Friday, June 7, 2013

Rules For Packing Out (Without Freaking Out)

Reliving last summer's pack out nightmare is NOT my idea of a good time but it was such an extraordinary lesson in getting our crap together that I feel like one way to redeem our misery is to write about it so that someone can learn from our mistakes.

We have been here almost a year now (stateside still) and I am still fighting off the bitter root of last summer's wheeling/dealing hustler movers and their demanding, nightmarish take over of my home and my emotions. We still are dealing with the effects of having no control over our moving process. We probably will be for a while mostly because our stuff is in boxes with weird labels. The manifest has almost nothing helpful written on it. I have at least 3 shoes in my closet that are missing their mates. Which box are their mates in? Who the heck knows! They were in pairs in my UAB pile before I was whisked off to work in the garage with Guy #2. It is a mystery.

I need to establish what will be made clear to everyone who reads this (and who does not already know me)... I am totally aware that I am a sucker. Oh.. the stories I could tell! Being a people pleaser is a DISEASE! Lol! Call me a late bloomer. I suppose this post is written for other late bloomers or people who lack experience with this sort of move.

#1 Rule of Pack Out: You are in charge. It is your move. It is your stuff. Get it together before they arrive. Organize, sort, group...whatever you want to call it. Have it in a specific spot and say, "This is all HHE" or "This is all UAB" (alphabet soup FS terms, sorry).

** Please, don't go picking through a box as they are trying to pack it up- for goodness sakes.

#2 Rule of Pack Out: It would be wise of you to write down the list of items as they go into each box. They have to let you do that before they tape it up and send it to the truck. It is their job to pack items carefully and get it to the storage place. They are not going to write down everything that goes in each box.

Your manifest thing will read something like this...

Notice it doesn't say which or who's foot board, not even a bed size is mentioned. You are
supposed to check a box on a long list (pages and pages) and guess which footboard you would like when
 you move to post. (In case you are wondering, the word under that says "side rail" not "silk nail") 
So, when they pack a box they write the number of the box down on a big sheet of paper and next to it they write something like "glass". But, the truth is, the box is actually filled with:

  •   a trio of old coffee mugs
  •   a toaster oven
  •   a ceramic Easter Bunny decoration thing
  •   a cheese grater
  •   a pair of orange flip flops that I took off in the kitchen while the movers were there
  •   an old bag of my favorite Christmas Tree Nougats candy
  •   a box of toothpicks,
  •   an almost empty bottle of Advil,
  •   an old medicine bottle of my oldest child's first baby tooth from 14 yrs ago (I know- don't judge)
  •   a nearly full 2 liter of Diet Coke from the party we had the night before the movers came
  •   10 red plastic party cups with kids names written on them
  •   and... a box of dog biscuits for the neighbor's labrador (throw him a handfull of biscuits and you have approx 2 seconds to jump the fence and grab your frisbee- see)

 I suppose "glass" is better than " kitchen junk" but I am guessing that each box will contain a few items that will either embarrass me or make me gasp due to the fact I used part of my 7200 lbs to ship them to Jakarta. I'm totally expecting to find that bottle of flat Diet Coke in one of the boxes labeled "Glass".

#3 Rule of Pack Out:  If the movers get pushy, pick up the phone and call State. Seriously! You gotta blow the bully whistle on movers who are taking a power trip at your expense, not listening or pushing you around.

Everyone who hears my "wheeling/dealing movers" story shrieks and asks why in the world I put up with that. Answer- I did not know I could call the travel people at State and tell them what was going on. It never crossed my mind, honestly. I had never had packers come and wrap up my stuff before- ever.


Movers do not manipulate you into going to get them lunch or dinner - on your dime. You can offer to buy them lunch- it is up to you. It is nice to have waters in a cooler with ice for them, maybe sodas or sports drinks. We went all out for our wheeler/dealer packers lunches, you know, to be courteous. But after that they were happy to tell me what they wanted to eat, and when they wanted it. Yeah... between helping Guy #2 I was running snack patrol. Puke!
I did go get what they wanted because they only drove their moving truck and the taco place, or whatever, was literally around the corner. But, in retrospect, they did have a phone, they could have ordered pizza for themselves.

