All over the globe, nearly a million military families are on the cusp of or in the midst of permanent change of station summer moves. They are sorting, wrapping, packing, flying, driving and exhausting themselves while eating greasy takeout and sleeping fitfully in temporary lodging.

Having experienced many moves during my husband’s years of active duty Navy service, I’ve learned countless lessons from my own moving mistakes.

For example, I learned to “Purge unnecessary belongings before and after every move,” because one’s definition of “unnecessary” changes with each tour of duty. My old swimming trophy was a cherished treasure during our first tour, but was old junk by tour #2. For years, my husband refused to part with the bachelor couch upon which he’d made out with his old girlfriend, but he eventually carried it to the curb on bulk trash day during move #10.

Purging is an important part of the moving process — just don’t go overboard like we did during one particularly complicated move from Germany to Florida ...

“Who did it this time?!” I bellowed from the doorway of our new base house bathroom. Ever since we’d moved into the Balfour Beatty house with newfangled water-saving plumbing, it seemed that clogged toilets were a frequent occurrence.

Normally, I would've tracked down each of our kids until I found the one who’d used too much paper again. Then, on principle, I would’ve instructed the offending child to take the plunger from its designated place (a bracket that we’d recently affixed to the wall in our garage) and plunge the toilet, knowing I’d probably have to finish the gruesome job myself.

But on this particular day, I just didn’t have the time to find the kids. I was sorting through moving boxes in our garage, so I posted an “Out of Order” sign on the bathroom door and resolved to deal with it later.

We’d moved in two weeks prior, and after putting all the necessary things inside the house, we’d realized that we still had a garage full of boxes and no place to put them. They were mostly items that had been in storage during our three-year tour in Germany. Countless neglected books. Thirteen teacups from my dead grandmother. One dried-up bouquet from our wedding. Scores of photo negatives from before photography went digital. A dozen underused power tools. Seven coolers. A mind-boggling array of dust-collecting knickknacks.

I blamed my husband, grimacing at his 1976 skateboard with disintegrating rubber wheels, and baseball caps from every bar, firehouse, vacation spot, Navy ship, college, band and sports team my husband ever knew. A tub filled with a gazillion golf balls. Dozens of ancient cassette tapes. All items that couldn’t be thrown out for fear of discarding my husband’s youth and virility.

In a weak attempt to defend himself, my husband pointed out my useless collection of vintage aprons, jars of seashells compulsively collected during beach vacations, our unused wedding china, cherished baby clothes preserved in mothballs, Fisher Price toys waiting for grandchildren, and all the other memorabilia that couldn’t be thrown away for fear of discarding my maternal womanhood.

Looking around our packed garage, we knew what had to be done.

For hours, we tackled the mountain of boxes, severing our emotional attachments and ridding ourselves of the burdening clutter. Each time we designated something for charity, we felt the weight of it lifted from our life. With each relinquished item, our motivation increased until we were tossing things out gleefully, without much of a thought.

At the end of the day, with dust ground into every pore and nostril, we watched the Salvation Army truck driver loading up our massive donation. We were proud of purging ourselves of the stagnant waste overflowing from our garage. It wasn’t easy to flush out so many sentimental things, but with less clutter clogging up our life, we felt free to navigate the twists, turns and goosenecks of our new home with ease.

Then, just as the Salvation Army truck disappeared onto the distant horizon, we remembered the toilet. “Uh oh,” my husband mumbled as he noticed the empty bracket on the garage wall, “What happened to the plunger?”

Read more at and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email:

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