I Cut My Huge Wardrobe Down to One Suitcase: A Fashion Editor’s Story

packing tips fashion flat lay

Like many Australians, moving to New York was always on my list of things I hoped to do in my lifetime. I thought the hardest part would be to find a job, get a visa, hunt for an apartment, save money—that kind of stuff. I didn’t predict that the toughest part of the move would be deciding what to pack, or more importantly, what not to pack.

You won’t really get my dilemma until you know a bit about me. You see, I love clothes. I write about them for a living, and most of my prized life possessions are hanging in my wardrobe. While some people brag about fancy art on their walls, or bookshelves filled with literary classics, I’d save my handbag collection above anything else in a house fire. In fact, finding my favorite pair of Jimmy Choo pumps in a thrift store is still one of my happiest memories of 2013.

MORE: A 10-Step Guide to Getting Rid of Clothes

Booking my one-way ticket from Sydney to New York gave me a buzz like no other, and anyone who has ever moved overseas will know what I’m talking about. What didn’t give me that warm fuzzy feeling was the baggage requirements: Two 50-pound suitcases, and the threat of exorbitant fees for maxing the limit.

I planned to live in a small Manhattan studio and knew I’d be sticking to a strict budget for the move, so shipping my belonging overseas wasn’t an option for me. I figured I’d need nearly one full suitcase for useful housewares, small appliances, and the boring things that are generally too expensive to replace on a fashion girl’s wage. This left me with 50 pounds and a lifetime of shopping to sift through—and so the impossible task began.

MORE: 27 Brilliant Tips Every Traveler Should Know

I’ve been in New York now for a few weeks, and with the benefit of hindsight, and know that I’ll probably never be in this unique position again. Actually, most people will never be. What you will have to worry about however, is packing for a vacation, or moving house, or just generally cleaning out your wardrobe. As a self-appointed expert on the closet cull, thanks to my big move overseas, this is something I can help you with. Here are a few things I learned from cutting my wardrobe down to one suitcase.

1. You’ll need help.

Every time I thought I had finished packing, my favorite sparkly jacket would magically appear, or a heavy duty pair of useful boots would unveil themselves from under a pile of clothes and the process would begin again. In the end, I had to recruit my mom, who offered just the tough love I needed.

“No, you don’t need five swimsuits, you’re going into a New York winter,” she’d wisely tell me. “When’s the last time you actually wore that?” she’d ask. If you’re ever stumped about what to pack for a big move, or even just a long vacation, I really recommend bringing in a second opinion in the form of a friend or family member who can see past your emotional pleas to pack every single leather jacket you own (four, in my case.)

2. The scales don’t lie. 

The first stage of grief is denial, and I have to admit I felt it big-time when parting with my clothes (that pain was real, okay?). The number of times I placed my suitcase on the scales, hoping the number would be lower than last time even though I hadn’t removed a thing, borders on embarrassing. The moral of the story is this: The scales don’t lie, so accept you have a limit early on and save yourself the time, effort, and feelings of frustration.

3. Sell, sell, sell. 

Throwing out or giving away your favorite pieces is a hard way to part with clothes, but selling them with the knowledge that you’ll have some easy money to buy new stuff softens the blow. If you have four pairs of jeans that are just kind of okay, but you don’t love, sell them all and buy one great pair when you arrive. I ditched too many dresses to count, selling on eBay, at vintage fashion markets and through my own personal network of friends. Now, I have some cash stashed away to buy something incredible for New Year’s Eve that suits my new lifestyle.

4. Start small.

If you told me at the beginning that by the end of packing, I’d be parting with most of my wardrobe, I probably would never have started. Many things were hard to part with, and as time wore on the trash pile slowly started getting higher than the save pile. I had to be ruthless about some things, like a beautiful white dress I wore to my boyfriend’s 30th birthday. I knew by the time it was warm enough to wear again, I’d have amassed new dresses, and might not love it as much.

Once I committed to culling a few loved pieces, the decision to toss became easier. It was actually quite liberating to look at my suitcase and know every piece in my freshly-edited wardrobe would be there for a reason.

5. Find a good storage option.

If you want to spring for a storage unit, go for it. However, family back home can be quite useful as a storage option, too—even if you only ask them to hang onto a few key things you’re not sure if you’ll need. I left a box of stuff with my parents, with clothes I might want fairly soon closer to the top. That way, if I travel home, or they travel here, they know exactly what to bring with them. As summer approaches, I’ll ask them to send over some lightweight dresses and swimwear that didn’t make it to New York the first round.

6. Use vacuum-sealed bags.

Puffy coats and winter accessories are major space-wasters, but I obviously needed to fit them in. If you’re packing to travel anywhere cold, I really recommend using vacuum-sealed bags which reduce the size of these bulky pieces immensely.

MORE: 6 Tips For Booking Cheap Last-Minute Flights

7. Start with your shoes.

Sadly, shoes are heavy and cumbersome, so eliminating will save space and weight. My plan of attack: One pair of every occasion I might encounter. I packed ankle boots, rain boots, over-the-knee boots, running shoes, two pairs of fashion sneakers, a low-heel pump, mules, a high-heel pump, and strappy sandals.

After much eye-rolling from my mum, I ditched one sneaker and one pump, and allowed eight pairs of shoes into my new life. Every one was stuffed with socks, jewelry, gloves, scarves, and other accessories to save space, and precious pairs were kept in their dust bags.

8. Make use of your carry-on. 

Remembering I had an additional 15 pounds in carry-on weight after a few frustrating hours of packing was like hitting the jackpot. In my hand luggage I packed valuables and breakables (the aforementioned Jimmy Choo pumps, for example), immigration documents, and the odds and ends that were making the zipper bulge on my main suitcase.

9. Ditch your old makeup.

I was surprised by how much space and weight makeup and toiletries took up in my suitcase—heaps! I quickly learned that anything half used had to go, and anything that wasn’t a splurge I could replace (Chanel and Nars products were allowed to stay.) Charities won’t accept unsealed beauty products, but my girlfriends were happy to!

10. Be strategic about what you wear to the airport. 

And by “strategic,” I really mean shameless. Before I left, I’d exhausted all of my storage options and still had two puffer coats and a pair of boots that I couldn’t squeeze into my suitcase. Fed up (who makes these stupid rules anyway?), I wore one, tied the other around my waist, pulled on my heaviest pair of rain boots, and set off for the airport in the middle of a summer day in Sydney.

Obviously, I looked ridiculous, and everyone hated me at security as I peeled off my puffy layers and held up the queue. This didn’t fulfill the chic fantasy I had of entering New York in style, but whatever, it was worth it.

11. Be extra-nice to the person at baggage check. 

After employing all the above tactics, I was still a bit above the baggage limit. Luckily, the staffer who checked my bags let me through with the few extra pounds, which I attribute down to pity—I was visibly stressed about the situation by this stage. When you check bags, remember that these are the people who have the power to look the other way, or to slam you with extra luggage fees. I really believe that a smile goes a long way in situations like this, and it helps to cheerfully let the attendant know you’re moving overseas longterm if you have a one-way ticket.

Even with all that effort, my suitcase completely exploded upon arriving in New York. I don’t blame it, the poor thing really had a hard life. So my final piece of advice to you is this: invest in a quality suitcase. Learn from my mistakes and don’t buy the under $30 option being flogged on the side of the road, unless you’re happy to scoop up your belongings from an airport floor.