Packing it in

I recently returned from a two week trip in Japan after a very traumatic couple of months following the recent passing of my mother. The break away helped me to re-clock myself and re-focus my attention, allowing me to change my environment and escape for a bit.

Ask anyone who travels to Japan and they will all have different experiences. However, the one thing they do say is it’s an experience of a lifetime and that they want to return again.

Japan offers a unique opportunity to tap into a culture that is both chaotic and zen, cluttered and minimalist. These two opposing dichotomies seem to just work together. One moment you are walking through the chaotic district of Akihabara. The next corner you walk around you can sit quietly and learn the art of folding origami.

My husband and I stayed in both traditional hotels and small hostel rooms with just a tatami mat and futons. This was a wonderful experience and certainly one that highlighted to me that I definitely have a way to go to pack minimally, especially for my size.

I still struggle to pack lightly, despite my best efforts and planning. Prior to my trip, I did all the right things I thought I should do. This included planning my outfits, choosing similar colour schemes for easy outfit compilations and really thinking about the types of activities I would be doing.

However, despite my best efforts, I still packed far too much. I am quite petite, but I still insisted on packing the same sized, medium wheelie suitcase that my husband used. Plus, I added an extra carry bag on top with what I thought would be easily accessible things on the plane.

My wheelie bag comes up to my hip. And when filled up, I really struggled to lift it up stairs, let alone with an added carry on bag clipped on top. My husband ended up having to carry it up and down stairs because I literally could not lift it much off the ground. Why did I need to pack so much and how could I learn from this experience?

This is where I think some of the main problems were:

  1. Even though I planned my outfits, some of them were once-offs, worn only once.
  2. Some of these outfits creased easily, adding to my anxiety as to how I would get the creases out.
  3. I packed two large cosmetic bags full of stuff, plus a full first aid kit. This was even after making the decision to just share a cleanser, toner and moisturiser with my husband (which he carried). I carried so many cosmetics, hair products, and ‘just in case’ things that it took up a good third of my suitcase.
  4. Bulky items, such as a leather jacket or multiple chunky jumpers used up precious space.
  5. Too much underwear.

With so much to carry, I didn’t leave room for souvenirs and often had to unpack and re-pack, sift through and try and find stuff. It wasn’t easy, and in small, confined rooms, it was frustrating and added unnecessary anxiety.

So, as part of my de-cluttering project, I decided to research further into packing lightly. A quick search revealed there are lots of people who have blogs solely dedicated to packing lightly, so I’m not going to go there.

However, these are the main things I learnt:

Pack multi-wear and quick-drying clothing, and I’m not talking about those ugly cargo zip-off pants. There’s more chic and ethical multiway clothing out there to choose from. I’m getting into Encircled clothing and recently purchased their renowned Chrysalis Cardi (petite size). An ingenious piece of fabric which can be configured into different types of dresses, a cardigan, top and shawl using strategically placed press studs. There’s also some great quick-drying underwear from Exofficio – Australians can purchase this from various Australian distributors or just go into Paddy Palin.

Use a bag that suits your physical size and is fit for purpose. Be sensible with this. There are a lot of travellers who challenge themselves to pack only carry-on luggage. While this is great, it may not be practical for you or the type of trip you are going on. Then again, this challenge may appeal to you. Whatever your desires, make sure that your bag isn’t so large and bulky that you physically can’t manoeuvre it well in tight and awkward spots. Or that you have to check in carry-on luggage anyway because of what you need to carry with you (e.g. liquids over the carry-on limit).

Take your bag for a walk around the block after packing. This is one piece of advice I recently read about. I haven’t done it, but if I had prior to Japan, I would definitely have encountered issues with a bag that heavy.

Limit to one cosmetic bag. Really.

There are countless others things you can do (roll or fold clothing – I hear rolling takes up less room), but the main things that stand out for me and my focus areas are listed above.

My next trip is Perth. I bought a small, carry-on domestic sized bag. Something I really hesitated about as it will really force me to pack small. If I can do it (well, I have to now I’ve bought it), I know I will feel a lot more liberated on my travels. I think it will also put me in a good mood when I can find things easily and get out and about.

Till next time.

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Declutter Kate

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