How To Overpack Without Really Trying (and Other Mistakes)

Packing PlansEarlier this month, our family went on a week-long beach vacation. I expected my limited closet would make packing especially easy, and I beamed with pride at my great planning and organization. I made a list in advance, picked things that layered well and could be combined into several outfits, and then laid everything out to admire my work. I mean, look at that spread: efficient accessories, options for temperature swings . . . I felt really pleased with myself.

And then I started filling the suitcase, which was a standard, rolling carry on. My packed suitcase was thoroughly packed, and I suspected I had packed too much. I pulled a stack of items off the top, removed a pair of shoes, and zipped my luggage easily.

None of the items pictured above were among the things removed from the suitcase and left at home. Rather, I had taken out pajamas and lounge clothes. For a week-long beach trip with my family, I had brought about a dozen outfits’ worth of clothes and only one set of pajamas. We also had in-unit laundry, which I used while there but completely ignored while packing.

I forgot that reality is reality. I spent half my time in lounge clothes or swim wear, relaxing with my family. A pile of lounge wear doesn’t make a Pinterest-worthy picture, but fewer outfits and more pajamas would have been a better fit.

Obviously overpacking for a car trip a few hours away is a mistake of little consequence. Still, I’m trying to cut down on these fashion mistakes and the time, money, and stress that they cost me.

My unedited closet contained plenty of mistakes: the mint green tank that was on sale but isn’t the right color for me; the designer skirt that was a great deal but is a size too small and only fits while I’m standing and wearing super-constrictive shapewear; the silk top in the perfect color that must be dry cleaned after every wear. Those three items collectively cost me less than $60, but those are only three mistakes of many.

Meanwhile, this is my basic black tank top:

Black tank with hole

Yes, that’s a large hole. It extends beyond the seam into a long run, and it gapes right around my left hip whenever I wear it. That $60 spent on mistakes could replace my basic tank along with my favorite tights that have a run and can only be worn with boots. I think I would even have enough left over to re-sole a beloved pair of heels and possibly alter my charcoal skirt that’s a bit too big.

Not one of those investments has the appeal of buying a new top, even a top in the wrong color. Similarly, packing pajamas sounds far less exciting than packing outfits I will not have an opportunity to wear. I am swept up in the thrill of the new and the idealized, and I end up missing what I actually need.

I’m hoping that with greater intention and objectivity, I will make fewer fashion mistakes. I have grace for myself in this learning process, and I know I’m growing in the art of packing and living lightly. And next time I go shopping, will someone please remind me to replace that hole-y black tank top?


  1. palmtreesandpeas

    Boy can I relate! I never seem to wear half my clothes I pack. I should know better because even at home, I tend to wear 80% of my clothes 20% of the time! I’m trying harder to wear my clothes more equitably because I told myself I would be donating any clothes that don’t get worn!

    • harkathome

      I know the feeling…having so many clothes, but only wearing a few of them! It has helped me to figure out why I’m not wearing things. I’ve found it’s a combination of things not fitting quite right, being a little too worn out, or having special care requirements (needing to be dry cleaned as opposed to machine washable). I just donated two big bags of things that fit the first two categories, and it feels liberating!

  2. uncharted586

    Well said. Honestly, it seems the more I travel, the worse I get at packing! Too much, too little, pack the cat-forget the wallet. I never get it right. I am actually convinced there is some universal paradox at play there. It goes hand in hand with having the short term memory of a goldfish. Which in turn, leads me to forget that I don’t actually need the hundreds of dollars of excessive randomness I always pick up along the way. I live by the “better to get it than regret it” motto and it’s always trouble. Anyhow, I feel your pain and applaud your efforts! I could stand to learn a thing or two from your strategy and ambition.

    • harkathome

      Yes, I think my desire to be prepared for anything leads me to overpack and hold onto things! I read somewhere that if you can acquire something for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes, you don’t need to keep it “just in case”. I’m trying to keep this in mind. I think of an Apartment Therapy headline that read “Store it at the Store”–I’m going to try to remember that next time I’m packing.

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