Two Tips to Simplify UNpacking

posted by Andrea | 10/25/2016
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simplify unpacking

If you search the online world for “tips to simplify packing”, you are likely to find hundreds of posts, articles, videos, and tutorials to help you streamline, simplify, and organize everything from a huge cross-country family move to a couples-only weekend getaway.

However, when I searched for “tips to simplify UNpacking” I found almost nothing.

In my opinion, the process of unpacking and “getting back to normal” is just as important for me. I hate living out of a suitcase so I cannot wait to get all my things put back where they belong  — and I want to do it as quickly and as easily as possible because I’m usually tired from traveling when I get home.

Maybe I’m weird — but it just seems normal to want to get all my things put away ASAP.

Am I weird?

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Anyway, Dave had his teacher convention last week… and the kids and I tagged along. My mom was also at the teacher convention so we got adjoining rooms with my parents and my dad hung out with me and the kids for 2 days.

It wasn’t really relaxing or restful at all, but the kids had fun and it was a nice break from our normal routine. (Side note: Nora and Simon might be able to share a room at home but they can NOT share a bed!)

I was glad to be home again… and after getting home, Dave and I joked about the fact that within 1 hour of walking through the door, Simon and James were both napping, we had everything put away, AND I was moving the first load of laundry into the dryer.

Not too bad considering we took half our house along for a a 48-hour trip! 

As I was shoving the first load of laundry into the dryer and immediately starting the second load, I thought about how quick and easy it was for me to unpack… mainly because of 2 things I always do whenever we are away from home.

1. I always take laundry bags along.

I actually take 2 laundry bags and a mesh garment bag along on all our vacations.

One laundry bag is for all our dirty clothing, the other laundry bag is for anything wet (usually swimsuits and towels), and the mesh garment bag is for tiny kid socks, gloves, mittens, etc.

I hang these 3 bags on the back of the bathroom door and when we get home, I just dump the bags into the washing machine almost immediately after I walk in the door. By the time we’re finished unloading and unpacking, the first load is usually ready for the dryer.

Of course, if we’re on a longer vacation and have access to a washer and dryer, I’ll wash everything BEFORE we come home — but even still, it’s nice to have the laundry bags on vacation as a holding place for all our dirty things.

If you like to sort your laundry, you could use the same concept but use one laundry bag for whites, one for lights, and one for darks.

2. I pack to come home in a way that makes it easy to unpack at home.

Depending on the type of vacation we’re going on, I either pack by person (all Nora’s things in one bag) or by the day (all Monday’s things in one bag). On the way home, however, I pack so we can unpack in designated areas of our home.

All Nora and Simon’s clean items and bathroom items go in one bag since they are upstairs, all the swimsuits and pool things go in one bag, Dave and my clean clothes go in one bag, all electronics go in one bag, all toiletries for the downstairs bathroom in one bag, etc. etc.

This way, I can simply bring one bag upstairs or to our bedroom and unpack the contents in a minute or two. And since I separate the dirty items before we come home, I know that everything in the bags is clean and ready to be put away.

clothing to wash and put away

(I use EZ Packing cubes to keep our things neat and organized on the road!)

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These two relatively simple tips make the unpacking process go SO much faster and smoother — which is such a nice thing to come home to.

Within 45 to 60 minutes of being home, I almost always have everything from our vacation unpacked and put away, and the washing machine humming along — usually on the second load!

Although coming home from any vacation is usually bittersweet, it’s nice to have a simple unpacking system in place so we can get our things put away and get “back to normal” as soon as possible.

Do you have any other tips to simplify UNpacking?

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31 comments

  1. Vanessa Vance

    10/29/2016

    My front loader washer and dryer take FOREVER (1 hour each) to do a load. Can you share your washer dryer info, if your happy with it. I hope to buy (black friday) or service our set soon.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    We have a stackable unit that was here when we bought the house. It’s Frigidaire brand. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. I think all machines have their quirks 🙂

    I always use the quick cycle.

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  2. Melanie

    10/26/2016

    Gosh you’re not weird, who wants all the hard work when you get home from a holiday???

    I always pack dirty clothes in one suitcase on the return journey so that goes straight in the laundry basket to be sorted for washing the next day. We don’t tend to wash while we’re away if we can help it (I hate ironing, that’s not a holiday). We take a pop up laundry basket away with us.

    We have a ‘holiday packing list’ for each family member that we print off and tweak for each trip and on mine is a meal in the freezer, that can be cooked from frozen, for the day we get back so all we need to do is pick up milk and bread from a petrol station near home.

    If we are self catering I pack food in empty margarine/food cartons, we use them as food storage or lunch boxes while we’re away and then they can be thrown away instead of transporting them back home again.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I’m not sure why I never thought to pack the food in throw-away containers. I have plenty of cool whip and yogurt containers and will use those to pack our food on our next trip!

    [Reply]

  3. Carrie

    10/25/2016

    We do this too. My husband unloads the car and I start unpacking bags. I wash clothes before we come home if we have access to a washer and dryer. In fact, if we do have access to one, we pack WAY LESS clothing and just wash and re wear. It makes packing and unpacking much more simple. Otherwise, we bring along a mesh hamper for dirty clothes and they get packed back in separately from clean clothes and straight into the wash.

    If we go somewhere in which we bring along a cooler, it is my husband’s job to unpack that and dry out the cooler after he unloads the car. He also cleans out any trash in the car from snacking or eating if it was a road trip. We also alsways pull out any trash, empty drinks, etc every time we stop for gas. That keeps the car picked up and more comfortable.

    Typically in less than 30-40 minutes we are unpacked and chilling on the couch.

