Traveling Abroad for a Year: Packing Lessons Learned and Tips to Manage Excess Paper


When my daughter left to study abroad for the next year, I was left with cleanup duty! There were piles of clothes, shoes, books, backpacks, cloth bags, and papers that didn’t make it into storage when she let go of her apartment, nor made it into her suitcase that was limited to 50 pounds.

After months of planning and moving home for five weeks, departure day came quickly. My daughter was deciding up until the last minute what would go and what would remain behind. When she was fully packed, she took one large suitcase, one small carry-on and one backpack. Her chosen backpack was swapped out for a different style as we were on our way out the door to the airport. Her backpack protruded too much, so she quickly swapped it for a longer style with a slimmer profile. It worked. The only thing that was left behind was a pair of sunglasses in a side pocket.


Learn to Pack Light

My daughter is a smart packer and light traveler. Early on she had a broad idea of what she would take with her. Weeks ahead she purchased a new pair of boots and jeans, swapping them in for items that were a bit worn. She selected her outerwear for the colder months: winter coat, hats, and gloves. She was a bit undecisive about sweaters and tops. She wanted enough variety without adding bulk. Her suitcase was very neat. As a teenager she learned a rolling technique for her dresser drawers and suitcases. Clothes are easy to find and take up less room when they are rolled vs. folded. She also took advantage of packing cubes that compress your clothes. It was a balancing act with weight. She’d be paying extra if her suitcase weighed more than 50 lbs. As she got towards the end, the suitcase was on and off the scale, as lighter items were swapped in for heavier ones.

Electronics were easy. She got help from her dad, our resident techie! Everything was well organized and packed ahead of schedule. Small cases to help organize all of the wires and a few extra batteries were very helpful.

After returning home from the airport, I surveyed what was left behind and decided to tackle it the next day. I began by sorting the various items and putting like things together … sweaters, shoes, tops, slacks, dresses, etc. I rolled her clothes and packed them away. Everything fit into a few clear plastic bins that could be easily stored.


Paper Piles!

Paper was another story. I could have easily just put everything into a bin and left it at that. Instead, I knew that she would have an easier return if her paperwork was organized, and it only contained information she’d need or use going forward. As a result, I tossed out months of unopened junk mail, bills that had been paid for which she didn’t need the paper record, and piles of paper that wouldn’t be useful in a year. The process took much less time than I anticipated. While sorting through her paper, I realized that many other people have similar habits of just putting paper aside and allowing it to accumulate. The problem is that you have to eventually deal with it and the delays slow you down. Delaying the inevitable consumes more energy. It’s also overwhelming. That’s usually the reason it’s not handled in the first place.


Tips to Reduce Paper Piles

Rather than allow paper to accumulate and overwhelm you, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Eliminate paper at the source. Don’t keep what you don’t need or won’t use.
  2. Deal with mail on a daily basis. Toss out what you don’t plan to act on.
  3. Toss out all junk mail the day it arrives. Set aside the response info for the solicitations you intend to reply to and discard the remaining contents.
  4. File paper receipts for bills paid if you need to retain them.
  5. Maintain a tax file and add to it during the year. Then it will be ready to use at tax time.
  6. Organize and file personal business information. Mark the folders clearly so you can easily find them again.
  7. Magazines … keep no more than three months. Toss out the oldest issue when a new one arrives.
  8. Catalogs … only keep what interests you. Immediately toss catalogs that you won’t order from. For the ones you keep, toss out the previous version when a new one arrives.
  9. Cards received … thin them out regularly. Keep the ones that are most meaningful. Let the others go.
  10. Books … return books borrowed from friends on a timely basis. Access your local library and return them on time. Store purchased books neat and orderly. Electronic books are also an option. I read both. Personally, I favor paper copies.

When my husband and I downsized four years ago, we reduced the paper files that we store from eight files drawers to two drawers and a few cardboard storage boxes. We let go of a lot of paper and we haven’t missed any of it. We are staying on top of it and eliminating a lot of paper at the source. We recycle quite a bit of paper weekly, much of which is unsolicited.

We also gave away a lot of books! Although we continue to read a lot, we’re using the library more and more, since we have less storage space. It’s easier too. The less “stuff” we maintain, the more time we have for experiences, adventures and spending time in nature.


Organization is an Ongoing Process

It’s easy to stay on top of paper and organization when you have systems in place. The first part is getting there. Mercury retrograde, which happens three times annually, is a good cycle to make progress. Our current Mercury Retrograde cycle runs September 27 - October 18, 2021. Third quarter moons are too. When the moon is waning, energy is declining. This is when you’re more likely to be in a mood to take action and clean things out.

If you need to reorganize your possessions, release clutter, or let go of paper piles, pay attention to the cycles and take inspired action during a supportive time. You might be delighted with your results.

If you’d like to release blockages to letting go of paper at the cellular level, check out this Emotional Freedom and Healing Paper Piles and Clutter Release recording that I did for