5 Things I Learned from Our Military Family’s DITY Moves
Military families have a choice to make when they get PCS orders: should you let the military moving companies move you, or move yourselves? The second option is commonly called a DITY move or Do-it-Yourself move. But the official term is a PPM (Personally Procured Move.)
Of course, a PPM or DITY move means a lot of extra effort, because you will be coordinating all the logistics of your move, and probably doing a lot of the packing, driving, and heavy lifting yourselves. But there are also a lot of benefits of doing a DITY move.
Our family has done four DITY moves (plus two military moves going to and from overseas). Two DITY moves were by choice, one was an emergency because of short-term notice on changed orders, and one was because of limited options during the pandemic.
We have learned a lot from our DITY move experiences. We also made some mistakes and broke a few things along the way. Now I’m sharing my top DITY move tips so you can have a great DITY move the first time!
Reasons to do a DITY move
First, let’s discuss some of the pros and cons of DITY moves. Because let’s be honest: they aren’t the best solution for every family every time you PCS.
For example, you can’t do a DITY move if you have orders to an overseas location, including Alaska and Hawaii. You may not want to do a DITY move if you are pregnant or have a health condition and can’t lift anything. If your service member is deployed or you’re caring for young children, it may be easier to let the military movers handle your move.
But if you’re an organized person, up for a challenge, and not afraid to pack boxes and lift furniture, then you might appreciate the benefits of a DITY move.
Here are some benefits of a DITY move:
- In a DITY move, you control the timeline
If you have short-notice PCS orders or need flexibility while you buy or sell a house, you may not have time to schedule military moving companies to handle your move. In a DITY move, you can drive your own household goods or use storage options for companies like PODS or ABF so you get things delivered when you choose.
- Door-to-door moves mean less time in hotels
When you drive a moving truck from Point A to Point B, there’s no wasted time or money in hotel rooms. Your things arrive the same day you do. Technically, you can request a door-to-door move from military movers, but depending on the time of year, you will still have to wait a while for delivery.
- You care the most about your own things
One of the biggest complaints about military moves is that movers are careless and break or lose belongings. Sure, there’s a reimbursement process for damaged goods, but it takes months of frustrating paperwork and people are rarely happy with the inconvenience. If you move yourself, you decide how much packaging to use for every item. You supervise the truck being packed, and every item placed into your new home. Remember, this also means you are responsible if you drop your TV or pack liquids that leak onto everything. So research moving packing tips before doing it all yourself!
- DITY moves help you determine what you value
When you move yourself, you touch everything in your house and decide if you still want it. It’s refreshing to clean out unnecessary items when you move. If military movers pack your house, they’ll pack everything in sight, so it’s easy to end up with boxes of junk that follow you around every move.
- You make money from DITY moves
Yes, you can make a lot of profit from a DITY move. The military will reimburse families for a DITY move based on what they would have paid military movers for a service member with the same rank and weight of household goods. Depending how much work you do and how much you hire out, you can make thousands from a DITY move! More details on that later.
So yes, there are many great reasons to consider a DITY move for your next PCS. Now, let’s look at the main thing we have learned from four DITY moves.
What our military family learned from four DITY moves:
We did our first DITY move with a 5-month old baby, when we lived in a 3rd story walk-up apartment. It was… a lot of work. Because our next two moves were to and from an overseas location, we let the military move us them and had an overall good experience each time.
By the time we did our next DITY move, we had four young children and a very tight timeline. We didn’t have the option to schedule military movers, so we somehow packed and moved our entire house in one week!
The next DITY move was during the pandemic. We wanted to use military movers, but there was such a backlog we were nervous we wouldn’t be able to choose the dates we needed to get our kids moved in time for school. It was only two years after the previous move, so we remembered how we had packed things and were confident in our ability to make a good bit of money from a DITY move. I was able to leisurely prepare and pack up the house over a two-month period.
Our final DITY move was this year, when we moved to our “forever home” for my husband’s retirement! This time, we combined our experience and lessons learned from the previous moves to have our most efficient DITY move, with our largest profit.
Here’s the 5 most important things we have learned from our DITY moves.
