My Minimalist Wedding Dress

I recently received an email from a reader named Elise, who wrote: “You mentioned that you are married. I’d love to know what you have done with your wedding dress and other keepsakes.”

Great question, Elise! After the big day, many women struggle with how to store the “dress of their dreams”—as well as all the other stuff they accumulated from the ceremony and celebration.

Fortunately, I was a minimalist before I got married—and knew I could never manage to drag around a big, bulky, and delicate garment for the rest of my life. My husband and I also wanted little to do with the usual marriage accoutrements (favors, invitations, albums, cake, presents, and the like.)

Therefore, instead of a traditional wedding, we eloped and got married in Iceland. Now, as many of you know, I’m an inveterate carry-on traveler—and I was not about to make an exception for this occasion (especially considering the dilemma I’d have if my luggage was lost!) Getting married abroad, therefore, presented a unique packing challenge: how to transport a dress, shoes, and other accessories in my carry-on bag.

An over-the-top, white satin “princess” dress, complete with veil and train, were obviously out of the question (and not really my style anyway). To top it off, I had little shopping time; we had only a month to do all the requisite paperwork, and get ourselves together, before departure. (As you may have surmised, my husband and I are pretty spontaneous and not particularly adept at long-term planning).

I had one requirement for a wedding dress: that it fit in a standard-size ziplock bag, for easy, no-worry transport. Fortunately, I found just such a garment: a cocktail-length lace dress in pale blue and gold. It folded down to practically nothing, and the fabric showed no wrinkles. I accessorized it with a long white cardigan (it’s cold in Iceland!), and some kitten heels that were slim enough to fit in my toiletry bag.

After a short and sweet ceremony, we sent out postcards of Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland, and city in which we were married) to announce our wedded bliss. In lieu of a reception, we went for a nighttime dip in the Blue Lagoon. By keeping things simple, we deftly sidestepped the barrage of gifts that usually accompanies such an event: china, flatware, fondue sets, linens, small appliances, etc. (We already had a furnished household, and certainly didn’t need any more stuff!) Friends and family were content to treat us to dinner, and bottles of wine and champagne, after we returned home.

Therefore, the only “keepsake” we have to store is our marriage certificate. Our photos are all digital, and my dress is now part of my regular wardrobe. We have no “wedding china,” “wedding linens,” or other sentimental “wedding things” that we’ll feel obligated to keep for the rest of our lives.

My advice to single minimalists: if you take the plunge, keep it simple. Otherwise, you may accumulate a lifetime’s worth of stuff in just one day!

I’d love to hear how others have dealt with wedding dresses, gifts, and other keepsakes!

Minimalist Travel: What’s in My Suitcase

In response to my Traveling Light post last week, I received several requests that I list the contents of my carry-on. I’m happy to oblige, as I think we’d all be happier travelers with much less stuff. :-)

Furthermore, my minimalist packing system is no secret—in fact, there’s a certain security official at London Heathrow who could have written this post for me, given the 20 minutes he spent unpacking and inspecting the entire contents while I was trying to make a connecting flight to Venice. (Note: if you don’t want to treat airport security, and dozens of strangers, to an intimate look inside your perfectly packed bag, don’t bring a spork on an international flight.)

The list below covers what I pack for a trip of about 10-14 days (the typical length of my overseas travel). However, I’d pack the exact same stuff if I were traveling for 3 months (I’d just wash more often). For shorter trips and domestic travel, I pack less; and for overnight or two-day trips, I often take nothing more than a large purse.

Because I don’t like to have loose items in my suitcase, I pack almost everything into two “holders”: clothes in a packing cube, and toiletries and miscellaneous items in a large rectangular toiletry bag:

My suitcase: the Outdoor Products Essential Carryon

My suitcase: the Outdoor Products Essential Carryon

So here you have it—the contents of my minimalist suitcase:

What I’m wearing on flight/travel day:
Black pants (lightweight, straight leg pair that can be dressed up or down)
Lightweight top
Lightweight silk cardigan
(This is all I need for an overnight trip, along with some toiletries in my purse—I have no qualms about wearing the same thing the next day.)

In the packing cube:
Black pants (so that makes two pairs total, counting the ones I’m wearing)
Black nylon skirt (long or short, depending on season and itinerary—I’ll often skip this if we’re unlikely to go to a “fancy” restaurant during the trip)
Two or three tops in different colors (in lightweight, packable materials)
Lightweight pajamas
5 pairs of underwear
1 bra
2 pairs of socks
lightweight silk scarf (this folds to practically nothing, and dresses up any outfit)

For winter travel/colder climates: If I’m going somewhere cold, I’ll also include silk long johns—they’re extremely lightweight, take up next to no space, and eliminate the need for bulkier clothing. I’ll also pack one heavier sweater or jacket, and either wear it or lay it across the top of my packing cube and toiletry bag.

A note on shoes: Most of the time I travel with only the shoes I’m wearing (my pair of choice is comfortable for walking, but also appropriate for a nice restaurant). But if I’m bringing a skirt (which means a more formal dinner or activity is on the agenda), I’ll slip in a little pair of ballet flats or dressy sandals.

