“Does it spark joy?” It’s a question that has taken over the world in 2019, thanks to Marie Kondo and her hit Netflix show about decluttering, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. But now it no longer only refers to her method of getting rid of things in your house that don’t make you happy—it’s a question we are asking ourselves about any killjoys in our lives.
Do your color-coded book stacks spark joy? Does your inbox with 14,320 unread emails spark joy? And what about those lofty life plans or life partners of yours? Do they spark joy? While they’re all valid questions, we’re here to address the one that all savvy travelers should be asking themselves: “Does your suitcase spark joy?”
Packing can be the least pleasurable part of travel (right after flight delays). It’s often left until the last minute, as you toss things into your suitcase after midnight with a 6 a.m. flight in the morning while considering all your “what-if” scenarios.
Your excess baggage is weighing you down both literally and figuratively, so we caught up with the tidying master to get her secrets for how to pack a suitcase that radiates pure joy—and makes traveling easier.
Upgrade to a suitcase that actually works for you
Since your suitcase is your home away from home when you travel, it is important to find one that sparks joy. Kondo’s ideal suitcase is one that is durable, lightweight, and most importantly a size that’s appropriate for the length of the trip. You don’t need to use a large checked suitcase for a weekend at the beach—you’re going to fill it with non-essentials if you do. And if it doesn’t move through the airport with the ease of a warm knife through butter, toss it. Kondo believes a smooth-gliding suitcase will create calm on a rushed travel day.
Discover the life-changing magic of folding versus rolling your clothes
“Because I fold my clothing using the KonMari Method, it’s easy for me to pack quickly the day before I travel—which is usually the case, since I travel often,” says Kondo. “Not only does this folding technique keep clothing neat and wrinkle-free, it also maximizes the space of the suitcase.”
So what makes the KonMari folding technique better than—gasp—rolling your clothes or using packing cubes? The key to KonMari-ing your suitcase is to store the clothes standing side by side instead of stacked on top of each other, recommends Kondo. This way no weight is applied to the bottom items, which causes unsightly wrinkles. Packing vertically takes up less space too, allowing you to use the full height of your suitcase—plus you can see where everything is at a glance.
Compartmentalize your baggage
Kondo says she never travels without a bento box-like case full of jewelry. Inspired by Japanese lunch boxes, Kondo designed a stylish leather jewelry case system with Cuyana ($180) that stores little luxuries in miniature compartments. They are sized to fit directly into the larger leather jewelry cases ($115). Nordstrom sells a similar version ($85) that is slightly smaller.
“Inside [the cases], I pack a crystal to cleanse my jewelry while I’m in transit. Once I arrive at my hotel, I use the case as the designated spot for my jewelry,” says the connoisseur of compartmentalizing.
It’s especially important to only fill your suitcase with items that personally hold value for you, Kondo recommends, and for her a cleansing crystal makes the cut because she believes in the healing and purifying properties of gemstones and crystals.
“You are extremely limited in space, so it’s vital to carefully choose what you’re going to bring with you when traveling. Before I pack, I carefully review my itinerary and select the items that will maximize my ‘spark-joy’ moments for the trip.”
Delete your digital clutter
After your suitcase is KonMari-ed with perfectly folded rows of upright wrinkle-free essentials, how do you tackle the digital clutter accumulated while traveling? Kondo says she’s as ruthless with the photos on her phone as she is with her papers and closets. Delete, delete, delete, and only keep the few travel photos that bring a smile to your face, and yes, that also means only the photos you look good in, too. Everything else is cluttering up your precious memory space.
Reconsider how boring essentials support your travels
What about travel adapters, extra chargers, and travel documents? These items don’t particularly evoke unbridled bliss, but you’d be lost without them.
“When the item itself does not necessarily spark joy, try changing the way you think about it, concentrating on how it helps you or supports your experience. That brings joy,” says Kondo. Think about it: Without a travel adapter, you wouldn’t be able to plug in your phone next to your hotel bed so you can relive your experiences from that day by looking through your photos. That adapter leads to magic.
Keep 10 percent of your suitcase empty to fill with new treasures
Another packing secret Kondo swears by is to keep 10 percent of your luggage empty. That way you have room to pack new treasures and souvenirs to take home.
And the dreaded joyless task of unpacking? “When you first arrive home, you may feel too tired to unpack and be tempted to leave everything in a suitcase, but the best thing to do is unpack immediately,” Kondo says. “Try reframing your thoughts and view the unpacking process as part of the trip itself, which helps bring energy to complete the task.”
Kondo also wipes the wheels of the suitcase after unpacking, saying, “Thank you for helping make my trip a joyful journey,” before she returns it to its place in her closet.
Don’t forget to always thank your suitcase. It is carrying all your baggage after all.
Kathleen Rellihan Kathleen Rellihan is a travel journalist and editor covering adventure, culture, climate, and sustainability. Formerly Newsweek‘s travel editor, she contributes to outlets such as AFAR, Outside, TIME, CNN Travel, and more.