I'm currently reporting to you from the middle of my bedroom, surrounded by garment bags and flung open suitcases, tossed around shoes and a hodge-podge of pants, tops and torn-from-their-hangers sweaters. And in the center of this chaotic mess is me, sitting cross legged on the carpet with my head in my hands trying to hack the Rubik's Cube that is not overpacking.
As I've gone into what feels like hand-to-hand combat with my suitcase, there are a few lessons I have walked away with along with my emotional scrapes. You see, in about one week I'm going on a four month trip to Europe, and I'm determined not to pack more than I need this time around—but it's just so hard to do.
The problem is that you have this idea of what your trip is going to be like, and it never involves beaten-in Converse and wrinkled Hanes tees. Imagine standing in front of the Colosseum or walking the wall of Dubrovnik, only to turn around to grin at the camera and capture yourself standing there in a pilling sweater and see-through leggings that are losing their elastic (because you didn't pack nearly enough clothing). Your grandkids aren't exactly going to linger over that photo in the old family album.
But the reverse of that is just as tragic, where you're forced to lug a heavy suitcase behind you as you walk down cobblestone streets and struggle down subway stairs because you couldn't say no to that third white button down you absolutely needed to bring. In order to keep from annoying yourself, I have found that there are three questions that you should ask yourself in order to stop over packing once and for all. It's worked for me, and hopefully, it'll work for you.
1. Am I packing my absolute favorite things?
Everyone is different, but the main reason I overpack is because I love fashion and I constantly think of scenarios that give me permission to throw another thing into the suitcase. "Oh, I can wear this velvet dress while walking down La Rambla in balmy Barcelona," I think, or "Yes, I'll definitely wear this sparkly tube top as I go visit cathedrals," I lie to myself blatantly. I just want pretty clothes with me—but once I leave my zip code, the impracticality of that sinks in. Even when I'm not trying to justify packing dry-clean-only clothes, I find myself sneaking in extra sweaters and earrings just because I want to play with fashion while I'm away from my wardrobe. And I have a trick for combatting that: Ask yourself if the things you have already packed are showy enough.
Granted not everything needs to look like it came out of an editorial spread, but if half of your suitcase is packed with your nicer wardrobe picks, you'll feel satisfied with your options. I found myself doing this just this afternoon—I got so caught up trying to pack all the knits I might want to wear that I lost sight of what I actually needed. Instead, I took a step back, and studying the options, I chose three of my most tailored, most stylish sweaters and dumped the rest. Because I knew no matter how many times I repeated them, I would still feel awesome. So instead of packing that "meh" knit, swap it (and a few others) out for one of your favorite sweaters. Instead of packing five different dresses, toss them out and only pack your two most beautiful ones (that you're okay with traveling with). And rather than sneaking in a bundle of jeans, only pack your favorite pair and call it a day. It'll cut your bulk significantly.
2. Would I wear this in my regular life?
I'm going to be in Europe up until mid-December, which means I have to pack my clunky winter boots to make sure my toes don't fall off while I'm exploring the winding streets of Krakow or the maze that is Vienna. The thing is, though, I kind of hate my boots. They're very toasty and practical, but they're also snow shoes with fur sticking out of them, and whenever I pair them with my jeans I feel like I'm back in my sophomore year of college, because that was the look du jour of all the girls on campus. Because of that, I rarely find myself wearing that pairing in my regular non-traveling life, so to overcompensate for how ho-hum I felt about it, I found myself grabbing for extra knits and tops to make me feel better. Like maybe if I had two extra cashmere sweaters with me, I wouldn't feel as homely or juvenile about the fur boots and denim combo?
But I realized the issue wasn't that I needed more sweaters—I needed different pants. I decided to swap out my jeans for tailored black joggers instead and the outcome was much more "me." After I made that decision, I felt good about cutting five sweaters and one blanket scarf out of my bag. I didn't need them to feel good anymore!
3. Have I test-driven this yet?
Here's an important lesson I've learned throughout my travels (and packing for said long trips): You have to try on your options or you're going to have days where you feel like you have nothing (or the wrong thing) to wear. I could have easily packed both the jeans and the joggers and anything else I thought would mix-and-match seamlessly with them, and just suffered the heavy, overpacked suitcase. Instead, I took the time to put on and take off clothes, walk to the mirror and angrily stomp back because it wasn't working, and then do the whole process over again until I narrowed it down to seven tops and three pants—and that's for a full four months!
While that might sound extreme to some, I'm confident that I'll feel stylish and happy and comfortable in all of those options because I test drove them before I packed them. I saw how I looked in them, I weighed whether I felt good in them, and if something felt a little off I went back to the drawing board until I fixed it. What I ended up with was a tightly crafted selection, and a suitcase that weighs a mere 15 pounds.
Ask yourself these questions the next time you dust off your suitcase, and you might just reign it in, too!