Leader of the Pack, The Tetris Equivalent

Today’s Leader of the Pack post is about what I like to call The Tetris Equivalent.  The key to getting everything you need to fit into the right suitcase or bag is hinged upon your ability to work the three-dimensional space available to you to your best advantage.  (We’ll be covering how to pick the right bag for the job in our next post!)  Let’s get learning!

Original image sourced from Retrovideogamer.co.uk

Original image sourced from Retrovideogamer.co.uk


For those just joining us, I recommend that you check out the original post of this series, titled Leader of the Pack, packing tips for vacations.  It’s got the hub of links to follow through one lesson at a time.


Leader of the Pack

Foundation packing lessons, or The Tetris Equivalent


I’m the woman who fit 3/4 of a fully stocked walk in closet for two people into one military duffle bag.  I’m the woman who fit most of the kitchen and living room, including the dining table and chairs, into a mid 2000’s Toyota Corolla.  In one trip.  I’m the woman who, as a child, was responsible for packing the family van with all gear needed for a week long camping trip in a primitive campground.  (It’s called Rendezvous, and is a form of historical reenactment.  I can’t get enough of it.)  If it wasn’t packed the right way, I had to take everything out and start over.  (It should be noted that the only person I’ve ever met that can pack better than I can is my Mother.  She’s a packing guru, and it is from her that the lessons I’m about to impart to came from.)  I really did pack those things, and I did it keeping what I like to call “The Tetris Equivalent” in mind.

Source: Listal.com

Source: Listal.com

The Tetris Equivalent 

The trick to packing isn’t about what to bring- it’s about how it will fit in your suitcase.  Anyone who has ever played Tetris will appreciate that you must look at the space you have (as it’s being filled with other pieces) to see just where the best placement for each new item will be.  Packing is exactly like playing Tetris in 3-D.  (It should be noted that The Tetris Equivalent is also quite useful in loading the dishwasher, but we’ll save that for another post.)

To get the most out of your packing, you must use up every tiny bit of available space.  The pic to the right shows that the player has done quite well, save for that two square hole in the top around those pink Z-shaped pieces.  In your suitcase, those two squares would be filled with socks or underwear.  

Sort what you’re packing.

I like to pack on my bed.  It gives me a good amount of space to spread out, and I can sit cross-legged and sort what I’m about to stuff strategically into my suitcase around me in neat, prepared piles.  You can micromanage your piles down to a science if you would like, but you should have at least the following piles:

  • Large or bulky clothings:  Sweatshirts/pants, light jackets, fleece, etc.
  • Underthings:  Socks, underwear, bras (no underwire), nylons.
  • Delicate fabrics:  Vests, items that wrinkle or tear easily, special event clothing, underwire bras… basically anything that would have to be stored gently.
  • The remainder of your clothes:  Your tees, jeans, skirts and regular wear items.
  • Toiletries and accessories:  Your toiletries (packed in their own carrier… we’ll get to that in another post), jewelery and shoes.
Start with the big stuff.

Folding and rolling your clothes is the best way to save on space.  Pack your largest items into your bag first, stacking them neatly across the bottom of your suitcase and squishing them together as you go.  (I like to stop half way across the suitcase and start to double up, but you don’t have to do so.)  These items will generally create one layer along the very bottom of your bag.  If you have space left over and can still see the bottom of your suitcase, don’t spread things out to fill it.  Just move on to step two.

bulky and pants packed


 Grab the “remainder of your clothes” pile.

Folding and rolling your items in the same manner, stack in the rest of your regular wear clothes along the bottom of the bag.  You want to fill the bag up to the height of the bulky items next to it, which usually means stacking your rolled tees two or three high.  


rolled suitcse packed quarter empty


 Level the height of your stacking up to the vertical space your bulkier items have taken before filling in any virgin suitcase space left in the empty bottom areas.  If your bulky items are peaking at different heights, you can nestle the lengths of rolled tees and thinner pants/skirts to help level those areas off.

Move on to your underthings.

Maybe you’ve still got some untouched space in the bottom of your suitcase.  If so, good for you!  (I usually have a bit at this point, but this has more to do with the size of the suitcase you’re using then it does with improper packing.)  If you don’t, that’s okee, too.  Just ignore any extra space you might have in the bottom of your bag for right now.  Instead, look over the topography of what you’ve already packed.  are there lumpy areas that could be filled to level the area off?  Stuff socks and underwear, balled or folded tightly, into those spaces.  You want to think of packing your socks and undies as though you’re puttying in a nail hole in a damaged wall.  Fill in any gaps as well as you can with your underthings.  Sometimes this means using a pair of socks in two different areas, splitting up the pair.  Don’t worry- when you unpack, you can put them together again.  (A note- we will be discussing packing fragile items in a future post, but those single socks you’re packing in this stage are likely where you’ll be stashing such items.)  

