Vacation Packing Tips for the Rusty

focus woman packing suitcase on bed

Last weekend I blew the dust off my suitcase for a two-night getaway in Washington DC to celebrate my daughter’s law school graduation.  It was our first trip anywhere since last fall and I admit it took me longer than usual to pack. I love traveling but I’m not so keen on packing.  Over the years I’ve developed several strategies to make this necessary chore less stressful.  Here are some of my favorite vacation packing hacks: 

  • Lay out clothing a couple of days in advance. I find the most time-consuming part of packing is deciding what to wear. I plan my outfits several days in advance, including all accessories.  This gives me time to do laundry and purchase something I may need.
  • Purchase a luggage rack  Sometimes it’s the simple things that make a chore like packing a little easier. The luggage rack saves my back and preserves my bedspread from any schmutz from my suitcase. Get yours here!
  • Create a personalized digital packing list. My digital packing list has saved me hours of packing time and ensures I never forget anything. It doesn’t have to be digital but if you create one in an app such as Notes or Evernote it’s preserved in the cloud and readily accessible. Mine has a check box next to each item. I digitally check the item once packed, then uncheck each item for my next trip.  Create several packing lists if you are packing for other family members and for different kinds of trips.
  • Purchase toiletry bags to suit your needs.  Many of us settle for toiletry bags that come with a cosmetic purchase.  Several years ago, I decided to revamp my travel toiletry bags and never looked back. I purchased several clear vinyl cases like these. I divided my toiletries into categories such as hair, skincare, makeup, and dental.  Each category has its own small case. The clear vinyl makes the contents visible without emptying the entire bag. Dividing the items into categories also makes packing easier as I can stuff the small cases into empty areas around my suitcase.
  • Create a travel container for all travel supplies.  Depending on how much you travel, purchase one or two clear containers (such as these clear shoe boxes) to store all your travel supplies. This is where you keep travel-sized items such as toothpaste and small bottles of shampoo. These containers do not travel with you. They are your permanent at-home repository for all things travel-related. I also keep foreign currency and travel adapters in our container. There’s nothing worse than frantically searching for some travel-specific item that you haven’t seen since your last trip. Corralling all your travel items into one or two containers eliminates huge amounts of travel-packing stress.
  • Pack clothes on hangers. This trick is a huge time-saver when arriving at your destination and makes it possible to unpack a suitcase in minutes with less wrinkled clothes. It also eliminates the need to ‘live out of your suitcase’ even for a couple of nights.

Wherever your plans take you this summer, have a wonderful trip and happy packing!

Janet Bernstein

Seven Must-Do Steps for an Organized Move

The Organizing Professionals

Moving is life’s third most stressful event.  Whether you are moving across the country or across the street, moving consists of making thousands of decisions, typically within a short amount of time.  Throw in various personalities of your family members along with the physical exhaustion of packing and unpacking and it’s easy to understand why moving produces so much stress and anxiety.  Follow these seven steps to alleviate some of the stress:

  1. Create a Moving Timeline. Whether you have three months or three years a moving timeline keeps you on track, accountable, motivated! First make a list of all the items that need to be accomplished, then schedule a “To be completed by” date for each item on the timeline. 
  2. Begin a ruthless declutter. Begin in the least trafficked rooms and work your way around the room. Only keep the items you love, need, and use. Keep a donation bag on each floor of your home and arrange for frequent donation pickups. (If you live in Center City, make arrangements for frequent donation drop-offs).
  3. Start packing little-used items. If your realtor requires your home to look more minimal, or if you want to get a head start on packing, start packing items you may be able to live without for several months. Label all boxes on two sides plus the top so it’s easier to identify the contents.
  4. Contact Your Moving Company. As soon as you know your moving date, contact your selected moving company and ask for a morning start. (Some movers books two moves a day. You want your moving guys to be at their peak energy level).
  5. Go to USPS.com/move to change your address online.
  6. Pace Yourself. If you are packing yourself, begin at least 4-6 weeks prior to your move. Begin with all wall art and other items you can live without, then progress to more used rooms and items. Pack up the kitchen last and unpack the kitchen first.
  7. Don’t have the time, patience, or energy for a DIY move? Contact us and experience the best move of your life!

Finding it challenging to let things go?  Read our previous articles, “To Keep or Not to Keep? That is the Question and How Much is Enough?
Click the links below for our recommended must-have packing supplies:

  • Moving Boxes: Uhaul get 5 stars from us for quality of their small and medium boxes.  They also have holes in the side to facilitate easier grip and carry.
  • Packing Paper: Uhaul also make good quality packing paper.
  • Packing Tape: No other packing tape comes even close to Scotch Heavy Duty Shipping Packaging tape (and we have tried everything!)
  • Bubble Wrap: The Home Depot make our favorite bubble wrap. It’s 24” wide with large bubbles and 100% recyclable.

