How to pack

I’ve promised to ‘tell you about it shortly’ a number of times and about a number of things, and here for your delight and edification, working backwards on my promises, is the first. Yes, you can cross this promised gift off your wishlist! 😉

Oh the poise!

Packing for a holiday is like packing for an alternate you. The divine Maggie Alderson has called this person Holiday Me – and you know who she is. She’s tall, long-limbed, sun-kissed and exists in a day that has only three times: clear mediation sunrise under a palm tree; warm orange sundown on a beach; and sparkling starry night on a yacht with champagne. Holiday Me has wavy hair that never whips in her eyes or gets greasy, being perfectly cleansed and styled by the waves; on the beach she strides out of the water glistening while sand brushes off her without sticking; she’s at least four times as rich as you are; she’s much better dressed; calories are worth one-tenth to her as they are to you; and she doesn’t even need an invitation to all the best parties at her holiday destination to know that she’s a VIP.

Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly) is the ultimate beach fashionista in To Catch a Thief.

Holiday Me also has a beautifully put together holiday wardrobe, which contains only clothes and accessories that are perfectly suited to her environment. A light wrap is sufficient to keep her warm at night, or Holiday Man lends her his tux jacket. It never rains unless she’s dancing in it, in which case it’s warm. She never minds walking all day because blisters don’t bother her slender feet, and all she needs to tour European cities is a small light handbag that rests gently over one bent arm. She has a small scarf tied at her throat, a lightweight kit thrown over her shoulders where it stays without slipping, and wearing pale colours – particularly camel and white – is of course the perfect choice because is it impossible for her to attract dirt or spill coffee.

Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief: Riviera chic.

Do you hate her? I do.

Francie Stevens with the ultimate holiday accessory - a convertible.

Maggie A has also pointed out that sometimes we become a sort of perverse, warped Holiday Me when we go away – your Holiday Me may suddenly become enamoured of sarongs, or tie-dye, or any other hideous item that is covered in dolphins and is sold in tourist shops. Your Holiday Me may suddenly strain to emulate the suave and smooth locals and start buying Ray-Bans, chinos, boat shoes and man-bags. Your Holiday Me may see the light and start investing in PolarFleece.


This is hideous. I don't care if I offend you. Don't let your Holiday Me buy this atrocity.

The real thing about Holiday Me – and you might love turtle covered beachwear or chambray shirts in real life, or you may in fact be a person who can confidently wear white jeans – is that Holiday Me is not Real Me. And Real Me needs to pack for Real Me.

 When you pack, you’re effectively reducing your range of clothing options while preparing for an expanded range of environmental conditions. Heat, rain and cold may not bother you so much when you’re cocooned in an office every day, but if you’re sightseeing you’ll be all the more in touch with Mother Nature. So how does an organised gal remain comfortable, stylish, appropriate and under 20kg per suitcase?

A little bit of colour-matching goes a long way.

Here’s what not to do: open your suitcase on your bed and throw in all your favourite clothes. You’ll wear them more, right? Nope. Although it’s true that you shouldn’t pack that thing at the back of the wardrobe that you bought three years ago and still has its tags on because Holiday Me will like it, just dumping a whole lotta stuff isn’t the solution either. 

If you lay it all out and it looks like this – too much!
You need A Plan.
The steps below aren’t about the nitty-gritty of packing. It’s a different post if we want to talk about The Great Fold vs Roll debate, or how to compartmentalise your case, but below is about the big-picture stuff: how to decide what to take, not just how to take it.
Oh so pretty!

Step 1: The Situation.

  • Think about where you’re going and what time of year it will be. New York City in August will be significantly different from New York City in December. Do your research.
  • Also think about what you’ll be doing – are you going to Europe to backpack and stay in hostels, or is this a bumper-luxe trip of a lifetime? Will you be going to any fancy events, or are you pretty sure that the pub will be as posh as it gets?
  • How long will you be away? There’s no real rule of thumb (I think) about X days = Y pairs of Z item, but you don’t seriously need ten pairs of jeans for a two week trip. You will however need many more pairs of underpants than two. Come up with a rough list, eg: two pairs jeans (one everyday, one ‘good’); two T-shirts; two singlet tops; one jacket; one belt; one pair walking shoes; one pair flats; one pair thongs; one lightweight scarf.

