Tales Of A Reluctant Unpacker

There are two kinds of travelers in the world – those who unpack promptly after a trip, and those who can’t bring themselves to do so.

I fall into the latter category. More times than not, I am unpacking my suitcase in order to pack for my next trip. Apparently, I’m not alone, because when I asked friends about this on Facebook, I got more unpacking procrastination stories than replies from the tidy.

It’s a conundrum, because whenever I’m on a trip, I unpack my suitcase as soon as I arrive, even if I’m only staying for two nights. Things that need to be hung up immediately are placed in the closet, or put on hangers in the bathroom if a light steam is required. I create an accessories drawer, a T-shirt drawer and one for sweaters. Then I put my empty suitcase in a corner, or in the closet.

My parents were strict unpackers. As soon as we got in the door after a vacation, my parents toted the American Touristers upstairs. “Give me your laundry,” my mother would say, and woosh! Down the chute it would go. Sometimes, she would start a load that very night, and I’d fall asleep to the sounds of the washing machine.

Perhaps that’s one reason why I am in no rush now to get at my suitcase, although I’m getting a little old for parental rebellion.

I’ve decided there are some practical and some psychological reasons why I leave my battered Tumi on the dining room floor as long as possible.

  1. As long as you haven’t unpacked, the trip is still underway. One of my friends cited this thought. I love the idea that an unpacked suitcase keeps you in Paris, or New Orleans or Borneo. The unopened suitcase is like the Pandora’s Box of memories. Keep it zipped, and they stay with you. Open the lid, and they’ll fly away.
  2. I don’t need what’s in there. Usually, when I travel, it’s for business or a specific type of place. As a writer who works from home, I’m not wearing power clothes every day. And, since I try to pack light, I usually have extra versions of my travel wardrobe waiting when I get home. Likewise, I use travel sizes of my shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc., so the full-size editions are on the bathroom shelf.
  3. It means work. Unpacking means doing laundry, or taking clothes to the dry cleaners, or at the very least, hanging things up. If I’m jetlagged, or just tired from a long road trip like the one I took down South this summer, I don’t have the energy to deal with it right away. Also, I’ve usually done laundry to get ready for my trip, and there’s not enough for a full load when I get home, so I like to wait until there is. (Hey, we’re talking excuses here; I’m not saying this is logical.)
  4. If I don’t unpack, I don’t make a mess. I admit it: in my younger days, I was a devotee of the floor-drobe, i.e. things left in piles on the floor. Now, I don’t have that much space, so it’s a dresser-drobe, and I have gotten much, much better at being organized. (I promise!) Given that, a packed suitcase is the ultimate in organization. Nothing is lying about.

Of course, there are instances where I do unpack immediately, at least partially. I generally pack my makeup bag and my eyeglasses last, and I usually need both of those within a day of arrival, so those come out right away.

I also try to reverse pack when I leave, and put dirty clothes and dry cleaning on top, as well as the plastic bag with my wet swimsuit, if I have one. That spurs me to at least deal with that layer. I put a dry cleaning bag or another divider between the mussed and clean clothes, so I’ll know when to pause my unpacking.

And, I unpack any presents or food that are in the bag, although I prefer that those go in my carry on. Lastly, if I know I have a short turnaround between trips, I’ll usually do a fast unpack and repack before too much time passes.

But when you visit my house, don’t be surprised if you see books, travel posters and a black rolling bag stashed in the corner. Consider it decor.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user NiH]