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Saturday, January 28, 2023
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This time of year, many people are planning to take vacations to warmer climates or to lovely, snowy ski areas—or both. In response to several requests from clients, friends and readers, I present this column of packing tips and a story. There always has to be a story. I want to share this information because I learned the hard way, and I do not want any of you to make similar mistakes.

In the early 1990s, my husband and I made a temporary career move to London, England. We had the opportunity to go to Italy on holiday the week prior to beginning work. In those days (pre-9/11), packing rules were extremely different. By today’s standards they were liberal.

We packed one medium/large-sized suitcase just for the Italy trip. We thought we were clever because we shared a suitcase. Ha! The case was crammed with clothes, food, a couple of small pots and our single propane burner plus an extra propane canister. We knew kosher food was difficult to find, and we expected to prepare many meals. It was January, and I wore a long, heavy coat on the plane and had to either wear it or carry it everywhere. If I had wanted to swap it out for something else, it wouldn’t have fit in my suitcase.

At first, on the days we checked out of a hotel, we dragged our suitcase with us, but we learned that we could check the suitcase in a locker at the railroad station and pick it up before we boarded the train to our next destination. Although we had an amazing time and made many great memories, traveling was hard for me because I planned poorly and packed too many clothes. I brought too many shoes, which added to the weight of the suitcase, and as mentioned, I brought the wrong outerwear for this vacation.

During our year and a quarter living abroad, we were fortunate to do a great deal of traveling, both within Great Britain and on “the continent.” Before we moved back home, we purchased two Europass rail tickets and planned a grand three-week holiday. The passes allowed us to travel on most any train at any time to anywhere that the European train system could take us. My husband and I brought a minimum of clothes and packed them in one duffel bag. Most of our destinations were going to be chilly, so I packed layers that all coordinated. This included one mid-weight jacket and one heavy cardigan.

On one particular day we were at the top of a snowy mountain in Switzerland. I recall wearing my jacket over my cardigan over two other layers, which kept me warm. That was a packing success story. It took time, thought and copious lists to craft the right mix of clothes for that trip. Fun fact: I did not need to buy anything new. Not that there’s anything wrong with buying new clothes for a vacation.

I learned that this mode of packing is a thing. It is known as a “travel capsule wardrobe,” a modest-sized wardrobe of basics, meant to mix and match, which helps us streamline what goes into our suitcase and allows us to travel with merely a carry-on suitcase or backpack. Any of us can build one. A capsule wardrobe makes figuring out what we want to wear much easier by allowing us to recombine pieces into several different outfits. While clothes in a travel capsule wardrobe work best when they are simple and functional, this does not mean they should be dull or without flair. After all, you want to feel comfortable and well-dressed, and you also want to look good in the vacation photos.

Besides creating a capsule wardrobe for vacations, some people choose to pare down the content of their closets into a wardrobe capsule. Wendy Mak, an author, stylist and wardrobe capsule consultant, enumerates the 30 necessary items, including shoes and handbags, to build a capsule. The first step, she says, is to choose a color palette because “color … helps to tie a wardrobe together.” Mak encourages people to pick neutral colors such as black, white, gray or cream for the three primary colors, or base colors, that serve as the foundation of any capsule wardrobe. These colors never go out of style, so when you are contemplating investing in a high-end item of clothing, Mak recommends selecting only from your primary or base colors. The two secondary colors should be colors you will love “without regret” season after season. Lastly, Mak suggests you pick a trendy color that coordinates with your primary and secondary colors for small, inexpensive accessories.

The seasonal capsule wardrobe Mak designed, “the terrific 30,” remains true to the selected color palette and consists of:

  • 3 long-sleeve tops in base colors
  • 3 dresses in solid or print in a mix of base and secondary colors
  • 7 bottoms
  • 6 tops
  • 5 jackets and coats
  • 3 handbags/totes
  • 6 pairs of shoes
  • A travel capsule wardrobe consists of:
  • 2-3 pairs of pants/skirts
  • 4-5 tops and layering pieces
  • 1-2 coats/jackets
  • 1-2 dresses
  • 3 pairs of shoes
  • 2 accessories

Keep in mind that complete outfits are only good for one wearing. Instead, pack individual items that work in combination with one another. Leave home bright-colored clothing and bold patterns, which are not versatile.

Although it may be wise to begin packing two weeks in advance to lessen the stress and fear of forgetting important items, few people do. Here is a short list of the most commonly forgotten items: chargers of all types, headphones/earbuds, prescription meds, glasses and contact lenses, laundry bags, blankies, travel candlesticks, sunglasses and sheitels.

Finally, here are key tips that have been helpful to me:

1. Dress in layers for the trip.

2. Opt for clothing that tends to be wrinkle-free so when you roll them, instead of folding, they will come out the other side looking fresh.

3. Lighter layers are easier to pack than heavy ones

4. Remove items that seem to be duplicates

5. Learn the 3-1-1 liquids rule of air travel: It is allowed to bring quart-sized bags of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through the checkpoint. These are limited to 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item.

6. Reduce the toiletries, make-up and jewelry you bring. For instance, wear the same pair of earrings for the whole trip. Pack travel-sized toiletries or half fill small containers.

If you are traveling this winter, I hope these tips will help you to have a stress-free experience. Have a wonderful time! Call me when you get home. You will want to declutter.

Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s Kosher Organizer and tzniut wardrobe stylist. For over 14 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “Clutter Clogs, but Harmony Heals.” See Ellen’s work on Instagram @ideclutterbyEllen. Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at [email protected]

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