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Goldberg’s guide to good packing (a summer spur)

I don’t know. It seems I’m always packing or unpacking, either my suitcase or one of my kid’s. We’ve got a big family and no one lives in Denver anymore besides my wife and myself — we see a lot of suitcases and duffel bags. This has generated “Goldberg’s Guide to Good Packing.” Herewith:

There are two basic purposes for packing a suitcase or duffel bag; for convenience or for space maximization.

To maximize space — to fit in as much as possible — is to cut down on convenience, on ready access to your possessions. To pack for ready access is to take up more space than is strictly necessary.

By deciding in advance whether you wish to pack for bulk or to streamline for convenience, you will have a happier trip.

The rule of thumb is that to pack for convenience, you reverse the rules for packing for space. The bywords in packing for space are unfold, dismantle, group items by shape. The by-words for convenience are  fold, keep items whole and group them by need. First, the rules for packing for space.


Initially, put aside all the small items, such as handkerchiefs, stockings, pantihose, trinkets, pencils and small gifts. No matter how efficiently you pack, there will be nooks and crannies for these items at the end. By packing them initially, you eat up space unnecessarily.

The main trick in packing for space is to unfold all clothing completely and to dismantle other objects into as many parts as possible. Take items such as towels, undershirts, slips, pants and dresses, which normally are folded, and stretch them across the entire length and breadth of the suitcase, starting right at the bottom.

You will be surprised how many items you can fit into a suitcase this way. I have put over 100 major items into a large suitcase, stretching each item so that it lays as perfectly flat as possible, and then piling another item of roughly the same size and shape on top of it.

What about nonflat objects, such as men’s suit and sport coats?

Coats should be folded once, inside out, to form a rough triangle. Then put two at the bottom of a suitcase, placing the one coat’s tapered neck alongside the other’s flared bottom, to cover most of the surface area and to create a roughly even surface.

Then lay across these coats flatter items whose appearance is not crucial — towels, underwear — and all this will take most of the bumps out of the protruding sections of the coats. Only then add delicate items such as sweaters, women’s skirts and slips, and men’s slacks.

A variation: sneak one or two medium delicate items, such as men’s slacks (not women’s slips) at the very bottom, then follow with the men’s coats and higher layers.

In small suitcases, lay one sportcoat at the bottom. If you need to pack more than one, work up to a flattened layer of clothing by beginning with a sport coat, then relatively non-delicate items (towels, underwear), then delicate items, then again relatively non-delicate items and, finally, on top an additional coat.

This kind of layering will best protect delicate and non-delicate items. It avoids bumpy clothing and other objects from protruding into and wrinkling other items.

I have taken clothing straight from the dry cleaners to pack a suitcase — with all clothing unfolded and tightly layered — and found the freshly clean clothes at my destination as smooth as when I packed them.

But I jump ahead. Our imaginary suitcase is not yet fully packed. By piling clothing and other flat objects straight from the bottom to the top of the suitcase, there are numerous spaces left on all four sides, owing to the irregularity of clothing shapes.

These spaces are now to be exploited by bulkier, oddly shaped items, such as dismantled toys, shoes, books, dop kits, make-up bags and large gifts (but not yet by the small items set aside initially).

Once the bulk of the case if full — the middle occupied by flat-laid clothing, the sides and edges by bulkier objects — tie down the suitcase with the handy straps provided in all good suitcases.

Do not pack the case so extensively that you cannot tie those straps. They are vital to space saving. No matter how tightly you layer your case, if it is not so full that the straps still fit around and tie, then by tying them you gain an extra 10 to 15% in space.  Once the straps are firmly tied, the clothing inevitably pulls together, since the straps close airspaces remaining between the clothing.

You may then add still another layer of slacks, dresses, cover-alls, pillow cases and other flat items across the top, and even some oddly shaped items along the sides.

Now is the time to insert the very small items you set aside to begin with.

There will be nooks and crannies to accommodate them.

All the same rules apply for a duffel bag.

Layer the clothing lengthwise, occupying as much of the length and breath of the bag as possible, although you will probably have to fold most items once.

Fill up the bag this way and you will still have nooks and crannies for small items set aside at the beginning.

Remember, it is just as unwise to underpack as it is to overpack.

If you overpack your suitcase or duffel bag, it can split, opening your clothing and possessions to the likes of airline hands and taxi-trunk dirt.

But if you underpack, then any fragile items have a greater chance of bouncing around and breaking, and your clothing will also become folded and wrinkled.

If you have time, pack your suitcase a few days in advance and then stand it up. Over time, everything inside will sink slightly, opening an additional thin layer of space along the top of the suitcase. By filling this space, you not only pack more but insure that the rest of the items will not move about in transit, and thus insure great neatness preservation.

By remembering these bywords — unfold, layer, strap, save small items until the end — you can increase your suitcase capacity up to 50%.


To pack for convenience, reverse the bywords. Do not unfold clothing, but roll it up. Do not lay in clothing according to shape, but according to type: underwear rolled together, skirts, pants and tops laid on top of each other, socks grouped by themselves. Do not save small items until last, but pack each type together so that you can put your hands on them at once.

This is the purpose of packing for convenience — to be able to open your suitcase, know exactly where everything is and be able to fetch it handily.

In packing for convenience, your suitcase will be subdivided into separate sections, each occupied by a different type of item. You will have many oddly shaped spaces available for non-clothing items such as art supplies and paperbacks.

Remember, in packing for convenience no less than in packing for space, it is necessary to fill your suitcase. Otherwise, items will move about and wrinkle or break.

In packing for convenience, it is more difficult to arrange all items firmly, to prevent them from moving in transit. It may sometimes be necessary, even when packing for convenience, to lay a number of items across half the suitcase. This will build a solid block of clothing around which other items can be firmly and conveniently grouped.

In considering whether to pack for convenience or for space, keep in  mind that a suitcase packed for space will weigh  more than if it were packed for convenience.

If you travel alone and pack for space, you can probably get by with a smaller suitcase than you would otherwise use, saving yourself money, not to mention energy and hassle at airports, in taxis and hotels.

Packing is almost a science. Once you approach the task by identifying the goal of your trip — to transport a maximum of items, or to travel with a maximum of convenience — you will discover your own tricks for saving space or increasing comfort.

You will probably realize neither goal if you pack at the last minute. By planning ahead, you will have a more productive trip because at your arrival point you will know how and why your luggage is arranged as it is.

One last tip: I have transported sets of china and similarly delicate objects internationally without breaking a thing, due to the very best insulating material: Pampers (paper diapers).

Whether packing for convenience or for space, use paper diapers to wrap all fragile or delicate objects.

With a whole set of fragile objects, lay down an entire layer of paper diapers across the bottom and sides of the suitcase, and then insulate each item individually. You will be happy you did.

And if you are a parent traveling with infants or toddlers, or a grandparent or favorite uncle visiting new parents, you will have a built-in and well appreciated gift when you arrive.

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IJN Executive Editor | [email protected]

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