    I don’t think you are weird at all. I’m actually glad to hear that someone else does this. I get lots of good natured teasing from family and friends about our little “ritual” after vacation, We have it down to a science and it’s fantastic. It’s much better than waking up the next day to piles of bags and suitcases to unload.

    [Reply]

  4. Julia

    10/25/2016

    What great tips! With holidays coming, we’ll be doing lots of traveling and I plan to try these out! I’m impressed that you get unpacked and get the laundry going so quickly. Unpacking goals for sure!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I was thinking of all the holiday travelers when I wrote this post — hopefully it will be helpful for you (and others)!

    [Reply]

  5. Shauntel Isham

    10/25/2016

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    [Reply]

  6. Katherine

    10/25/2016

    I totally pack this way- which takes longer than my husbands’s method (the “throw it all in the car and sort it out when we get home” method) and it drives him nuts. But I haaaaate coming home from a car trip (that is usually exhausting with four kids) and then having to do all the sorting and stuff.

    I also like to leave the house picked up and tidy. Makes a huge difference for me to come home to a clean house after a trip!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — well his method might be quicker right now, but your method should ultimately be quickest overall 🙂

    And yes, I always try to have the house neat and clean before we leave. It makes coming back from a vacation a little less sad!

    [Reply]

  7. Roxanne

    10/25/2016

    On the way to our destination, everyone has their own bag with their own stuff in it. On the way home, all the dirty laundry goes in one designated duffle or suitcase and we repack all the unused/still-clean clothes and other miscellaneous items in the personal bags. We try to be smart about packing food too, putting things in similar containers that can be stacked and condensed once they’re empty, and doing a “garbage sweep” of the car every time we stop for a break to get rid of the chip bags/napkins/wrappers/pop cans. By “beginning with the end in mind” I’ve saved myself some time and stuff doesn’t sit around my house as long as it might otherwise 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Your method sounds very similar to ours… and I like how you phrased that “begin with the end in mind”. That’s a good quote!

    [Reply]

  8. Ann

    10/25/2016

    Great post!
    You “work smarter” instead of “working harder”!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    exactly!!

    [Reply]

  9. Christine from The (mostly) Simple Life

    10/25/2016

    Great tips! I feel like I either unpack immediately and really quickly, or things sit around for days and drive me nuts. I like to have a bag to throw all dirty laundry in too.

    [Reply]

  10. Tammy

    10/25/2016

    Now that my kids are old enough to help, my kids and hubby unload. I tell them where everything needs to go as it comes in the house (bedroom, laundry room, kitchen, etc.) and start unpacking or start the washing machine. By the time the van is cleaned out I am a long ways towards having everything put away. Then we sit down for our frozen pizza dinner that has been cooking while we unload. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Love the Frozen Pizza idea. We will often just do sandwiches or something simple — but the frozen pizza idea is a good one. Sometimes, when I’m really on top of my game, I’ll have a frozen meal ready to go in the oven for when we return home!

    [Reply]

  11. Sarah

    10/25/2016

    I love my packing cubes! Having a “dirty” laundry bag along is so helpful. I was just in Greece for three weeks and came home and unpacked within 20 minutes.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — that’s impressive!

    [Reply]

  12. Angela

    10/25/2016

    Great tips! I think unpacking is the worst part of traveling! Even if it’s just the kids going overnight to Grandma’s, I dread the unpacking! : ) The idea of doing it immediately is a good one – otherwise it’s too easy to just push the kids’ duffel bags aside and leave them for too long. When we go for a longer trip (we also take half our house since there are six of us), I’ve started letting my husband and the kids do the job of hauling everything in. I start unpacking while they’re hauling. By the time they’re done unloading the vehicle and tidying up the backseats, I’ve made good progress!

    [Reply]

    Bonnie'sMama Reply:

    Developing this kind of unpacking routine is key to getting it done quickly–figuring out which job is whose, telling the kids ahead of time, then always, always, always doing it after every trip. I love your idea of mama unpacking and putting away while daddy and the kids bring things in.

    We’ve got a short trip this weekend, and I’m definitely trying these ideas this weekend.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Enjoy your trip — hope our packing tips help 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    We do sort of the same system — except we put our kids in front of the TV or at the table with a snack while Dave unloads and I unpack 🙂 Once they get a little bigger, they can help unload!

    [Reply]

  13. Kelly Hess

    10/25/2016

    When we go on vacation we normally rent a house or condo. I ALWAYS wash everything possible before leaving and pack all the clean clothes. This makes it so much easier to just come home and put the clean clothes away. I actually dread when we have to stay at a hotel and I do not have a washing machine.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, we almost always stay places with a washer and dryer and it’s so fabulous! This was just a 48-hour trip, so we made due with a hotel room.

    [Reply]

  14. LoriB

    10/25/2016

    Great tips! just keeping all the laundry apart to get started on first makes such a big difference. It is so worth it to just do it as soon as I walk in the door. If I wait even an hour the whole process won’t be done for several days but if I do it immediately the job is done in an hour.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yup, if I just get going right away, my momentum carries me through. I don’t let myself sit down until I’m done. Then I have the rest of the day to relax!

    [Reply]

  15. Mary Ann

    10/25/2016

    We pull everything into the middle of the kitchen. Then I start putting things away starting with food. Once one bag is unpacked, I go to the next one. Takes very little time this way!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Sounds like a good method to me!

    [Reply]

  16. Paulette

    10/25/2016

    I SOOO agree with your process. When I arrive home, I immediately unpack. It takes only a few minutes if your clothes for laundering are ready to go! Love your blog, Andrea!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Paulette! I’m all about “doing it NOW!”

    [Reply]