Monday, February 15, 2010

Why Men Pack Light

by Julia Buckley

When my younger son Graham was four, he would often get fed up with our rules and decide to leave home. This involved some dramatic (and cute) posturing and a stomping trip to his room, where he would pack in about five seconds and come out with his little bag, ready to face the world alone. Generally the bag consisted of all of the underwear in his top drawer and one stuffed animal. I would ask him how he would get along with just underwear, and he would wave my ridiculous question aside.

Then I would wish him well and let him go.

His older brother Ian, a sensitive child of six or seven, never could accept the fact that Graham was just blowing off steam; that he would merely go down about two houses and then end up in our back yard sandbox. Ian would chase after Graham, tears flowing down his face, begging his little brother not to go.

This fed into Graham’s sense of power and drama, and he would go even farther down the block with his built-in brother safety net.

These occasions are ironic now in many respects. First, my sensitive Ian is now a callous youth who would be the first to suggest that his younger sibling should leave and not return. Second, the packing skills of my sons have changed not at all.

The two of them went on an overnight to their cousin’s house this weekend. I reminded my older son several times to pack. “We’re leaving soon,” I told him.

“Okay. One second,” Ian said, examining his phone or laptop or whatever else absorbs his attention these days. “One second” in boy language means “Stop bothering me.”

“Ian! You need to pack. You’re running out of time.”

With a sigh, my fifteen-year-old stood and glided into his room. He emerged thirty seconds later with a bag. “Done,” he said.

“You are not. You could not possibly be finished,” I told him in disbelief.

His little brother appeared with a similar bag. “Finished packing,” he said brightly.

“Let me see.”

The contents of a boy’s bag are a minimalist’s dream: pants, shirt, socks, underwear.

“Did you remember your toothbrush?” I asked suspiciously.


“What about pajamas?”

“Gonna wear this as pajamas.” He gestured to his sweats and T-shirt.

“Well, okay. If you think that’s all you need.” I remembered packing for them when they were little. It took me forever. Making lists, checking off items, double-checking to make sure no scenario went unconsidered: rain, snow, heat, cold. Different shoes, spare socks, light jacket, warm coat.

Now the boys had streamlined the process to a sort of shipwrecked mentality–what they had on their backs, and the first few things they could grab.

When they got home, their clothes soaking wet from a recent snowball fight, I tried to prove that this method wasn’t workable. I asked my youngest, “When you got there, was there something you didn’t have that you wished you’d packed?”

“Yeah,” he said after a moment of thought. “Something I wanted, but didn’t really need.”

“What was that?”

“My fake tattoos.”

My husband assures me that men pack light; that they streamline their lives to minimize stress.

I think I might have to try it, rather than to continue despairing over endless details. Grocery list? Who needs one? I’ll just get what’s on my mind at the moment: chocolate and a scented candle. :)


Paul said...

When we sent our boys off for 10 days at Scout camp, with a chest full of clothes and gear, the leader told us that when they came home and we opened the chest we'd find one of two things: either everything in the chest would be dirty or nothing in the chest would be dirty.

Also, candles are the major source of indoor air pollution. Just sayin'.

Sheila Connolly said...

Last night my daughter forced me to watch that reality show where couples compete for worst relationship. Apparently one-half of a contestant couple, a wannabe pro wrestler, decided he'd had enough and walked out, a first for the show.

But the funny part was, when he stalked off into the sunset, he was hauling TWO large wheeled suitcases (the guy was wearing a ratty t-shirt and jeans, so he's no fashionista). I've seen make-over candidates on What Not to Wear arrive with less!

So maybe somewhere out there, there are guys who can pack. Or else he just brought everything he owned.

Julia Buckley said...

So Paul, which was it: had they touched the clothes, or not? Interesting about the candles. I never thought of them that way.

That's funny, Sheila. Or perhaps they were instructed what sort of things to bring and he just followed the list. But part of what makes it comical is that you don't EXPECT him to have that much.

Lonnie Cruse said...

