Travel

How Marie Kondo Wants You to Pack Your Suitcase

March  2, 2016

Many of us here are fans of Marie Kondo’s organizational methods. We consulted her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, for assistance clearing out our closets, stacks of papers, and books. Her latest book, Spark Joy covers more ground, it has helped us create order in our kitchens and it also provides illustrations—helpful for mastering her folding techniques.

Photo by James Ransom

We find ourselves thinking about her techniques even when we aren’t following them exactly (or at all). So, for my recent trip to Hawaii, I decided to test her tips for packing a suitcase (found in Spark Joy) and track my ability to stick to them throughout the vacation:

“Packing a suitcase for business or leisure trips follows the same basic principles as those for storage in the home. Clothes should be folded and packed upright. Fold suits and lay them flat on the top. Pack bras on top, and don’t flatten them. Pack small things such as underwear in a travel pouch, and transfer lotions and toiletries in smaller bottles to reduce volume.”

I attempted to follow her recommendations as closely as possible—at least initially.

  • I try to avoid checking luggage whenever possible, so the use of smaller bottles was easy, I already had them on hand.
  • I folded all of my clothing in her suggested manner and placed them upright in my suitcase according to type. This made it very easy to see what I had, and I felt a smug sense of self-righteousness about my superior packing skills. (Note: I have a fairly shallow suitcase, I can see this being more difficult with a deep one.)
  • I followed her decree to turn my underwear into lacy little spring rolls with precise folding and rolling, while still chafing at the need for them to be segregated away into a travel pouch like they’d misbehaved and needed to be separated from the group.
  • I ignored instructions to pack bras on top. Elsewhere in the book Kondo encourages us to “treat your bras like royalty,” which is likely where the request comes from, but to me it seemed more like a invitation for TSA to choose my bag to search and hold up items for fellow passengers to view.

Here’s how the rest of the trip went:

Packed and ready to go: I am nothing if not a good student.

Okay, this looks bad, I'll admit it. But just the top layer is a mess, it's still fairly orderly underneath. Plus, would you rather spend time folding clothes or watching whales? I rest my case.

Midway through the trip and back on track, though Kondo would not approve of my balled up socks.

Disaster zone. Can I blame this situation on the fact that Kondo never told me what to do with dirty clothes? Am I supposed to refold them all or separate them from the clean clothes? I opted for the latter and refolded everything else for the return home.

Back at home and ready to turn into an unpacking robot. Or not.

Couch, sweet couch. Photo by Mark Weinberg

After spending the better part of a day in an airport, an airplane, or a car, I’m exhausted, yet thrilled to be home. Marie Kondo professes: “I enjoy unpacking even more than packing.” I’m not convinced. I don’t want to unpack, I want a glass of wine, someone to make me dinner, and to zone out watching television until my body agrees that it’s an acceptable hour to fall asleep. But I’m determined to see this through, so I persevere and read through Kondo's directive:


“As soon as I get home, I remove everything from my suitcase, put the laundry in the washing machine, and return everything else to its proper place. Then I wipe the outside of the suitcase and the wheels. I give myself a time limit of thirty minutes. The key is to pretend you’re an unpacking robot and move quickly and efficiently.”

Well, props to Kondo for accomplishing this task in 30 minutes and enjoying the whole process to boot. Here’s how it went down in reality. I put the laundry in my laundry hamper. I did not start a load of laundry, because it was 7 o’clock at night, and, as mentioned, I wanted to relax, not do chores. I put half of everything else into its proper place, then I made dinner for my daughter, put her to bed, gave up on my dreams of becoming an unpacking-loving robot, and collapsed on the couch.

Takeaways

The Good: I appreciated having the majority of my suitcase packed with clothes upright, it made them much easier to see and access throughout my trip—I’ll continue to use this strategy in the future.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“When I pack, it's often for work and I need way more than fits into a carry-on case, so I have a full-size suitcase. The folding method is still very useful, only I separate EVERYTHING into individual plastic bags. One for work clothes, one for personal clothes, one for underwear and pajamas, and one for dirty clothes. It makes everything so much easier to find while you travel (especially if you move from place to place)! Unpacking is also incredibly easy. Unused items are quickly replaced, and laundry is tossed in the hamper in one motion. I used to be a mess when traveling and sometimes would not unpack for days on return. Now I'm unpacked before I hit the couch.”
— isabellarozendaal
Comment

The Bad: I was an utterly unsuccessful with her unpacking rules: I neglected to complete the task in 30 minutes and I failed to enjoy the process. In my defense, I was leaving Hawaii and returning to snow—even Kondo might understand my reticence at having to put my bathing suits away for another four months.

