How to Pack Your Life into Three Suitcases or Less

In 18 days I hop on the first of two flights on the way to Tokyo, the first stop of my journey in Japan. While I am of equal parts exhilarated and terrified, I am also in the middle of condensing my life into the three suitcases I am bringing with me. This is not an easy task as the space I am leaving is the master bedroom in a 2-bedroom apartment, which was completely full of my things. I love my things. The minimalist movement is great and I’m all for tiny living, but being surrounded by my things comforts me. I like coming home and knowing that the space is mine because look, there are my things. The time has come, though, for me to part with many of my things. I’ve been carting around the same things from place to place for the last few years, and never really took the time to sort through what I needed to get rid of.

Having graduated in May, this summer was the perfect time for me to take a good look at exactly what I’d been dragging around with me. One of the many changes in life since graduation for me has been a change in priorities when it comes to my things.

I started with what I knew I was going to get rid of. One of my secret shames has been the two large bags of clothes in my closet that I literally haven’t opened in over a year. From those two bags, I got a small pile of things to keep, a black garbage bag full of clothes to toss (either irreparably ripped, stained, or otherwise unusable), and an even bigger garbage bag full of clothes to donate. If it wasn’t important enough for me to keep in storage or going to be something to bring to Japan, it went. Then we started (my mom and I) on the rest of the clothes in my closet and my shoes.

(A note on shoes: People with small feet get everything in life. I recently wondered why, with my increased interest in fashion and make up, I hadn’t been interested in shoes. I realized that I haven’t been interested in cute shoes because I can’t find cute shoes for what I affectionately call my Godzilla feet. That being said, my giant feet give me a solid foundation so that whenever anything tries to knock me over, I stay standing.) (In case you missed it that was your deep metaphor for this post).

After the bulk of the clothes sorting was done, my next step was to bask in the afterglow of my imagined productivity and ignore the fact that I was moving for a few weeks.

That’s my inner critic talking. The truth is I’m finding it very difficult to balance working, packing, and having time to myself so that I am not burned out before I even leave. When I get home from a long day of work at the movie theatre, it’s nearly impossible to force myself to spend an hour or two sorting through more things. I suppose I’m going to have to get over that in the next two weeks, though. Time is running out faster than I can fight, so I may as well ride the wave.

The next struggle was my pillow pet. It was difficult to admit, even at nearly 23, that I have to leave Walden the Penguin behind. He is simply takes up too much room for the value he brings to the table, and anyone that doesn’t carry their weight needs to be left behind. I’m sorry that Walden has to be a sacrifice to my capitalist indoctrination, but on the journey to adulthood and a stable income there are sacrifices that have to be made.

Of course I’m going to keep Walden in a box for when I return.

There is an important layer to this I have been neglecting to mention. I hate packing. I don’t casually dislike packing. I don’t mean the “packing is kind of a hassle but I’ll get through it” kind of hate, I mean if I don’t have someone sitting there to force me to do it, I would never pack. Somewhere in my mind packing is associated with dead people. Even if I am packing my own things, I feel like I am packing away the belongings of someone I’m never going to see again. Packing my things makes reality feel less real. Our homes, our families, our entire lives can be packed away into boxes and never looked at again for years, and if that’s the case, what’s real? Who am I?

Packing is a dangerous spiral into madness.

College has helped. Having to pack and go somewhere new after every year, sometimes not knowing where I was going to go at all but always ending up with somewhere to go has helped me to trust packing a little.

I’ve been impressed with myself so far on this move, honestly. I think my excitement has derailed my panic instinct just enough that I’ve been able to not only get rid of a lot of things, but even think about packing without a minder to force me into it.

(I have mastered the art of pretending to be a well put together young adult, but the truth is I need a minder for many activities. A sizeable portion of the papers I wrote as an undergrad wouldn’t have been completed without one friend or another sitting with me and goading me into writing until I finally decided to focus on my own, which was usually around 3:30am. Being my friend can be a part-time job, and I only pay in jokes, social commentary, and winding anecdotes that I always get distracted in the middle of. Even writing blog posts like this one I average one page an hour. The rest of the hour I’m usually staring at the wall or out the window. I spend a lot of time staring at things.)

But back to the point. Realizing that I realistically have two weeks to get out of this apartment is starting to raise the pressure. I sat down and set goals for myself every day this week. If I can meet all of these goals, I will be on a good track for the final 10 day push.

The truth is packing your life into three bags or less is about looking into your self layer by layer and being able to acknowledge what’s important. Maybe you leave behind your new sketchbook in order to make room for the poetry notebook you haven’t used since last year, but can’t bear to part with. It’s about deciding what the fridge magnets from your travels really mean to you, and if there is a pocket big enough for the “Fat Cats” wall calendar that hangs over your bed. You have to decide how much you can get rid of before you start getting rid of pieces of yourself.

At least, that’s how it’s been for me.

I don’t really have a permanent “home”. There is no specific place I know I am going to return to when my time with JET is done. On one hand, this lack of grounding can make you feel lost, but on the other hand it’s what makes me feel comfortable leaving everything behind for this grand adventure.

And besides, if something tries to knock me over I know I’ll stay upright. I’ve got big enough feet to stand on my own.

(See how I brought that back? Man, I’m putting that creative writing certificate to good use.)


2 thoughts on “How to Pack Your Life into Three Suitcases or Less

  1. Annamarie, this is exactly how I felt when I was packing for the move to Massachusetts a couple months ago. It sounds like you are stronger than I when it comes to reducing your stack of things. But I just wanted to say, “You got this, girl.”

    You got this, girl.

    You’ll have such a wonderful adventure and probably acquire new things once you’re there. I’m so excited for you and the journey you’re on.

    Much love,

    PS Sorry I turned into one of those people who writes a mini personal letter in a public comments forum. Please forgive me.


  2. Pingback: A Look Back at 2015 and Looking Towards 2016 | Annamarie Abroad

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