I just got back from my fifth trip this summer, and the fourth flight this month. Even though I have various systems in place, I still feel really keyed up every time I pack for a trip. I can choose to interpret this keyed-up feeling as excitement, or as anxiety, and either way, the result will be that I'm physically restless and looking for things to do to keep me busy. Distance running is always a great way to dump that excess adrenalin. With time constraints, another way to do it is to make packing into a game.
What's the game? PACK... THAT... BAG!
How do you score?
Bring everything you need: 100 points
Fit everything you need in carry-on baggage only: 100 points
Fit all your carry-ons under the seat in front of you: 100 points
Get to your destination at the time your travel partners wanted to get there: 100 points
Add one point for every minute you were early.
Subtract 1000 points per travel companion for being the reason you missed your flight.
Subtract 100 points for each bag you need someone else to carry.
Subtract another 100 points for each bag you need someone else to lift into the overhead bin.
Subtract 100 points per bag for exceeding the airline's weight allowance.
Subtract one point for each item you brought that you did not use on the trip.
Add one point for every item you forgot that did not significantly affect your trip.
Subtract one point for every item you purchase or add during your trip.
Subtract 10 points for each item you tried to smuggle into someone else's bag.
Subtract 10 points for any item that leaked or got damaged due to your poor packing job.
Subtract 10 points for each item that you lose or leave behind.
Let's do a run-through, using a real trip that I really went on before I learned to pack like a minimalist. I was going to New Zealand for three weeks. I would be staying with a family in their home, where I would have access to a washer and dryer. I packed 18 changes of clothes and 7 pairs of shoes.
I started with two suitcases. The handle snapped off of one, so I repacked almost all of the contents into one bag. In the airport parking lot, the handle snapped off the other bag! When I checked it, it was overweight, and it got slapped with a huge sticker. It evidently popped open at some point, because when I retrieved it from the luggage carousel, half my bra was hanging out... Score so far: -120 points for overweight bag and two damaged suitcases.
During the trip, I bought souvenirs: a gift for my mom, a gift for my roommate, two dozen postcards, and several items for myself, including books. I kept every plane ticket, brochure, receipt, plastic shopping bag, and even food packaging as memorabilia. The postcards would not count, since I didn't technically bring them home, but I'm guessing I had at least -50 points from all that.
I gained so much weight during the three weeks that I couldn't button my pants on the trip home. How many points is that??
Now, I'll compare these decidedly amateurish results with my most recent trip.
Fit everything in carry-on baggage, under the seat in front of me: 200 points
Brought everything I needed: 100 points
Got to airport when hubby wanted to be there: 100 points
Brought items I didn’t wear: -6 points
Total: 394 points
In comparison, my hubby forgot he had a wrench in his carryon bag, earning a free bonus secondary search from TSA, which is its own punishment and thus has no negative point value. He also bought six items, so we have a matching -6 points for extra stuff.
Total: 194 points
He’s doing better, though; the first time we went on vacation together, he brought an entire duffel bag full of shoes. Men and their shoes, I tell ya.
Overpacking stems from 1. Lack of systems 2. Anxiety 3. Inexperience and 4. Indecision. Systems that are well designed can defeat anxiety, inexperience, and indecision. Build the system around these pain points. If you trust your car to run when you fill the gas tank, if you trust your refrigerator to keep your food fresh, if you trust your grocery store to stock food, you can also learn to trust that you put the right things in your suitcase. Try to have a sense of humor about this.
The worst-case scenario if you under-pack is that you will arrive at a social event wearing inappropriate clothing. Either you're underdressed, overdressed, stained, torn, smelly, or mismatched in some way. Self-consciousness makes this scenario humiliating and awkward for all concerned. A sense of humor and adventure can make the identical scenario hilarious and endearing. For instance, I once arrived at a party wearing an animal nose and white gloves, like a cartoon character, only to find out after I walked in the door that everyone else had changed their minds about this theme. Cry or laugh? Be a cautionary tale or walk with your head held high like the legend that you are? All the best characters have animal noses.
What do you really need to pack in a suitcase? Clothing, toiletries, medication and/or medical devices, a snack, enough entertainment for the duration of travel, small bills and coins, and chargers for all your devices. How complicated is that? Not very.
How many days is the trip? One outfit per day, plus extra socks and underwear just in case. If you're traveling for more than four days, just go to the laundromat or use the hotel laundry facilities.
How many hours of travel will there be? Divide reading, viewing, and listening material by number of hours. Double it if you need a security blanket. Personally, I can read about 50 pages an hour, 30 for dense technical material and up to 100 for YA or pot-boiler suspense fiction. Thus, a 4-hour flight with an hour of gate time is just barely enough time for me to read through a typical 250-page book. I used to bring a book per day plus two for a buffer, and it took about 15 years to finally admit to myself that this was unnecessary.
Stop worrying so much about the STUFF you plan to bring, and start focusing more on the EXPERIENCES you are going to have. Who are you going to be with? Where are you going? What are you going to see? What will you learn? What is different (and better) than your neighborhood? What will you do? You can play with your clothes and accessories and books and suitcases and handbags at home. You can worry about whatever you want back at home. For this brief window of time, you're GOING SOMEWHERE! Make the most of it. Keep reminding yourself of why you're on this trip. Do it often enough, and you may even be able to make it ten minutes without thinking about your physical belongings. That's what I call winning the game.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.