The Ugly: I still don’t get the bra thing. Granted, I didn’t play along for this part, but how does—“Pack bras on top, and don’t flatten them.”—even work? Does one need to leave headspace (chest space?) for them? Won’t they get flattened at some point anyway in transport?

Tell us: What are your best packing tricks and tips?

15 Comments

Nancy June 16, 2016
re-use sample-size bottles for toiletries, putting the same function in the bottle. Then you will not be wondering if it is toner or eye drops in the bottle. There are multiple companies that make small bags of various sorts (Flip & Tumble has a set with different sizes, and they roll up with built-in bands for keeping them neat when not in use - www.flipandtumble.com) for packing. I have always been a roller - I think I will try the upright method next time around.
 
isabellarozendaal June 16, 2016
When I pack, it's often for work and I need way more than fits into a carry-on case, so I have a full-size suitcase. The folding method is still very useful, only I separate EVERYTHING into individual plastic bags. One for work clothes, one for personal clothes, one for underwear and pajamas, and one for dirty clothes. It makes everything so much easier to find while you travel (especially if you move from place to place)! Unpacking is also incredibly easy. Unused items are quickly replaced, and laundry is tossed in the hamper in one motion. I used to be a mess when traveling and sometimes would not unpack for days on return. Now I'm unpacked before I hit the couch.
 
Liny May 27, 2016
Having recently decided to declutter my life and live as a mindful minimalist, I'm been seeing a lot of articles on Marie Kondo lately. Though I haven't applied the KonMari method to traveling (I'm the type to overpack in case of anything happening), your article made me smile. What do we do with dirty clothes?<br /><br />I also think you'll like article, it connects the philosophy to current events atm: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/03/marie-kondo-and-the-privilege-of-clutter/475266/
 
Alix March 6, 2016
What type of suitcase do you have? Based on the pictures, it looks a lot like my Patagonia MLC Wheelie bag (sadly now discontinued, but holds a ton).
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. March 7, 2016
It is a Patagonia! I'm not sure what kind, but it's very possible that it's an early version of the MLC. Whatever it is, I wish it was still available, it's the best.
 
Tania Y. March 3, 2016
put your panties in your bras and have a cloth bag for underwear...
 
ktr March 2, 2016
Having your clothes vertical is interesting. I may try that but I'm wondering what happens after you remove a few items, don't the remaining ones then fall over? <br />Also, what I really need is someone to teach me how to fold baby and todder clothes (and then show my husband so we can agree on how they should be folded). And then how to organize baby girl clothes. I mean, do the tunics go with dresses? Or with shirts?
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. March 2, 2016
Surprisingly, most of it stays upright, probably because I was only removing a couple of items at a time.<br /><br />I fold all of my 4-year-old's clothes the same way, upright and segregated in IKEA clothes boxes to keep each type of clothing separated. (I hang tunics with dresses. The rest of society might not agree with me, but I tell my daughter that leggings aren't pants, so if a tunic is long enough for bum coverage, it counts as a dress.)
 
drbabs March 2, 2016
I just did this, too! I'm a really good packer, but having everything upright and visible was awesome. My carry-on suitcase has a largish outside pocket. I usually put my dirty clothes in there. For the trip home, I lay everything flat and then kind of fold/roll it into a packet. (Check out this website http://www.onebag.com/pack.html.) When I get home, the whole packet goes into the hamper, and then it's just much easier to put everything away. But a glass of wine and a nap beat being an unpacking robot every time.
 
drbabs March 2, 2016
P.S. I don't get the bra thing either, and if TSA does go through your luggage (for those of you who check luggage), you can kiss your Marie Kondo folding technique goodbye.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. March 2, 2016
Outside pocket! Next time I'm putting mine to use.
 
vegetalmatters March 2, 2016
I read Kondo's first book and out of all of her suggestions, vertical clothes storage has by far had the most impact on my life. It is the only clothing storage method that I've ever stuck with (and I read it over a year ago). I haven't read Spark Joy yet though and I can't believe I didn't think of adapting the clothing method to my packing!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. March 2, 2016
Agreed, it's a small change that makes a huge difference -- I couldn't believe I hadn't thought to apply it to packing either!
 
ssubrama March 2, 2016
I can't pretend to be a packing expert, but I do try to unpack within a few days. My secret is to do it while I'm on the phone, wearing a headset. Before I know it, everything has magically been put away and I have caught up with friend!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. March 2, 2016
I love that idea!