Don't Organize Until After Your Military Move

woman throwing trash into dumpster
(James Hodgman/DVIDS)

Everyone (including me) says that you really need to organize your whole house before the move. Which is great. If you don’t have a baby a week before you move. If you know exactly where you are moving and what furniture will fit in your new house. If your kid’s softball team doesn’t make it to state finals that month. If you are moving to a tropical locale. Or to a foreign country. Or to a tropical locale in a foreign country.

Military moves can be particularly hard to organize before the move. There are just too many unknowns there. If you aren’t dangerously close to your weight allowance for household goods (figure about 1,000 pounds per room plus the weight of appliances), you might think of daring to wait until after the move to organize. Once you have all the furniture and boxes in the same place, you can put things away, organize and donate all at the same time. Kinda brilliant if you think about it. Why organize twice? So once you get the keys to the new place, start here:

Congratulate yourself.

All your boxes made it to your new address. You have, in fact, a new address. Instead of agonizing over what would fit in a house you couldn’t even imagine, you have an actual house to work with. Rock on.

Set an anti-depression timer.

Sometimes the idea of unpacking all those boxes is just plain overwhelming, not to mention depressing. And overwhelmed, depressed people tend to overestimate how much time things take to do. So when you decide to work on the unpacking, set a timer and see how many boxes you can unpack in 30 minutes. Work in one room at a time. Start from left to right, top to bottom. Unpack each box completely. Cut down boxes as you go. Give yourself a reward every time the timer goes off. I recommend jelly beans. Or pizzas. Multiple pizzas.

Start with your kitchen.

Comfort in the kitchen means having what you need where you need it. But too often military families report that things got put away in the order in which they came out of the boxes. This means the bread maker and the blender and your collection of 1,400 dishtowels that came out of the boxes first take up all the room.

Your glasses and plates are squeezed together in whatever cabinet is left over. Then it is so much trouble to reorganize that you live with the chaos. Until the next move. So before you put a single can of soup on a single shelf, draw a little map of the new kitchen with all the drawers, shelves and cabinets labeled. Plot out where things will go. Pots here. Baking dishes there. Rarely used appliance over there, in the Goodwill box.

Accept the cosmic limits of the universe.

Invariably, the amount of space you set aside for spatulas or spices or cookbooks won’t be enough -- or even as much as you had in your old house. You have to learn to deal with that indisputable fact of the universe. Organizing genius Peter Walsh makes his clients repeat this mantra: I only have the space I have. Write that on your arm with a Sharpie, won’t you?

If only seven of your 13 pots fit in the space allotted, then you keep only seven pots. If your appliance cabinet only has room for six appliances, then that never-used-in-past-two-houses waffle iron has to go. This rule also works in other rooms in the house for books, DVDs, video games, sweaters, winter coats, basketballs. You only have the space you have.

Skim the cream.

In Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Place, Judy Culbertson and Marj Decker advise movers to gather all the like items and then keep only the best ones. You are essentially skimming the cream of your possessions. They recommend a “triage” method where you take any three items and get rid of the one you like least. So if you have three food processors, you get rid of the one that is not your fave.

Start moving stuff out.

Yes, you moved all this stuff into your house. Yes, now you have to get rid of some of it. Not everything fits in your life. So don’t pile boxes in your garage. Don’t scoot things into the dining room. Instead, use all those empty boxes to collect stuff to go to charity.

But it is still hard!!

Just because you put off organization decisions doesn't make it easy. Everything we own has a memory or an emotion or future usefulness attached to it. That is why it is hard to get rid of things. But researchers say that at times of great change -- a marriage, a divorce, a move -- it is easier to let go of stuff because it is suddenly clear that those things aren’t part of us anymore.

So mark a box Goodwill or Salvation Army and fill it as you go. As soon as it is full, Google the drop-off point in your new town. Or get online and schedule a pickup. A move is a fresh start. For people and for their stuff, too.

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