THEY SHOULD NOT RUSH YOU. Our wheeler/dealer movers were completely done packing a four bedroom/family of five's house in less than 36 hours. That is just about unheard of. There were just two men and they were moving so fast that we could not keep up with anything that was happening. Plus... Our movers came a day or two earlier than they were scheduled and would not take no for an answer when we explained that we were not ready. THIS WAS WRONG.

THEY ARE WORKING FOR YOU! THEY ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO FLUSTER OR INTIMIDATE YOU.  The morning they arrived they showed up 3 hours early. Then, Guy #2 told me my job was to stay in the garage with him, that it was best to stay out of the boss's way because he had a bad temper. Yep. He was right.  Guy #1 would say, "What are doing in my kitchen?" when I would walk through MY KITCHEN for a drink of water or to wash my hands. He was the main master mind between these two hustler/wheeler/dealers. I'm not kidding, these guys were pros at running the show.

#4 Rules for Pack Out: Demand to be heard

 While working like an idiot in the garage with Guy #2 I noticed that he was mislabeling boxes. He labeled my son's stuff from his room as "Garage Corner" and I said "No, this is Jackson's room books" he yelled at me "Look lady, these boxes are in the garage corner, I can NOT label it Jackson's Books."

All of my son's treasured books were in the garage because we had loads of potential home buyers walking through our house all summer and most of his personal items (90% being books) were being stored there. Wheeler/dealer hustler Guy #2 finally understood when he started working in my son's room later that night and said, "Where is all your kid's stuff?" and I said, "In a box labeled Garage Corner". His face dropped. He finally realized what I had been trying to tell him. I realized at that moment that he had taken big advantage of my lack of FS pack out experience. Now, somewhere in a warehouse my oldest son's stuff is labeled "garage corner" which is not something that I would normally want sent to wherever we get posted. I was sooooooo angry. I am still angry because I have to request as many boxes as I can now because so many things have been mislabeled.

Try to find ways to reduce the insane amount of wrapping they do. It adds a lot of weight. 

To FS families: This is what your crates of stuff look like. Inside those
wooden boxes are more and more boxes and stuff wrapped in brown paper.
We had to pay $280 to go there to retrieve ONE FREAKING piece of paper. 

So, this time around I have had the benefit of my experienced FS friends here to ask them HOW not to make the same mistakes I made last summer.

1. Sort stuff into similar groups- like all shoes into one box so that when they write "Shoes" on the manifest it will actually be shoes and not actually one pair of shoes and a winter coat and preschool art projects from 1997.

2. Throw/give stuff away. Our new rule of thumb is "if you have not touched it or used it in a year it is gone" and "if you have not touched it or used it in 6 months- you must have a compelling reason to keep it." The Foreign Service life is not the lifestyle for hoarders.

***If you are wondering how long it will be between A-100 and your ship out date, I would say expect a year. Possibly less but most people I have met are staying at Oakwood for six months to a year. It is more or less a year for most Generalists who are learning a language. * Even if you have a second language expect to test with an extremely scrutinizing team of instructors... in other words you will be going to language school. Just accept that fact now. Diplomatic language skills must meet very high standards. People who majored/minored in Spanish (one lady I know was even a native Spanish speaker) were still sent to the full 24 weeks of language training. However, it does seem like Specialists are here for a shorter amount of time because many Specialist jobs do not require a full language course.

3. Group stuff together and put them in plastic bags or little containers before the movers show up. Reason being- this keeps the packing weight down. A friend told me today that if you take all your forks/spoons/knives and place them in a plastic container they will just pack the plastic container. Otherwise, if you leave them in the kitchen drawer the mover will wrap each piece with paper which adds a lot of unneeded weight to your load.  I love her advice (thank you, Christy!).
Right now, I've just got it all piled up in "sort of" similar groups.
This is the cleaning stuff HHE pile. 

Here is a link to my favorite gold mine of practical info, advice and real time experiences all piled into the awesome Hardship Homemaking blog .


