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How to Pack a Suitcase to Maximize Space

I’ve always loved organizing. So much in fact that I considered a career as a professional organizer. Seriously.

So when my suitcase packing got out of control, I started asking myself:

  • How can I pack more efficiently?
  • Can the KonMari method for packing work for a world traveler?
  • And (GASP!) could Marie Kondo’s folding clothes technique be better than rolling?!

The answer to all of those questions is YES!

So if you are ready to tidy up your nomad travel life and have your suitcase spark joy keep reading!

Quick Note: This is an exercise to help long term travelers to declutter their suitcase and their travel life using the KonMari Method.

Can the KonMari Method work for Digital Nomads?

Like so many people around the world I binge watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix and felt inspired to find which of my belongings sparked joy.

I had been aware of Marie Kondo’s organization tips for a while, and to be really honest, I didn’t think I needed much help. But after traveling full-time for almost a year, I started to dread moving to new locations.

A definite issue for a nomadic travel life.

From doing a quick search, I noticed that most packing tips on the interwebs were geared towards short term trips and not packing for long term travel. But I decided to tackle my suitcase using KonMari method anyway.

But after tackling my suitcase using the KonMari Method, I am now a believer that Marie Kondo’s method can work no matter your travel length.

My entire travel life and nomad gear in one photo that consists of my rolling suitcase, backpack and purse.
My nomad gear – a suitcase, Swiss Gear backpack and purse.

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What is the KonMari Method?

If you aren’t familiar with the KonMari method, it is a system created by Marie Kondo that focuses on only keeping items in your life that spark joy.

She even wrote a best selling book called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She believes in a systematic way of organizing by category, not location.

The KonMari Category Order is:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (miscellaneous items)
  5. Sentimental items

And within the method there are 6 basic rules she asks you to follow:

  • Commit yourself to tidying up
  • Imagine your ideal lifestyle
  • Let go of unwanted items first
  • Tidy by category, not location
  • Follow the right order
  • Ask yourself if it sparks joy

How to Decide What Sparks Joy

It’s important that throughout this process and with every item, you ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?”.

And it may feel a little silly at first, but after awhile you’ll likely start to enjoy the process.

At no point is this about shaming yourself for the items you choose to hold on to or worrying about what other people might think.

If an item SPARKS JOY FOR YOU than keep it. If not, thank it for its service to you and decide whether you will donate it or throw it out.

Here’s how to tell what sparks joy:

Step 1: Pick up an item of clothing that you absolutely LOVE! The one in your suitcase that makes you smile when you see it. Hold it close to yourself and take note of how it makes you feel. That is the spark of joy you are looking for.

Step 2: Now, pick up a different item of clothing in your suitcase that you typically try to avoid wearing. Notice the difference in how it makes you feel. Did you get a slight frown on your face or make a little sigh? That is an item that does not spark joy.

Now that you have an idea of the muscle you are trying to strengthen let’s get started!

See more of my Travel Tips here!

How I Applied the KonMari Method to My Suitcase Packing

As someone whose entire life fits in 1 suitcase and 1 backpack, Marie’s categories were a abit too broad for me, so I narrowed them down to align more closely with the categories of my travel lifestyle.

The categories I decided to work with were:

  1. Clothes
  2. Toiletries
  3. Electronics
  4. Paper & Books
  5. Komono (Misc)

Below I walk you through the process of how I applied Marie Kondo’s methodology and the spirit of tidying up to my full-time travel suitcase packing.

Picture of a digital nomad suitcase that is ready to go through the KonMari method of tidying up
Time to tidy up my suitcase using the KonMari Method for packing!

Category 1: CLOTHES

With the KonMari method clothes will always be the starting point. It may seem overwhelming but really is great because it creates some quick wins and helps you start strengthening that “spark joy” muscle.

For all categories, step 1 is put all items in that category into a single pile.

For clothes, that means to take all of your tops, pants, jackets, underwear, socks, hats and whatever else you clothe yourself with and put them into a pile on your bed.

All my clothes laid out on the bed completing Category 1 of the KonMari method of going through your clothes.

At the time of going through my clothes, I had switched seasons from a New Zealand winter/spring to an Australian summer then back to New Zealand for fall. And then I was skipping the next winter and headed to Asia for another summer. 🤦‍♀️ Needless to say my clothes were a mess!

My quick wins here were letting go of my winter clothes that were unnecessarily taking up space. I did keep a couple of warmer items (that still sparked a lot of joy) for those cooler nights.

But many of those items I was grateful to start to letting go of like the socks with holes in them and my itchy top. I could really start to feel the weight being lifted off me (insert lame joke about carrying around baggage).

During this process I also ended up with a short list of “items to replace”. These included an ill-fitting pair of jeans and two bras that were way past their prime.

Category 2: TOILETRIES

Admittedly, with house sitting I find that I acquire more toiletries than if I was constantly on the go. For example, I’m okay with traveling with full size shampoo/conditioner bottles because I know I’ll be in one place for 2-4 weeks at a time. I also travel with a hair dryer because trying to air dry my hair in the middle of winter was not working. 🤷‍♀️

Toiletries all laid out nice and neat in a row after being tidied up
From left to right: My main toiletries bag (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc), make up bag, hair brush, sun screen & after sun care, quick dry towel, hair dryer.

But I was still carrying around unnecessary items.