We have the same thing here, I pack a week ahead and don't use much of what I take . . . but what if I NEED it? Hubby packs minimal, five minutes before we drive out of the driveway. Sigh.

I thought he'd learned his lesson decades ago. We went camping with our then young boys. I packed for myself and the boys (keep in mind we had a camping trailor so there was tons of room) and he packed next to nothing for himself. "I'll wear these jeans tomorrow."

Well, when we went for a boat ride and got caught in a storm, he was the only one with NO dry clothes. Did that change his packing habits? Nope.

Susan D said...

I am astounded that underwear figures so prominantly in Graham's packing list.

From experience with my man, and from asking others, both men and women, I've determined the following:

Assume you're packing for a 5-night trip and you take 1 extra pair of underwear. How many do you pack?
Women always say 6
Men always say 2.

Julia Buckley said...

Hahaha. Lonnie, it must simply be in the DNA. :)

And Susan, the underwear drawer was just for show. That happened to be what was in the top one.

Your informal poll is very interesting!

Sandra Parshall said...

I'm a worrier in all things, and that includes packing for trips. When I go to a mystery conference away from home, I cram an astounding amount of clothing into my suitcase, along with everything else I could possibly need, however slight the odds. I end up using maybe half of what I take. But just having the stuff with me makes me feel more secure.

Julia Buckley said...

That's pretty much my psychology, too. So needless to say there's a part of me that envies my sons' cavalier attitude about packing.

Kadi Easley said...

I work on the road and spend sometimes months at a time living in a motel room. The first year I did this, my car and hence my room was crammed full. The next year I had a little less, nowI take one bag. Inside is 8 days of work clothes, and my computer. When I get to the 8th set of clothes it's time to drop everything else off at the laundry. I think I learned to pack light because I hate loading and unloading the car.
My oldest son packs everything he owns, my youngest throws a pair of clean underwear and a pair of socks into his backpack, sticks his cowboy hat on his head and he's ready to go.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I don't understand why all of you are talking about clothes. For a grandkid-sitting gig and sleepover last weekend, my list included such items as my electric toothbrush and those little brushes the dentist makes me use instead of floss, my netbook with power cord for recharging and wireless mouse, the pills I take so I won't get migraines, the pills I take if I get a migraine, a lot of vitamins and supplements, presents for the grandkids (one has a birthday this week and you can't leave the other out), a book just in case, my camera (grandparents can't ever leave that home), GPS in case we hit traffic and want to detour off the Jersey Turnpike, jewelry because it fascinates the granddaughters and I want to look good for my daughter-in-law, mac 'n cheese from the special mac 'n cheese restaurant in our neighborhood so the children would actually eat and because my son didn't remember till the last minute that the babysitters would need dinner, lettuce and oranges because we don't trust them to have any vegetables or fruit in their fridge....And this was packing light, because we weren't staying long enough for me to need my running shoes and the extra set of clothes that go with it, and I didn't need the usual pretty shoes and comfortable shoes, just a pair of crocs to drive in, because they make us take off our shoes anyway when we enter their house. Luckily, the kids had coughs so I didn't find myself playing in their snowy yard after leaving my snow boots home.

Julia Buckley said...

KD, did you see the movie UP IN THE AIR? It deals with the idea of getting traveling down to a science--very interesting. Your youngest son sounds like quite the free spirit. :)

Liz, that is hilarious. And so true. The fact that I wear glasses/contacts means that for every mystery conference I have to bring my own optometry shop. I never know when the fluorescent lights will give me contact lens headaches.

kathy d. said...

For women travelers, to make the load lighter, why not do a bit of hand laundry in the sink? Take some tops that can be rinsed out and hung up and wrinkle-free fabric pants that can also be rinsed out and hung up.

And rinse out underwear and hang that up, too.

I think the children have the right ideas on packing.

I'd rather do that than shlep a heavy suitcase and have a lot of clothes to deal with.

A friend of mine travels with one bag and the necessities only and just rinses out clothes while away.

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