In toiletry bag:
Travel toothbrush
Small toothpaste
Small plastic bottle of facial cleanser
Moisturizer (with SPF)
Powder compact
Lip balm/lipstick
Tiny tube of blush
Small travel brush
Travel-size pump hairspray
One or two travel packets of laundry detergent (the key to traveling light!)
Travel clothesline
Lightweight, super-absorbent towel
A handful of band-aids
A few ziplock bags
For foreign travel: Small packs/bottles of Immodium, Pepto Bismol (caplets), and Advil (you can’t buy ibuprofen off the shelf in some countries). Though they take up some space, I find it’s easier to have these things on hand than try to request them from a foreign pharmacy, or decipher labels in a foreign language.
Titanium cup (not every hotel provides mugs for coffee/tea)
A couple of tea bags
Spork (great for picnics and eating grocery store fare) (Warning: for domestic flights only—my last one was confiscated by the above-mentioned security official.)

Note: I don’t travel with soap, shampoo, or conditioner; I use whatever’s provided at the hotels in which I’m staying. First, because I *hate* worrying about liquids spilling in my bag, and second, because the hotel provisions are usually more luxurious than whatever I would bring. :-)

Other stuff:
Travel umbrella
Paper confirmations of flight, hotel, train, museum reservations (better to have them than not—my husband spent a morning in Rome looking for somewhere to print off our Vatican reservations)
Photocopy of passport (for foreign travel)
Lightweight nylon purse (used as a day bag), holding the following:
A couple of power bars
Small hand sanitizer or wipes
Small foldable rain poncho (for unexpected downpours)
Passport, drivers license, credit card, debit card, cash
Money belt (for foreign travel)
Book (for long flights or train rides)
Ipod and earbuds (for long flights or train rides)
Cell phone
Camera and extra battery
Maps and *pages* (I tear them out) of guidebooks that relate to where I’m going

You can see from my clothes list that I’ll wear the same outfit multiple times during the trip. Of course, nobody knows (or notices) this other than my husband—and it’s perfectly fine with him.

Everyone has different needs and preferences—this is simply what works for me. I wouldn’t call this ultra-minimalist, as I could certainly get by with less. I’ve included some things that would be considered luxuries or “just-in-cases” (like medicines, titanium cup, iPod, etc). But from my experience, this is the stuff that meets all my anticipated needs, and provides me with a nice level of comfort during my trip.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Traveling Light

Sometime in my twenties I was bitten by the travel bug—I’m not sure exactly when or where it happened, but I realized that being in airports, train stations, hotels, and unfamiliar cities made me extraordinarily happy.

Interestingly, this passion developed during what I’d call an “accumulation phase” in my life. After graduating from college, my now-husband and I went through the typical process of “setting up house.” In fact, decorating our apartment became a creative outlet for us. Since we had little money, we scoured antique shops and flea markets for hidden treasures—and hauled a good deal of “junque” back to our abode.

I think in some sense travel became an escape from my increasingly-cluttered environment (though at the time, I never consciously regarded it as such). I loved the opportunity (and challenge) of editing my possessions down to a single suitcase. I’d start making a packing list weeks in advance, and select the contents as thoughtfully as if I were curating an art exhibition. (Thankfully, no one was privy to my intense internal debates about whether to include hand cream, or an extra pair of socks; they would have thought I’d lost my mind!)

Why the enormous effort in packing for a week’s vacation? As a teenager, I had over-packed for my senior class trip to Florida (thinking, in typical teenage fashion, that I needed a new outfit for every day of the trip). I suffered the misery of dragging around a heavy suitcase, half the contents of which I never even used. I remember wondering how anyone could enjoy traveling when they had to cart around their stuff like a pack mule.

That was the last time I checked in a suitcase at the airport. In the following years, I realized that travel didn’t have to be so burdensome. On my first trip to Europe, I took nothing more than a small carry-on bag (swapping my wardrobe of clothes for a packet of laundry detergent). I knew every ounce would weigh on me like a little anchor, so I was determined not to include a single item that was unnecessary or superfluous.

The experience was exhilarating—while others trouped to the baggage carousel, I hit the ground running. I was mobile, flexible, and fancy free—and never once struggled to maneuver my bag on buses, subways, or long flights of stairs. Furthermore, my sightseeing schedule was unaffected by hotel check-in and check-out times; I could carry my little bag to museums and tourist sites, and stash it in a locker when need be.

I had never felt so free! I was heady with the notion that I could go ANYWHERE when all my stuff was in one little bag. When I returned from a trip, I would count the days until my next vacation. Half the excitement was the opportunity to explore other cultures; the other half was the chance to recreate that feeling of unbridled freedom. I looked forward to those precious weeks when one bag sufficed to meet my needs.

Eventually, the idea of living with just the essentials expanded beyond the days of my twice-yearly vacations. Traveling light became a metaphor for how I wanted to live my life. I began to edit the contents of my surroundings with the same fervor as I had my suitcase. As I slowly ditched the extra “baggage,” I could feel the weight lifted from my shoulders.

My passion for minimalist living now equals my passion for travel. In it, I’ve discovered a way to practice the art of traveling light 365 days a year. And in the process, life has become an easier, more exciting, and infinitely more interesting journey!