Packing for Moving: the Definitive Guide

When I originally moved to Istanbul, being a homebody and never having had experience living abroad, I reasonably assumed I’d be home sooner or later, and I left a storage facility full of bare bones furniture and sundries I couldn’t take with me. Packing into three suitcases under those circumstances, (and under the circumstances of flying Lufthansa, with their then marvelously forgiving baggage policy) wasn’t a biggie. In three suitcases I packed clothes for four seasons, a week and a half’s worth of work appropriate attire, a party dress, comfy clothes, a few jackets and tons of sweaters, shoes, books, notebooks, pens, and I was off.

What I assumed would be around six months turned into well over three years. I acquired things. Not a lot- I’ve never been a big shopper. A pair of shoes here, a party dress there, etc.

This move I’ve had the challenge of actually, and for real, reducing everything I own into three suitcases.

Books are easy and a no brainer cause a Kindle is a peripatetic girl’s best friend. Clothes though, are difficult. I’ve never been a collector of anything. I have a poor sense of object permanence and when things disappear I’m never really nonplussed or lost without them. The pearls my grandfather gave me before he died disappeared when my car was robbed. I carry the fact that he gave them to me in my heart and that’s enough.

Clothes, though, I have a thing about. Ask me about any first date I’ve ever had and I can tell you what I was wearing. Tim Clifton 1995? Denim overall shorts and a striped green tee shirt. Matt Dimaggio, 1996? Black babydoll dress with ruffles at the bottom. In 1997 I saw Chris’s band play for the first time at Carver. I wore black jeans a white tee shirt, and a necklace and earrings lent to me by a neighbor’s college aged daughter. She was in college. She knew what was up. Andy Cook 2005? Brown skirt with green buttons and a brown wrap shirt over a green tank. We kissed in the rain on top of a warehouse building. Last night was my going away party and I guarantee you I’ll remember what I was wearing when I’m 50.

Letting go of scraps of fabric that hold, for me, anyway, tremendous and, the argument could be made, misplaced sentimental value, while trying to make my wardrobe movable, has been a challenge over the past two days. There have been other considerations in packing, as well: I am not traveling, so travel sizes won’t do. I can’t throw out a mostly full bottle of shampoo just because it’s unwieldy, only to buy another on the other end. I just can’t. Same with body lotion, hair product, etc.

So how did I get three seasons’ worth of clothes into one bag, the rest into two other bags to stay behind for a bit, planning for an uncertain future and uncertain wardrobe needs and not cry too much?

(It strikes me, if it hasn’t struck you, that this was doubly hard because on top of letting go of THINGS I was letting go of home as I knew it for many decades, and preparing to hoist anchor and set sail into an unknown, leaving much that I love behind me.)

Here was my process, and I hope it can help you, whether you’re cleaning out your closet or preparing to move abroad:

1. Throw out anything you haven’t worn in the past year. At this point my pile was pathetically small, so I had to be stern with myself.

2. Seriously. THROW OUT ANYTHING YOU HAVEN’T WORN IN THE PAST YEAR. Buh-bye, black leather kacket that was the best Christmas present I ever got in 1996, that I’ve been holding onto but not wearing because to me it represents the best of Christmas, but let’s be honest. It’s too boxy for today and I lost the belt. Now the pile is a little bigger. (Note, made an exception for the dress I keep for going to summer weddings. I haven’t been to a lot of weddings in the past few years, since most of my friends have gotten married already. But second wedding season is bound to be around the corner and this baby can go to all of them.)

3. Since this isn’t good enough, let’s start hacking into the “Things I only Wear when Everything Else is Dirty” category. Oh holy shit. Just got rid of a third. NO! NO! DO NOT JUSTIFY KEEPING THAT BECAUSE IT’S A CLASSIC THAT GOES WITH EVERYTHING. Let go. Breathe.

I still, at this point, had far too many clothes so I let it sit for a day. And Rohini helped me with the next step.

4. Know your style. Toss the rest. Every blog or article you’ll read about a functional wardrobe will tell you about the magic and glory of mix-and-match separates. I generally don’t do separates. I like to put on a dress, find the appropriate shoes, and be on my way. It’s far easier, for me. “So maybe throw out the separates?” Rohini gently suggested. Eureka! So all but three skirts- two winter and one summer- went into the goodwill bin. Whatever equivalent you have, do it. Only take what is YOU. Oh lord, the pile was positively HUGE, and the skirt that I wore on my first date with Andy is GONE.

5. Vacuum bags. A few notes on them- I got mine from Bed Bath and Beyond, two boxes of six bags each. One box was for travelers, with three each of carry on and suitcase sizes, and one had medium to large home storage sizes. The travelers line doesn’t have the vacuum port. You put your clothes in, seal the bag, and roll it up while it’s patented whatever allows air to escape the opposite end. It does not work as well as the regular kind that you vacuum the air out of, but it does reduce bulk. Both kinds solve a space problem and create a space problem: there are tons of nooks and crannies. Packing then becomes a crazy spatial relations problem or a jigsaw puzzle. Okay, so if I wedge a wedge with a sock stuffed into it here, do I have room for a scarf there? Hours can go by. Put a good movie on tv and have at.

6. Throw out all the make-up you don’t use. I don’t care if it’s the perfect taupe. You never use it. In fact, you only ever really use black eyeliner and thiseyeshadow pallet. EVERYTHING ELSE IS GOING. I am immune to your tears.

And that’s basically it. I got 5 dresses, a skirt, four shirts, two bags worth of home/sleep wear, a bathrobe, five pairs of trousers (for the job) 6 sweaters, four sheets, four pillow cases, a manicure kit, three pairs of shoes, extras of various grooming/feminine things, all of my toiletries, two notebooks, six pens and a slim volume of poetry that has now been everywhere I’ve been in one suitcase and one carry on.

I have an additional suitcase of summer clothes plus various old notebooks and pictures, and a suitcase of winter clothes and impractical shoes that are far lighter, and being stored in a friend’s basement til October. These will have to be picked over and consolidated again if my November plans come to fruition. (No spoilers on this blog.) I don’t currently have the energy, though.

Bets are on as to how far over the weight limit I’ll go.





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1 Response to Packing for Moving: the Definitive Guide

  1. What’s the slim volume of poetry, if I may be so bold as to ask?

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