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Zen and the art of packing the damn car

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In my household there is no question that my partner is sensational at organising our possessions.

She manages to categorise and store all manner of things in logical groupings and place them in neat – yet accessible – places. This happens in the bedroom wardrobe, the linen closet, the bathroom cabinet, the pantry, the kitchen drawers and I’m sure she’d do a great job in the shed too – if she was allowed to…

However, when it comes to the art of packing the car when we are going away, this seemingly relatable and transferable skill completely deserts her. The car boot seems to literally be the ‘Too Hard basket.’ It is my experience that when many women get involved with packing they do a poor job of it. This can lead to conflict between couples.

Like the time I left my previous partner to carry out the packing. While she did get everything in, she also managed to bust the boot hinge doing it. Strangely she was still proud that she got everything to ‘fit.’ I was not happy with her. Then we drove home…

Imagine as well the situation where the woman – who is of course packed and ready first (because obviously she is more highly evolved and got it together well before her Cro-Magnon partner) – takes her bags and places them in the boot. The man then comes out to the car with his gear and instantly removes what has been placed inside so he can pack properly. The woman sees this and becomes irritated.

Before you go travelling is a particularly bad time to have a disagreement with your partner. But the stress of getting on the road makes it a particularly susceptible time for arguments to happen. This simple – and often totally justifiable – action of taking items out of a boot can escalate to full scale hostilities. No one wants that.

Spending two or more hours trapped in a car with someone you are mad with is no fun at all. The woman sees it as insulting that her efforts have been summarily despatched – seeing it as just another symptom of the chasm between her and her partner. Of course this chasm – of which there will be many examples – may then be examined very closely over the course of the car trip and either a full scale argument can ensue or icy silence. OR all levels between. Not a good end or start to a trip away.

This can all be avoided if the rules of packing the car are learned. Just as I have learned to follow my beloved’s logical and excellent systems around the house, you too can learn the Zen of car packing. Now I know there will be many of you who are actually adept at this art. The above condescension – and following instructions – is not for you. It is for those ‘Hers’ that just don’t get the boot. You know who you are.

The basic ‘before’ rules for packing the car

1. Car packing is a one person job.

If someone is doing it already let them do it. You can only take over if they get frustrated and give up. If they clearly have no idea you can take over but be advised that this will probably lead to a fight.

2. Get everything that needs to be packed out behind the car before anything gets packed at all.

This will allow you to plan the pack.

3. Identify items with fragile things inside them that can not be squashed.

There is no point in getting a neat fit into the boot if the shampoo gets squeezed throughout your bag or if the bread/bananas get mushed.

4. Identify items that will need to be accessed during the trip.

There is nothing more annoying than unpacking a perfectly organised boot after 15 minutes of travel time at the petrol station. If you wanted that lip balm/bag of apples/box of tissues/phone/book/jumper think about it before hand. This will avoid fights.

4. Look at the limitations of the cargo space.

You need to allow space so the boot hinges can actually get to the closed position – and that things don’t get destroyed when they do. Check if there is any wiring (especially speaker wiring) that could get ruined if you smash stuff against it. Also make sure that you note the boot latch mechanism and ensure that you do not obstruct it.

The mechanics of packing the car

Look at the packing of the boot the same as doing a puzzle. You need to make all the pieces fit. Bearing in mind the previous 5 rules, there is an order to this:

1. Large soft things.

Things like doonas, pillows, etc can be squashed. People often make the mistake of putting them in last and it can have the effect of overflowing the boot. A large doona is like a gas: it will expand to fill whatever space it can. Spread these items evenly across the base of the boot space and let the heavy items crush them down. Some soft things can go under bums/beneath feet/behind heads in the passenger area too.

2. Large hard things.

Things like suitcases and eskies. These form the central element of the pack. You need to interlock them for best effect. Try a few options. It is sort of like Tetris. Depending on the height of your boot space, hard bags should go in on their side or even up on their ends.

3. Small soft items.

These can now be placed in the remaining space. If appropriate they can be squashed into place. There is usually a wasted triangle of space where hard bags are pushed up against the angle of the rear passenger seats. You can place/squash appropriate in that space.

4. Flying items.

If you have a station wagon (and you really should have a station wagon) ensure that there is nothing on top of the load that can fly forward with sudden braking and hit people in the head. People generally do not like that…

5. Animals.

Don’t – as my partner’s parents used to – put an animal in a boot. It could kill them. Even if you want that annoying, yowling, mangy, ungrateful cat to die for once more crapping in the pot plants. On the backseat, at the feet of the kids/front seat passenger is best. If you have a station wagon (and you really should have a station wagon) you can put them in the back but you must make sure that nothing can fall on them.

6. Over packing.

A car can only take so much before it is full. Recognise that point. If a person has packed too much and won’t leave anything behind then make them travel with items on their lap and under their feet. And food is expendable. The chances are that by the time you make your destination no one is going to want to eat that left over tuna casserole that has now achieved optimum bacteria growing temperature and has filled the car with its distinctive aroma. If you are lucky it won’t have spilled, making your car stink for ever after so you need to sell it near the fish market – if Canberra had a fish market…

7. Security.

It is an unfortunate reality of today’s society that there are many thieves out there. They are quite happy to smash your window for the change in your centre console. Hide any valuables from sight. If you have a station wagon (and you really should have a station wagon) use a blanket, sheet or the cargo cover to hide what you have in there. Don’t leave items of value in sight. Don’t leave items that may contain items of value in sight. I’ve seen windows smashed for school bags in which the only thing of possible value was the antibiotic mould on the uneaten sandwiches inside it.

So there you have it. If you follow these rules you will find that the car boot will become a sacred space of opportunity and fulfilment rather than a horrid black hole of Calcutta. Good luck.

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3 Responses to Zen and the art of packing the damn car

Melanie says: 24 May, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Someone’s been spying on our family! Seriously, this could’ve been written about my hubby and I. He who is incapable of stacking bowls or pots inside each other in the kitchen cupboards is suddenly the tetris master when it comes to packing a suitcase or the car boot.

Jane says: 27 May, 2013 at 9:17 am

Step 1 is only practical if the floor of the boot is clean. I don’t know about others but I would be hugely annoyed to arrive at my destination and find that my nice clean doona and pillows are now covered in an assortment of leaves, dirt, animal hair and unidentifiable stains.

Jane says: 27 May, 2013 at 9:24 am

I forgot to mention that in our house the rule of thumb is that whoever owns the car, and therefore pays the bills for it, has final say over all matters relating to said car including packing privledges, radio control and whether the eating of snacks in said car is allowed.

My boyfriend prefers to take his car when we go away, which is fine with me because when this happens he then also gets stuck with all the driving as it’s a company car and I’m not allowed to drive it.

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