In the spring of 2020, when COVID was just in its beginning stages, I found myself watching A LOT of Netflix. One show that I came across (okay binged over a weekend) was The Home Edit. I was instantly hooked, and the inspiration seed to start my own organizing business was planted. My kids would watch it with me, and say, “Mom, you should be on this show!” But, as much as I absolutely LOVED the ladies and LOVED the outcomes, I felt that the results were out of reach for many military spouses. It was then that I realized there were 3 unique organizing challenges for military spouses.
The first organizing challenge for military spouses is the fact that we are always moving houses! When PCSing (fancy military acronym for “Permanent Change of Station”) everything changes. Obviously the big things change like your house, your address, and your zip code. But, little things change as well. Your systems that may have worked well in one house, may not work at all in a new house.
The way you run your home will depend on little details about your current house. For example, in our last house, we entered and exited the home from the garage. Our “drop zone” for bags, shoes, and mail was right by the garage door. I had it all figured out. Now, in our current house we don’t even have a garage. In fact, we’ve been here over a year now and I still haven’t figured out the best place for our “drop zone!” Needless to say, what works in one house may not necessarily work in another house. When you switch houses as much as you do in the military, you have to constantly reevaluate your spaces, systems, and patterns of life.
Money Makes the World Go Round
When watching organizing shows like The Home Edit, there is a little bit of magic that goes into it. And most of the time that magic is due to money! All the baskets, bins, folders, bookshelves, and toy organizers are SO cute, but can be expensive. Money may not be a concern for all military spouses, but according to the latest statistics 35% of military spouses are unemployed. This number increased during the pandemic, as many spouse chose to stay home with children due to ever evolving school and daycare policies. Moving every 2-3 years means that many spouses are unemployed or underemployed some of the time. Thus, a military family may simply not have enough room in the budget for expensive organization products.
Moving Causes Stress and Anxiety
As a military spouse, I have handled a lot. During one deployment, I was alone for 6 months with three kids under 6. My family was 12 hours away. And while I had a handful of friends, I was largely alone and running on caffeine. I handled it, but not without a huge amount of stress and anxiety. I ended up in the ER with chest pains and dizziness. My body just broke down and said “enough!”
If you listen to stories from military spouses, we’ve all handled a lot. My friends tell stories about birthing babies alone in foreign countries, celebrating holidays alone without family, and coordinating and planning cross country moves. I’ve heard so many stories of incredible feats of courage, independence, and resilience from my fellow military spouses, but those stories come at an expense. I’ve heard an untold number of spouses and military children who suffer with anxiety and depression. It’s like our bodies go into survival mode and there isn’t an off button. The house being organized is the least of the worries. Organizing your home just doesn’t seem as important when you are just trying to stay afloat.
What’s the solution?
It is for these reasons that I decided to start writing about organization and helping other military spouses where I can. I’m not perfect! My house is not perfect! But, the organization of my time and my home helped me to calm the feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. When I have a system, I know what to expect and I don’t feel like things are out of control. It helps me to stay grounded. I love organizing because I can see immediate results and I have an instant feeling of being in control of the situation. My hope is that I can help other military spouses and busy moms in a small way that will make a big difference!
Solution #1 for the Organizing Challenges for Military Spouses:
While in the military, have grace and be flexible! Don’t compare your life to the people you see on TV (talking to myself here…guilty!). So much of these shows are staged and not reality. The lighting, the furniture, and the decor is brought in and staged for it to look the best. It’s ok that your house doesn’t look that way, because guess what, no one else’s does either! Embrace the uniqueness of military life, and realize that while not “camera ready” you may have some great stories to share!
Solution #2 for the Organizing Challenges for Military Spouses:
If you are going to buy organization products, consider if they can be used for a variety of situations. For example: I bought some inexpensive bins at Walmart for my tiny pantry in our current base housing. I know that these can also be used in the office or for clothes if they don’t work in a different pantry when we move. Think about buying things from big places like Target and Walmart where you might have a better chance of ordering more if you need them. I love Tuesday Morning and Marshall’s for their prices, but I hesitate to buy them knowing that I may not be able to find matching ones in the future.
Solution #3 for the Organizing Challenges for Military Spouses:
Seek help if you need it. I wish I would have listened to this advice, but as a young military spouse I was convinced that I needed to have the “warrior mindset.” I thought I needed to push through alone and not complain. I know now that if I had reached out for help, I probably would have had a community of people who would have been more than willing to help out. More and more military spouses are starting their own businesses or services with the express desire to help other military families (shameless plug for MIllIE Scout Jana here!). The “warrior mindset” is being replaced with an emphasis on self care and I’m here for it! Hopefully, this sentiment continues to grow amongst spouses and military members.
Want to read more? Check out my 7 Day Digital Declutter Challenge now. Join my Facebook group at The Organized Military Life to join in on the conversation!
I am an organization nut and thanks to the marine corps. My husband is not! He just goes with the flow. Still adjusting too! Definitely guilty of the comparing our life as well.
You have a unique niche and take on what organizing means as a military family. I love how you understand and provide doable solutions while encouraging grace. I have the utmost admiration for your flexibility and creativity with making situations work. It’s a special challenge knowing you will be uprooted so frequently. As someone who has lived in the same house for 37 years, I’m in awe of your ability to relocate so frequently. That makes you a Rock Star!
We are forced to reconcile with our stuff every couple of years, so in some ways it makes decluttering easier. Thank you so much for your kind words! I appreciate it.
Thank you for your service. I can’t imagine what military families have to deal with. This post is so helpful for them. Thank you for sharing your organizing challenges.
Thank you so much! We try to look at it all as an adventure, but there are definitely unique challenges due to this life.
What a fascinating blog – you write with so much empathy and the insights drawn from your own experience are bound to be invaluable for other military families. I found myself thinking how relevant your advice would be to students too. While not detracting from the unique challenges of military families I think there are some similarities when it comes to moving home frequently and not having the means to buy expensive organising products.
I moved a lot in my college years, and in a way I think it prepared me to move as much as we do now as a military family. Thank you for your kind words!
My dad was in the military and you offer great advice. I remember every time we moved having to adapt to our new home, school, jobs, etc. It’s a lot! One thing my mom did was to declutter every time we moved. Less stuff to deal with. I’ve seen boxes in clients’ basements that they moved several times. They don’t even know what’s in them.
I definitely declutter before and after each move! But, I know sometimes it can be very overwhelming for some. The boxes drive me bonkers so I always have them unpack EVERYTHING! It’s a mess, but it helps me clean up faster. Luckily, my family feels the same so we all work pretty hard to clear it up quickly.
I love your article. A military friend told me that she would store all extra items in bins and when a move happened quickly all she had to do was put the lids on the bins and the packing was done. When I am packing I remind clients that things might not be able to be stored in the same place in their new home. It is good to have that mindset it makes the move easier.
I try to “pre-pack” as well, but sometimes the military packers will re-do it for liability reasons. 😩 But, mostly, if it looks like you did a good job, they’ll leave it alone! Thank you for your comment! 😄