How to Marie Kondo your backpack
Strategic packing is an artform—a delicate balancing act between necessity and desire. You definitely need to bring a few shirts on your next trip, but do you really need your top 12 plaid flannels? Dealing with an overpacked suitcase can be frustrating, but making the same mistake with a backpack is a recipe for disaster. If you catch yourself agonizing over what stays and what goes, it might be time to give Marie Kondo’s uber-organizing techniques a try.
Lay out everything you might bring
The biggest obstacle to organizing a backpack is its vertical shape and top opening. If you pack things willy-nilly or over the course of a few days, you might end up forgetting what’s in there, doubling up on items and losing space. Take your time to really brainstorm everything you’re going to need (check the weather!) and make a list. To get a better sense of how much you’re packing, and what, lay everything out in the open before it gets close to your backpack. It’ll make the next step a lot easier, too.
Ask yourself, do these items spark joy?
Marie Kondo’s claim to fame is her cute but cutthroat method of paring down unnecessary household clutter by getting her clients to pick up each item and ask themselves, “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is no, toss it (or donate it, or recycle it or sell it). This can be applied to your packing routine—you should only bring clothes that you’ll enjoy wearing. Aim for favourites and versatile pairings; things that genuinely make you feel confident and joyful. Your zip-off, quick-drying barf-coloured pants may be super practical, but do you feel like a dork wearing them? Leave them at home. Other things, like electronics and makeup, can be treated the same way. Pack only what makes you happy and if that means packing a few extra shades of lipstick and the Switch, so be it!
Separate everything into categories
Most modern backpacking bags have extra openings on the side and/or the bottom, but even still, you’ll be doing most of your selective unpacking blind. Keep the frustration to a minimum by organizing your clothes and gear into categories. Socks and underwear as one layer, t-shirts and pants are another. You probably aren’t going to be reaching into your bag for your third-favourite graphic tee as often as you go for your toiletries—things you need every day should be at the top or in a side pocket. Think about it this way: if you’re going to need it the night before you leave or as soon as you arrive, it’s the last thing you should pack!
Roll, roll, roll
Marie Kondo’s instructions for how to properly fold clothing are meticulous; there’s an entire chapter devoted to it in her book The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up. The trick is to fold clothes as tightly as possible, and stack them vertically like books so that everything is visible. This won’t really work in a backpack without stiff sides, so we’ll use her second technique: rolling. Instead of making your shirts and pants into squares that will fall out of shape the minute you stick a hand in, try rolling them up. Like Pillsbury cinnamon roll tubes. These are far less likely to get tangled up with other things and will take up a lot less space.
Compartmentalize with bags and cubes
Marie Kondo is big on using physical dividers in closets to keep everything in its place. These can be especially helpful in backpacks, which are prone to getting squashed, tossed, rummaged through and disorganized immediately upon arrival. The best dividers? Packing cubes are a great, reusable option. Once you know which items you want to organize together, get a few appropriately sized packing cubes to keep everything contained. Bags are another good option—especially freezer Ziplocs for electronics and cloth shopping bags for dirty laundry and shoes. These will keep everything dry, clean and easily accessible. Extra points if the bags you bring can be used in other ways, like for groceries or as a daytrip bag. Though you’ll lose points if you use a crinkly shopping bag and reorganize while your dormmates sleep! Does. Not. Spark. Joy.
With your bag all packed and ready to go, you might be tempted to throw in a few last minute ‘just in case’ items if there’s extra space. Resist the urge! Think about all the cool things you might pick up on your travels instead: souvenirs, sunscreen, a warm coat, snacks. Leaving room for the unexpected is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself as a traveller, physically and mentally.
Toss and trade as you go
You’re going to be leaving a lot behind while you travel—friends, family, habits, maybe a plan or two—what you bring with you might start feeling like an anchor. For better or worse. Maybe you got sick of that beat-up Queen shirt within a week of landing, but it’s still in your bag, two months in. Marie Kondo tells us only to keep what “sparks joy,” not what “used to spark joy, but now just gets in the way every single time you’re looking for your toothbrush.” Toss it! Or, better yet, pass it along to a fellow traveller or donate it to your hostel’s lost and found, and keep sparking joy wherever you go.