Packing Lists: 29 May 2015

Living halfway across the country from your family means frequent flights. Frequent flights means packing. Packing is terrible. Somewhere around my 137th flight home, I decided that I could probably make the whole process easier by retaining my packing lists and reusing them for future trips. As I revised these lists, categories were codified and naming conventions were established. No longer were these lists on the backs of receipts; they were now archived in Google Docs— a perfect packing list for any destination and any weather situation.

The Lists

Each list has three categories: clothes, toiletries, and other. Clothes are subdivided into shoes, tops, bottoms, outerwear, underwear, and accessories. Subdividing clothes and matching them allows for the curation of cohesive outfits without carrying excess items that end up unworn. Toiletries include everything from toothpaste to Advil. Other includes my Macbook, chargers, swim trunks, and miscellaneous items.

Naming Conventions

Lists are named using the format: Location/Season/Duration. While Location and Season affect the type of clothing, Duration only affects the number of outfits.

The Process

The list addresses two goals: What am I going to pack and Is it packed? For the second goal, we can break down this question even further. How do you mark something that has been packed? How do you handle items that will be worn on the day of travel and not actually packed? What about items not yet purchased?

To answer these questions, I devised a simple coding scheme:
–Packed items are marked with strikethrough
–Items to be worn on the plane are highlighted in light grey
–Items that still need to be purchased are highlighted in yellow

Thus, a list might look something like this when I am halfway through packing:

The process is convenient but by no means perfect. One overarching concern is to recycle and reuse these lists on-the-fly. Accuracy becomes a concern. What happens if you forget an item and have to buy it at your destination? What about an item you bring but never use? This requires revisions and updates, which is an inherent flaw. If I forget to update something, I will end up reusing a flawed list.

A Cataloging Problem

From a cataloging perspective, we quickly encounter several problems.

A most obvious inconsistency is in the Underwear category. If I write “underwear x 8” am I packing eight pairs or seven? Presumably, one will be worn on the plane. Second, what happens if I still need to do laundry and only have four clean pairs to pack? Do I note that I have packed four out of seven pairs and will be wearing one on the plane? If so, how?

Theoretically, this could be solved by breaking out the item into eight individual items, making the list look something like this:

While this is the more accurate approach, the list quickly becomes unruly as the trip duration increases since the number of items increase.

Another problem from a cataloging perspective is the category of clothing. Looking closely at the taxonomy, the major categories delineated are Clothes, Toiletries, and Other. However, the list actually has Underwear, Tops, Shoes, etc. These are actually subcategories that should probably be displayed like this:

Again, we encounter a question of accuracy versus convenience. Subcategorization is burdensome as it requires subcategories for the categories Toiletries and Other, as well. When the goal of speedy packing is in mind, I am not sure this accuracy matters.

Finally, there are inconsistencies in the way I describe individual items. Take a look at my outerwear clothing and shoes.

To be accurate, I should follow a convention for describing the color of an item: either “sweater – grey” or “black vans.” The reason for not doing this is completely subconscious, and I have simply not bothered to fix this. Should I include additional attribute fields to describe these items?

Usability and Structural Accuracy

My packing lists, like many cataloging endeavors, sit in a very murky zone between accuracy and usability/usefulness. The lists are not structurally accurate but immensely usable and convenient for me, and their idiosyncrasies reflect my habits and workflows. Interestingly, the high time demand to make these lists structurally accurate would actually defeat the usefulness of these lists. As my needs change, the content will change, but also the structure will change, as well, and there is no assured way to future-proof the system I have created.

If you are interested in playing around with my lists or the template that I use, you can access them here.