It’s only taken about six weeks, and the DiploFam is almost entirely moved into our postage-stamp sized townhome in Northern Virginia. It’s taken a lot of work, appointments, negotiations, and time. It’s been worth it.
The previous paragraph is complete and utter bullshit. Let me translate it for you: DiploDad had a total of three days off to direct and unpack about 18,000 lbs. of crap. He marked off the boxes from the BINGO sheet as the movers brought them in, bought food for the movers, and promptly went back to work and left me with 16,500 lbs. of crap to unpack and find a place for. The DBs sat around and played with their LEGO or phone in the middle of a pile of paper, completely overwhelmed at the idea of putting any of their crap away and didn’t move on it until I physically lorded over them and made them. The DiploCats spent the days rustling paper, hiding in or climbing on boxers and inducing general panic of “have you seen the fat one?!?!?” whenever we took a bunch of boxes and paper out to the trash. The DiploDog hid. Just hid. He’s probably the smartest creature in the family.
Moving is overwhelming. It’s exhausting. And I’m SOOOOOO done with it. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than 4 years in my entire life. And I’ve gone through a total of 27 moves. Nope, that’s not an exaggeration, and yes, it excludes the moving from temporary quarters to permanent ones in a couple of places. I consider myself an expert on moving. Today, I present my Top Ten Lessons on Moving – the Delivery. Learn from me, not the hard way, trust me.
1 The movers will always show up earlier if you have an early morning school run, later if you have a late afternoon cable appointment.
Always. It will not matter if you take your kid to school a half an hour early and drop him ten minutes before he’s even allowed in the building, the movers will be there, waiting for you and calling your phone, trying to induce panic. Do not fall for this. Your delivery window was 9 a.m. to 12 a.m., if they show up at 8:04 and start hassling you, remember that they cannot leave because you were not there. I’m not saying you can go to Starbucks and hang out for 30 minutes drinking your morning chai (unless you take orders from the moving crew and pick it up for everyone), but I AM saying don’t freak out and feel guilty because you’re buying milk at the grocery store half a mile away or are 10 minutes from arrival home after dropping said kid at school. They have to wait. This is gonna be an all day affair. Chill.
2. You’ll Be Eating Pizza for Weeks.
There are several reasons for this. First, you will have very little energy to cook anything for most of the first two weeks you move in. Second, you can’t find the pot or pan you want or need. Third, in some kind of scarcity mathematics or over exuberance, your spouse will order six pizzas for the three adults on the moving crew. You can always return the favor to your spouse for his planning by pulling a foil-wrapped pizze slice out of the freezer two weeks later and pack it in his lunch.
3. There Will Always Be Something Broken You Can’t Replace
Always. It might be grandma’s antique cookie jar or Aunt Eileen’s hope chest. Maybe it’s the pottery “who knows what it is” your kid made in preschool that you always put out for display on your desk. Maybe it’s your wedding cake topper. Either way, brace yourself. And then take a deep breath and either file the claim to replace it or fix it, or let it go. I have a friend who buried one of her kid’s art projects in her garden (just make sure you don’t dig it back up if it’s not biodegradable) to say goodbye. Because I’ve moved so much, I don’t have my memories stored in a place – there’s not an ancestral home to go back to. I store my memories in things. This was a hard lesson to learn, but I’ve made peace with it now. When something you love is gone, the memories can remain. Take a photo if you must (you’ll need one for the claim anyway), take a deep breath, relive the memory it jogs again, and let it go. You were overweight on the last move anyway, right?
4. Watch the Filials and Stoppers!
Movers don’t care about them. At all. Personally, I don’t let the movers unpack any trinkets or dishes alone without me hovering, because I know exactly which items have a stopper or filial or decoration that comes off that the dude on the other end decided needed to be separately wrapped. DiploDad does not track these things. If you leave the movers alone (or worse, with your spouse) you will wind up without these crucial pieces. This move was particularly bad for this – I’ve got two stoppers gone forever, including the top of one of my oil-and-vinegar salad dressing bottles I’ve had for over 20 years. I have no idea how I will replace it. DiploDad may finally, finally NOT override my directive on no unpacking after this fiasco. Maybe.
5. There Will Always Be a “How the Hell Did They Break THAT?”
Yup. It’s like it was a challenge and they met it. Sometimes, you actually have to admire that.
6. Clothing Hangers will Take Over the Entire House if You Let Them
Hangar supply always goes through a predictable cycle in our house during moves. It goes something like this:
DiploDad: “I need some hangers. I don’t have enough to hang all my clothes up with.”
