Military Minimalist: Tips for PCSing during the holidays

Military Minimalist: Tips for PCSing during the holidays
Photo Credit:  Viktor Hanacek

Photo Credit: Viktor Hanacek

Shave my head and call me "Captain Christmas." Andy Williams is crooning, "It's the moooost wonderful time of the year..." "I'll be home for Christmas!" echoes through the halls of a retailer near you. The holidays are usually my favorite time of year because I associate them with going home to WV, but we're PCSing again.

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The permanent change of station is part of the package deal of military life, and although it's not my favorite thing, it happens. The ugly sweater will be packed. There will be no wanton tree murder. I know when my things will be picked up, but I don't know when I'm moving into my new house. I can choose to be upset with this, or I can accept it for the adventure that it is.

Maybe you're feeling the same way. Perhaps you're wondering how you are going to keep yourself from strangling someone with a string of burnt-out Christmas lights. Maybe you want to do everything you can to keep this holiday from being the one where you sit alone and cry into a plate of cold leftover mashed potatoes. (Not that that's ever happened to me...) Here's what I do to stay sane during a permanent change of station around the holidays.

1. Find other ways to keep things festive

Normally you'd be busting out the plastic tubs full of ornaments and decking the halls. If you're PCSing during December, this isn't going to work for you. 

Instead of unpacking loads of Christmas stuff, pick something small to boost your spirits. This year, I have a tiny tree recycled from the table at command Christmas party and a string of lights with Buddy the Elf on them. I can easily throw these into the suitcase when it's time to leave, but in the meantime, they'll make me smile. 

Use Christmas cards and paper decorations to spruce up bare walls or hotel rooms. One year, my husband was on temporary duty in Newport for a few weeks over the holidays. I put up freebie paper Christmas decorations in the hotel room to make the place seem a little more like home.  

Take this opportunity to explore the festivities around you. Is everyone in your development putting up lots of lights and inflatables? Go for a walk. If your friends have invited you to a party, stop by. (Unless you're like me, and the movers are coming during the party...) Mooch off all that holiday cheer so that you can enjoy the season too. 

2. Temper expectations

Having the Better Homes and Gardens Christmas may be your thing every other year, but it's an awful lot to manage when you're trying to move. Not only are moves expensive, but they mean that all your supplies are getting shuffled. How many times do you need to buy scotch tape? What do you do with the leftover wrapping paper after the moving trucks leave?  

Let everyone know that Christmas is going to look different this year. Temper the expectations. Friends and family are usually pretty understanding about this sort of thing.

3. Tell Santa to chill with the gifts 

Playing Santa can add a layer of difficulty to this. Santa doesn't have to bring the kiddos giant gifts. Santa has to make sure that presents fit into suitcases. Instead of buying piles of stuff, choose something small for kids to unwrap. A toy that they can play with right now and a voucher for a fun experience might be easier to manage. This way, you can satisfy the desire to watch the kids open a gift, and you have a plan for a family outing in the bag.

You might coordinate with other family members on this one. Maybe instead of buying and shipping big hunks of plastic, everyone could pitch in for something special. One year, my whole family coordinated and bought me a series of horseback-riding lessons. That was almost 20 years ago, and I still remember how awesome that was. A day at the kid's museum or an amusement park near you can make for some amazing memories.  

Focusing on experiences is really helpful if you know that you will be between homes for a few weeks. Being stuck in a hotel room or a house with nothing in it can be boring--especially for kids. 

4. Start early

I tend not to go over-the-top, but I like to send my family a few things to let them know that I'm thinking of them. Since we're in Hawaii, there's loads of cool stuff that they can't get on the mainland that I want them to try. 

Last year, I made the mistake of putting off my shopping and shipping, and everything was late. This year, I knew that the moving trucks would be heading my way in early December. I had almost everything purchased, packaged, and shipped before the movers set foot in the house. 

5. Get companies to ship things for you/ phone a friend

Instead of getting things shipped to your house when you don't know how long you'll be living there, have things sent to a trusted friend or family member. Sometimes I order the things I want from Amazon or Etsy and have them sent directly to my mother. She wraps and distributes them if I can't make it home for the holidays.  

Many companies now offer gift-wrapping. It may cost you a few bucks extra, but if you're desperate to have things arrive wrapped, it's a great option. 

6. Be realistic about your goals

Most of us are busy, and holidays can be overwhelming by themselves. Adding a move to the mix is anxiety-inducing. I have had to accept that I am not going to be as effective as I am when my life is completely stable. I prioritize like crazy. It's really important to me that I meet my deadlines and keep clients happy. Taking one-off assignments for a little extra scratch is less important. I want to put up another online class, but this might not be the best time to add another project. I stick with the essentials when I'm PCSing. 

6. Know that this is temporary

As I go through the process of donating, throwing things away, and preparing for movers to show up, I catch myself getting a little overwhelmed. This isn't my first rodeo, but it doesn't change the fact that there's a lot to do. Regardless of how much yoga I do and how much I prepare for this, there are still going to be points when I feel like I'm out of my mind. That's okay. These things will pass. 

Moving doesn't give you a pass from doing the important stuff, but you have to be patient with yourself. I always underestimate the mental aspects of the move. I have to remind myself to tend to my mind and get plenty of exercise.I'm more tired than normal because I like to sleep through stress. Sometimes I just have to take the nap and be okay with letting myself take that nap. 

7. Remember what makes the holidays special

When I reflected on what I found most stressful about PCSing during the holidays, I found that gift logistics and time away from family were my biggest concerns. I am not going to be able to fly home, but I'm certainly going to find ways to connect. 

As for the presents, it's easy to get sucked into spending too much to give people things that they don't really want or need. For some this is a holiday with a lot of religious significance, and for others, it's a time to be grateful, reflect, and show people that you care about them. Wherever you fall along that spectrum, presents are not essential.

There's a sense of wonder and possibility that make the holidays special. Don't let a maxed out credit card and gift-giving anxiety ruin what could be an opportunity to have a wonderful holiday. 

I will survive

If that song is stuck in your head now, you're welcome! There are only so many times you can hear Mariah telling you that all she wants for Christmas is you. (OK- maybe that's not true. I actually never get tired of hearing that song.)

There you have it folks. I'm PCSing during the holidays, and I'm going to make it. You're going to make it. No matter what, it's going to be okay because it's not the stuff that makes the holidays--it's clearly the other humans. 

Stay safe, and I'll catch up with you after the loaner furniture arrives!

Are you a civilian wondering what your military-family friends are going through during a move? I've got a post about that! If you're PCSing with your pets to Hawaii, or you're curious about how that works, check this out!