another country!” they say, “Just for a year! No big deal!” I feel that same pull but find myself resisting. More boxes? Can I manage it?

Who knows. Happily I don’t have to decide today. 

But I know some of you do have to decide today. You have a move looming and you’re worried. Well, my sister Rachel, has been a military wife for almost 30 years now. And as you might expect, she has lived in many, many homes, all across the country, and in Europe too. She is a total moving pro. I asked Rachel to give us her very best moving tips. Yes, moving is never easy, but she’s figured out a way to make the process as smooth as possible.

Here’s what Rachel says:

As a military wife I have had lots of addresses, made lots of friends and tried my best to learn from women who have been there before me. Here are a few things I learned about moving that made my life easier, inside and outside of a military life; I hope they will be of use to you too.

Have all your important papers in one place.

I keep mine in a binder and always know where it is. This has saved me more than once when trying to get a new driver’s license or sign kids up in a new school. Click here for a copy of the list I work from and get yours together today. You’ll be surprised at how much peace of mind it brings to you to have this in order.

Don’t own anything that you will cry over when it’s broken by the movers.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate really lovely (and sometimes expensive) items, but during a move, I didn’t want to worry about something getting stolen or at ending up at the bottom of the ocean — and I didn’t want the grief of having to work with the claims office when something did break. Instead I purchased things knowing that I would replace them in a few years. Other than our journals and family photographs (which are slowly being digitized and saved) I have tried not to put much emotional value on “things”.

Finish moving in quickly.

Three days is always our goal to be moved in; everything put away, boxes at the curb and pictures on the wall. (You can always change things later.) We did this for two reasons, 1- We wanted to get things back to normal quickly so we could relax and explore our new town. 2- There are few things more depressing than those last 6 boxes in the corner of the garage. Yuck!! Which reminds me, if you open a box and you aren’t happy to see the contents, take the whole box to the curb immediately.

Embrace your new home.

No one said this has to be your favorite place in the world but you can appreciate where you are. No matter where we’ve lived, there were great people, interesting histories and cool things to do nearby. Whether it is a state park, castle ruins or Friday Night Lights; we try to take advantage of the experiences available locally (we especially love free experiences).

Stay positive. If you are happy your kids will be too.

Early on in our military life someone told me that she loved growing up in an army family because her mom made it so much fun. She described with excitement in her voice, how her mom would get out maps and travel brochures and they would read and learn together about their soon-to-be new home. This was a life changing conversation for me and I saw this “make it great” idea confirmed again and again in every family I met. If the kids were happy and excited and adventurous, I would find the mom to be the same. If the mom loved living in Europe, it didn’t surprise me that the kids did as well. If the mom seemed to handle deployments well, the kids usually did too.

Most importantly, enjoy the time your family is together. Those times can be taken away so easily and so quickly; love every second!


Thank you so much, Rachel. This is super helpful.

What’s your take, Dear Readers? Have you moved a lot? Does the idea of moving stress you out? Or maybe it excites you? Have you ever had a particularly hard move? Or a particularly easy one? What advice would you add to Rachel’s list?

P.S. — The number one best strategy for packing boxes. And a recent article from the NYT on how to avoid stress when moving.

22 thoughts on “Moving Tips from a Military Wife and Mother of Five”

  1. I hate moving. The move from Texas to Indiana was the hardest, because we were leaving so much that we loved and going someplace new (with a baby on the way, no less!).

    I definitely agree about getting everything unpacked ASAP. I’m also so stressed trying to navigate around boxes. This problem is compounded when you have little ones. My then-ten-month-old was a pro at undoing whatever unpacking job I had just accomplished!

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  2. We just moved from Colorado back to where I grew up, Minneapolis. We LOVE Colorado but after having kids, felt the pull to be back near family. I find myself really conflicted about where to really ground in and set down roots for the long term, or if there will really be just one main place where we raise our kids. I’ve been thinking of the Blair family and wondering how the kids have taken your various moves? I admire that your family had lived in so many different places, and also wonder if the kids ever had a particularly challenging time leaving behind a beloved school or set of friends?

