10 Actually Useful Tips for Packing Like a Minimalist from a Reformed Over-Packer

Even Marie Kondo would approve (and the one mistake everyone makes).
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I grew up in a house of decidedly un-minimalist, un-strategic packers. My mom and I would procrastinate packing until the evening before (okay, hours before) a flight, at which point we'd go through our time-honored pre-trip ritual of panic-shoving everything we could fit into the biggest duffel bags we could find. Sometimes (okay, often) tears were shed. I remember my mom once devoting an entire rolling carry-on to her toiletries and medicine, despite the fact that she uses very few of either, and we were traveling to visit and stay with family, who I'm sure had the requisite cold medicine, on the off-chance we needed it. But she isn't the only guilty party: I once packed five bathing suits and neglected to bring a single pair of underwear (my bikini bottoms pulled double-duty). 

I was recently looking through photos from studying abroad in Copenhagen almost seven years ago, and was shocked to realize I brought three fifty-pound bags for my few months there. How is that even possible, when I also remember having "nothing to wear"? After KonMari-ing my closet last year, I no longer own enough clothes to fill one fifty-pound bag, let alone three. Yet, I rarely feel like I have nothing to wear. As it turns out, when you take time to curate your closet, it can feel like you have more, not less—and the same applies to packing! Thanks in part to a minimalist boyfriend (who regularly packs only half a carry-on) and a general hatred of waiting for checked baggage, I've honed my packing to a science (remember this?). Here's how I'm packing my carry-on and purse for eight days in Europe next week, with no shortage of cute outfits:

1. Do not bring one item for every day you're there.

This is probably the biggest mistake people make when over-packing because it's so easy to assume, "If I'm packing for eight days, I probably need eight bottoms, eight tops, etc." The only thing you truly need eight of (for an eight-day trip) is underwear. Otherwise, you can get away with a fraction of the bottoms (I like to bring two pants and two skirts for an eight day trip, plus a jumpsuit or dress—though I could probably manage with even fewer!). One of the benefits of travel is that you can get away with being a "repeat outfit offender." While the same outfit two days in a row may look sloppy in an office setting (or, wise), no one but your travel buddy is going to know you wore that super-chic, killer outfit *gasp* two days in a row (especially since Instagram feeds are no longer chronological, just saying...). Embrace it! And bring a deodorant you trust.

2. Take your time, and look at your bag while you pack.

Folding your clothes KonMari-style isn't just an efficient way to pack, it's also the best way to see all of your clothes, which is a powerful packing tool. The strongest indication you've packed too much is seeing double in your suitcase. As I packed, I realized I had two camel-colored sweaters. I love both, and could make a thousand arguments for why my fuzzy, v-neck MINK PINK sweater is totally different from my J.Crew cashmere turtleneck (on sale now!)—but, at the end of the day, I probably won't need two camel-colored sweaters. I ended up keeping both in the suitcase, since I wound-up having more room than I needed, but will probably sacrifice one of them before take-off so I have more room to bring things back home. 

I see you, second camel sweater. 

I see you, second camel sweater. 

3. Keep a "rule of four" in mind.

If you're doubting whether you should bring something or not, count the number of outfits you can pair it with. For example, if I'm debating bringing my turtleneck, I'd count that I could reasonably wear it with jeans (1), my favorite leopard skirt (similar here) (2), black distressed jeans (3), and my plaid mini-skirt (4!). If the number of things you can pair it with is at least four, keep it! If it's three, only bring it if you really love it. If it's two or fewer, leave it at home! It probably isn't worth the space in your luggage (RIP pink pants I'll actually be leaving behind). 

4. Unless you're going to a wedding, leave "dressy" clothes at home. 

Cocktail dresses are fun, but you do not actually need one to drink cocktails—and still look super-chic doing it. Instead, focus on small items you can add to an outfit to transition it from day to night. I'm bringing boots, a velvet top-knot headband, and bold lipstick, which can make pretty much any of the outfits I have planned night out-ready. For evenings I have a particularly special dinner planned, I'll probably just avoid wearing blue jeans. 

