3 Organizing Tips I Learned From Summer Backpacking Trips That I Still Carry With Me Today

published Aug 20, 2022
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Before the pandemic hit, I spent the last four years backpacking. I lived in places like Dublin, Budapest, and Warsaw, and packed up and left whenever the mood struck. One day I would be drinking hot chocolate in Madrid and the next I’d be drinking bubble tea in Bangkok, giving me a wonderful sense of freedom and adventure. But there was one downside to this freewheeling life, and it wasn’t just the 10-hour bus rides. Living out of a backpack was brutal. 

As romantic as it may seem, the reality is immensely inconvenient. It always seems like you simultaneously packed too much and too little all at the same time. I would have too many clothes and yet have nothing to wear, or brought too many creature comforts like fluffy towels and journals and not enough practical items like proper walking shoes. But life is nothing but trial and error, and I have learned a lot about organization as I perfected my packing list over the years. And the best part is that I still use a lot of these organizational lessons in my day-to-day life. Here’s what I found.

Always keep editing

I’ve never really stressed about packing because I always knew I could either leave something behind and lighten my load or buy whatever I was missing. Unless I was headed somewhere remote like a mountain, I didn’t fuss too much about what I brought. I would try my best to bring what I thought was essential and then give myself permission to edit as the weeks went by. After a month on the road, I would donate clothes that turned out to be uncomfortable or leave behind makeup I never felt like using or books that I finished. What was wrong got cut and what was lacking was replenished.

Because of this, editing my closet and my home as a whole is part of my monthly routine. I don’t have a difficult time saying goodbye to furniture that no longer fits, clothes I don’t wear, or knick-knacks that turned into clutter because I know they weigh me down. It might be hard in the beginning, but once you get into the habit of editing monthly or biannually, it becomes less scary.

Life is easier with cubes

The first time I went on a solo trip was to Ireland when I was 24, and I shoved everything into my suitcase and was on my merry way. The downside to that was that I was forced to root around my luggage whenever I had to find something. Packing cubes changed the game, and I became so obsessed with them that I began to separate things into micro-categories, like “going out clothes” in one cube and “hiking gear” in the other. This has translated into my love for bins and storage boxes at home.

Not only do I feel more put together knowing that each thing in my apartment has its own special compartment, but bins also help limit how much I purchase. Much like with packing my clothes in their cubes, if there’s no more space in the tumbler bin or sweater box, I don’t buy another one of those items. There just isn’t enough room for them!

Fold outfits, not pieces

My life became 1000 percent easier when I upped the ante with my packing cubes and began folding outfits and not just individual items. That means that instead of folding shirts into one cube and pants into another, I packed about eight bundled outfits. I would lay out a shirt on the floor, and then fold its corresponding pants, socks, and undies onto it, folding the shirt around those items and putting it into a cube. That way I had an outfit to go, and I didn’t have to root around multiple cases to try and put together a look. (It also helped with overpacking.) If I thought another shirt would go with the enclosed pants, I would put that shirt into the same cube, lumping it all together.

I still do this at home with certain things — specifically workout clothes and home clothes. When trying to decide what comfy clothes to wear at home or which leggings to wear to the gym, I usually root around in my drawers, tossing things on the floor, and generally creating mayhem that then needs to be picked up and righted. But if I fold sets together, I just pick one out and put one on — no rooting necessary. I know it’ll look cute because I decided on the look weeks ago while folding it, guaranteeing I’ll like what I’ll put on. 

All three of these things make life simpler, both on the road and at home. Give them a try if you’re trying to up your organizing game.