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How To Pack So You Never Forget Anything


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It still happens to the best of us, but it’s all about turning packing into an almost-foolproof process so absolutely nothing gets forgotten.

Some people like to pack early or the night before as a key step. While it certainly helps, realistically, it’s nearly impossible to pack everything in advance. For better or for worse, there are always a few things you won’t be able to pack until the actual moment of departure. These items, like toothbrushes, razors and chargers, unsurprisingly, get left behind the most.

While there a few ingenious tips and tricks out there, turning the packing process into a habitual routine is still the best way to remember things. By making it systematic, it reduces the chance of misplacing objects. The same logic also applies to storing belongings: I always keep important items, like passports, in preordained spots instead of putting them somewhere new each time. Deviating from routine is the fastest way to get things lost.

Since I’m absent-minded as they come, I’ve figured out a step-by-step strategy that helps guard me against complacency. While a lot of people may think it’s over the top, I still prefer it to the inconvenience of running to a convenience store just to buy a toothbrush. The main sticking point you need to remember, though, is that no matter how you choose to pack, you still need to pack the same exact way every time until its ingrained.

I generally tend to be more on guard about losing things if I’m heading back from a trip because the chances of recovering a forgotten item is usually a lot slimmer versus than if I left something at home. If you don’t have any immediate plans to come back, you can pretty much kiss that item gone forever.

In a nutshell, the packing process can be broken down into six steps:

  1. Pack in Advance
  2. Empty All Cabinets
  3. Look Under the Bed
  4. Write a List
  5. Go Through the List
  6. Final Spot Check

Now, I’m going to explain each step more in-depth.

Pack in Advance

Preparation is key. While you necessarily don’t have to start the night before, I still like to start the packing process at least a few hours in advance. By putting away things you don’t immediately need, you can focus later on things you’re more likely to forget. I don’t necessarily care for packing lists, but if you’re going to start with one, use it as a guideline rather than as the final word.

At this stage, you should be focusing on clothes and shoes you don’t plan on wearing, souvenirs and other non-essentials that you don’t plan on using in the very-near future. Toiletries, for instance, will often be one of those items that generally won’t quite make it into your bag just quite yet.

Empty All Cabinets

Now you have to make sure you’ve left nothing behind in the nooks and crannies of the room. The key to this step is to empty each cabinet and then leave it open. Do this until you’ve scoured everything, and everything is completely free of personal belongings. Once everything has been emptied, you can now close all the cabinets. There, however, is a reason for this madness.

Leaving the cabinets and/or safes open serves as a visual reminder that each cabinet has been checked. You don’t necessarily need to pack everything you find, but objects in cabinets often get left behind because they are out of sight. I make it also a personal point to clear out everything in the bathroom. If there are any items that you still need before you actually depart, put all those things in one place where you can see it (see below).

Look Under the Bed

Things drop. Sometimes without you ever realizing it happened. I’ve found socks and other random assorted knickknacks that just fall underneath the bed. You’ll not only want to do a brief sweep under the bed, but you might want to look under anything else in the room too. Don’t worry, no boogeyman lives underneath there.

Write a List

Find a surface spot in plain sight where you can put the remaining belongings that you can’t pack for whatever reason. These items should include things like your toothbrush, deodorant, your phone and personal jewelry you plan on wearing. It’s important to find a spot where it’s impossible to miss.

The next step is to make a physical list of everything that you’ll need to finish putting away before you actually depart. Include your personal items—or risk leaving your toothbrush on the sink—such as device chargers, the pajamas on your back, the slippers you’re wearing and the items you’ve just put all in one corner. Also, plan on listing the actual pen you’re currently holding if you brought your own pen. This list needs to be thorough as possible about the items that aren’t still packed.

If you can’t detach from the computer and can’t make a physical list, you can also e-mail it to yourself with an urgent subject line, maybe in caps, like “BEFORE YOU LEAVE.”

Go Through the List / Final Spot Check

When you wake up in the morning, feel free to go through and cross off each item on the list before you head out. If you’re feeling particularly anal, do a spot check under the bed and under others surfaces for a final look.

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