I’m sending myself packing.

I hate packing. I really do. Despite the image I project of overall “having it togetherness” and organization, I always wait until the last minute to pack. People who pack a week or even a day ahead of time confound me.  I almost always pack within an hour or two of when I’m supposed to walk out the door. In high school I always had my friend Ellen come over to sit on my bed for moral support while I packed for trips. In college I had my roommates keep me company as I begrudgingly loaded the suitcase. Somehow packing alone often seems more than I can bear.

Now, here I am the night before a much-anticipated ten-day trip to Maine and I can’t seem to get myself to put even one, lowly flip-flop into my suitcase. I could understand dreading packing for a trip I didn’t want to go on, but I’m really excited to go home tomorrow. So I’m writing instead of packing. Which seems like a good use of my time given my re-commitment to 21.5.800 the other day when Bindu decided to extend it for an extra ten days. (Thanks girl. You’ve given me a reason to postpone the packing for another hour or so.)

This tendency towards last-minute packing is genetic. My dad would take a big hero, winter camping trip every year when I was growing up. Inevitably, the night before he was leaving, he would take a late-night trip to L.L. Bean’s flagship store ten minutes up US Route One from our house. When I say late night I mean 1:00 or 2:00am…far past normal camping supply shopping hours. (Luckily L.L. Bean in Freeport, Maine is open twenty-four hours a day. Fun fact: the store was built without locks on the doors because it’s never closed. Not once. Not ever.)

When my dad does finally put things in a suitcase, though, it is done with the same exquisite attention to detail as a French pastry chef crafting a mille-feuille. Witnessing my father pack a bag reminds one that God is in the details. If you’ve ever seen the film As Good As it Gets you may recall the scene when Jack Nicholson is preparing for his road trip with Helen Hunt. His garments, toiletries, music collection, and accessories are laid out on the bed with the same care one might organize and itemize the crowned jewels. My mom and I burst into hysterical laughter when we watched the movie because it was as though they had stolen the idea for the scene from my father’s life. I shall be eternally grateful for the acute special awareness and attention to visual detail that I inherited from my dad (and for the fact that this attention to detail leans toward obsessive compulsive behavior in only small, isolated and rather insignificant moments.) No one can pack a bag, a trunk, or a cooler like my dad. If you want to put more things in a space than that space should seemingly be able to hold, Dr. Kenneth Moller, III (aka, my dad) is your man.

Its not intense attention to detail that derails me with my packing, though. (The above story about my dad has been included more for interest and packing history than as an explanation for my aversion to the activity itself.) I think it has more to do with the fact that I gain a great sense of security and confidence from knowing that I have the right outfit for a given occasion. When I was in elementary and middle school I would lay my school clothes out the night before in the shape of a little human beside my bed, complete with socks, underwear, and accessories layered in and placed in the appropriate locations. My mother would often bet startled when she came to tuck me in because it looked like there was a random person lying on my floor. When I’m nervous about a presentation or event, if I can simply visualize myself in the correct outfit everything suddenly seems as though it’s going to be okay. So I think its safe to say that my procrastination around packing has to do with my obsession with the “perfect outfit.” Since it’s unlikely that I will ever truly put together the “perfect outfit” I am probably avoiding packing because I have set myself up for inevitable failure.

I am aware that this chronicling of my packing neurosis may make me sound vain. I mean seriously, my confidence and sense of security in the world comes from having the “perfect outfi”t? Yes. I suppose I’m somewhat proud to answer affirmatively to that question. Because the truth is, if I know that everything is in order on the outside —if my hair looks okay, my nails are done, my eyebrows are waxed, my outfit is rocking, and I’m not sporting any runs, wrinkles, stains, or smears —then I can let what’s on the inside really shine on through. And most of the time what’s on the inside is pretty great, valuable stuff that’s worth sharing, especially if I feel like it’s packaged in the right ensemble.

So thanks for reading as I unraveled my packing aversion. I always know that there’s something bigger behind the silly things in life that I avoid. Avoidance is incredibly rich with information about what’s going on below the surface. For me it seems that my avoidance is a layer of procrastination icing on a cupcake of perfectionism and a desire to have everything under control. It’s fun when all roads of self-exploration lead pretty much back to the same destination. At least I’m consistent.

Okay, there’s an empty suitcase calling my name…and some perfect outfits to be planned and packed.

What tasks are you avoiding?

Do you like to pack?

Do you have any tips on packing?

What do you think is below your procrastination or avoidance?