Step 2: The Style.

  • Think about the kinds of clothes you usually wear. I am, for example, a pants-wearer. Taking a skirt or dress would be pointless. If you’re a dedicated frock-er, work around that. A skirt-wearing friend of mine bought a highly expensive but very useful pair of superdooper tights to wear with her usual denim skirt in a European winter and she loved them.
  • Bearing those things in mind, are there any colours or other themes that come through? For example, for our honeymoon I chose my two favourite colour combinations and chose separates around them (navy/white/red, and olive/neutrals). Don’t wear a rainbow. Choosing a colour scheme will help all your clothes be workhorses.
  • Make sure your style is appropriate to the places you’re going and the things you’ll be doing. PolarFleece is not ok if you’re planning on meeting The Queen, but a pussy-bow blouse is ridiculous if you’re climbing Machu Picchu.

Step 3: The Selection

  • Now think about the things you’ll actually wear. Favourites are good at this point, as are things that do double-duty, eg: a pair of sparkly flats that you could wear out to dinner as well as for a bit of wandering around would be more useful than a pair of ten-inch stilettos. Likewise, unless your plan is to hit the nightlife hard, think about a nice top that could be worn in the evening as well as the day, instead of a spangled sequinned backless top.
  • Choose accessories. A belt, shoes, small jewellery, sunnies and scarves are good, light, non-bulky ways to change the look of a basic outfit.
  • Now lay it all out. Will you wear it all? Will you feel good in it? Will you look good in it? Edit your selection. Holidays are not times to morph into Impossible Gorgeous Holiday Me, but there’s also no need to allow Ratty Scruffy Cargo Pants Holiday Me to drag you down.  
  • Is any of it dry-clean only? Ditch it. Is any of it unwearable without an iron? Seriously consider ditching it unless you love to iron on holidays.

Step 4: The Stuff

  • And by stuff, I mean fold nicely and pack in your bag. How much room is left? Does it fit perfectly? Yes? Then take it out and toss things – you haven’t even begun to pack your toiletries, electronics, and other sundries yet.
  • Toiletries are really up to you and what you feel you need, but I take shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrush, hair straightener (or dryer – just remember to check voltage!), brush or comb, contact lens stuff, medication, tweezers, nail file, polish if you’re a polish wearer, moisturiser, face wash, makeup, and anything else that I use daily. This fits in a case about 20x10x10, but it’s quite heavy.
  • Unless you’re actually backpacking, you need some space in your bag to take account for purchases, things you’ll pick up and carry about, and to make re-packing easier and less like a Rubik’s Cube. Wearables including shoes should take up about 50-60% of your space, other items about 20-30%, and the remaining space should be empty.
  • Pick up your case/bag. Walk around with it. Be honest – what needs to go? If you can weigh it, do.

Step 5: The Sit

  • Meaning: let it sit. If you have some time, allow yourself to re-think some decisions, and remember that you’ll recall a few forgotten items over the next few days (reading glasses? Only packed black bras and white shirts?).
Not how to do it!

That’s it – it seems long but a little planning will mean you will have everything you need, you’ll have confidence in the clothing choices you’ve made, you’ll not be randomly squishing strange items into your bag half an hour before you have to leave for the airport, and most importantly, you’ll always be comfortable and appropriate for the Real You.

An alternative of how not to do it.


A Whirling Dervish

A whirling dervish - know the feeling?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a little while, as you can see from the gap in communications. But it all ties in very nicely with today’s theme, and illustrates my point, so three cheers for that.

Today’s discussion is: what to do when life gets busy. How do we maintain organisation, general tidiness, and that satisfying feeling of being on top of our affairs, when we’re actually being pummelled with other things?