I carry 2 Vera Bradley pouches – 1 for makeup and 1 for toiletries. Plus I had spilled over into a small plastic bag- it was TOO MUCH!

I went through all of my bags and was able to hand pick a few items to get rid of or focus on using up to lighten the load.

Now I have space in both pouches again and I’m not struggling to force the zippers closed. I also purchased another medium size pouch in Bali (part practical, part souvenir) to hold all of my sunscreen and larger toiletry items. This greatly helped with organization and packing.

Minimalism isn’t about living with as little as possible, it’s about living with only the items you truly love.

Category 3 : ELECTRONICS

As a Digital Nomad, our electronics are everything.

If you are a gadget lover, this category might be a bit challenging for you.

Because electronics are the life blood of my business, I started with identifying the items absolutely necessary. This included my laptop, phone and chargers for each.

Everything else got a serious second look including my 2 sets of headphones, car charger, auxiliary cord, backup phone, backup phone charger, back up NZ adapter and other country adapters.

Depending your business, your necessary items and the gadgets you travel with may look different than mine.

I don’t really have that many electronics that I use on a regular basis and most aren’t very big so unless something wasn’t working it got to stay.

REMINDER: It’s all about what sparks joy for you!

So if your new drone is your baby that brings you joy, whether you use it for business or not, keep it!

On the other hand if you’ve been carrying around a fraying charging cord that only sometimes works when you use it…. maybe it’s time to get rid of it or replace it with a working cord. (#guilty)

Ready to pack your bags? Get tips on how to convince your boss to let you work remotely.

Category 4: PAPERS & BOOKS

This category was my biggest surprise!

Until I started tidying up I hadn’t realized how much paper I was ACTUALLY carrying around.

If you would have asked me beforehand, I would have said my paper consisted of my small moleskin journal and my printed NZ visa.

Nope. I was wrong.

And for anyone who has ever held their breath after putting their suitcase on the scale at the airport and hoping the weight didn’t go over the maximum amount… carrying around even one extra ounce of paper seems silly.

This category for me included documents I had with me for NZ immigration that were no longer needed, sim card pamphlets, city maps of past locations and just other random documents.

Sayonara Paper!

Personally, I’m not an avid reader and I’ve done pretty good about reading one book at a time and then exchanging for another.

If you are carrying around a lot of books and not sure what to do with them, there are some options. You can always check with a local library if they take donations or gift it to a new friend or host. Also consider using an e-reader more often or start listening to audio books.

Category 5: Komono (MISC)

The last category will include everything left that you haven’t yet given any attention to.

For me, this included things like

  • my reusable bags (I have 3 of them and love them all/theydouble as souvenirs so they all got to stay)
  • my 2 sets of travel tissues (1 set is probably fine, thank you)
  • the trash in my purse (good-bye!)
  • my face roller (which I’m keeping, but I did get rid of the box it was in)

And that’s it! Congratulations on tidying up your suitcase using the KonMari Method!

Want to know what else is in my suitcase? See my top travel essentials that I never leave behind.

Using Packing Cubes to Organize Your Suitcase

Now that you’ve done the hard work of going through all of your items and deciding what to keep, it’s important to put a system in place to keep things organized moving forward.

My biggest tip is to assign everything a place.

I’m a huge fan of small bags or pouches for things like my toiletries, make up and electronic cords.

For my larger clothing items I use packing cubes (similar to these on Amazon). This is my first time using packing and I swear by them now!

Clothes folded to the KonMari method and organized within packing cubes ready to go into a suitcase
After you follow the Marie Kondo folding method, use packing cubes to keep everything organized & wrinkle free.

Once you have items grouped into pouches then you can figure out the best method of packing them in your suitcase or backpack. I liken it to packing the trunk of a car when moving.

Think about what items you use infrequently and pack them in first with your most regularly used items being packed on top.

Being organized is mainly about being disciplined in maintaining the systems you’ve put in place.

Rolling vs Folding Technique for Suitcase Packing

If you’re like me and have been told that rolling your clothes is the most efficient way to pack, I’m here to change your mind.

Although I went through all of Marie Kondo’s lessons and found them immensely useful, I was still skeptical on this one point (LOL seriously, why?!)

I decided to reach out to a friend of mine, Erin Mursch, owner of Organized for Good and a KonMari Consultant.

Below is her response when I asked about rolling vs folding and how to deal with wrinkly clothes:

KonMari Method all the way! I fold for suitcases into little packets that are about 4×6. Wrinkling depends on how tightly packed they are, so let go of the clothes or items you aren’t crazy about and that should take care of it!

– Erin Mursch of Organized for Good and a Certified KonMari Consultant

To truly test this, I took all the clothes I had decided to keep and packed them the way I typically do by rolling them.

I THEN took everything out and folded them using the Marie Kondo folding method and again packed everything up. (Yes, this was very time consuming. You’re welcome.)

YOU GUYS! The difference was massively noticeable!

Folding clothes for my suitcase packing using the KonMari Method
My folded tops all lined up

With rolling I didn’t have any extra space, only the breathing room I gained from discarding some items.

But when I packed them using Marie Kondo’s folding techniques, I had extra space within my cubes that I didn’t even know what to do with!

MIND BLOWN.

So I agree with Erin, KonMari Method all the way!

Let me know in the comments below your experience using this method or if you have any questions!

See more on Choosing the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

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