The Art of Packing Lightly…

You don’t have to carry all that baggage with you.

Ask any seasoned traveler for advice and it’s likely you’ll be told: “pack light!”

While I’ve never been particularly good at packing efficiently for trips, (though I’ve gotten better!) I realized the equivalent of packing light has been at the center of my life at home since the new year started.

For so many of us, the world seems a bit heavier than usual right now. Intentional breaks from the news and/or politics can help. Personally, the heaviness has prompted some reflection about where I spend my time and energy. I’ve begun a process of thoughtfully letting go of people, places, things, and any other clutter that no longer serves me.  In the midst of all this San Francisco rain, it has become a “spring cleaning” of life, if you will.

So often we don’t recognize the confines of our own schedules, commitments, and demands. We take on more than we can juggle and find ourselves out of balance and unintentionally ‘dropping the ball.’ (Ladies, this can be especially true when feeling the ‘you can have it all’ pressure.)

Yet things are different when we travel. Often it begins before the trip even does. When you only have so much room in a suitcase, you’re forced to say no; there’s a finite amount of space (especially if you fly budget airlines.) You have to examine the purpose, function, and worth of every thing you choose to bring.

What if we took this approach to our lives as a whole, where it’s so easy to pick up more and more without stopping to think about what may be weighing us down?

If you’ve found yourself feeling overwhelmed or buried or dredging through your days, look closely at what you’re carrying. What are you allowing to stay in your life just because it’s there?

Whether it’s toxic relationships, bad habits, a noisy social media feed, actual noise, or actual things…find a way to say ‘no’ more often across several parts of your life. We become attached to fixed things that don’t really matter because we often associate part of our identity and security with them (I’m looking at you, third glass of wine, or tweets that demand to be read at 4 am.) It is incredibly freeing to let those things go.

Quite honestly, the best way that I’ve found to clear out your life and your mind and let go is to travel. It’s why so many people travel after a breakup, or when they’re feeling a lack of direction. We also seem to let go of the world’s (or at least our immediate circle’s) expectations or judgments of us when we’re on the road.


Travel looks  to be externally stimulating, but I’d argue that it’s actually much more of a focus inward.

Here are some ideas to produce the same feeling at home. What from your life would you fit into your tiny suitcase?

Balance Rock, Canyonlands

Gather all your “stuff.” Clear out what doesn’t just belong in your life’s suitcase. Examine what feels really heavy.

By now we all now about the Japanese notion of decluttering – if it doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. I like the idea of using your intuition when deciding what to toss. I make two piles (ok, three if I need a ‘maybe’) and I impulsively select either ‘keep’ or ‘toss.’ You can always review the toss pile before you actually throw it out.

One way I’ve routinely gotten better at decluttering something simple like my closet is through an event a friend throws called a ‘Grab and Give.’ Essentially each guest brings in all the items they no longer want, and the rest of the attendees gets to select what suits them. Anything that isn’t claimed is donated to Goodwill. It’s a great way to buy less and to sort through items to donate.

Other things to look for: old papers, old foods, old boyfriends (just kidding.) I also love clearing out old contacts, photos, or files from my phone or computer. You’re literally freeing up space.


Getting quiet(er.)
Turn on ‘airplane’ mode.

Embrace a little more silence and contemplate noise levels of:

  • Your mind.
  • Your social media feeds.
  • Your overall media consumption.

Recommended remedies include: stream-of-consciousness journaling, meditation, your preferred form of exercise and/or a simple aimless walk outside.

As for social media, consider creating lists, filtering your feeds, unfollowing people who do not bring you joy, confining emails/social media/news to only certain periods of the day. Here’s a great short piece on How To Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed By Your Newsfeed. Also note if you find yourself feeling more comparison than inspiration.

These are small changes that actually make a huge difference in the ability to remain calm and sane.

arch at canyonlands national park

Sitting with the newfound space.

The other purpose of cleaning and clearing is to create space. What good does that do if you immediately find other people or things to do replace it? Like the person we all know who jumps from relationship to relationship (or the traveler jumping hastily from country to country,) there can be some fear or avoidance around just being. When we allow ourselves to sit for a bit, uncomfortable feelings we’ve been ignoring, a fear of loneliness or lack…these can all begin to creep in. Instead of ignoring them, why don’t we have a listen? (Travelers may recognize this opportunity in long flights or train rides, which are often pensive.) It’s when we clear space — and then have the patience to let it be for a moment — that we allow the right people or things to find room in our lives.


Stepping outside your door.

Similar to any trip, the packed bags or minimalist life are simply a means to an end. What matters is the steps you take once you’ve organized and decluttered. The purpose of packing light is to move more freely. It’s like when in transit you’re able to drop your bags off at a train station locker before heading out to explore a city. You suddenly feel light and free! What actions will you take now that you feel lighter and freer?

The purpose of packing light is to move more freely. It’s like when in transit you’re able to drop your bags off at a train station locker before heading out to explore a city. You suddenly feel light and free! What actions will you take now that you feel lighter and freer?

It is important to get quiet and declutter. It’s even more important to selectively choose what comes next. Once you’ve sat for a bit with the silence or space you’ve created, it’s up to you to mindfully fill some of it with experiences that cannot come from solitude or quiet. Travel forces us to do so; it can be more difficult to seek these fulfilling experiences with the same wonder at home. Still, it’s up to you to seek fresh patterns or behaviors once you’ve taken the time to reflect, or you’ll just end up back where you started.

canyonlands national park, utah.

Being open.

To continue with travel as an example, if you pack your bags and go, step outside your door, and then become too afraid or shy to interact with others around you…there is really no point. We must stay open by engaging with the world, by challenging our sense of security that, while comforting, can lead to staleness. After a rinsing away of the people or things we realize we do not need, or  that bring stress or baggage, it can be easy to close yourself off.  The important thing to remember is that you’ve also become clear on what really matters to you, and you should be able to more easily distinguish whether what you let into your life deserves to take its place.


The point of all of this is to create more space, time, silence. Most people are terrified of one or some combination of the three. As human beings, we tend to resist change and cling to security. We want to know what’s next before we let go of any grasp on what we have in our hands now. So often we are afraid of the in-between.

The space “in-between” is uncomfortable almost every time we allow for it, but I’ve learned…this is where the magic happens. This is where you find yourself. It’s where the good stuff finds you. Whether you’re traveling or not.

Are you willing to create the space to allow that to happen?

I don’t know about you, but I feel lighter already.

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  1. “You don’t have to carry all that baggage with you.” Very true advice of travelling. Perhaps even more important in our own lives. Experience is what makes us what we are but not all of it is beneficial. Figuring out what taints and hold back our own lives is of utmost priority. Imagine a world were everyone you met carried no baggage!

  2. I love when I am able to declutter. There is something refreshing about the act of decluttering. I do feel lighter when I do. I love your tips.

    • Anne Lowrey

      It’s a useful thing to do, and sometimes even just think about! I love the reminder from others so I’m glad you do too 🙂

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