Learning how to pack a suitcase without bringing too much stuff is an art I've never mastered and, at the rate things are going, I never will. You know you're a chronic over packer, like me, when you pack the same amount for a long weekend away as most people do for a semester abroad, or when you instinctually add in the cost of an oversized luggage fee to the price of a plane ticket.
There is a fine line between taking everything you realistically need when going away on a trip and overpacking, which I've stepped over repeatedly. But I'd argue that my tendency to overpack is a result of my propensity for over-planning, rather than a sign that I'm a disorganized human being. I want to be ready for every situation, so when I'm getting ready for a trip, instead of thinking about what activities I'll actually be doing, I think of every single permutation of the itinerary. And usually, the expectation of what I'll be doing and what I'll need to wear is very different than what actually happens.
No matter how many times I promise myself that the next trip will be different, I always fall into the exact same cycle of overpacking behavior, ending up with a huge suitcase and sore arms. Here are the seven emotional stages that happen when you're packing, or overpacking, for a trip.
You start by promising yourself that this time will be different. This time, you'll pack an appropriate amount of stuff in your luggage and still have plenty of room left for souvenirs. You look up tutorials of ways to not overpack and tell yourself that this time, you'll make a packing list, thinking carefully and realistically about what clothes you need based on what you'll be doing. Your suitcase is empty and your plan is set and you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Once you've written your packing list, you're committed to following it. It's a conservative, short list, with only the most practical items like comfortable shoes that won't cause blisters, but you know it's the right thing to do because you've really limited yourself to only the things you'll really need. There's a flash of doubt that you might be missing something important, but you brush it off because you're determined to follow your plan. As you start pulling clothes and accessories together in carefully curated piles, you think to yourself, "I got this."
As you poke through your closet, searching for that practical raincoat you know would be perfect for the rainy day that's in the forecast, you spot a pair a strappy beaded sandals that you bought on sale last week but had totally forgotten about. It seems a shame to leave them at home when they've never been worn, and maybe the weather will clear up at your vacation destination and you'll wish you had an extra pair of heels with you. The only way to know is to throw them into your suitcase. You might as well throw in a pair of Hunter Wellies, too, to go with that cute raincoat.
You do the same for a chambray long-sleeve jumpsuit that you've worn once before, a pair of running sneakers in case you want to go on a run down the beach even though the last time you actually went for a run was in middle school and that was only because your gym teacher made you, and three tubes of lipstick that you only ever tried on at Sephora but could look really cute in pictures. You justify all of these impulse additions by saying to yourself, "I'm going on vacation. I should have fun!"
As you look over the clothes now lying on your bed, waiting to be packed away, you realize that nothing you just pulled from your closet is on your original packing list. What happened to the plan? In a haze of confusion, you panic and grab the rest of the items that were on your list, adding them to the growing pile on your bed. Then you start rethinking your packing list, wondering if you'll be going to one fancy dinner or two, if you'll end up going sight-seeing or just sitting on the beach. You want to be ready for every occasion, and to do that, you basically need to bring your whole wardrobe... but you can't. How do people do this? What is overpacking, anyway?
You start taking stock of the clothes and accessories and beauty products lying on your bed and think to yourself, "Maybe I did it again? It looks like a lot of stuff." But you remember you made a list and you followed the list, so there's no way you overpacked again. None at all.
The original packing list might be in your hand, but at this point, there's pretty much all improvisation. Yes, your trip is only three days long, but you can never have enough underwear or socks, so you might as well bring along five pairs of each to be safe. Extra hairdryer in case the one at the hotel short circuits? Why not?
You keep adding more things to the pile that you know you need, and undeterred, you roll everything you own into tight bundles and stack them as strategically as Tetris blocks into your now overflowing suitcase. There's a better than 50 percent chance you have to sit on your bag to zip it shut.
As you roll your luggage out of the apartment door and struggle to carry it down four flights of stairs to the cab waiting below, you know it's well over the 50 pound weight limit allowed at the airport. But you don't care because you know you tried your best, and you've accepted your fate as a chronic over packer. At least you won't run out of anything to wear when you're gone.
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