How to Pack a Suitcase (the Right Way)

Master Marie Kondo's folding techniques. They'll make you a packing expert — and save you cash on a checked bag.

suitcase
Henry Phillips

Before a vacation, whether home for the holidays or abroad in the summer months, the thought of packing looms dark and dense overhead. It’s a chore undertaken with the knowledge that something is bound to be forgotten, and that overpacking one category often means neglecting another. Packing, then, is an art form — one that’s easily mastered with a bit of guidance. Plus, with the pandemic hardly in the rear view, there's more to pack (and manage) than ever.

“The number-one mistake that people make is packing for every potential occurrence, rather than what they need,” says Anna Bauer, a certified organization and packing specialist, noting that while a vacation may be a getaway, it’s not a trip to an alternate reality. “Who you are in your everyday life is exactly who you’ll be on vacation. You’re not going to start wearing things you typically never wear.” In other words, stick to the comfortable and the familiar.

How a suitcase is packed is just as important as what goes inside it. Here, Bauer shares her guiding principles for more efficient packing:

Fold, Don't Roll

“Rolling actually makes your clothes more wrinkled, it takes up more room, and if you’re using space-saving packing tools, rolling just isn’t a good technique.” The much-hyped KonMari method of folding offers maximum efficiency, allowing individual items to stand vertically and squeeze into narrower spaces.

How to Fold

T-Shirts

henry phillips
Henry Phillips

Fold the shirt horizontally into thirds, tucking sleeves back as needed. Bring the neckline down an inch from the bottom of the shirt, and roll it vertically into thirds.

Button-Up Shirts

henry phillips
Henry Phillips

Make sure that the top, middle and bottom buttons are closed in order to allow the shirt to keep its form. Fold the shirt in half vertically, using the button placket as a crease. Fold the sleeves in toward the body. Bring the bottom of the shirt up to the armpit or base of the sleeve. Fold in half again, making sure to keep the collar neatly creased.

Pants

henry phillips
Henry Phillips

Fold the pants in half, horizontally, so that the back pockets are visible. Bring the bottom of the pants up to the top of the back pocket. Fold up into thirds. When placing folded pants in a bag, lay them in alternating directions, so that the thicker, waistband sides are not stacked.

Shorts

henry phillips
Henry Phillips

Fold the the outside of each leg across the middle, into thirds. Roll vertically into thirds.

Compartmentalize

Organizational tools — packing cubes, vacuum bags, even Ziploc bags — facilitate more thoughtful packing. “They keep you accountable in terms of quantities, because you can only fit so many items in a bag,” Bauer explains.

Think in Layers

“People often make the mistake of packing bulky items instead of many smaller layers. Think in terms of different layers that can be worn together and separately, especially during early summer, when mornings tend to be cool, afternoons are warm, and the temperature goes back down at night.”

Do Laundry (Yes, Really)

“People will go on two-week vacations and pack 20 pairs of underwear and 20 pairs of socks. That takes up a lot of room in your suitcase,” Bauer says. “But packing five to seven pairs of underwear and socks, and knowing that you can do laundry at an Airbnb, at a hotel, or, worst-case scenario, wash by hand in a hotel sink, is far cheaper than having to check a bag. It goes back to the concept of a vacation still being your reality — there are still places to do laundry.”

Pack It Up

henry phillips
Henry Phillips

While lining up folded items is a central tenet of the KonMari method, Bauer recommends stacking pants on top of each other in alternating directions so that the thicker waistbands are not directly on top of each other. Stack shoes at the bottom of the bag, with soles facing downward, “that way, when the bag is upright, dirt from shoes isn’t falling down onto clean clothes,” she explains.

Place miscellaneous small items — a dopp kit, socks, underwear — on top of the clothing. To free up even more space, plan to wear bulkier items (like thick sweaters or heavy boots) while in transit.

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