Systems: Universal Packing List

In a lot of ways, I’ve grown up to be just like my mother. One way is our common love of systems. We both believe, somewhere deep in our hearts, that there is a perfect list for everything life throws at you. The schedules I draw for my kids, the chore and shopping lists I make, even my glorious but not-yet-complete bid to have a 365-day meal plan, are all rooted in the lists I saw my mother making as a kid.

So of course, when I stumbled across a few years back, I was hooked. Calling itself “a non-commercial Web site that teaches — in exhaustive (exhausting?) detail — the art and science of travelling light,” it has a wealth of information on the best kind of bag to get, what to put in it, and how to make sure it’s the only bag you bring on your trip. And while I certainly can’t claim I managed (or even wanted!) to make eight weeks’ worth of Georgia travel necessities fit in one bag, I do adore the universal packing list philosophy espoused on the site.

Basically, the idea is that you have a packing list that you pull out every time you go on a trip, and on that list is every single thing you might need to take. You don’t take everything that’s on the list, but you don’t take anything that isn’t on the list. And it works! Aside from the odd very trip-specific item (like, say, skis if you’re going on a ski trip), everything you’re going to need is on this list. I packed for a family of four’s eight-week work trip, and the only thing that we need that didn’t come with us is a DVD whose case I packed without checking whether it was still in the DVD player.

The site encourages you to personalise your own version of the list, and tweak it over time. So I did. And I’m including it here in the hopes that some of you might find it useful. I’ve made two versions, a PDF checklist which, if you’re a real keener, can be printed double-sided, laminated, and used with a dry-erase marker. (I won’t judge if you’re a keener; I’m the girl who read the whole website to make this for you!) The second version is a Word document, which you could download if you’d like to edit and personalise your own version of the universal packing list. has an extensive justification, as well as suggested brands, for every item on their list, and it’s worth a read-through if you have a boatload of time on your hands (as I once did, before I had kids). If you’re a little more pressed for time, though, you can always just check in on items of interest. After all, you may never need the kind of travel that requires you to have a compass, or paracord, or hot glue, and the point here is to find a list that makes things simple for you.

Do you have any go-to travel gurus or tips? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. I’m always looking for new and better life hacks.


Houselove: Flylady

So if you’ve hung out with me and/or been to my house in the last few weeks, chances are you’ve heard me mention the Flylady. Since a few of you have mentioned you’d like me to share, here goes.

Maybe a month or two ago, a friend posted about the Flylady and I just sort of ignored because she was posting from the perspective of having really fallen behind in her home and being totally swamped. I thought, my house is usually pretty clean. I mean, I keep everything tidy; I usually manage to vacuum once a week; sometimes I even mop (sometimes). I didn’t think about it for a while, but then two weeks ago, out of idle curiosity, I clicked over.

First things first, do not let the website put you off. The UI was, I believe, put together by a gila monster and the graphic design team was a squad of spider monkeys, but despite the ugly graphics and confusing navigation, the methods in here are pure gold.

The basis for the system is increments. Increments and scheduling. The two bases for the system are increments, scheduling, and a knowledge that it doesn’t all have to get done at once. The three bases for the system… ahem. Anyways. Increments. Tasks are never done in big chunks, you don’t spend a whole day turning your house upside to declutter or exhaust yourself trying to deep clean a room all at once, but do everything in short, timed increments: ten minutes of decluttering here, fifteen minutes of detailed cleaning there, two minutes of tidying there.

Since the website has the information scattered all over the place, I spent a day or so conglomerating everything for myself and typed up my own schedule. Here are the pieces of the puzzle for your viewing pleasure:

  • Have a morning and evening routine that includes:
    • Morning: Getting dressed and making your bed
    • Morning: Quickly wiping down your bathroom
    • Morning: Emptying the dishwasher and moving the laundry forward a step
    • Evening: Shining your sink
    • Evening: Setting out your clothes and whatever is needed for tomorrow
    • Evening: Going to bed at a reasonable hour
  • Having a daytime routine that includes:
    • 15 minutes of exercise (I use the 7-Minute Workout App)
    • 15 minutes of decluttering or detail cleaning
    • Drinking water every day (I love that she includes self-care in the home-care routine)
  • Having a weekly routine (I do most of these on days other than what she suggests because it fits my life better) that includes:
  • Having a monthly routine that involves focusing on decluttering/detail cleaning a different area of your home each week:
    • Zone 1: Entrance, front porch, dining room (for me this is entrance, porches, hall office)
    • Zone 2: Kitchen
    • Zone 3: Main bathroom/extra bedroom/kids’ rooms/craft room (for me this is bathroom, hall, and boy’s room)
    • Zone 4: Master bed/bathroom & closet (for me this is master bedroom/closets and office)
    • Zone 5: Living room/den/TV room (for me this is living room & basement)
  • Following Flylady’s daily missions for the week’s Zone in addition to doing that 15 minutes of cleaning/decluttering there.
Finally, if you haven’t been all linked out, here’s a link to the pdf of my schedule based on this. If you need a reason to sift through this rather complicated system, here it is: two weeks, mother of two kids under three, part-time work from home, and I have time to clean out closets and work out and clean parts of my house that have never been cleaned before and get all my regular housework done. I’ve been doing this for two weeks and my house is gleaming like a silver spoon.