How to help your kids develop good packing skills

February 28, 2020

Packing is pretty much the only part of my life where I’ve embraced minimalism. The good packing skills I’m passing to the next generation may be the most valuable thing in my children’s meagre inheritance. And it’s a skill that's never too soon to learn:

Early elementary

At this stage, youngsters have passed the preschool phase and are ready for some (guided) independence. Read out a packing list, one line at a time. For instance, direct them to find six pairs of underwear and put them on the bed. Once they have completed that task, give them the next thing. Don’t load them up by giving too many instructions at once, which will most likely lead you to overlook something important. Once they have compiled everything on the list, go through it with them. This is the age where you can help them begin to understand exactly how much will fit into the suitcase: If it won’t zip, explain that there's some serious editing to do.


Give them a list and send them on their way. You can keep the list on your computer and customize it as necessary for every trip so you don’t have to start from scratch each time. Your list should be specific enough to help them pack a successful bag. You can also loosen the reins a bit to reflect what works best for your kid and give them more independence. For instance, instead of spelling out each item, you can list outfits. Make sure it all fits in the bag, with a little extra room for inevitable “travel growth” — that phenomena of having way more stuff to bring home than you brought.


Now is when your work starts to pay off. With older teens, you should be able to give them the length of the trip, and the weather forecast, and let them take it from there. Make sure you let them know about any special activities they need to dress for (like a formal supper or a hike in the desert). For younger teens that need a bit more supervision, ask that they create a packing list for you to review first. And let them live with the consequences if they don’t pack appropriately!

And remember: Even if it all goes sideways and your kid ends up wearing the same outfit for your whole vacation, it’s not the end of the world. Chances are high you will be able to find a cheap pair of shorts and t-shirt if you really need to. And recalling the week little Johnny lived in his swimsuit will be a funny memory to share...eventually.

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