How to Pack for Life Abroad: 244 Articles of Clothing Down to 65

by Rachel Yeomans | June 27th, 2012   

By Laura Hawbaker

My closet is 5 x 8 ft. and contains precisely 244 articles of clothing.  This does not include pajamas, tank tops, coats, socks, tights, under garments, hats, scarves and other accessories. This does not include purses. This does not include coats. You get the idea.

How did it come to this? Perhaps it was those stressful work days de-stressed with a little Lenny & Me. Or too many terrible dates made rosy after a trip to Una Mae’s Freak Boutique. I’m also a sentimentalist… I keep the sweater I wore only once because it was a gift from my grandmother.

But now my closet and I have come to a head: I was awarded a Fulbright Grant and will live in Poland for one year. Having been given this incredible opportunity to study and work abroad, my wardrobe must now fit in a 29″ London Fog suitcase. This is no time for sentimentality. But it is the time for the question: How to pack?

Closet How to Pack for Life Abroad: 244 Articles of Clothing Down to 65

Luckily, I have at my disposal the amazing Amy Trager, President of the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Amy’s sage advice: “Put away the easy yes’s, get rid of the easy no’s, and give yourself a fashion show of the rest.”

I attack the closet in waves:

  • First, clear out everything that I hate. The 80s-inspired trend tops, and yes even that unfortunate pair of harem pants.
  • The next wave is everything that no longer fits. Gone go the skinny jeans I hope to maybe one day squeeze into again. Gone are the oversize t-shirts, laundry shrunken sweaters, and too-short, mid-drift baring tops. (I’m down to 176 articles of clothing. I’m awash in a sense of accomplishment…)
  • The next wave, however, deflates all motivation. Now, toss out those articles of clothing I love (love!) but have not worn in the last year. These are tough cuts. The glamorous dresses that I don only for weddings. The tailored jackets that I paid too much money for. The creative designer pieces that are beautiful… but alas, unwearable.
  • The penultimate wave: Those articles of clothing that will not serve me while I’m abroad. To do this, I must first ask: What do I need? I have to bring clothes for work (business casual), life (functional base pieces) and going out (fun stuff). I know I’ll need at least one nice cocktail dress (for an evening at the Ambassador’s) and weather layers (Poland = cold).
  • The final wave to get axed is clothing I can purchase when I get there. Europe has stores. I can always buy what I don’t bring with me. I’ll be arriving in September, so summer clothes are not a priority (“Leggings are more important than shorts”). Of my 16 heavy winter sweaters, I choose only two (“Poland has sweaters”).

Even after all this, I’m only down to 120 articles of clothing! That suitcase is looking smaller and smaller…

Amy’s advice?

  • Put everything into piles that make sense for you. These could be tops, bottoms, dresses, etc. Or spring, summer, etc. Or casual, fancy, work, etc. Really, it’s whatever makes sense for you and how you dress. But a safe bet is by type of clothes: pants, skirts, shirts, shoes, etc.
  • Then go through one pile at a time, so you’re comparing apples with apples. Do one quick sift through and decide: “Yes, I want this for sure,” “No, I definitely don’t want this,” or “I’m not sure.”
  • Put away the keepers.
  • Bag up the sell/giveaways.
  • Go through each pile doing this.
  • You should be left with a pile of maybes. Try each piece on. Ask yourself the following: 1.) Is it comfortable?  2.) Do I want to wear it?  3.) Will I actually wear it?

After following Amy’s guidance, I at long last narrow my final pack list down to just 65 articles of clothing. Some will come with me. Some will be shipped, and the rest stored.

Travel Suitcase How to Pack for Life Abroad: 244 Articles of Clothing Down to 65

What do I do with the axed clothes? First I go to the local resale shop. Unfortunately, the twenty year-old sales girls don’t think an Amber Sakai design bought at an L.A. boutique is sell-able, because it’s not an Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters brand. I visit the local vintage shops, but the owners won’t buy off the street, preferring to go through trusted buyers. Thwarted I am, but I can at least zip my suitcase.

Farewell, old wardrobe! I take everything over to Amy’s latest clothes swap. Most will be donated to Goodwill. I hope whoever picks up my favorite Calvin Klein trench dress puts it to good use.

Now I just need to worry about the airport’s overweight baggage limit