1. You don’t have to do everything yourself
Yes, you have options when you move—even with a PPM or DITY move. Let’s just say I didn’t know this during our first PCS move.
I thought we could either let the moving company move us or do everything ourselves. So, we rented a truck, bought moving supplies, packed it by ourselves, drove it to the new duty station, and unloaded it ourselves. Then we unpacked everything and put all our furniture together.
Reader, let me tell you: you’re allowed to hire help for any of those steps! Sure, whatever you hire will decrease your profit from the DITY move. But it will also increase your sanity.
So, choose whatever combination of support works best for your family. Some families like to drive the moving truck; others don’t. Some families aren’t physically able to lift furniture. And that’s okay.
Here are ways you can get extra help during your DITY move:
- Hire movers to help pack bulky or fragile items
- Do the packing yourself, and hire local movers to load the truck
- Use a delivery service like ABF trailers, PODS, or U-Pack so you don’t have to drive the truck
- Ask local friends to help you on loading or unloading day
- Invite a friend to watch your kids so you can pack or load yourselves
Want to learn more about your new duty station before you move? Read this article on how to research your new location before you PCS.
2. DITY move money matters
Everyone always talks about the money they earn from DITY moves, and if we’re being honest, money is a major factor in the decision to move yourself.
How much money can you make from a DITY move? Well, it depends on several conditions. Your service member will be approved for a maximum moving reimbursement based on their rank and the distance to the next location. However, you do not automatically receive that amount!
DITY moves reimburse the weight of total household goods moved. You determine this by weighing a moving truck or trailer empty, then weighing it again once it’s loaded. So if you’re driving your own truck, be sure to schedule that and keep those weight tickets!
If your weight is at the service member’s maximum, or over the max, then you’ll receive the max DITY payment. If your total weight is lower, then you’ll receive a smaller amount. If you haven’t moved before, it’s difficult to calculate your household weight. But there are some good estimator tools on Military OneSource and moving company sites.
Remember, anything you pay to buy boxes, hire movers, or rent a moving truck will all eat away at your overall profit because those items are not individually reimbursed. The reimbursement is based on the weight only, so you have to figure out the most cost-effective way to load the maximum amount of belongings.
And here’s another important point: the DITY reimbursement will not be deposited for several months after your move. (It’s usually two to three months for us.) So be prepared to pay those moving reservations, storage fees, and all DITY move costs up front, out of pocket. If you put them on a credit card, it will go through more than one billing cycle before your reimbursement arrives. So have a plan to cover those expenses.
Finally, remember that DITY move weight reimbursements are separate from the other PCS reimbursements on the travel claim. Payments for hotel stays, mileage, and meals on the road are available to all military families, whether you do a DITY move or use military movers. So don’t confuse those prices in your DITY move calculations.
For one DITY move, we made around $2,000 profit, because it was a short-distance move. It was enough to purchase a new washer and dryer set, so I was excited we no longer had to rent. During our next DITY move, we earned over $5,000 because it was across the country. That helped us purchase new living room furniture and get settled in the next house.
And for our final retirement move, I think we made $7,000. We ordered some new furniture in advance and loaded it on the truck still packed in delivery boxes. This helped us max out the weight allowance.
For each of those moves, I packed most of the house myself, and my husband and I loaded and unloaded the truck together. I lost some work income during those weeks of packing, so I see the DITY move money as a way to reimburse me for the disruption to my career. You’ll have to crunch your own numbers and see whether it makes sense for your family.
3. Start de-cluttering early
Sometimes PCS orders happen on a schedule: you may not know where you are going this summer, but you know you’ll have to move.
Other times, PCSing comes as a surprise when the service member is unexpectedly moved to a new unit, assigned a new task, or receives a promotion.
Either way, if you’re a military family, there’s always the possibility you will move this year. With that in mind, it’s never too early to start de-cluttering.
I once started de-cluttering while my husband was deployed, knowing he would likely have PCS orders after the deployment. I got rid of broken furniture, clothes I had out-grown, and piles of children’s toys. It gave us a lot more space in the house and garage.