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26 comments

  • Ellen Swercewski

    Love this writing. My avoidance is usually associated with fear…fear of doing it correctly, fear that I can’t do it. I always find once I tackle the job, that it was never as difficult as I anticipated; that I am perfectly capable of doing things well, and what was the fear in the first place? And yet, the next project or task comes along, and there I am again….fearful. So, I always wait until the last minute. I have discovered, that I do work better under pressure. I do discover that I’m good at what I do. I do discover good things about myself.

    Regarding packing, I can be compulsive about it. I iron everything before I pack and then I wrap it in tissue paper. Well not everything, but pants, blouses, shirts, etc. I fold them with tissue paper in between. When I unpack…no wrinkl;es. However, I always pack more than I need “fearful” that I won’t have what I need for whatever we may do that I hadn’t planned on. Go figure.

    I’m sure you will have the perfect outfit for whatever occasion comes up on your trip. Happy packing!

    • Kate

      I am very impressed with the ironing and tissue paper between everything. Now I have something to aspire to. I also experience avoidance when I think I’m not going to do something right or well. And usually it is true that my avoidance is usually the hard part…once I do it, it’s never as hard as I thought it would be. Not that I see packing as “hard” but I think sometimes it requires focus and energy that I’d rather deposit elsewhere. Thanks for commenting!

  • You don’t need to pack a thing. I have all the outfits you need here at home. Just take a carry on. I’ve got you covered. There– doesn’t that feel better?

  • OMG…Moms are truly amazing!!!

  • Mike Ryzewic

    First off, let me tell you that even guys need to worry about having the right outfits when we’re packing, it’s just a. easier because we can mix-and-match more, and b. less socially acceptable to whine about, so we have to just “man up” and deal with it… I find that, as you suggested in your email, laying things out helps – I almost always lay out 120-200% of my clothes for the trip on the bed before pruning them down to what I’m actually going to bring.

    As far as specific packing strategies, even though I aspire to modern nomadhood on the weekends, I still don’t have everything licked. A few things that work very well for me, though are:
    – Figure out what you will need clothes for before you start packing (decide if you need 0,1, or 2 bathing suits, determine how many dinners of various dress codes you have, etc.).
    – Decide if you are limiting yourself to one leather color or not (less of an issue for women and their smaller, more outfit-specific shoes, but I’m sure there is something equivalent).
    – Pack your bathing suits, underwear, workout clothes, PJs, etc. first. These are the low hanging fruit, and will make you feel as though you are making progress and motivate you to finish.
    – You will always have at least one too many or one too few outfits. Decided which you are more comfortable with ahead of time, and make peace with it. Being able to do or get laundry done will not change this fact (unless you are my dad, who would bring 4 shirts and 2 pairs of paints for a 2 week trip. I have done this going to India backpacking, and it is surprisingly liberating, but not fashion-friendly).
    – Play motivational music and think about how awesome the time you’re going to have in whatever you’re packing is.

    When to pack is, I feel, largely a matter of personal preference. For domestic trips, especially going home, packing day of is totally reasonable, as I know generally what I need: “outfit, lunch at the beach, two count”, etc. For longer trips, i.e. family reunion or big international family trips, my preferred technique is to do all of my laundry, pick up all of my cleaning, and then have my entire wardrobe available to start packing. I try to do this 2-3 days ahead of time, so I have time to purchase whatever I am missing (find pants that do not wrinkle and fit you well), but then I almost always end up packing day before.

    Well, I need to pack for an overnight to Connecticut to go get shot at and eat some yummy pizza, so I will leave you with this taste of my packing knowledge/experience/total bullshit and hope that it doesn’t distract too much from the task at hand!

    • Kate

      @Mike Ryzewic, Wow! You are obviously a genius packer. These tips are thorough and fabulous and oh-so-practical. Thank you! Its now midnight and I don’t have one thing in my bag yet…but thank you for validating that when you’re going home packing right before you walk out the door is more than acceptable. Have fun in CT!

  • Who cares what ya’ take with you, you are going to MAINE! I fell in love with that state last week-end when I ventured there for the first time. Have fun, procrastinate the packing as long as you need to ’cause tomorrow you will be in one beautiful place!!! Enjoy!!!

  • Amber Maren

    I don’t have packing tips per se; I’m with Mike’s dad when it comes to packing. I travel light, though I will still take a normal sized suitcase and fill it as I go traveling. I’ve come across the greatest things that way– shoes, clothes, etc whatever I happen to need. So I’m not one to worry about whether I have absolutely everything before I leave home. It’s welcome to accumulate along the way.

