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How to Organize Your Stuff for Camping

Stay organized, even in ::shudder:: nature.

By
Stever Robbins,
July 25, 2017
Episode #464

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As you know, if you’re a long-time listener, last year I attended Burning Man for the first time, after my friends had been nagging me to go for ever and ever and ever. If you don’t know what Burning Man is, think of it as something like a neighborhood bake sale, while camping. In reality, it’s nothing like a neighborhood bake sale, but you can think of it that way, because what happens at Burning Man stays at Burning Man. And today’s tip is all about the camping part.

Last year’s trip was amazing! Yes, the desert was dusty. Sure, I was really underdressed for the occasion. Absolutely, my lack of alarm clock made it difficult for me to get up for the 6 a.m. burning down of three five-story lighthouses whose walls were packed with pyrotechnics. There was just one teeny, tiny problem: every time I needed a glowing LED fishnet, or bicycle brake wrenches, or a glorious pastel tutu, it was impossible to find. Stuff was in bins in my tent, outside my tent, in other people’s tents… it was utter chaos.

This year, I vowed to return, to bring order to Burning Man. Nice, comforting, calm order.

First let’s clarify: I am not OCD. I just like things neat and organized. Things should be in their proper places. And they should be clean and neat, without a speck of dirt on them. You want to be able to access what you want, when you want it. And not need to wash your hands afterwards. While camping. 

Pack things separately

One of the first rules of Burning Man is: the dust is everywhere. So you want to pack every article of clothing separately in a plastic bag. Every shirt goes in its own gallon-size Ziploc bag. Every pair of pants gets its own Ziploc. Contact lenses? All go in one Ziploc. Socks? Ok, I cheat a bit: six pairs of socks go into one gallon-size ziploc. 

At first, this sounded onerous. Secretly exciting, of course, but still a lot of work. It wasn’t. I just took my shirts, folded them up, and popped them in bags, squeezed the air out, and sealed the bag. It went by lickety split!

Choose the kind of Ziploc bag that does not have a slider. Choose the ones you press and close, and make sure they have some extra plastic lip above the sealed part. We’ll get to why in a few minutes.

Label every bag, with a little tag

Burning Man is a “leave no trace” event. That means every single thing that you bring in, you have to bring out, down to the last gum wrapper, scrap of paper, or snozzberry wrapper. Since everything you own is now in neat, orderly plastic bags, stick a label in each bag telling what’s in it. “Contact lenses,” “Socks,” “Grammar Girl T-shirt,” “Fungal infection creme.” I just fold a bunch of scrap paper in 8ths, tear it to get a bunch of little rectangles of paper, and write on each rectangle. 

Now you can look at a bag, see what’s inside (or see the label if the contents are mysteriously invisible), and only open the thing you’re looking for. When it’s time to re-pack, every single plastic bag has a label telling you exactly what goes where. It’s super convenient.

Even better, I keep the bags with the labels from year to year. Then next year, the bags themselves tell me what to pack. Did I say it’s super convenient? It’s actually super super convenient! 

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