There Are Always Better Ways: Dorm Packing Edition

There are always better ways.

That truism proved to be accurate last weekend. On Saturday, my wife and I traveled three hours to help our younger child pack and bring things back home after their second year of college.

Our packing system was much better this time. We used boxes, hampers, and shoulder strap bags last year. That process proved to be cumbersome and painful. This year, we used spinning roller suitcases to pack the bulk of the items.

Over the years, I bought small, medium, and large spinning luggage for the entire family to have options depending on the length of our trips. The longer the trip, the bigger the bag. Due to the pandemic, the spinning luggage mainly sat unused on the racks in our garage. I basically forgot about those bags when it came time for college packing last year.

Last year, all three of us spent time frantically packing the bags in the dorm room to meet the scheduled checkout time. This year, we divided the labor. My wife packed the bags, our younger child cleaned and vacuumed the room, and I transported and loaded the full spinning roller bags into the vehicle.

Last Spring, packing the items into boxes, hampers, shoulder bags, and other miscellaneous storage containers took over two hours. This year, we finished loading the vehicle 65 minutes after arriving in the dorm. This year, the better way reduced the packing and loading time by nearly half.

The process was much better this year than last for a few reasons.

1.      Saved my back: Carrying all the heavy boxes and shoulder strap bags from the dorm room to the vehicle was rough on my back last year. The physical strain this year was a lot less than last year. The rolling spinner bags were much easier to transport. I still had to lift the heavy bags into the van, but that lifting was for only a few seconds.

2.      No micromanaging each other: Last year, we took turns “politely suggesting” to each other “better ways” to pack the boxes and bags. Because my wife took the lead on packing this year, we avoided the micromanaging and associated tension we had last year. We had no disagreements, and the stress level was much lower this year (though doing something the second time can naturally be less stressful than the first time).

3.      Everyone played to their strengths: In activities like this, my superpower is finding ways to fit as much as possible into vehicles. I learned the skill from my father. He was the best at squeezing vast quantities and volumes of things into small cars. For well over a decade, he drove a 1973 Ford Pinto. He passed those skills on to me so that I could pack my Pontiac Grand Am full of everything I needed for college and then law school.

One of my wife’s many super strengths is squeezing more into a box or bag than should fit. Somehow, she defies the laws of physics. The result is that the bags she packs can be pretty heavy, but her packing saves space in the vehicle by using fewer boxes, bags, and spinners.

Our younger child is incredibly adept at speed cleaning. Their speed cleaning skills were handy for departing at the scheduled checkout time. Plus, the cleaning job was so thorough that they incurred no “move out cleaning charges” from the university.  

Our success in improving the packing process reminds me of what can happen with legal operations projects. The initial process changes can result in significant improvements in the first year after implementation. The challenge then becomes how to improve on the improvements.

The continuous process improvement part of my brain dictates that we now have to consider how to trim more time off the packing process for next time!