When the PCS orders came, we were surprised to learn we were staying on the same base! My husband would change units, but we didn’t have to change houses. Wow, all that de-cluttering for nothing!
But wait, that’s not the end of the story.
In true military fashion, they amended the orders three months later. We had to PCS after all! We called the next base and discovered a house was available… if we could move into it in ten days.
Ten days. It was way too quick to request a military move! So we bought moving boxes, packed them, rented a truck, loaded it, and drove to the next base—all in one week. It was a successful DITY move, and it never would have been possible if I hadn’t already spent months cleaning out our house.
When you’re ready to de-clutter, start with the obvious places where junk accumulates in your home: the hall closet, guest bedroom, or garage. If it’s something you haven’t touched in a year, it’s probably safe to get rid of it. If you have children, you can start getting rid of the baby clothes, toys, and items your child has outgrown. Read this post with the top 10 things to purge before a PCS move.
Work in one small area at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. You don’t have to tackle the whole house in one weekend! Re-organize and de-clutter one space, then move to another one. Here’s what you can do with un-wanted items:
- Sell them in a yard sale or garage sale
- Donate to the Thrift Store on base
- Ask if anyone in the local spouse community needs them
- Post them on your local Buy Nothing page to give away
- Recycle them for credit at a second-hand shop
- Dispose of broken items at a dumpster or local dump
Whether or not you have PCS orders, it’s always useful to clean out closets and get rid of unnecessary items. You’ll have more space, extra cash from sold items, and a lot more peace of mind.
4. Pack the fragile things first
Are you packing up your household yourself for a DITY move? Great! You can start the process a month or more before the move if you begin with fragile items.
I recommend this for two reasons:
- Items like picture frames, collectables, and pottery aren’t essential, so it’s okay if they sit in boxes for a while before the move.
- The beginning of the packing process is when you’ll care the most. Get the bubble wrap or special padding and wrap your valuables up now. In the week before the move, you’ll just start throwing things haphazardly into boxes.
You can order moving supplies online or through a moving store. We like the moving store because they will usually buy back any unopened packages or un-used boxes. Make a plan for your breakable, bulky, or difficult-shaped items now.
You don’t have to use custom packaging for every breakable item. Get creative and use anything soft or padded in your home. Open up the linen closet and use washcloths, towels, tablecloths, blankets, or sheets to wrap around your fragile items.
Once you accomplish something like packing up the china closet or wrapping your snow globe collection, you’ll feel motivated to tackle bigger areas, like the rest of the living room.
5. Work as a team for your DITY move
A DITY move can be challenging for any marriage. Not only are you both dealing with high levels of stress, but you may also discover you have very different priorities.
She wants everything protected in five layers of padding. He is concerned about the space in the truck. Or, he wants to get rid of half the furniture, while she doesn’t want to pay to replace everything.
Oh, and during all of this, the kids are moody and asking a thousand questions about the move.
A DITY move forces you to evaluate everything you own. There will certainly be moments when you look around and think, “why do we have this?” You probably don’t have the time or energy to haggle about everything in your house.
Moving always comes down to timelines and priorities. There are many ways to make a move work for your family. You’ll have to choose the option that works best for the time you have, based on your family’s priorities.
Whether you hire help or load the truck yourselves, it is essential for the service member and spouse to recognize they are doing this move together. This is a stressful challenge, but you will get through it by working as a team.
Instead of creating a lose-lose situation where you haggle over furniture and both feel disappointed in the end, try approaching the move as a team effort. It’s okay to divide the tasks and conquer them separately. Teams divide things based on individual’s skills and talents.
Think about the positive qualities you each bring to the moving team. Is one person calm in the face of stress? Is the other better at making a budget? Who has the best memory and organizational skills? Who is best able to research the next duty station? Who has better special recognition for loading the moving truck?
Sort the tasks, then be a team player, and trust everyone to do their part. You’re all moving in the same direction, and you’ll get through it together, even if you don’t always see eye to eye.
Whew, there you have it: my top 5 tips for DITY moves! I hope your next PCS move is successful. Follow the advice above to be prepared, make a profit, and keep working together, even when the DITY move becomes stressful.