Leaving the Navy and Finding a New Home

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Our journey from military family to civilian life.

 

Addie and I married in 2001 and since then we have lived in Japan, San Diego, Guam, Maryland and then back to San Diego where we lived until the summer of 2016 when we finally moved to Illinois, our current home-state.

After 26 years in the Navy, on October 2015 Addie decided he was going to retire from the military in the summer of 2016. That one decision led to a sequence of events that needed to take place, being “finding a job” the most important one in our list.

 

Our New Home - Before We Moved
Our beloved home in San Diego, CA

 

Knowing Addie would retire, and we would most likely have to move, the process of looking for a job, placing our San Diego home in the market and preparing to move started.

It was emotionally hard to have to say goodbye to our great friends yet again, disrupt the kids’ friendships and activities, but we knew the likelihood of finding a job for him in the San Diego area was slim. So, he set out to apply for as many jobs as he could and spent about 30-45 days flying in and out for his interviews. That also led to having me flying to scout cities and neighborhoods for our family.

At the same time, we knew the sooner we placed our home on the market, the better. So, early in 2016 we hired a real estate agent, did the minor improvements needed and before we knew it, there was a For Sale sign hanging on our front lawn. It was then that reality started to sink in.

When you are in the military, a big part of your life is determined and planned for you. For example, when you’re transferred from one “station” to another, you’re being told where you’ll live; while you have to coordinate a moving date, the moving company will be selected, provided and paid by the military; your healthcare is set, your job is defined, and there’s no room or need for negotiation, and so forth. Like it or not, there’s a wonderful sense of safety and predictability when you’re a military member and leaving it, after so many years, asks for a whole new “checklist,” and that’s what we did.

 

Looking for a Job & What It Entailed

Addie is a Chemical Engineer, worked in the submarine community for several years and then went to medical school; ultimately becoming a Gyn-Oncologist. As he had been in the US Navy for 26 years, he never had to look for a job as a physician and didn’t know what that would entail. With a clear deadline for when he needed to start a new job, he applied to several positions around the country and started the interviewing process about 12 months before he was to begin in his new position.

To have him ready for all those interviews and traveling, we had to get ourselves even more organized, as many times he’d just land at night, pack fresh clothes and fly early on the very next day. Not to mention that he needed a new wardrobe as until then 100% of his professional attire were his uniform and scrubs.

TIP: when leaving the service or looking for a new job, budget, and plan for the extra money to pay for these expenses. Even if traveling is paid for the hiring company/hospital, many times, you’ll take care of it up front, and they will reimburse you later. Expenses you might incur can be new clothes and shoes, transportation, lodging, and food.

As all this may be happening while you’re getting ready to sell your house when many repairs might be required, not planning for it will add to an already stressful time.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Once the interviews were over, we waited for the replies and job offers. Some of them would stand for a week, others for 15 days and there was some room for negotiation which threw us into another learning curve: hiring a lawyer who specializes in contracts for doctors. Not easy, nor cheap. And with the tight deadlines for the replies to go out, we felt the pressure.

At that time, Addie and I had been together for 15 years and lived in 5 different places. We had spent most of our Thanksgivings, Christmas, birthdays and special occasions alone, without our families, so when we realized that we would have to move yet again, we agreed that it was time to move closer to his family, who lives in the Mid-West. Two of the job interviews were in that area, and ultimately Addie decided to take the job offered in Chicago.

It was time to pack and move.

 

Closing my Professional Organizing Business & Starting Again

In 2010, when we were living in Maryland, I found out that my love for organizing and making life simpler was a professional activity that I could pursue full or part-time. Our kids were starting kindergarten, and I was beginning to consider what I was going to do to go back to work -I have a degree in Law and an MBA in business.

From helping a fellow mom and making a Google search, I started working as a sub-contractor to various local colleagues, joined the National Association of Professional Organizers, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization and started my professional organizing business.

Then, in 2011 we learned that we would be transferred to San Diego, but as my business was just starting, at that time I only had a handful of clients. However, in San Diego, my business grew; I was working up to five days a week, and I had several ongoing projects at a time. Once I learned that an out-of-state move was going to happen, I started to let them all know and stopped accepting new clients.

It’s never easy to close your business, even more so a successful one, and I did it with sadness.

There was a silver lining though. Around 2013 professional organizers started asking for business advice, and from there my business grew into public speaking, business consulting and online training. I also became an instructor for our National Association, started to offer consultations to expat families moving to the US, and these changes allowed me to continue to work even though we were relocating to another State.

 

Helena Alkhas - Speaker Palestrante do 2o. Personal Organizer Brasil.
Speaking at the Brazilian Professional Organizing Conference

 

Getting Ready To Sell & Looking For a New Home

Once Addie signed a contract with his new employer, we hired a Realtor who specialized in our neighborhood.

We walked through the house with him and made a list of repairs and furniture placement needed, and that launched the process of selling the home.

TIP: A great tip shared with me then was to hire and pay it yourself for an inspector before you place your home for sale. It will save you lots of time and headache.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Decluttering and packing For Sale
Decluttering and packing for selling and moving.

