Adopt a Minimalist Attitude Before You PCS

By Mary Miley Theobald

Sara Baglin, an Army brat from Frederick, Md., remembers hearing how the Army shipped her great uncle’s three polo ponies to Hawaii in the 1930s. But those days are long gone. “I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen any more,” she laments. Rather than try and ship a pony, smart active duty officers are giving minimalism a try to keep their possessions from bossing them around. They’re also getting their family possessions within their authorized weight allowance well before the next mandated move.

Don’t waste money on storage  

Sure, sometimes you need to put stuff in storage, but it’s not a good substitute for making decisions. Deal ruthlessly with excess pounds before your next move sneaks up on you. If an item isn’t worth taking with you, it isn’t worth keeping. “My wife and I have never paid for storage,” says Capt. Wilson Nance, USMC, stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. “We believe that if we have more than our home can hold … we need to get rid of some possessions.”

Choose double-duty souvenirs  

Officers usually bring home well-intentioned souvenirs from their overseas deployments, but many items end up collecting dust. Try instead to collect items that are useful. “I got [my wife] a few wooden carved boxes and some other things in Afghanistan and Iraq,” says Adam Dever, a former Army infantryman. “She loves everything I got her, and the boxes double as keepsake boxes so they’re pretty useful.” Instead of carting around an alabaster statue from Italy, buy yourself or your spouse a hand-painted ceramic bowl that you can use for salad or pasta. Get rugs in Turkey that you can use for the rest of your life rather than a brass brazier that takes up space. Bring home silk robes and jewelry from Japan that you can enjoy wearing rather than a decorative carving that sits on a shelf. Look for paintings, posters, and prints that will evoke memories of each country or state where you lived and enhance every house to come. Things like rugs, clothing, and art have the added benefit of being relatively easy to move. 

Take a picture 

What do you do with items of sentimental value that evoke memories of a beloved relative, former home, or special trip? Ask yourself whether a photo will accomplish the same thing. “I bought a fake gold knight in London,” recalls Nance, “a sword and leather backpack from Morocco, and some other trinkets from Spain. For years I was adamant about holding on to them because they reminded me of my trips. It wasn’t until I got married that I … came to the point of asking myself, ‘Will I display this in a prominent area in years to come? Do they truly have meaning within my family?’ Once you can come to grips with that question, you can prioritize. If you have a photograph and a souvenir from the same trip, keep the photo instead of the weighty possession. Take pictures of you and any gift giver (and the gift they’re giving you) so you can keep the sentiment close without the tchotchke. Digital photos further reduce your load.

Books are bulk 

Even people with Kindles and Nooks often have shelves full of heavy books. Be honest now. Are you really going to reread those? Donate them to your local VA hospital or public library and take a tax deduction next year.

Use breakables 

What’s the point of having fine crystal glasses or bone china packed in the attic “for safekeeping” or display? Enjoy these heirlooms now. If a plate gets chipped or a glass breaks, buy another — or don’t. Replacements can be easy to come by, even for patterns long obsolete, from services like Replacements Ltd. in North Carolina. If you hate to wash fine dishware, use your dishwasher’s delicate cycle.

Create legacy value 

If you are saving items for posterity, you can rest assured family members will have no interest in objects they have never seen used. Legacy value is created with fond memories. Create those memories, and set the table with your finest tableware every day — or at least at every holiday, birthday, anniversary, promotion, good report card, and other family celebration.

Ditch multiples 

Many families have two or three sets of glassware, dishes, or utensils. You might find the set you don’t need is that everyday one. Send it to the post thrift shop or donate it to Goodwill, AmVets, or the Salvation Army and take (another) tax deduction.