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A Pro Organizer On How To Become The Minimalist Packer You've Always Wanted To Be

Emma Loewe
June 29, 2018
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Photo by Daniel Kim Photography
June 29, 2018

Summer is officially here! And here at mbg we’re all about traveling light and creating space for real transformation. Whether you’re jetting off to faraway lands this year or just exploring new pockets of your neighborhood, these next few months are reserved for exploration and playThis week, we’ll be sharing our favorite wellness routines that will keep you feeling your best through long days getting lost in new cultures. Today, we’re spotlighting some genius tips to help you pack like a minimalist. 

Packing can be a drag. Standing in front of an empty suitcase, it's easy for the mind to flood with memories of that one time your bag was two pounds heavier than the limit, or you had to say goodbye to your entire beauty cabinet in the TSA line.

However, adopting a few simple packing habits can make the process a lot less painful. Maeve Richmond, a professional organizer based in New York City, has worked with hundreds of clients to help them clean up their homes, drawers, purses, you name it, by identifying what truly defines them and makes them happy.

The No. 1 packing mistake she sees people make over and over? No surprise here: It's overestimating how much stuff they'll actually need. Here are her favorite tips to help you whittle down your suitcase and keep everything as compact as possible.

For your suitcase:

Only bring clothes you love.

"Start by picking a travel outfit, one you can wear there and back," she recommends, as there's usually time to wash it in between flights. From there, add basic clothes you can't live without. If you were to start a small capsule wardrobe tomorrow, what would make the cut? Richmond says that packing an extra top or two from there is OK, but when you start adding clothes you hardly even wear at home, it's time to cut yourself off.

Categorize everything for easy access.

Pair pants with pants, T-shirts with T-shirts. "That said, if you are attending a special event—say, a wedding—group all your wedding clothes items together so you can at once quick glance see that everything is there," she adds.

Order is key! Start with shoes, then clothes, then smaller items.

Richmond recommends starting with sneakers and heavy shoes at the bottom of your suitcase, since the weight of your clothes will flatten them a bit and it's tricky to add bulky items at the very end of the process.

From there, you can add your clothes. While vacuum-sealed zip-locks and packing cubes are nice, she says that simply rolling your clothes is the easiest and more effective way to save space in your pack. "Some people don’t like this as they fear clothes can wrinkle. But if you’ve got an iron on the other end, or it’s mostly casual clothes—roll away! If you really want to fit a lot, tuck rolled clothes inside zip-lock bags then press the air out, smushing the clothes down and creating a vacuum seal." Be sure to keep those zip-locks after your travels so you can reuse them in the future!

If you are struggling to fit everything in a smaller suitcase, Richmond has a genius tip: "Once a suitcase is full, zip it up, stand it upright and shake it downward a few times so items settle. Then, slide the zipper opening around the bag and open it every 10 or so inches. You’ll often find small gaps there where you can easily push clothes down and tuck small items in. It’s perfect for socks, battery chargers, hairbrushes and other small items."

The insider secret? Pack twice.

After her own scarring experience traveling through Europe with an overflowing bag years ago, Richmond has adopted an unorthodox but intriguing last-minute packing habit: She packs twice.

Yep, at least 24 hours before takeoff she'll take a first pass. Then, the following day, she'll assess how she did. Is it too heavy? Too light? She'll undo the entire suitcase and add items back in piece by piece.

If you have time to do this, it might be worth it—especially before long trips—since your mindset can shift dramatically in the days leading up to a trip. "Once we get closer to an event, we tend to have less anxiety about it," she says. "It's an energetic thing: I find that I am able to remove at least four items from my suitcase when I review the contents a few hours before travel. Suddenly, that extra hang-out sweatshirt or just-in-case T-shirt seems redundant, and that extra maybe-I’ll-wear-it-once top feels like overkill."

For your smaller carry-on:

Prioritize multiuse items.

Minimalist backpacks and duffels are full of multipurpose essentials. Richmond, along with a few other travel experts we've featured on mbg, always make sure to throw in a scarf first. "I love to pack a cotton summer scarf. It’s great for keeping your neck warm on flights, or to tuck under your head as you take a nap in a car. It can also be thrown on the ground for an impromptu picnic or used as an emergency napkin or rag. Cotton is easy to clean and quick to dry, so it’s a win for summer travel."

Keep the "uh-oh essentials" up top.

Richmond says that a lot of people tend to panic when they think they forgot to pack something important (been there), so keeping all of your essentials at the top of your bag can save some stress. "At the bottom, place basic things like a sweater—things you don't have to worry about so much."

And finally, she recommends creating little "worlds inside a world" by designating small pouches for certain categories of items. Beauty products, snacks, and electronics can all get their own homes.

Bonus: An mbg-editor-approved traveling wellness kit:

Here are the compact essentials that earned a spot in mbg editors' wellness packs this summer:

Wondering which snacks to pack to avoid plane bloat or what skin care products are worth lugging in your suitcase? We've got you.

And do you want to turn your passion for wellbeing into a fulfilling career? Become a Certified Health Coach! Learn more here.
Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.