Me: “I have a few I can give you.” (Takes off a few dresses, folds them, hands hangers to DiploDad)
DiploDad: “That’s not enough – I have a total of eleven hangers. I need at least 15.”
Me: “UAB* comes in a week – I packed a TON in UAB. Can you wait just a few days?”
DiploDad: “Not really.”
Within 24 hours, DiploDad will sneak out on a Target run, ostensibly to buy cat food or milk, and return with three twelve-packs of plastic hangers. A week later, UAB will show up with about 40 hangers in it. A month later, HHE** will show up and we’ll be looking at this:
DiploDad: “We’ve got to find a place for all of these. Can we donate them to Goodwill?”
Note that Goodwill does NOT take hangers. Everyone on the planet drops them there and they have too many – they will actively chase your car down as you are trying to leave to give them back to you. Trust me on this.
7. The Cats Will Do Something Bad While You Are Unpacking
It’s 3 a.m. in the DiploHouse. All is calm, all are asleep . . . .
DB2: (runs into our bedroom) “Mommy!” (Not Daddy. Never Daddy.)
Me: (waking up, disoriented) “What?! What?!”
DB2: “It’s Gink!” (DiploCat1)
Me: (jumps out of bed, runs with DB2 into his room) “What?! Is he OK?”
DB2: “He peed on the paper in the corner of the room! I heard him meowing and then scraping the paper and then I went to pick him up and he was peeing!”
DiploDad: (who has followed us in, unnoticed) “On my new carpet.”
Turns out that the carpet was safe, and the pile of paper was big enough to absorb the accident. This meant that DiploCat1 was permitted to stay a little longer. It also meant I used less white vinegar on the area. Just in case.
A few nights later:
DB2: (leans down next to me, sleeping, whispering in my ear loudly) Mommy! (Not Daddy. Never Daddy.)
Me: (disoriented) What?!?
DB2: Gink peed on my LEGO!
DiploDad: Damn cats.
Upon further inspection, it seems that DiploCat1 was completely disoriented again when DB1 placed a plastic bin of LEGO pieces on the floor in a corner. Seems that the change from Indian kitty litter, to American kitty litter, to American kitty crystals confused him, and when a pan looking suspiciously like a new kind of litter and his old Indian litter box showed up in his favorite room in the house, he thought we were just being considerate.
Me: “I think it’s time you got a handle on your room.”
I can now check “cleaning cat pee off LEGOs in the middle of the night” off my Mom Bucket List.
8. Cats Like Paper.
Make sure you don’t accidentally recycle them. Unless you want to.
9. You Will Have More Things to Hang on the Wall Than You Have Wall Space
Every post, every move, you “localize” your apartment. When I lived in NYC, I bought a couple of black-and-white photos of the Flat Iron Building and the Chrysler Building. During our European travels, we bought watercolors that I framed on base at the US Army MWR framing shop. Africa added masks and batiks to our collection, and India some Bollywood movie posters, prints, and paintings. Add that to family photographs, a curious cuckoo clock that always needs refitting after lying in storage doing nothing, and some Chinese ancestor paintings and we’re overloaded. My advice to you: Hang what you love. Do a gallery wall. And then store the rest unless you truly think you will never use it again. Those NYC prints? I haven’t had them on the wall since I left the City in 2000, but DB1 visited New York for Model UN last year, and they are now finding a new life in his room. All that “me wall” stuff? Awards, diplomas, stuff you hang at work but don’t want to look at while chilling in your rec room? Two words: Storage Space.
10. Your Furniture Will Not Be Adequate for All Your Stuff. Ever.
It’s a hazard of State Department life: you never have enough bookcases. The furniture that is assigned to your quarters will either be all new and complete or it will have been mostly given away and turned in by a string of predecessors. We have never, ever, experienced the former situation. Our house in Ghana was so bad and so lacking because the previous occupant had her own living room stuff, that we literally had ONE bookcase when we moved in. ONE.
Most of us travel with extra tables and bookcases. IKEA’s Billy line is excellent. I figure we’ve owned about 245 Billy shelves since we got married. When you leave, they are inexpensive enough you don’t mind passing them on or donating them, or selling them, and you can replace them at your next post. Just be patient while you sort through your stuff and know you’ll have a few piles on the floor until you can make that IKEA or thrift shop run.
11. You Will Forget This and Do It All Again.
Yeah, there are really 11 lessons here. A wise person on my Facebook page compared moving to childbirth. She’s not wrong.
*UAB – Unaccompanied Air Baggage. A certain amount of stuff that goes via air, ostensibly arriving within 2 weeks to your new destination.
**HHE – House Hold Effects. All your crap. Don’t ask me why there are two Hs involved when “household” is technically one word. It sounds better, anway.