 

When we were transferred to Guam, back in 2006, I learned to keep our lives simpler and free of clutter. Still, I went through every closet, cabinet, and box to make sure I wasn’t going to pay the movers to transport things I didn’t want to keep.

Having boys, teenagers by that time, meant we had almost no toys around the house. The kitchen and our books made up for the more substantial part of our move, and after decluttering and organizing the entire house, this is how our home went to the market.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. The powder room and guest bathroom.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. The first floor master bedroom was great! With double closets, spa tub, double sinks and separate shower and toilet areas.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. The first floor master bedroom was great! With double closets, spa tub, double sinks and separate shower and toilet areas.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Her Closet.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Her Closet.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Her Closet.

 

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. The boys' Jack & Jill bathroom.

 

 

Looking For a New Home

While working in the San Diego front, Addie was going through the process of retiring from the military and I was getting all things house-move-new school-new sports sign ups-family going on, all while going through school and sports in the San Diego because for busy moms, life doesn’t stop, right?

We had to start looking for a new home and in most cases, it is part of the process of interviewing a new hire was to have the spouse come to the city to get to know it and explore neighborhoods and look for homes.

 

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Looking for a new city - Milwaukee Jan 2016
Scouting Milwaukee for a new home under -1 F.

 

I did that twice, once to Milwaukee and once to Chicago and I loved both cities, but of course, we had to pick one. It was time to get down to the nitty-gritty of each city, quality of schools, culture and considering two of my sisters-in-law, and one of our nephews live in Chicago, of course, that job offer made great sense. We finally had our final choice and started looking for a home.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Looking for a new city - Milwaukee Jan 2016
From sunny San Diego, exploring Milwaukee on -1 F.

 

To make a long story short, we ended up deciding to rent a house for the first year in the village of Glenview, a small city of 64,000 on the North Shore of Chicagoland. We were afraid we’d get stuck with a home in a place we didn’t like and decided it would be better to feel and explore the area first. It was the best decision and after 8 months, with the help of Barry Newman, our amazing Real Estate agent, we ended up finding a great home, for a great price and moved again in April 2017.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Looking for a new city - Chicago, Addie & Helena Jan 2016.
Visiting with my sisters-in-law before a house-hunting day.

 

As always, the schools and proximity to work were the ultimate factors, and I can tell you, I was happy to finally have a final decision and a home to live in! 😀

 

A Cross-Country Road Car Trip

By June 2016 we had sold our home and decided to make a cross-country road car trip with the boys and Tuff, our new Yorkie puppy.

TIP: don’t get a new dog right before a move. It will make the job of keeping your house clean and ready to show to potential buyers much harder.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. The Continental Divide.

 

It was awesome! The US is a gorgeous country with so many amazing places and such diverse geography and people. We loved seeing so many beautiful places, crossing through States but most of all, spending time together.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Road trip to Chicago 2017.
Road trip to Chicago 2017

 

We took our time on the road and enjoyed places on the way to Missouri, where we’d visit my mother and sister-in-law.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Missouri stop.
Arriving in Missouri and spending time with family.

 

The boys stayed for a week with her, while Addie and I came to receive the move and do the unpacking. Here we are happy as bugs, enjoying our first dinner in our new town.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Addie & Helena.
Enjoying our first dinner in our new town

 

Chicago – A New Place and a Different Life Experience

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. Chicago 2017 The river tour
Gorgeous, stunning and exciting Chicago.

 

Even though I have lived in the US for sixteen years, I had never lived in such an exciting city like Chicago. Living in Maryland we were very close to D.C. and I loved it but Chicago is different and now, passed the “trauma” of my first IL winter -a whole new blog post on overcoming winter blues!, I can say I love living here.

 

Chicago - The Bean, by Addie Alkhas
The Bean – Photo by Addie Alkhas

 

Our kids are thriving, made new friends, engaged in sports and the schools are absolutely incredible; we spend a lot more time with family and I’m happy to see the boys enjoying the loving connection of being close to cousins, aunts, and grandma; I am thriving and my online business is growing, I made new friends and have new clients, I connected with a large group of expats and we get together often, I joined a club and became healthier, all while Addie is happy with his work, colleagues and patients, got back into his running routine (currently on a 2017 challenge to run 40 miles a week!) and we are enjoying more time together.

 

Moving, leaving the military and finding a new home. New Home Front 1st Summer After
Our new home sweet home.

 

Getting here was a long road for all of us filled with stress, sadness for saying goodbye to decade-old friends but also with great learning and with a spirit of embracing the new and making it work in the best way. I guess that’s what life in the Navy taught us and I’m immensely grateful for that.

Next, I’ll be sharing our new house and the loving work of making it a home.

 

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26 Comments

  1. So interesting to read about all the various parts of the process, Helena! My sister’s husband was in the navy and served at one time in San Diego. Tough place to leave:) Isn’t it interesting how life can open new doors as old ones are shifting and closing. I love your tip about hiring an inspector before you list your house… my husband and I were just talking about that the other day. We aren’t selling imminently, but that is a good thought to tuck away!

