Professional organizers Joanna Teplin and Clea Shearer shared their own packing systems with AFAR, plus the importance of never leaving home without a pouch full of snacks.
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Hate packing? You’re not alone. Even Joanna Teplin and Clea Shearer, the cofounders of the Home Edit organizational empire, consider themselves “a disaster” at travel. And it’s not just because they’re out of practice after the pandemic abruptly stopped their travels around the country organizing the homes of celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and everyday people for their business (and its companion Netflix show).
“I really don’t like packing,” Teplin said. “Part of it is because I like to set up systems that are sustainable, so it bothers me that it’s so temporary. Organizing a house and setting up a system that is going to be permanent seems so worth it to me.”
Above organization, the pair’s main goal when they travel is to be comfortable. This commitment to coziness led to their first collaboration with Calpak, the California-based luggage brand. Launching Tuesday, March 9, exclusively on calpaktravel.com, the six-piece collection of in-flight essentials includes a travel pillow, shawl blanket, zippered pouch set, face masks, and a jogger set. Starting at $35, each item in the coordinating navy blue collection is embroidered with a small rainbow as a nod to their signature color-coordinated organization systems.
“Huge” fans of the California-based luggage company—they both own the confetti-printed, rainbow-ombre suitcases from the Oh Joy! X Calpak collection—Shearer and Teplin call the collaboration a “dream match.” To celebrate the launch, AFAR logged on to Zoom with the professional organizers to find out their tips for setting up a packing system that works best for you, plus what they never leave home without (hint: it’s a purse full of snacks).
Packing cubes are crucial
The entire Home Edit system is built around staying organized by categorizing and compartmentalizing your belongings. So it’s no surprise that Shearer and Teplin are packing cube devotees. In fact, they like Calpak’s packing cubes so much, they couldn’t find any way to improve on them. That’s why the Home Edit x Calpak collection only includes a set of zippered pouches, which they find useful for keeping their snacks (and tech essentials and makeup) organized and easily accessible in their purses when they fly.
Group things by category or by outfits. Do whatever works for you.
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Both Shearer and Teplin “love and use packing squares” and fold their clothes using the same Marie Kondo-style “file-folding” method. But beyond that, their packing systems are “opposite.”
Shearer’s system involves sorting her belongings into cubes divided by categories, including daytime clothes, pajamas, and underwear and socks. Teplin, on the other hand, gives each outfit its own packing cubes—sometimes using three or more cubes per day—and sorts types of outfits into different colors of packing cubes, such as marble-patterned ones for pajamas and black ones for workout clothes.
“Joanna and I do it differently, but if it works for her she should do it that way, what works for me, I should do it that way,” Shearer said. “Whatever system works for you is the system that is the correct one.”
To pack or unpack? That is the question.
Again, there’s no one way here. Shearer always unpacks. “I need everything out of my suitcase, all the packing squares in the drawers,” Shearer said. “An empty suitcase needs to be tucked in the corner.”
As for Teplin? “She does not like to unpack,” Shearer said, blasting her friend and business partner for leaving her suitcase open and her “roughly 1,982 packing squares” all over the place. The one thing they do agree on? Your suitcase never goes on the bed.
Even if you don’t overpack your suitcase, always overpack purse snacks
Shearer packs her (checked) suitcase precisely for each day of her travels. “I am a very efficient packer. I don’t overpack by a single outfit,” she said. (“Not by a single pair of underwear,” Teplin corrected.) But when it comes to her personal item she brings on the airplane? Shearer prepares as if she’s going to be gone “for a year.”
While they consider phone chargers, headphones, and water as must-have items when they fly, “we care about purse snacks, first and foremost,” Shearer said. “At all times, I need three large bags of snacks: I need my salty snacks, I need my sweet snacks, I need my purse tortillas that I bring with me everywhere in case I need to turn a sandwich into a wrap.”
Never use one big bag for toiletries
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Instead of packing one large dopp kit, the organizing experts recommend separating your hair products, skincare products, and cosmetics into different bags so you don’t have to dig through your makeup just to find your floss at night. Don’t want to bring multiple bags? They also recommend using a kit that comes with separate compartments so you can use one side for hair products and the other side for skin and dental items.
If you have limited storage space at home, nest your suitcases inside each other
If you don’t have the storage space at home for luggage, it’s tough to keep it organized because of how bulky it is. If you don’t have a garage or a home with spare closet space that you can dedicate to your luggage collection, Shearer recommends nesting your suitcases inside of each other.
Most luggage brands that sell various sizes of suitcase often design their bags so that the smaller one can fit inside their large ones when they’re not in use. If you have an assortment of different brands, you can also use your out-of-use luggage as containers to store seasonal items instead of purchasing separate bins.
Comfort is key. Also pockets.
When it comes to their travel uniforms, the comfier the better. They layer their go-to cotton jogger sets with a denim or cargo jacket with pockets to keep their phones handy.
When deciding what items to include in their Calpak collection, it was important to do something that allowed people to travel with comfort and that could also be used in day-to-day life now. “Even if your travel is just to the grocery store, you still need a mask, you need a comfy jogger set,” Shearer said.
If you need to buy an extra suitcase for your souvenirs, they won’t judge you
Even if you’ve dialed in your packing system perfectly, sometimes you come across souvenirs you can’t leave behind. While Shearer prefers hard-shell suitcases that come with expandable zippers for this reason, she’s not above buying a whole new bag on the road. When in doubt, just buy another bag and bring the souvenir home.
“One time we were in London, we bought a bunch of stuff so we had to go buy an additional suitcase. So we showed up to Heathrow with like eight suitcases and they asked where our family was,” Shearer laughed.
>> Next: How to Apply Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic to Packing
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