5. Focus on neutrals, with pops of color. 

Neutrals are easier to pair together than colors are, so a suitcase filled with more neutrals is a happy suitcase (or something like that). I follow a rough ratio of 90% neutrals to 10% colors. When packing, you want the colorful items to function as pops of colors, rather than dominating your entire suitcase. However, if you're packing for a colorful getaway like a beach vacation or vibrant city, feel free to disregard! (Who wants to see Emily's tips for packing for Mexico City? I do!) 

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6. White sneakers are your best friend. 

This rule is pretty self-explanatory: White sneakers go with everything. Period. But do they go with jeans? Yes! How about a dress? Yes, that's high-low gold! And a plaid skirt? Most definitely. What about a midi—I'm going to stop you right there. White sneakers go with everything! I wore these Nikes until they literally fell apart, and recently retired them in favor of these bright-white Vejas, which are fantastic once broken-in, especially considering the under-$200 price point and that they're apparently all-the-rage in Europe. (Fact-check please, European readers!). From there, you only need one to two more shoes, max. I followed the advice in Jess's post, and am bringing a pair of Nisolo booties.

7. Don't bring anything you don't wear regularly at home.

A trip to Paris is a tempting excuse to bring that skirt that still has the tags on it two years later, but would look très chic in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Don't be fooled: If you rarely (or never) wear it at home, you won't be inspired to wear it on your trip. 

8. Check the weather, but don't completely pack around it. 

As long as you're packing layers, the only thing you'll need to be aware of is if it's really hot, really cold, or rainy (in which case, bring respectively: cut-offs, a good coat, and a raincoat). Otherwise, you may be making a mistake by packing entirely around the weather, because you'll probably end up bringing more than you need. For example, you don't need a week's worth of shorts and skirts in addition to the jeans you're bringing for warmer weather—just bring one or two pieces that accommodate the high temps, and vice versa. Oh, and wear your coat on the plane! 

9. Unpack as soon as you arrive. 

Even if you're only staying for two days, you'll ultimately save more time, energy, and trouble by unpacking. The major benefit though is that it will allow you to easily see everything you packed, so you don't end up forgetting any of the few pieces you have—and can easily make beautiful outfits out of the pieces you brought (which should be fun if you're following this guide—chances are the pieces you packed are some of your all-time favorites!).

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10. E-books are also your friend (but still bring one book you can leave there). 

I love packing my tote for the plane because it's like an all-in-one entertainment center! I load up my iPad up with books and movies ahead of time. There are a few major benefits to doing this, the first being that it saves a ton of space (I once panic-packed seven books in my carry-on), it's entirely free (I download movies for offline on Netflix, and send books to my Kindle app from the library using this app), and you don't have to turn on the overhead light to read on it, which can disturb other passengers on overnight flights. 

I also bring in my tote: a wireless keyboard (so I don't have to pack my work computer, just in case I need my iPad to function like one), an eye mask that won't mess up your hair and super-cozy travel wrap (best. investment. ever.), a real book (in case the iPad runs out of battery), travel journal and pens, bluetooth headphones, regular headphones, and headphone splitter (so Jonah and I can watch a movie at the same time via the in-flight entertainment... lame but functional), glasses (so I can take my contacts out before the flight), all-natural gum, my "liquid" toiletries to save room in my carry-on and save time at security (I use the clear inset from this travel bag), and a card game or deck of cards (we bought this one for the trip!). 

11. (Bonus!) Pack an extra, foldable bag for the way home juuuust in case.

I always make sure to pack a tiny, foldable bag in my case, just in case I feel the impulse to buy something when I'm there. I mean I'm going to Paris! I will probably buy too many things... I've had this foldable weekender from Longchamp for years. It's enabled me to purchase many beloved souvenirs. 

Here's what my packed suitcase for Copenhagen and Paris looks like:

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Not pictured, what I'm wearing on the plane: Black Ankle-Length Lululemon Leggings, Black Madewell Tank Top, Vintage Sweatshirt, The North Face Layering Puffer Jacket, J.Crew Coat, Ruana Travel Wrap

P.S., I'll be posting some of my favorite looks, as well as a trip recap, the week I'm back! Stay tuned and send recs my way! I'm still looking for a dinner option for a big group for one of the nights in Copenhagen...