Here’s the rub: life is peaks and troughs. There’s no ‘end’ to the busy period; just a lull. Children will get sick; partners will go on trips; work will arc up; the party season will return. And this is exactly why we are organised!

Juggling too much?

A stitch in time saves nine

It’s in these periods when the kids are demanding every ounce of attention and endless vomit clean-ups, or a huge project lands in our lap, or when we’re out every night, that our organisation already in place will support and maintain us when we simply don’t have time to even go to the loo (yes that’s happened to me).

  • Having homes for all our stuff makes the quickest possible tidy up simply a matter of putting things back, rather than re-organising an entire cupboard;
  • Having our pantries and fridges clearly zoned makes deciding what to make and what to chuck in the 2-minute-stir-fry easy – it means you can grab what you can see instead of burrowing in the back of the crisper to discover something vaguely fresh;
  • Having a toy basket/area where all toys live all the time when not in use means that the sniffly child can actually play with their toys instead of waiting for you to locate the 1,000 missing jigsaw pieces cunningly hidden around your house;
  • Having dirty and clean laundry in designated baskets and not strewn all over the lounge room means that even when you can’t get around to the ironing and folding, there will at least be an easy place to grab a clean pair of knickers;
  • Having our bills already diarised to pay (or direct debited already) will avoid a missed payment and penalty fees;
  • Having our To Do lists up to date will mean that the mad dash to the bank/post office/pharmacy at lunch, or the miserable dragging of the sick child to the shops, can happen once instead of you getting back home and discovering un-deposited cheques, un-posted letters, and un-filled scripts smiling happily back up at you from your handbag; and
  • Having a routine for tidying, cleaning, bill-paying and other chores will mean that if you’re even semi-up to date, you’ll have a reasonable base to work off instead of hitting a busy period in an already frazzled organisational state.

Call in the troops

There are also times when you need to call in reinforcements. Organisation isn’t something you just do once; it needs constant topping up and when we don’t have the time or energy to stay on top of it, calling for help is the best thing to do.

I really wish this was an option!

I recently began a new job, which is both a promotion and a new content area. I knew I was coming up to a hefty increase in work hours and a really challenging task, and would have less time (and let’s face it, less energy and motivation) to get all the cleaning done that I would otherwise (my share of the cleaning of course!). My husband and I agreed that getting a cleaner would be money well spent, and boy is she ever! Miss A comes once a fortnight for three hours and her visits ‘re-set’ us so that we are working off a clean base until she comes again. This means that small top-up tidies and cleans are sufficient, and the larger jobs are also less onerous.

 Other professional services that you might want to engage to help you in busy times could include:

  • Household maintenance (I hate hate hate the term ‘rent-a-hubby’ but if like me you’re pretty clueless at fixing things, don’t try to mess with the plumbing yourself);
  • Gardening;
  • Accounting (seriously, who likes doing their own taxes even if they can?!);
  • Mending and ironing;
  • Meal delivery services;
  • Grocery shopping online; and
  • Dog grooming (I have to let the professionals do this one; my small dog thrashes around like a yeti when I try to clip his nails).

 You don’t have to buy your outsourcing either. There are heaps of ways you can access the wealth of resources around you without breaking the bank:

  • Would it make your life easier if you could trade kids for an hour a week with a friend (and that hour could be just as profitably spent on the couch with a cuppa if that’s what you need!)?;
  • You could ask a friend to help you with a task (folding a clothes mountain or accompanying you to the supermarket to distract the kids) in exchange for home-cooked dinner or some other thank you;
  • You might be able to access some flexi-time or time in lieu from work, or negotiate to work from home if you particularly need to be there when, for example, the electrician comes to fix the flickering light that’s been plaguing you for two years but you’ve never had time to call them in to fix;
  • You might be able to invest a little time upfront in investigating something like a budget spreadsheet that will save you time and effort (and money!)  later when it comes to your finances; and
  • You could also put the word out (thank you Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!) that you’re looking for time-saving help and ideas, and see what works for others.

So here’s the thing: organisation isn’t something you do on top of all the other things you do in your busy life; it’s what you do to manage your busy life.

This doesn't count!