  3. We recently moved from California to Colorado. I loved, still love!, California very much and it was the most bittersweet decision we’ve made, ever. It was a huge, positive chapter in our family life but things were changing and it was time for us to change, too. So with that said, I found your sister’s “stay positive” ended up being the single most important thing to our move. We have preschoolers and the move ended up being effortless for them. Three days in the car and not a single meltdown or screaming tantrum. The excitement of moving into a house with stairs! They even managed to keep themselves busy and out of trouble while packing and unpacking the moving truck. I’m far from mom of the year (although, letting your kids eat an entire 6 pack of oreos from a gas station elevated my status). But I was contagiously happy and excited to make this move and it made a huge difference.

  4. Gabby, you have given your kids amazing experiences and you are clearly raising children who are flexible, curious and worldly! I do have a question… Do you ever worry that you may not be as likely to live near your kids when they grow up because they will want to be all over the world? I don’t mean this to sound close minded… You are amazing and so are your kids! After going away for college and then living two hours away in Boston for 10 years after that, my husband and I moved to my hometown in Connecticut and we now live next-door to my parents. My kids eat breakfast with my parents every morning and I love the multi generational closeness. No matter what none of us can predict where our kids will land, but I dream of my kids starting their own families somewhat close to my husband and me… Because my kids have always lived in the same house… Our son is in high school and our daughter is in middle school… It feels like they would see more likely to want to repeat that for their kids… That sense of loving our community and small town. But living in another culture is amazing as well… my in-laws lived with my brother-in-law for two years in England and they always say it was an unbelievably special time… I don’t think there’s any easy answer! It is something I think about. We do take our kids on trips and we love broadening their horizons… Just food for thought… This post made me think of it

    1. I can’t respond to this from the parent-end, but I can from the child-end. My family lived in one house, in one town, for almost my entire life up until I went to college (I was 3 when we moved into that house, and have no memories of the first house, neither do either of my siblings). We all went to college in-state, no farther than four hours from home. We did travel, mostly within the United States but we took one overseas trip when all three of us kids were in middle school/high school. I’m currently living in Eastern Europe (most likely temporarily for 2 years, but I’m thinking of going somewhere in Western Europe next, possibly Spain), and my sister will be moving to England this coming fall (most likely for a long time period, possibly permanently). None of us have kids yet, and we do love the idea of our future kids having our parents nearby like our grandparents were for us. My parents have always said that when they retire, they will probably go wherever they have grandkids, maybe switching between countries/states to be with a different set at different times of the year.

      1. Beth, Thanks for your thoughtful response. It is interesting that you and your sister will both be living abroad by fall … I love your parents’ idea of relocating based on where grandkids are! I just love multi generational living but I would never want to discourage my kids’ desire to experience life in other places. At heart I am a homebody!! We will see how the kids’ lives unfold. Our family is going to Europe for the first time this summer… We will see how that affects things!

  5. Perhaps an RV adventure is in store for you guys! I’d suggest a nice pusher bus and tow a car. Do the USA for 3-6 months. The Olympic Peninsula in WA would be a place I could have spent even more time than we did. It’s magical. You’d love it. Your kids would love it. So much to see right here in the USA.

  6. We moved to your hometown (St. George) about 8 months ago. We love living here and love our new home, yet it has definitely been a bit traumatizing as we loved our old home and neighborhood of 14 years too. Change is hard. I’m personally hoping to stay put for a long while.

  7. As a fellow military wife, I totally agree with Rachel’s advice. Another thing I would add is that if you are unlucky enough to have to move over the holidays, celebrate wherever you are (bring presents and a few decorations along). We’ve celebrated birthdays, Easter, and Christmas all while moving.

  8. This is so timely, as my family moved back from abroad over the winter and we will move again before summer is over (you guessed it, we are also a military family!).

