Plan Before You Pack

During a recent appointment, my client asked me, “Do you help with packing?” I knew that she had a vacation coming up — not a relocation — so I answered, “Yes!”

She was not the first client recently to ask me for help with packing. Packing for a trip of my own is one of my least favorite activities, although it’s certainly easier for me to help someone else pack than it is for myself.

I’ve written about packing before (see Lessons in PackingPacking Light, and Simplify Your Packing). Rereading those posts, I was surprised to see that I did not mention two key habits that always help me when I am getting ready to pack:

  1. Figuring out what you are going to wear each day.
  2. Making a list to remember all the other stuff.

Figuring out what you are going to wear each day.
We can’t bring our entire wardrobes with us when we pack, although sometimes it seems easier than having to make decisions! The things to ask yourself are:

  • How many days will I be there?
  • What will the weather be like?
  • What activities will I be doing?
  • Can I dress casually all the time or will there be dressy occasions?

Pick out one outfit for each day. If you can wear something more than once (such as wearing the same pair of pants or shorts again with a different shirt), that can really cut down on what you bring. Plan to top each outfit off with a sweater or jacket that can be worn with multiple outfits.

If you need to dress up sometimes, bring along a small number of dressier outfits along with just one pair of appropriate shoes. Speaking of shoes, wear your bulkiest (but comfortable) shoes when you are traveling, and add one more pair of comfortable shoes in your suitcase. It’s nice to be able to alternate shoes if you are going to be doing a lot of walking, or in case you get caught in the rain.

Making a list to remember all the other stuff
For me, figuring out the clothes and shoes is the easy part. It’s the toiletries, medications, chargers, rain gear, etc. that really bog me down.

The key for me is to start with a checklist. I made up this checklist many years ago and I use it over and over again. It changes over time, but 90% of it is the same from trip to trip. I keep it electronically so that I can reuse it and I can modify it when necessary.

If you don’t have a checklist, go through your morning and evening routine in your head and write down whatever products you use throughout your day. Keep amending this list as you are packing. Save it and reuse it next time!

I keep a small kit always packed with travel-size toiletries. Some things (like shampoo) may need to be refilled, while others (such as things with expiration dates) may need to be replaced. But the basic structure is still there.

Do you have a section in your home where you keep anything related to travel? Keeping all that stuff in one place will make it easier for you to pull everything together for the next trip. It will also remind you of what you already have and what you still need. It’s so frustrating when you buy something because you can’t find the one you already own.

If you have travel planned this summer, bon voyage!

Un-Pack Your Schedule

As a self-employed person who works from home but goes out for client visits, my schedule fluctuates greatly from week to week. Some weeks, I have a client scheduled every day. Other weeks, I have only one or two clients and can use the spare time to get other things done (including writing these posts!)

Last week I had a packed schedule. I had a client every day, plus a hair appointment, a vet visit, and two workouts with my trainer. I also had something scheduled for four nights in a row. One was a Zoom meeting but the others required me to actually leave my home.

When I woke up on Monday morning and realized what a packed day I had, I became very anxious. When I am overscheduled, I’m not at my best. I also have a tendency to get sick (which is the universe’s way of telling me to stay home and rest.)

I needed to figure out how to insert some space into my day — how to take a packed schedule and un-pack it. I had one daytime Zoom meeting on my calendar that was a passive meeting for me — I would just be sitting and listening. I knew that the information I would receive would be a “nice to have” but not a “must”, so I decided not to attend. It gave me enough breathing room to get a few things done between my workout and my client appointment and to feel less stressed.

I also looked at my to-do list and thought about what things could be pushed to another day or even to the following week. Throughout the week, I kept my focus on tasks that absolutely had to be done and put the rest off until I had more time.

Another time management technique that keeps me calm during a busy time is leaving enough time between activities to make the transition. If I need to leave here at 1:30 pm to reach a client by 2 pm, I stop what I am doing at my computer at 1:15 pm. That gives me plenty of time to physically get ready — load my backpack, check the weather, change clothes if necessary, get my shoes and coat on — but also to mentally get ready.

I knew that I had written a blog post about this habit, and I had to search pretty far back to find it, but here it is: Slow Down, You Move Too Fast.

You may not have as much control over your daily schedule as I do, but if you put yourself in the frame of mind of un-packing your schedule on a day that looks impossibly busy, I bet you’ll find some commitments that can be postponed or skipped entirely. Give it a try.

Learning New Habits

If you have been reading my organizing tips for the past 6 months, you know that I have just emerged from a home renovation project. The main motivation for the project was to provide me with my own washer and dryer for the first time in my life. However, after using communal laundry rooms for so many years, having my own equipment has taken some getting used to.

Our typical routine was doing three loads of laundry every weekend in the laundry room in the basement of my building. If you forgot to throw something in, or you got something dirty later that day, you waited until next week’s laundry. (You can see the downside of this approach in my earlier post How Many Should I Own?)

It took us a few weeks to break that habit. I realized that I could do laundry anytime I was at home and had the time to see a load all the way through the process. I didn’t have to wait until the weekend. I now do one load each week of things that don’t go in the dryer, and then a day or two later I do the rest of my clothes. The sheets or towels go in all by themselves sometime over the weekend.

We had some overnight guests for the last two nights, and right after they left, I laundered their towels. It was unprecedented for me to have guest towels clean and put away within hours of them leaving. I’ll probably do their bed linens tonight. You have no idea how happy this makes me!

I’m sure at some point, the novelty will wear off. But for now, developing this new habit has required me to disrupt a lifetime of training.

When You Don’t Know What Product You Need

Last week, I wrote about a new lower cabinet in my kitchen that has replaced a utensil drawer. This week, I want to talk about the new upper cabinet.

I used to have a set of open shelves in that spot. Now, with the widened doorway, I have a narrow cabinet with three shelves and a door.

I used the open shelves for stuff that I liked to keep handy. I’m using the new cabinet for some of that same stuff. The bottom shelf — the most accessible — holds trivets, a box of crackers, and a food scale.

When I had the open shelves, I managed to stand up the food scale on its side perpendicular to the trivets so that the scale wouldn’t fall over. However, in the new cabinet, I couldn’t do that. Every time I took something out of the cabinet, the scale tipped over. So I decided that I needed a cabinet organizer that would hold everything upright.

I looked for cabinet organizers on-line but found that they were all too wide for this narrow cabinet. I knew that there was a product out there that would help me, but couldn’t figure out exactly what it was.

Shortly after, I went to the Container Store to get the utensil holders that I wrote about last time. I was browsing the aisles looking for ideas when I saw an adjustable-width napkin holder. I wondered if a napkin holder would be the right solution for the food scale conundrum.

When I got home, I measured the food scale and went on Amazon to search for napkin holders. I ended up buying a clear acrylic napkin holder that is exactly the right width and is also tall enough to support the weight of the food scale. You can see it in the photo above as well as in the close-up below.

Had I not stumbled upon the adjustable napkin holder at the Container Store, I wonder if I would have ever thought of this as a solution. Sometimes you just get lucky!