Check Out Janet Bernstein’s Tips in Martha Stewart’s “How to Pack Jewelry for a Move”

The Organizing Professionals

If this isn’t an option, Janet Bernstein, owner of Philadelphia-based The Organizing Professionals, recommends mislabeling the box, as well as any other boxes containing valuables. “I had one client who labeled the valuable boxes as ‘kitty litter,'” she shares. “They arrived just fine.”

Are Your Photos Still in Nasty Shoeboxes?

The Organizing Professionals

“You know, once we finish decluttering these rooms, we really should begin to tackle the photos,” suggested my dear client. “Absolutely, let’s take a look at the scope of the project,” I responded eagerly. My client, Wendy (not her real name) led me down to the basement, opened a door to a separate, small room stuffed with tubs, boxes, and crates; each filled with photographs and memorabilia. One hundred years’ worth in fact.

As a professional organizer, my poker face rivals any Texas Hold’em champion.  So, while gasping internally I simply smiled, looked Wendy squarely in the eyes and stated, “This looks like a fun project. I can’t wait to get started next week!”

And so, we began. Every Wednesday afternoon for three hours, like a pair of archeologists, we unearthed decades of memories inherited from various family members.  And as very few photos were dated, we also took on the persona of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as we sleuth-like deciphered the provenance of each photo. “Look, Mary is missing her front teeth. She must be six. That would be 1984.” “Your mom isn’t wearing her wedding ring, that must be before 1938.” Each time we figured out the year felt like a huge victory and propelled us with confidence for the next date challenge. After several sessions of exhausting mental math, we wised up and taped up a cheat sheet timeline of family milestones.

Now, how to organize it all? We could have organized the photos by family member but to simplify the process, we decided to create a temporary chronological filing system. We created a single file for the early decades beginning with 1920 as there were fewer photos.  By 1970 each year had its own file. This sped up the process of sorting the photos.

I love the variety of my job. No two days are ever the same, but I especially looked forward to these weekly sessions as we dived deeper into Wendy’s fascinating and oft painful family history. We sorted through countless photos of family members who perished in concentration camps. I found original Nazi propaganda leaflets written in broken English and dropped over the allied trenches urging the troops to desert. We discovered photos of Wendy’s father with Ingrid Bergman who visited the troops in Germany during WWII.  In later years, we dug up photos of Wendy’s father being honored at the White House and various International museums. I learned that after arriving in 1945 as penniless young immigrant from Europe, he spectacularly made his fortune as an art dealer.

As we pored through thousands of photos, Wendy made the decisions on what to preserve and what to discard and we established several sensible rules:

  1. No photos kept of buildings, tourist sites or scenery without family members present
  2. No blurry photos kept of anything!
  3. No doubles of photos
  4. No multiples of similar photos
  5. No keeping photos of people we don’t recognize
  6. No unflattering photos of anyone

Wendy was more ruthless about discarding old photos than myself. “Who’s going to want this?” She’d ask me. I made a case for future family members who, although not wanting to be inundated with thousands of scanned photos and memorabilia, would probably cherish a sufficient amount to be acquainted with their roots.

“You only have to do this project once,” I’d remind Wendy on days when it seemed the boxes stretched endlessly into the blackhole of a storage room. My other pep talk focused on the amazing gift she was giving her family. The investment of her time and resources would be appreciated for generations to come.

Earlier this month, we finally sorted through the last tub, gave ourselves a huge pat on the back, then handed over one hundred years of photos and memorabilia to be scanned by our professional photo organizer. Once the files are returned to Wendy, she can digitally access them, add her own notations to the photos and preserve her family history with as much detail as she sees fit.

Could Wendy have tackled this project on her own? Yes. Would she? Doubtful. It was a mammoth undertaking. I acted as coach, cheer leader and sincere enthusiastic spectator. Here’s Wendy’s comment on our photo organizing journey,

I have often asked myself why I needed Janet for tackling this project. I finally realized that I wanted to tell the stories behind each photo or article of memorabilia before relegating it the cyber-sphere. Janet was always patient hearing the stories and I’m grateful for her enthusiasm.

If you, too have a shoebox or ten of old photos that are deteriorating, the chances are you are procrastinating because you need your own coach.  With the increased time we are currently spending at home, there has never been a better time to get your photos in order. Your future self and family will thank you.