    I love the challenge of making a new space and a new city feel like home, but whoa is it hard from a social standpoint. I’m incredibly introverted and moving makes me feel permanently like the new kid in school. My daughter is still little, but as she (and our family) grows I know fostering a real sense of community at every duty station will become priority number one.

  9. My Dad was in the military until I was in middle school and we moved often before that. I do remember my first non-base school (even at 5th grade!) was a shock on how difficult it was to make friends! I moved half way across the country for college and people are often shocked at my decision. I knew no other way! I always thought moving and travelling were the “better” lifestyle and then I met my now husband my senior year of college. He had attended the K-12 school his Dad and grandparents had attended and dreamed of teaching there and sending his own kids there someday. I thought we had no future together, but my heart fell in love before my head and as I got to know him, I got to know the joy of being deeply rooted in a community and a place and having relationships with extended family. I have come to appreciate the good and bad of both lifestyles (neither is “better”!) and as someone else commented, I wonder what this will mean for my children. We have made travel a priority as a family so hopefully they are able to grow up experiencing the best of both.

  10. I grew up as a military brat. Many, many different schools. Moves included living overseas most of my first 14 years of life–sometimes moving from one European country to another without coming back to ConUS. The one thing I will firmly agree with your sister is that when the Mom adapts well, so do the children. An unreasonable expectation on the woman? Yes. But I saw it play out in my life and the lives of classmates. My mother couldn’t wait to move to a new place. Happy as a clam to explore new cultures and environments. We traveled (camping mostly) extensively wherever we landed. As a result, I never saw moving as something formidable, but more of an adventure. Kids whose mother’s complained bitterly about moving seem to carry that same negativity throughout their tours–never going off-base or traveling in Europe/Asia or beyond. I’ve moved several times as an adult with children of my own, so I know what it means for both child and adult. My mother set a good example and I hope I did the same for my children.

  11. Totally agree about fast unpacking! We’ve always made it a goal t o unpack everything the first day we get somewhere (7 moves the last 5 years and no signs of slowing down), and I think that has always been the best way to feel settled when everything is put away!


  12. We are an AF moving family too… and I agree for the most part, it has been full of wonderful (albeit occasionally challenging) places. We are so tired right now though, as we’ve moved 11 times total but every summer since 2013—too much. Happy to get to stay where we are for two years in a row. One thing in particular we say that I would add to these tips that has helped us all when we have to tear away from a place and people we love: if we hadn’t moved to X, we wouldn’t know Y. Whatever X and Y are, it’s always just enough to remind us of how much is waiting for us in the next place.

    I write about moving a lot—here is one of my favorite set of thoughts on all of it:

  13. A very timely post for me, as we are currently planning a move from D.C. To Houston, and hoping to buy our first house there, no less. I have most of this documents together in one binder already, but I am definitely going to complete the list!

    We are terrible about putting pictures up on the walls (i have no less than 10 framed items sitting in the corner as I type this), so its a good reminder to get everything put away ASAP! Thanks for the tips!

  14. A lot of this is really great advice, but I disagree about not owning anything you’ll cry over. In fact, in some ways I thin you should MOSTLY own things you would cry over. Even if it breaks or get lost and is really sad, it will have brought you more joy when you had it, then sadness when you lost it. It’s not worth living a life full of mediocre things because you fear losing them (which is also general life advice ha).

  15. i know that moving can be hard, but it also can be an amazing experience like you added in your blog post. Military relocation can be a blessing and a curse. But I believe it’s mostly a blessing because you get to see new places, try new things, make new friends, and possible new cultures. I think with the right real estate agent it can be an easy transition.

  16. Nice tips! I’m moving soon and just started packing some items. I’ve purged more than half of what I owned and now it seems much easier. Your tips and advises are very helpful for me, some are quite smart. Thank you for the packing ideas!

  17. These are excellent points about moving. When we moved into our new home, most of the things that ended up breaking didn’t break in the box… they broke when I was rushing myself to unpack. Thankfully most of those items weren’t irreplaceable or expensive! Being mindful of when you move in is also a really good idea.

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