    1. Hi, Sabina.
      Thank you for your visit on the blog!
      It was a long road here and I’m happy we landed safely and sound. Lots of learning and the inspector tip is a great one. It’s good to remove any objection a buyer might have up front; it will give you a lot more negotiation power, too.

  2. What a journey you’ve had…and continue to have! You’ve got an amazing amount of energy and I’m sure you ARE the force that kept the family organized and thriving during this very stressful period. Kudos to you for finding all the silver linings and for the amazing amount of courage and flexibility that you possess. Wishing you all the best as the story unfolds.

    1. Thank you, Linda. Your words made my heart squeeze. Friend like you and our amazing pro organizing community have been a huge source of joy, support and motivation. Plus, I have wonderful role models in all of you. Can’t wait to see you at conference! <3

  3. Thank you for sharing this story, Helena. Your family is so lucky to have a person like you to deal with the details.

    While I have never moved more than 1 hour from the Philadelphia PA, my mother moved to California and when she passed, I had to move some of her stuff back. With the help of my brother, for 1 month, we went through the entire house, Scheduled with national movers, and had to then drive, her dog (we adopted her) and her most valuable stuff back to my house and then my brother came to pick it up his stuff from here. So, I personally understand the amount of work you did. Great job. I visited Chicago once about 5 years ago and have wanted to go back sometime soon. It’s a great place. If you want to do the tourist thing, I found that Citypass for Chicago is great and affordable.

    1. Hi, Sabrina.
      I am sorry for your loss. No move compares to that, I’m sure.
      All moves come with some level of grief and I learned to embrace it, let it heal and then embrace the new place. And yes, it was a huge task and I’m finally feeling settled and ready to restart. I even joined the NAPO Chicago chapter this weekend! 🙂
      If you come back to Chicago, do let me know. I’ll love to meet you and do the “tourist thing” again. It’s a gorgeous city!

  4. Your home is beautiful and how wonderful to work in a field you already had a passion for!

    1. Cindy,
      thank you so much! Yes, I feel so lucky to work doing something I love. Organizing is a passion!

  5. Thanks for sharing Helena! My wife and I are currently planning a move and we will surely put your tips to good use. It’s always great to see how other people have done it and learn from their experience.
    PS: you have really good taste in buying and decorating houses

    1. Thank you, Bogdan!
      I have been moving furniture and decorating as far as I can remember. A big passion of mine.
      Keep me posted on your move and if you need any organizing tip, we’re here to help!

  6. Helena – I love this post as it is so personal and tells us all about your family and careers and moving journey. But it is also helpful to so many people that have never been through this kind of change before and could use help navigating it.

    What is so funny is how similar our journeys are even though there are some real differences. My hubby and I have been married 20 years and have moved 5 times! He is not military but is in medical/academia, which has similar patterns (grad school, internship, residency, clinical faculty position, etc). We had to select places after only seeing them a few days too. No kids, but we did move across the country from NY to CA in 2012 with two dogs, sell a house in NY, and took our time along the way for a few weeks to see friends and family and visit places we wanted to see.

    Decluttering is key as you know! Each time we moved, we got rid of more stuff!

    I loved your San Diego home and I can’t wait to see more photos of the Chicagoland house. Best of luck as you continue to settle in! And congrats on surviving your first Midwest Winter. We lived in MI for 3 years while my husband was in vet school and the winters were brutal so I know exactly what you are dealing with!!

    As for business, it is not always easy to pick up and start over somewhere else. But it can be fun and exciting, and breath new life into your business so I am happy to hear how well it is going for you!!

    Best – Lisa

    1. Lisa, so nice to see you here!
      Yes, we sure have very similar paths and what’s most interesting, I think you share b-day with my little sister.
      Winters here are no fun but I’m feeling better equipped this year after 12 months and 4 seasons in place. Keeping my eyes on boots & coats. Ha!
      I’m looking forward to seeing you at the conference as I am sorry I missed your session at the Chicago Chapter; just became a member last weekend.

  7. Wow, Helena, I’m in awe at all you have gone through – and with shining colors! I have no doubt you’ll continue to thrive in your new life and your new home.

    1. Thank you so much, Autumn! It’s been a long haul and I’m happy to settle in.
      How are YOU doing? Long time no see you online.

  8. Ana Flavia Pizzo Barbosa says:

    Que máximo sua historia Helena! Não sabia que vc tinha um blog. Bj grande querida

    1. Ana, querida!
      Sim, muita estória pra contar com esse marido marinheiro meu!
      Mas a melhor parte dela é que eu tenho a alegria de conhecer pessoas maravilhosas como você, minha querida! Muitas saudades da sua alegria e da sua família. Beijos enormes em todos!

  9. Olá Helena!!! Adorei saber um pouco da sua história. Tenho parado tão pouco para ler e foi um momento muito bom! Você é uma excelente profissional e como foi dito acima, sua família tem sorte em ter você para passar por todas essas fases com positividade.
    Que a gente possa se encontrar aqui no Brasil ou na Conferência da NAPO, que aliás faz parte dos objetivos para 2018.
    Que o próximo ano seja de alegrias e sucesso para todos nós! Bjos

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