    I do know more than I’d like to about procrastination. I find that I tend to procrastinate about things where I place a lot of importance on doing them perfectly, or things that I find boring. Like you, once I jump in and start something I have a very precise attention to detail. My step-father was the one in my family who taught me the value of doing things ‘properly’. :-P Once I start something I finish it and then some.

    Happy packing!

  • I make a list before I even get home to start my packing, and this list is usually started earlier in the day where I have to pack. For clothing I first start with the fancy outfits since I’m not mixing/matching with those as much. And I don’t allow myself options if I’m dressing up.
    I’ve gotten better about making peace with only bringing a certain number of shoes; if I can last a whole trip with just one pair (super super rare these days) I’ll do it.
    I’ve been told that LL Bean had to close down once during a snow storm, but I can’t find any evidence of this online. Perhaps it was just a rumor.

    • Mike Ryzewic

      @Emily DeWan,

      According to L.L. Bean’s website, they closed on 2 Sundays because of some blue laws (which were then voted down by the townsfolk), as well as to honor the deaths of President Kennedy and L.L. Bean.

      This information is also on the Wikipedia, so I assume it is 100% true ;)

      • Kate

        You are hilarious Mike. You really are. I love the way you like to research things and want to know the right answer. As someone who doesn’t have that same instinct, I really appreciate it in you :)

  • Coleen Biezenbos

    Dear Kate, For the last several years, I have been made aware that I need to get rid of my clutter! Your mother said that we must clean the clutter in the house before we can clear the clutter in our lives/souls. I love my clutter! i HAVE STACKS OF MAGAZINES, BOOKS, HEALTH NEWS LETTERS, TAPES, CD, PICTURES, NOTEBOOKS…..INFORMATION, INFORMATION OVERLOAD. The worst part is I read it and then can’t remember it. Recall gone to pot! I procrastinate because I don’t know where to start. I don’t mind packing for a trip. I start early, lay several outfits on the spare bed and yes there is pressing to do. Narrow it down to what will work interchangeably and choose what’s lightest in weight. Makeup is duplicated and always ready to go. A change of underware in handbag gives me a secure feeling and I am thinking about those pullups if the airline can keep you on the plane 4 hours before take off. I take comfort in what you forget can be bought at the 24 hr stores.

    I would like to examine more deeply why I procrastinate…..really can cause unnecessary problems. I do like to have everything lined up and researched before I make a decision. That slows me down.

    Have a wonderful time with your family! I can’t believe how much you have grown up! GO GIRL!!!
    Your mom’s #1 fan & your fan also!!! Coleen

    • Kate

      Thanks Coleen! Keep the de-cluttering going. That will serve you well on so many levels. And the idea of the duplicate makeup is a good call. I’ll file that one away!

  • nancy levin

    girls named kate must think alike, since my sister kate is famous for saying “if i have the right outfit, i can do anything!” :)
    re: packing: honey, i just got back from 73 days on the road straight – and i mean that literally, it was not “like” 73 days – and i did it in carry-on only – just a rolly bag and a backpack! here’s the deal, we all have our favorite clothes that we wear over and over, and no matter what you pack, you’re still only going to wear your favorite clothes – the clothes that you know fit and look fabulous and make you feel like a million bucks. you are not going to wear the things you think you’ll wear but haven’t in two and a half years, even if they’re “perfect” for this trip – all they will do is take up space, and they’re always the wrong color too! there’s always laundry! and, hey, as your mom commented, there’s always her closet! and a note about shoes – 3 pair: flip flops, heels, sneakers…hmmm, maybe i’ll let you throw in a cute pair of sandals too ;)

    • Kate

      @nancy levin, I would just like to say that you always look hot, Nancy. You must really have the packing thing down because I have never seen you on the road looking less than smokin’ and perfect. I’ll definitely take your tips aspiring to be as fabulous a traveler as you!

