By Lisa Smith Molinari, Contributing Writer
Contributing writer Lisa Smith Molinari is the award-winning syndicated columnist of The Meat and Potatoes of Life.
In the military, a Permanent Change of Station, or “PCS” move, is a lot like childbirth – no matter how painful it is, you always think it will get easier the next time around. And it never does.
At least childbirth leaves you with a little bundle of joy at the end of it all, but your consolation prize for enduring the pain and suffering of PCSing, is a bundle of boxes to unpack.
To make matters worse, there is always someone who PCSed about the same time as you, who somehow manages to get their place fully and fashionably decorated and box-free in two weeks or less.
You, however, spend six months with picture frames lining the baseboards, because no one has gotten around to putting nails in the walls. Your son wonders if you’ll ever unpack the box that has his favorite Legos in it. Your husband gave up on finding his golf shoes two months ago. The cat is ticked that her scratching post is still somewhere in the garage.
With all the other day-to-day responsibilities you have as a military spouse, how on earth can you be expected to fully unpack and redecorate every few years without totally losing your mind?!
She slumps onto the couch and reaches for her coffee, which is on the cardboard box she’s been using as an end table since last month. Sigh
In 23 years of being a Navy wife, I, too, have lost my mind while moving. But I’ve also found a few things in the process.
No, I’m not talking about that old orange, red and black afghan Aunt Millie crocheted from the Benjamin Franklin dollar bin yarn before she died. Although it is amazingly cozy, I must say. I’m not referring to the hardware for the IKEA desk we had to get rid of two moves ago. I always wondered what happened to those screws. I’m not referencing the “Godfather II” VHS tape that we accused the movers of swiping on our claim form back in 1998. Anyone have a VCR we can borrow?
Sure, I’ve found a few long-lost objects while unpacking, but I’m really talking about finding initiative, resourcefulness, ingenuity and creativity.
From the cavemen of ancient times to the hipsters of today, all human beings have an instinct to seek shelter. Even my husband, Francis, who actually has enough body hair to qualify him as a primate, prefers to live in a house rather than in the wild. But I digress…
Military families seek shelter too, but we know that every home is temporary. So why do we bother to unpack at all? Uncle Sam is only going to tell us to pack it back up and do it all over again.
And again. And again.
Here’s why: Military spouses know that it is important for our families to feel at home. So whether it takes two weeks or six months, we will unpack the family belongings and start making memories.
What I discovered while losing my mind is that military spouses are resourceful enough to make any place feel like home – be it an off-base split-level in Texas, an on-base townhouse in Kentucky, a seaside shack in Hawaii, a high-rise apartment in Japan or a stairwell house in Germany. We are creative enough to repurpose our belongings to fit new spaces. We are flexible enough to adapt to a vast array of home sizes, layouts and environments.
And we are ingenious enough to turn a cardboard box into a damned good end table.
After every PCS move, military families might spend a lot of time surrounded by cardboard boxes. But when it comes to making a home for their families, military spouses truly know how to think outside of the box.
TIPS for making your house feel like a home:
Reduce, reuse, recycle – While buying a few new items after a move can freshen things up a bit, resist the urge to completely redecorate from scratch. Using your existing home furnishings, with a few new touches, will not only be easier on your budget, it will make the family’s transition to your new abode a little more comforting and familiar.
Do the shuffle – Repurpose your existing furniture so that it will fit into your new house or apartment. Wide bedroom dressers can be used as dining room buffets, office credenzas and family room television stands. If your drop-leaf dining room table doesn’t fit in your new house, tuck it behind your couch to hold lamps and books. A tall chest of drawers placed in a bathroom or hallway can provide useful storage in the absence of a linen closet. Bedside tables and living room end tables are interchangeable. Hope chests and small trunks make great coffee tables. Get creative!
Jazz it up – If the sterile neutral walls and practical blinds of your base house or rental property give you the blues, jazz things up with wall color, drapes and area rugs. Most landlords and housing offices will allow you to paint as long as you repaint the walls to their original color before you check out. Alternatively, there are removable varieties of some wallpaper brands.
Go green – Whether it’s an African violet on the vanity, a cactus in the windowsill, an orchid on the sideboard or a fern hanging on the porch, plants give a home a lived-in feel. Also, if you only have a balcony or aren’t permitted to plant in your yard, learn alternatives to traditional gardening by planting vegetables, fruit trees and flowering plants in containers.