Excess Baggage

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I have been blessed with a vacation-filled summer. However, my recent, amazing, and kid-free (thank you, Grandmas!) vacation to Aruba left me with a stark realization… I have no idea how to be a minimalist on vacation.

It began with packing. The night before I left, I opened the biggest suitcase in my house and tossed within any item that seemed “tropical.” This included, but was not limited to: 3 swimsuits, 4 swimsuit cover-ups, 4 sundresses, snorkeling gear, a gaggle of spaghetti-strap tank tops, 3 pairs of shorts, 4 skirts, 3 bottles of sunscreen of varying SPF strengths and intended for application on various body parts (because, surely, the sunscreen used on your face cannot be applied to your arms, no sir!), 2 underwater cameras, a 2-inch thick pack of Internet printouts about Aruba, and the list goes on…

As I zipped the suitcase closed and lugged it, grunting, to my living room, I realized I may have over-packed a wee bit much.

This actually bothered me so much that I woke up at 1:00 a.m., hauled the suitcase into my bathroom (so as not to wake the angelic grandmothers, who were sleeping soundly in my living room; I knew they needed their rest for the triplet-watching task ahead) and removed some of the clothing. That didn’t make much of a difference, so I pulled a veteran over-packer move: I transferred a lot of stuff to my husband’s suitcase. Much better! 

Here’s what it comes down to, folks… over-packing on vacation and over-cluttering your home stem from the same troublesome question: “what if?” When I started to declutter, I faced the “what ifs?” constantly. What if I have a lavish dinner party and I need that fancy two-tiered serving tray? What if I host a play date for every child in my neighborhood and they all want to play with Thomas trains at the same time? What if a European soccer team needs to use my shower after a game and I don’t have 30 towels on hand?!

As you can see, “what ifs” are a great way to get you to hold onto a lot of stuff you don’t need. I had started to ignore the “what ifs” in my home, but when faced with the prospect of leaving the country for one week, they cropped up all over again. What if I feel fat in swimsuits #1 and #2, and I have no other options? What if I spill something on this dress and I don’t have another one? What if, God forbid, I am wearing the same beach cover-up in all my pictures?

Those pesky “what ifs” crept their way into my head… and a lot of crap crept into my suitcase.

I enjoyed my vacation thoroughly, but I certainly didn’t use everything I brought. As I reflected on this, it became clear that my over-packing (like over-cluttering) stemmed from a lack of planning. I had waited to pack until the night before (Strike One), I threw items into the suitcase for no other reason than that they could be used in hot weather (Strike Two), and I never asked myself some essential minimalist questions, like “How many sundresses do I really need?” (Strike Three – You’re Out! And lucky if AirTran doesn’t charge you extra for transporting that behemoth!)

I may have struck-out as a minimalist in Aruba. But lucky for me, I have another chance at bat as I prep for an upcoming week-long family trip to Mackinac Island. Here are some tenets I will follow:

Make a list with subheadings. Since I am packing not just for myself, but also for my kids, lists are essential. And when you see in writing what you plan to take, it can help you eliminate excess before it ends up in your suitcase. Here’s an excerpt from the itemized list I made for my kids:

pajamas with long sleeves and pants (2 each)
outfits (4 summer outfits each; 1 pair long pants/leggings each; 2 zip-up sweatshirts each)
socks (3 pairs each)
rash guards
underwear (5 pairs each for boys; 7 pairs for Mercedes)
The other subheadings were: sleeping, eating, potty, toiletries, and entertainment. It really helped to make subheadings based on the main things my kids do each day. (Hmm… does that mean I should have included whining as another category? Not sure what I would pack for that one… ear plugs, perhaps?)
Consider doing laundry. Does your vacation spot have laundry facilities? If so, you can really cut down on over-packing by planning to wash a load or two of clothes. 
Consider not doing laundry. When my husband and I went to Nepal on our honeymoon, we wondered why people often wore the same clothes two days in a row. As I squatted outside by a water pump with a bar of soap to wash my mountain of “dirty” laundry by hand, I understood: you really can wear clothes more than once before you wash them. It’s okay. It doesn’t make you a dirty hippie. And if it does, who cares? You’re on vacation. No one knows you. Be as dirty as you want.
Ask questions. Similar questions used during decluttering can be applied to packing:
If I need _________ while I’m gone, can it be purchased cheaply and easily?
How many (swimsuit cover-ups, etc.) do I really need
Can I wear this (pair of shorts, etc.) with multiple outfits?
Can I minimize this? (For example, instead of taking the entire guidebook, can you just photocopy the pages you need? Instead of the large bottle of Tylenol, can you put just what you’ll need in a small baggie?)   
Accessorize! I once read a magazine column where a supermodel who travels frequently talked about how she packs lightly and stylishly by pairing basic clothes with various accessories. For example, a simple dress can look like several different outfits when paired with jewelry and scarves. Accessories take up a lot less suitcase space than clothes. And hey, if a supermodel does this, we should all be doing it, right??? (Henceforth, I shall eat celery and diet soda for dinner and limit my facial expressions to “pouty” and “angry.”)
Go Basic.  Again, just like a minimalist wardrobe that focuses on classic, basic clothes as opposed to flashy fashionable ones, pick clothes that can be worn a variety of ways for different occasions. A black swimsuit cover-up could double as a date-night dress when paired with dangly earrings. Basic khaki shorts could be worn for hiking or dressed-up with a blouse for dinner. The same simple sandals can be worn for strolling along the beach or dancing the night away. You get the picture. 
Wear Your Big Stuff on the Plane: I cringe when I think about how much suitcase space I could have saved if I’d worn my tennis shoes on the plane instead of packing them. Rookie mistake! 
I will keep you posted on how my Mackinac Island vacation goes. Armed with my lists and my lessons from Aruba, I think I will be a more successful minimalist. And as a parting note, here’s a pic of me in Aruba, strolling along the beach, happy as can be… all hail summer vacation!


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