  1. I am so sorry you had such a horrid packout experience. Have my fingers crossed for you that the biggest issues are sorted out soon and that you end up at post with everything you need.

    1. Thank you, Nomads! I hope the same things you mentioned. Any other advice is welcome here... please, tell me your favorite pack out tips!

    2. We got creative in some packouts - used our towels, bedding, pillows instead of paper when possible - also lots of stuffed toys. We had all that in a pile and just asked them to used it around dishes, etc. when possible. The packers were great about it. I also agree with the 'ask for help and have as many eyes on the job as possible'. We also have prepacked our knickknacks in tubs with bubblewrap that we save when we unpack or prepack appliances back into the original packaging that we had saved. Liquor boxes with the divisions are great, as is using baskets and and hideyhole thing you are bringing with you.

      The best advice is truly to purge and have a separate room for UAB, a room to shut/lock all your pre-packed suitcases with all your carry ons and paperwork and documents that you will carry with you or mail to post right before you leave, and a separate room for storage. It is a lot of pre-moving yourself but organization ahead helps a lot. Just remember, you will get more confident with experience, not every pack out is the same, celebrate the small things. In the end, it will arrive at post and you will have to unpack and deal with it then if it didn't get done before. Not always a bad thing.

      In the end it really is just stuff and a great exercise on materialistic detachment. You WILL come out stronger in this! Commiserating and hoping along side of you as you jump through the final hoops to get to post.

  2. You should submit this post to Hardship Homemaking! It's awesome. (I'm sorry you had such a bad pack out experience though!)

  3. Thank you, Becky. I would be happy if just one person benefits from our experience and story. Something good must come from our 36 hours with the wheeler/dealer hustler movers. I will try to email Hardship Homemakers, thanks for the idea on that.

  4. Hopefully you won't have more experiences like this. My experience with packers has been that generally speaking, the US-side moving companies tend to be more problematic than the ones overseas. We have had good experiences in both Asia and Central America so far.

    1. Thank you, Warpiper, we hope won't have any more experiences like that either! :) I have heard that the US packers are much less attentive than their global counterparts and the thing that really sucks is that we TIPPED them (well)! We didn't know at the time how much they had worked us until I got here and heard how things usually go. Live and learn...

  5. Awesome blog post and so timely for us. We have our pack-out in 2 weeks time for our first tour. This has provided some much needed insight into the process. Thanks so much for sharing

    1. Thanks Paul! I should welcome you to the July A-100 class, I assume? Purge, sort and ask friends to come to your place on pack out day and hover over the packers so that they make detailed lists of what goes in each box- I can't express how important that is. BUT more than anything I would recommend you hook up with Live l
      Lines- I think (not sure) that this is a yahoo group type of set up. The people commenting and sharing their wisdom and experiences there are usually a big help on everything FS.

  6. Moving out and packing stuff puts great stress to a lot of people. It's because they may lose some of their important items or get too tired to sort their own stuff. These wonderful tips would surely help anyone who wants to move out but are apprehensive to do it. Thanks for sharing!

    Pedro Padro @Pack Crate and Ship

  7. Packing out is every homeowner’s problems when moving. It’s not easy, especially if you don’t plan ahead on the packing process. These tips are helpful guide for movers. Just a reminder, when hiring someone to pack your things make sure that you’re there supervising them to ensure that they’re packing the right stuff at the right storages.
    Renea Luong @ Legacy

  8. “... movers DO NOT BOSS YOU AROUND. They DO NOT make you cry or YELL at you.” - Of course, you shouldn't let them! No one deserves to put up with this kind of behavior from anyone, let alone from whom people you've paid to move your stuff. I like how straightforward your tips are, McKeatings! Moving is already stressing as it is, you don't need to add the mover's attitude to your list of worries. Jose @

  9. Your experience is totally not cool! If were in your situation I would have broken down! Anyway, it is really very great of you to have shred these tips to help out others avoid such mistakes you made. This post will surely help travelers as well as movers Nebraska with regards to packing tips. Thank you and keep on posting!

  10. Thanks for sharing this awesome article. It’s very helpful. I really need this information.
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  11. Stateside pack outs are the worst. It has always gone better for me overseas.