Here’s how to PCS-proof your priceless heirlooms and keepsakes


how to pack precious heirlooms

By Lizann Lightfoot

When PCSing, most military families prefer to hand-carry their most precious items. Even if military movers pack up the rest of the house, families will carefully load heirloom items into their vehicle to drive them to the next duty station. That is generally the safest way to guarantee that your treasures will arrive in one piece. . . as long as you do it correctly. How can you PCS-proof your most fragile family treasures? You have to think like a professional.

Tips to PCS-proof your special keepsakes

Collectables: Most military families have fun collectable items that they have gathered from various duty stations. Maybe it is something inexpensive and portable like coffee mugs. . . or it could be something more fragile like framed artwork or snow globes. Maybe you have a unique large item that won’t fit into a cardboard box.

  • For small fragile items, use layers of packing paper, bubble wrap, and small cardboard boxes to keep them secure. Make sure they can’t move or rattle around in the box.
  • Framed artwork should be wrapped in packing paper, towels, or light blankets, then placed upright in large cardboard boxes. Use crumpled paper in between each piece. Art absorbs the most pressure when resting on its frame, so don’t lay the box flat.
  • Large specialty items should be wrapped in layers of packing paper followed by a blanket. If there are handles, spouts, or anything unusual sticking out, use bubble wrap and pieces of folded cardboard around the unusual shape. Secure everything with packing tape. If you can’t find a correct size of cardboard box, use pieces of cardboard taped together to surround the entire item.

Photos: Carrying around albums full of wedding photos and baby pictures can get heavy and take up a lot of space. It also increases the risk that photos will be smashed or damaged by water.

  • Create digital photo books with multiple photos printed on each page, so the photo books will take up less space and last longer.
  • Back up all your photos on a hard drive or CDs that can be carried from place to place. You can also use a virtual storage location like the cloud. This way, your memories will never be lost or damaged.

Wedding heirlooms: At first, it seemed like a good idea to air-dry my wedding bouquet. But those dried flowers didn’t make it through the first PCS move. We never had space for my wedding dress, either. If you want to preserve fragile items like flowers, fabric, and stationary, then using a professional is the safest way to guarantee they will be ready to move around the world. You can have these treasures flattened and displayed in shadowboxes.

  • A wedding dress should be cleaned immediately after the wedding. It can be wrapped and preserved by the cleaner or the bridal store. If you package your own dress, fold it lightly in layers of acid-free tissue paper and store it in cardboard, not plastic.
  • Flower bouquets can be professionally dried and preserved, but it must be done within days. Research your options before the wedding day to get the best results.

China: If you have china dishes, fancy glassware, porcelain figurines, or anything fragile from your wedding registry, those items are precious to you. Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to move them overseas. If you get overseas orders, consider leaving expensive breakables in a storage unit or at your parents’ house. You are authorized to move items into a stateside storage unit where they will remain for the duration of your overseas tour. They can then be shipped with your household goods to your next duty station, or you can drive them yourself. When we returned from living overseas, we picked up our china and drove it across the country. Not ideal. . . but nothing broke!

  • Use professional moving supplies like dish pack containers and corrugated separators to protect dishes or glassware.
  • Use bubblewrap around each piece of crystal or glassware. Pack them in an upright position.
  • Fill the bottom of each box with wadded packing paper or Styrofoam peanuts to reduce bumps and cracks.

Christmas ornaments: These fragile keepsakes often hold a lifetime of family memories. Unfortunately, they are notorious for being lost or broken during PCS moves. You need to take steps the Christmas before you PCS to pack your ornaments in PCS-proof containers. Then inspect your containers after the move, no matter what season it is. Make sure nothing is broken or missing before you file that PCS claim.

  • Use plastic storage bins with hard sides that will stack easily.
  • Place ornaments in egg cartons or plastic cups to provide extra padding.
  • Use shoe boxes for light strands or larger ornaments.
  • Wreath storage bins are the prefect shape for expensive, hand-made wreaths.
  • For an expensive artificial Christmas tree, invest in a sturdy-sided storage bag or container (not cardboard) to reduce damage to branches and lights.

When you pack like a pro, you can PCS-proof your most treasured keepsakes!

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at lizann@militaryoneclick.com.