  • Rachael Upton

    Okay, so first of all I was pleasantly reminded that you have a connection with Maine. I love all of your Mom’s books. I think to get the full view of Maine you need to come North where I live, “only” about another 5-6 hour ride, not so bad to see some potato fields is it? :-) We would love to have you!
    Back to the clothes discussion, I have taught school for about 15 years now, I am always so impressed of the power of a great outfit, combed hair, a clean face, and brushed teeth with my students. We do not have a strict dress code at our school, but when students are asked to dress up for different activities, it is so fun to see them walk in a little bit taller, shoulders back and a big smile on their face! They even talk differently! :-) It can change their whole attitude and outlook! Amazing!
    As for the packing, I do not enjoy it either. I end up packing waaayyy too much. Even at home when getting ready, the outfit has to “feel” right for that day, many things influence what I wear, (bloated or not, shaved legs or not, exfoliated or not, itchy or not, etc.) It’s so hard to predict the weather too, and heaven forbid if I am too hot or too cold, and have “packer’s remorse” (I knew I should have packed that sweater!) Uuuuggghhh, no wonder it’s so stressful to pack! I say, you and your mom must be close enough in size just wear her clothes, use her make-up, and just bring your toothbrush!
    Enjoy your time in Maine, once you are here, you’ll wonder what all the fuss over packing was about, and you’ll have a great time!

    • Kate

      I love the feedback about how your students let themselves shine when they’re dressed up. I feel very validated. Thanks!

  • Maggie Pierce

    Hey, Kate!
    I love everything you write! I am one of those packers who may start the packing process several days ahead and then repack at the last minute. Once I am on my way to my destination, I am convinced that I forgot the basics like underwear and toothpaste as a result of the “perfect outfit” dilemma.

    I am very excited to see you here in Maine and co-lead our event together in our perfect outfits!

  • Donna

    Kate,
    If you have an extra minute I would love to see you! I always over pack…so my advice is just go shopping when you get here!!!!
    love Donna

  • Patricia

    I see now that I’m not the only one who hates to pack. It makes me so anxious no matter how much I’m looking forward to the trip! It brings up my issues around trust–maybe this is just the other side of the coin of “control.”

    Usually I try to take it as an opportunity to let go of being perfectionistic and just relax a bit,
    as I normally end up wearing maybe a third of what I’ve packed! So my advice (which I’ll try to
    remember next time I’m packing) is to take less than you think you’ll need.

    Hope you’re having fun in Maine!

  • Cat

    I must say, I LOVE packing…until I actually have to do it!

    I make the list. I edit the list. I review my list of activities for the trip and add or subtract elements based on weather forecasts. That is the part I love. I can do that part for weeks.

    Then, I hafta actually put the stuff in a bag. Here’s where it starts to break down! I only have a few pieces of luggage, so a long weekend will hafta fit into the smaller bag; I’m not bringing the big, rolling suitcase camping! But will all the underthings fit in the side pouch? Will I hafta separate the skivvies from the sox? Shoes go on the bottom, but what if I want to bring those boots?

    When I’m done, I still find myself looking for items I may have forgotten…when I’m in the car, pulling up to the airport or highway on-ramp…still wondering!

    By the time I’ve arrived at my destination, however, I’ve usually answered all my what-if’s with solutions and am ready for whatever the trip may hold. The only thing I’m not looking forward to at that point? Unpacking upon my return!!! I’m doing the laundry from my last trip right now. Ugh!

    The most important thing I always pack? A book I’ll be glad I read. During this most recent trip, it was The Biology of Belief by Dr. Bruce Lipton. I returned home about 3/4 through it and feel thoroughly recharged!

  • Kate!

    I laughed and breathed a sigh of relief when I read this because I absolutely hate packing and was happy to see that I’m not alone. In fact, right before a trip I usually start getting cranky and becoming a freak show and then I say to my husband, “What is wrong with me? Why am I feeling this way?” to which he replies, “You know why, you HATE packing!”

    I agree with you about the “perfect outfit” except for me the real issue is that I’m thinking, “What is the perfect outfit for the weather and activity that will be taking place?” So, if the weather is going to be warm during the day, then cool at night with a chance of showers, and the trip involves a variety of activities,well that’s too many variables that stress me out when I pack. And it’s not that I’m not capable of packing for all those variables, it’s that I strive to be a light packer which never happens. I try to be practical and not pack as many shoes but it doesn’t work because inevitably I am an artist at heart. So, I’ll blame it on creativity because ultimately picking outfits is like an art form to me and I’m not willing to sacrifice not bringing my killer blue heels that totally “make” my outfit even when the black ones, I’m bringing work with my outfit too. Learning to accept this fact about myself and making a packing list ahead of time have helped me.

    In any case, my hubby always reassures me and says, “Well, you can afford to bring more because your clothes are so much smaller than mine”, which helps me out with the guilt when I’m loading my suitcase with more outfits then I’m going to need! Alright now today is the day for me to pack as I’m leaving for 4 day trip and guess what? Yep, you guessed it… I haven’t started packing.

    PS. I highly recommend you figure out your system before you have any kids to pack for too! (That is if you want kids)

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