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The Surprisingly Cathartic Process Of Packing Up Your Life

How do you pack up your life to start over?

Okay, “to start over” sounds dramatic—like I endured a devastating breakup, lost a loved one, or got laid off. But that’s the narrative that typically surrounds these things. And that’s the question I asked myself while staring into two very large, very empty suitcases a week before moving to live abroad.

For me, the reason was a mix of career and burnout combined with a little—nay, a lot of—restlessness. I wanted a new experience in a new place, even if temporarily, and I needed clothes (and courage, and money) to get there. But first, I needed to pack.

Before I folded or made any sort of edit of my 20-plus years of accumulated stuff, I turned to Google for help, hoping some wayward millennial had blogged about the same conundrum I found myself in. I read every “how to” article I could find on the topic. Here’s the gist of what the Internet tells you to keep in mind: the location and weather during the time you’ll be there (London, and who knows); how long you’d be staying (at least six months); he weight limitations of the airline you’re flying (not heavy enough). These were all great suggestions, but not super helpful in figuring out what I would need—and want—when I took a one-way flight to brand-new country.

Normally, I’m that friend who brings 10 different outfits for a five-day trip, because you never know what might happen. But this was different. For some reason, getting ready for a six-month journey versus a week-long vacation, something I’d never experienced before, brought out a different side of me. I like to joke to people that I blacked out while packing—because, when it came down to it, I ended up with a somewhat impractical, Kondo-esque approach: I packed what brought me joy. Which, it turns out, isn’t all that much.

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Both of my suitcases were overweight—not because of clothes (they only take up a third of the armoire acting as my closet in London), but because of my excessive number of beauty products (a story for another day). This isn’t typical behavior for me. This kind of pared-down wardrobe would make me anxious. But by committing to a few beloved pieces, I gained a clearer picture of what I actually want to wear.

I realized that a T-shirt I can wear multiple ways is much more useful to me than a trendy party dress I’ll wear a handful of times. That’s not to say trendy dresses aren’t necessary—I packed the trendy dress for London, just in case. But when you’re forced to edit down, you realize that the “some day” outfits aren’t as important.

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