THE BLOG
09/03/2015 11:17 am ET Updated Sep 03, 2016

Packing Therapy In 10 Easy Steps

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I am an awesome packer. I pack light, never bring more than what fits in a carry-on, and always have what I need. But I'm horrible at packing.

If it were possible to be diagnosed with a packing disorder, I would be. Here are my symptoms:

• I start stressing early that I should be packing, but do nothing, except stress and feel bad about myself for doing nothing.
• As the time to leave draws near, I promise myself I'll pack, but continue doing nothing, except procrastinate and stress about doing nothing.
• Eventually I become mad at myself, berating myself for procrastinating and stressing over something so stupid, while still doing nothing.
• Finally it's time to leave for the airport, and I still haven't packed. Now I'm legitimately stressed.

Sound familiar?

Like me, you probably hate packing too - the way people hate cilantro or the
Yankees - passionately. What should be simple (open bag, put stuff in, close bag) is
instead pure, unmitigated torture - the penance I must pay before I can go away on holiday.

Now, after years of operant conditioning, I am awesome AT packing. I still hate it, but my self-esteem doesn't take a hit every time I book a trip. Here's how you can become an emotionally healthy packing adult too... just in time for Labor Day:

1. Practice "Pretend Packing" - Packing can quickly devolve into anything from a simple clothing cull to a full-blown closet reorganization. Instead, a month or so ahead of big trips, make sure your closets are clean and organized. Determine which clothes fit, what looks good with what, and so forth. This will prevent packing "back sliding" and the stress and self-loathing that come with it.

2. Routine Travel - Follow the same routines every time you pack so instead of facing decisions at every turn, most will be rote. You won't end up wasting ten minutes trying to decide if one three-ounce bottle of conditioner will last three weeks (it will), or how many memory cards you'll need, or which carry-on works best for which kind of trip. When the temptation to stray hits, instead of giving in, stick to the script. You'll procrastinate less and spend more productive time packing.

3. Assign Designated Areas - Keep all travel-related items grouped together so they're easier to grab when packing. You're also less likely to forget anything. Keep all travel-sized toiletries in the same plastic bin in a closet, travel chargers and cables together in the same kitchen drawer, camera-related gear in the same place, ditto all travel-related clothing. Approach your living space like a giant travel buffet. When it's time to pack, move from one designated location to the next, grabbing what you need from each.

4. Stereotype Your Belongings - Different types of trips call for different types of clothing, shoes, accessories, and even carry-on and day bags. Learn your travel archetypes and then pack accordingly. Going on safari? You do not need high heels or wingtips.

5. Know Thyself - It's amazing what we talk ourselves into believing we'll need while traveling. Here's a simple rule: If you don't wear it at home, you won't need it while on holiday. Thinking of packing exercise clothes for every day? Think again. Even if by some miracle you do manage daily workouts (congratulations), you can wash gym clothes in the sink.

6. Wear, Wear, and Wear Again - Unless you are going to Paris for Fashion Week, or some other destination that compels you to look fresh and pulled together at all times don't plan for multiple wardrobe changes. It simply won't happen. You won't wear half of what you pack, so don't waste time choosing clothes that will never see the light of day. Pick a few things you like and feel good wearing that can be mixed and matched, and are appropriate for the trip. Throw in one extra shirt and pair of pants and call it a day. If you need something you didn't pack, buy it there, or do without. I once went to Indonesia for three weeks and forgot to pack pants. I survived.

7. Live Simply on the Road - Traveling is the perfect time to scale things back. I may wear different jewelry with different outfits normally, but when I travel, what I depart with around my neck and wrist (if that) is it. My multi-step skin care regimen kept so religiously at home goes out the window. It's silly and usually impossible to mimic most "routines" while away from home, and besides, half the fun of traveling is stepping outside of your normal life for a while.

8. To Roll or Not to Roll - There is no right way to pack a suitcase. It's a matter of personal preference, type of bag, and type of trip. For trips to places where accommodations are sparse, and critters abundant, Eagle Creek packing cubes inside a small Patagonia duffle work best for me. Staying one or two nights in lots of places, where the fear of critters isn't tantamount, rolling clothes right into a tiny rolling bag usually does the trick.

9. Carry On, Sir and Madam - Do not check luggage. It's a colossal waste of time and money to check bags and then wait on the other end to claim them. You limit your freedom of movement and condemn yourself to worrying about your bags being lost. Nothing feels better than deplaning after a long flight and walking straight out of the airport.

10. Go Easy Early - The week before you leave, start knocking out the easy stuff instead of leaving it to do all at once (stress). When you have a few extra minutes in the morning, pack toiletries and vitamins instead of looking at Facebook. Put trip documents on your phone and upload them to the cloud while commuting to work. Put travel alerts on credit cards, arrange to stop snail mail, and pay bills while commuting home. In the evening, gather electronics and load books onto your e-reader.

Before you know it, you'll be more or less packed, minus clothes, which you can throw in at the last minute (since you aren't bringing much)...or the night before if you're being really good. Goodbye packing disorder, hello holiday!

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