Pocket worthyStories to fuel your mind

The Most Effective Way to Organize Your Suitcase Using Packing Cubes

Marie Kondo and other experts explain how to make the most of the packing accessory.

Condé Nast Traveler

Read when you’ve got time to spare.

Screenshot 2024-02-15 at 2.14.36 PM.png


When packing cubes first came into fashion, I immediately dismissed them. As a habitual overpacker, the last thing I needed were any additional items to weigh down my travels.

But as sweat started to bead on my forehead as I sat on top of my trusty Away suitcase in my room at the Signia San Jose, once again needing some elbow grease to zip it shut, I realized organizational value might outweigh an extra few ounces. As it turned out, Away has its own set of packing cubes perfectly sized for its suitcase—and they even provide compression so I could continue overstuffing, minus the mess and stress.

“[Packing cubes are] extremely efficient at keeping you organized before your trip, during your trip, and as you make your way home,” says Just Packed’s Lydia Mansel. “They help you pare down what you’re bringing, keep clean pieces separate from dirty, and are critical if you want to avoid the dreaded ‘shove everything in’ method before catching your return flight.”

The art of packing cubes is about so much more than just double bagging, though, so I turned to packing experts for advice on how to best use the organizational method. 

After all, as Marie Kondo, known for her KonMari Method, tells Traveler: “Traveling can be stressful, so it is helpful to invest in travel essentials that can spark joy when packing and preparing.” Read on for everything you could want to know about how to use packing cubes.

1. Categorize each cube

To easily access your items on the road, assign a category for each packing cube so that you know exactly where to find every item.

Organizational guru Kondo says to start by making a list of all the essentials you need. “Then, lay everything out and categorize by the type of item to get a complete look at how many items you have for each category,” she says. She divides hers by undergarments, tops, bottoms, shoes, toiletries, and accessories (jewelry, belts, hats, and the like).

Kondo says this is an opportune moment to edit down to what you really need. “I try to include items in all categories that are versatile and can be worn multiple times,” she says. “The fewer items you bring, the more you can focus on the joyful experience ahead.”

Once everything is pared down, put each item in its assigned cube. “This will help you stay organized throughout the duration of your trip and easily find all your options when you open your bag or suitcase,” she says.

While some people prefer to use cubes to group together outfits, experts agree that the categorization technique works better for mixing and matching outfit choices.

For family travel, Anne McAlpin of Pack It Up says having a different cube for each child—and differentiating by color—can save time fishing through clothing for the right owner.

2. Experiment with the number of cubes you use

Diving into the world of packing cubes can be a big change, and McAlpin says not to be afraid of a little trial and error. She once traveled with way too many packing cubes—over 15!—and learned the hard way. “I was overwhelmed having to search to find things because I didn’t have a system and couldn’t remember where I packed everything,” she says.

Now she’s found that three to five cubes is her sweet spot. “You’ll discover through use what works best for you.”

3. Use an assortment of sizes

All your packing list items aren’t equal in size—and neither should your packing cubes be. 

“Having a variety of sizes will help make the packing process more seamless,” Kondo says. She uses packing cubes from her own Konmari brand’s collaboration with Paravel which she likes for the clear-view windows that allow you to see what’s inside without unzipping. That way you don’t “feel overwhelmed by any disorder when you open your suitcase once you arrive at your destination,” she says.

Using her own KonMari technique of neatly file-folding clothes, she’s able to fit five to six pairs of undergarments into the small cubes, six to eight pairs of pants in the medium one, and 9 to 10 shirts (or two to three bulkier tops, like sweatshirts) in the big one.

4. Mindfully fold or roll your clothes

When it comes to how to place items within the cubes, every expert has their own style. Mansel says she’s found “no real difference” between rolling and folding, especially with heftier materials, like jeans. (She opts to fold and stack, like books.)

McAlpin suggests folding items by measuring them to the width of each cube and rolling them so they fit perfectly. For T-shirts, she says to put them face-down on a bed, fold the arms inward a little less than the cube width, and then roll from the bottom up. (The bottom-up rolling helps prevent wrinkles—and if anything, they’ll be less noticeable at the bottom.) Another clever hack from McAlpin: “Pack a belt around the perimeter of lightweight packing cubes to give [it] structure.”

Folding is an art for Kondo, whose focus is on a tidy appearance. “Travel items are stored upright instead of stacked in a pile, which helps you have visibility of everything you packed when you open your suitcase,” she says. “Clothing like T-shirts and jeans should always be folded into their smallest possible size and packed upright.” She notes her method will help “maximize as much space as possible within your packing cubes—it is an easy system that will help you keep tidy and organized all vacation long.”

5. Stack strategically 

After your items are inside each cube, you're ready to arrange them inside your suitcase. “There is nothing more satisfying than solving the game of Tetris,” Mansel says. “I always start with my largest packing cube first, placing it opposite of the ‘shoes side’ of your suitcase—usually, this is the one with the straps that can be buckled and tightened.” From there, she plays around to best fit the smaller ones, noting they don’t all have to be flat—some can also be on their sides, which she says is great for more rectangular-shaped ones.

“Packing a suitcase follows the same basic principles as those for storage in the home,” Kondo says. “All packing cubes are different, but with a little bit of reorganizing and shuffling, packing cubes should fit neatly within your bag or suitcase.” A bonus tip from Kondo: “Make sure the zipper on the packing cubes is always upright so you can easily open your cubes and see all your items at once when you arrive at your destination.”

6. Determine what doesn't need a cube

Just because you’re using packing cubes doesn’t mean every item needs to go in one—especially awkwardly-shaped ones. Think: shoes, hair straighteners, chargers, cameras, and other rigid items that might seem too confined in a cube. In some cases, it might even be more strategic to wedge them in between soft cubes filled with clothes. 

“Use the most of the space by positioning items to fit together,” Kondo says. “If that is not an option, it is best to put miscellaneous items in the remaining spaces within your suitcase—use your best judgment and do what feels most organized to you.”

7. Avoid overstuffing each cube

While it may be tempting to use of all of the space in each cube from the start, it’s not necessary. “I’ll sometimes use one to hold something I want to keep separate from everything else in my bag, like a more delicate pair of shoes,” Mansel says.

Extra empty ones can come in handy, too. “I like to bring one for dirty clothes—that way I can dump it in my laundry basket when I return home,” she says. McAlpin uses her spare for another purpose: “If my bag is overweight, I can quickly reach in and transfer a few items to another bag.”

How was it? Save stories you love and never lose them.

Logo for Condé Nast Traveler

This post originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveler and was published September 19, 2022. This article is republished here with permission.

Let yourself go with Condé Nast Traveler. Sign up today and get two free gifts!