A&E

The Art of Packing: A reflection on how packing is a extension of yourself.

      I rediscover the art of packing with every break that passes by. It’s an art I learned so long ago I can barely remember, an art that never dies and will never quite leave me. I packed with every house and every state I left behind as a child, with every adventure to Grandma’s house and every sleepover.

      My suitcase bulges in odd ways as I cram it full of all the things I think I need. I will move again in my life, and I will have to bubble-wrap all the crystallized memories and stack them alongside my books in cardboard boxes. Maybe I’ll move once, maybe twice, maybe dozens and dozens of times until my hair grows grey and my arms become paper-thin and I have to hire movers in garish trucks to shunt my boxes from place to place.

      My mother has mastered the art of packing. I think she must’ve discovered Mary Poppins’ secret, because I could never quite get everything to fit the way she could. I remember packing for summer camp; she would make me lay out each of my outfits to make sure I brought enough clothes and that I didn’t bring that one atrocious yellow shirt that didn’t match with anything.

      I’ve adopted her methods, and perhaps taken them to the extreme. I make color-coded lists a week in advance and pack days ahead of time. And yes, I do end up fishing things out of the bottom of my bag before I leave. That’s my art, and my mother’s, as delineated and detailed as a painting by Raphael.

      I have friends who pack the way Jackson Pollock paints: they throw everything at the suitcase and hope it works out in the end. And for most of them, it does, to my utter amazement. These were the friends at summer camp who never attempted to replicate the arrangement their clothing had arrived in.

      An hour before the bus had to leave, the counselor would herd them into the cabin and they would scramble around searching under beds and tossing aside towels. Wet swimsuits would be squashing into a mouldering pile in the corner of the suitcase with the muddy sneakers tossed on the top, and a half-open bag of chips would dust the clothes with crumbs. And yet, my friend who packed like this almost never forget a thing.

      Meanwhile, I would discover halfway home that my swimsuit was still drying in the shower.

      I love packing. It makes the upcoming adventure tangible; here are the flip-flops I’ll wear to stroll on the beach, and here is the t-shirt I’ll wear when we get ice cream. But it can be bittersweet packing, too; I helped my grandma pack her shelves of cookbooks into boxes to donate to the library when she moved.

      That’s hard, because we put pieces of ourselves into the things we own, and now we own so much. We have boxes of strange wires like snakes that presumably do something important, wardrobes of clothes, books and bags and blankets.

      We have to choose what comes with us, these little chunks of metal or wood or fabric that have come to mean things to us. There is an art to knowing what to put in the suitcase or the box. There is an art to choosing the pieces of yourself to take with you.

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