Shoes are one of the last things to go in during this stage.  Mine usually end up lying nestled next to my toiletries bags (those bags are next!), but you’ll be able to see where they can go and still be no higher than the current topography of your most recent layer.  Often this means lining the to to heel along the outermost edges of your suitcase.  If you’ve still got some smaller items, stuff them inside of close-toed shoes to use up that negative space.  

Good for you!  Your suitcase should look something like this:




show empty space



 Pack your mini bags.

Here’s where you pack your toiletries, jewelry bags or any other smaller pouches or purses you’ve chosen to use.  You should have a shelf space of unused suitcase that is either bare on the bottom, or only one layer deep, showing your leveled off topography of larger items.  This nook is where you will be nestling your toiletries bags.  If you don’t have quite enough room, resmush the layer of stacked regular clothing.  You can also create a third layer off to one side to further create the space needed.  Personally, I try to arrange my general clothing items in such a way as to be level with the top of my toiletries bags.  It will take some eyeballing on your part, but this is what learning to best use the 3-D space you have is all about.


adding toiletries



I had tons of space left over by packing this way (see the previous post to see the difference in the same suitcase with the same amount of clothing!) so I started grabbing other things to put into the case.  Let’s see how much more I can fit in, shall we?


How about a gigantic book?

How about a gigantic book?

Or a big fake fur throw blanket?

Or a big fake fur throw blanket?

rolled clothing with owl and blanket

Yup! The blanket fit! And we also had room for Dr. Hoot. Isn’t he adorable?

It closes even better than when we packed it the old fashioned way!  And that's with the toiletries case, a large book, a freaking blanket and a stuffie owl in there.  Well damn!

It closes even better than when we packed it the old fashioned way! And that’s with the toiletries case, a large book, a freaking blanket and a stuffie owl in there. Well damn!

Your delicate items go in last.

 Your suitcase should be fairly leveled off at this point.  If it’s not, go and fill in the gaps with any remaining bits of your underthings.  All of your bulky items, general wear clothing and toiletries bags should now be in your suitcase.  Delicate clothing should NOT be rolled up as you’ve done with your general wear stuff.  These items must stay neater, and the gentle fold is a far more forgiving thing.  Don’t try to stuff these into any remaining pockets of space you  may have, either.  You want these neatly, flatly folded, and lying along the top most layer of your suitcase.  Ladies, if you use underwire bras, this is the time to put them in, too.  That way, you’re not damaging the wires.


delicates on top


This tutorial assumes you’ve got a general packing list, and you’re not trying to stuff your grandmother’s Kitchen-Aid mixer into your suitcase.  We will be discussing packing unique items soon, so don’t worry if that’s what you’re actually trying to do.  We’ll get to you soon enough.  In the meantime, most of you should have everything packed into your suitcase at this point.  If you have the space, it’s often helpful to put down a thin layer of cardboard (such as from an old shipping box) on top of your gear.  This can help prevent some of the creases many suitcase straps create when you latch that handy elastic jobber on the inside of your bag.  If not, don’t worry.  It’s an optional step.

I still have lots of room left!!

If you still have loads of room left at the top of your suitcase, you have two options.  You can go ahead and fill it with anything that you were debating on whether or not you should bring, or you can downgrade your chosen suitcase to a smaller size.  

Do remember that how you manage to pack your bag will depend on exactly what you’re packing, but these general rules will still apply.  Now, just zip up your case and off you go!  Stay tuned for the next part of our Leader of the Pack series:  The right suitcase for the job!  We’ll be covering a wide array of bags for you to choose from, and talking about what bags work best for what types of items.




About Pea Kay

Pea Kay, otherwise known as Tonks, The Unhinged Knitter, moonlights at night as an infamous Cupcake Warrior. To learn more about what she does, visit the core pages of www.weavingroses.com!


  1. […] in the bag itself) will be covered in our next post in the Leader of the Pack series, titled  “The Tetris Equivalent.”  We’ll get to that next week!  Let’s jump right in, shall we?  This is […]

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