Learning to be in a military family — and why I’m not allowed to have nice things

We are a military family.

Albeit a particularly small one, since we don’t have children ourselves, and so it is just myself (“the spouse”) and my USAF-owned husband. But we’re a military family all the same.

My husband has so far completed three moves with his military life — but this is my very first.

I knew this was coming a long time ago. As our casual dating progressed into a loving, committed relationship (which later included us eloping — sorry, mum), I was aware in the background of our mostly carefree life that one day everything would be uprooted. And I knew it would be to a different country. Of course it would be — my husband is an American serviceman and there is nowhere else for him to go in the UK. He’d already extended his time here by two years, so we knew roughly when the uprooting would be and the likelihood was his new station would be back in America.

But it still came around unexpectedly and suddenly. In 2018, it felt like a lifetime away. Then January 2019 hit and we found ourselves, having jogged along slowly the past years, sprinting down that home straight. I’m almost down to 100 days on my countdown until we jump on that plane and I will no longer be a UK resident, as I have been my whole life.

I scurried into Moving Mode at the start of March. The packing started. Clothes have been going up on Depop (or recycled, or last resort thrown in the bin). Excess dishes and cutlery have been culled. The food cupboards have had a thorough going-through several times, reminding me of all of the near-expired food products that I need to use in the next month or two. I’ve even — miraculously — started to clean the oven and scrub the bathroom skirting boards in preparation for our End of Tenancy inspection which is now only a month and a half away (we are moving on base for the remaining two months to make life easier).

As I start delicately packing things up, I realise just how freakin’ pointless it’s been over the past few years of mine and Steven’s cohabitation to buy nice things for our home. I’ve heard multiple horror stories about military families having items going missing in their moves. Furniture broken. Electrical items damaged. Apparently the mover companies that the USAF use are absolute rubbish. I suppose I should be grateful — there is no direct expense for us to have all of our items shipped abroad (however this doesn’t take into account all of the indirect expenses). But would I voluntarily move my life to America if it wasn’t for my husband? No, probably not. But you can’t help who you fall in love with, right?

I’m being realistic about our items being moved. Our expensive Next rug? Bound to get damp, mildewy or dirty. Steven’s giant TV from his bachelor days? Fully expecting that to show up dented or smashed. My computer that I use for work? Surely will get damaged or stolen. The gorgeous fragile globe drinks cabinet we were so chuffed to find on sale having wanted one for ages? Expecting it broken. Glass whiskey decanter, mirrors and vases? Smashed.

As I go through each of these circumstances in my head, I wonder why I bothered all of these years to cultivate these items to make our home homey. And I’ve had to face hard facts: military families just cannot have nice things.

And it’s been a hard thing to come to terms with, because don’t most people strive to make their homes as nice as possible? When Steven comes home from a deployment or training I want him to feel comfortable and happy. When I get home from a difficult day at work, I want to be able to look around me and think ‘ah well, at least I get to come home to a nice house’ to make those hard days worthwhile. I want to feel proud to invite guests over. I want to feel like my home is minimalist and tidy, but it should feel lived in, rather than looking like a show home with no ornaments or niceties.

And there’s not only the worry of things being broken or lost that has made me realise we shouldn’t have nice things. We may be lucky — we may have everything show up in one piece and undamaged but, the fact is, all of these items are being packed up 3 to 4 months prior to us moving so that everything is sorted in good time. They’ll get shipped off 2 months in advance of our move date. It’ll probably be a month, or more, once we arrive in Steven’s new station before we receive our shipment of furniture, clothing and goods. And by that point Steven will be fully into his new job and hopefully I will have a new job and busting my butt to prove myself — so when are we going to have the time to unpack? Chances are, it’ll take 5-6 months to unpack fully, so all-in-all, all of our nice things probably won’t see daylight for a good year. Now what is the point of hoarding nice things to not see them for 12 months, every three years??

I’ve always loved moving in the past. It’s always been a great chance for a new beginning (and god knows, I love a new beginning) but this move is beyond stressing me out. In any other abroad move, I think I’d just get rid of everything I own and buy new when arriving. But the fact is, I know we’re only going to New Jersey for three years, and then we’ll be moving again. We honestly can’t justify the cost of buying a whole new household every few years. Perhaps after this move, I will feel so much less stressed for the next one as I’ll know what’s coming. And the one after that — in the bag. The one after that? I’ll be a pro. And hopefully after that point, Steven’s service will have ended and we can finally, once and for all, settle down into a house with nice things.

And, so, here comes the big de-clutter over the next two months. Throwing out, selling, moving on. And — importantly — try to resist buying more nice things in the future.

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