The plight of packing a suitcase: the desire for infinite options without paying the price of a heavy suitcase. I’ve always tried to pack with sufficient options in mind.
If I want to change my outfit three times a day just because I feel so inclined, I want the freedom to do so. This is why I used to be a chronic over-packer, and always ended filling up my largest suitcase (I’ll just check it, who cares?), even for shorter trips.
Not having to make a choice was the best choice, in my opinion.
Except this resulted in a daily dilemma of staring at piles and piles of options, and then having to make a choice. It led to decision fatigue, guilt, frustration, and a slew of negative emotions.
Thankfully, those days are over.
I’ve learned to spare my future self the pain of indecision by mastering the art of packing light and with intention. Nothing comes along that isn’t practical, loved, and versatile.
If it can’t be worn in a multitude of ways (unless it’s for a very specific purpose, like a bridesmaid’s dress), it’s not invited along for the journey.
I recently planned a short weekend trip away, and decided to push myself to the limit of extremes: how few items can I get away with? The answer was six pieces, and two pairs of shoes.
How many looks could I possibly style with these items? The answer was ten, maybe more, but this was more than enough to suit any whimsical desires to change my outfit for the sake of variety.
What I Packed
I fit everything into my favorite tote in the entire world, my ABLE Alem Utility Bag. This bag holds a surprising amount, but its limitations still help keep me in line.
Last spring, I was able to pack enough for a five-day trip to Paris into this bag, just to show you what it’s capable of.
– Button-down Shirt Dress (Sene)
– Menswear Blazer (took this out of my boyfriend’s closet, but it was originally H&M)
– White tank (Everlane)
– Black crop tee (Secondhand)
– Black leggings (Gap)
– Skinny jeans (Levi’s)
– 1 belt (vintage)
– Red accent boots (old, Restricted)
– Walking shoes (Allbirds)
You might look at this packing list and think, OMG HOW BORING, LOOK AT ALL THAT BLACK AND WHITE. Well folks, I’m pretty boring when it comes to color palette, and I prefer it that way.
This might not be “you”, and that’s okay.
Bring a pink blazer or a ruffled lace turtleneck if that’s your thing.
However, I do recommend bringing along a solid base of neutrals to help you build multiple looks with a few accent pieces thrown in. In my case, the only real accent piece was my pair of red boots, but that worked fine for me.
One of the most versatile items that I brought along is my Sene button-down shirt dress. It can be worn as a dress with bare legs or with leggings, it can be tucked into a pair of jeans, or tied up nicely at the waist.
I also like to pack a few items that can be easily dressed up for more formal events. If this trip included a business meeting, for example, I could wear my shirt dress, my jacket, a pair of leggings, and my heels and feel appropriately dressed.
And if your office isn’t a fan of leggings, a pair of black skinnies can be equally versatile and comfortable.
Toiletries, Makeup, and Accessories
Since one of the purposes of this post is to demonstrate optimal packing for a tote bag, I wanted to include my list of everything else I brought along.
My rules for toiletries, makeup, and accessories follow the same rules as my clothing: essentials only.
I try to get the most bang for my buck (or bag), so all toiletries and makeup must be worthy of the space they take up.
– Facial sunscreen
– Jojoba oil (which I use for moisturizer and makeup remover)
– Face brush
– Shampoo bar
– Contacts + solution
– Hair brush
– Tooth bits
– Tooth brush
– Homemade face powder (I made this out of arrowroot powder and a few other ingredients and use a small plastic container for travel)
– Elate Cosmetics Liquid Eyeliner
– W3LL People Mascara
– RMS Lip2Cheek
– Elate Cosmetics Concealer
– Makeup brush
– Eyelash curler
– Eyebrow pencil
– Lip liner
– Compact mirror
– 1 wrist watch
– 2 rings
– 2 earrings options – 1 pair studs, 1 pair dangle earrings
The Anatomy of a Good Travel Outfit
When you’re packing light, a lot of thought goes into the travel outfit.
I tend to wear my heaviest pieces to free up bag space, like bulky coats and sweaters, as these can be washed and re-worn upon arrival.
But I am also drawn to comfort, so my travel outfit includes leggings and a pair of Allbirds instead of the heeled boots (which, let’s be real, are no fun to walk long distances in).
I also decided I wanted to test out how I liked an oversized, menswear-inspired jacket in place of the fitted blazer that I usually wear. And when I say “menswear-inspired”, I mean that I literally pulled a suit coat from my boyfriend’s side of the closet.
I liked it far more than I expected (especially when I consider that he is about a foot and a half taller than me), and decided to bring it along for the trip to style with different looks. The size of this jacket made it a great contender for my travel outfit.
6 Pieces, 2 Shoes, 10 Styling Options
Overall, I think I did pretty well. Even though I didn’t feel the need to change my outfit 10 times over the course of three days, I did like having the option.
If I were to do this again, I’d bring along a hat, a jean vest, or another sweater option (the jacket wasn’t very cozy). This would help diversify the looks a little more.
I promise that even though this seems extreme, it IS possible. Whether your goal is six items or twenty, it’s a good exercise in practicing intention and self-discipline.
Trust yourself, be honest about what you’ll wear, and you’ll be fine.
AND you won’t have to lug around a heavy suitcase stuffed to the brim with indecision.
Any questions on my packing list? Would you ever consider fitting everything into a tote instead of a carryon? Let us know below.