Claire Thompson
May 24, 2021

Tips to optimise space in a small suitcase

Whether it’s a short ‘staycation’, international travel to ‘green’ zone (COVID) with cabin baggage only, or simply packing to store, the packing experts at easyStorage offers six handy stages for packing a small suitcase to the max.

Step one: assemble the things you want to pack.

If you are packing clothes for a holiday, try and assemble interchangeable outfits in matching colours. As long as you manoeuvre that cocktail or local food speciality to your lips carefully (no spills), two tops and two bottoms will offer you four different outfits.

Separate out any things that won’t take well to being rolled or which need flat packing.

If you are packing for travel, don’t put your documents in the case until the very end as you’ll need them to hand. Alternatively, if the case has a zip compartment on the front, this can prove a great place for them. I usually pop my laptop or tablet there as well, for easy access.

Know what’s available where you’re headed in terms of toiletries, towels, equipment to rent, hairdryers etc. This will save space on any unnecessary packing.

And if travelling by plane, don’t waste packing space on toiletries and liquids that will be confiscated at the airport anyway. They may cost a little more, but you can always buy them in a departure lounge or at your destination. (Yes, in most countries people do both wash and clean their teeth!)

(Don’t forget to check that the size of your case meets the airline’s size restrictions INCLUDING wheels. I have seen people sat on the floor in an airport hacking the wheels off cases before now rather than pay the excess. And airline staff not noticing extra size on the outward journey never guarantees the same by return, especially on fuller flights.)

Step two: Flat packing

Those special things that need flat packing flat?  Many guides will tell you to pack them last. I disagree. If they go in the bottom of the case, they’ll be flatter, and the weight above them will keep them ‘pressed’. And as the case will be upright anyway, there’s little difference once the case is packed.  

And as that ‘don’t want creases’ piece is likely to be the one that’s for ‘special’, putting it in first ensures it’s not the item that gets sacrificed if space simply doesn’t allow everything to go in.

I usually put flattened plastic bags over the top of this layer as protection. These serve as great laundry bags later, keeping worn clothes separate during my stay.  

However, if the bag is being packed for storage, clean white tissue paper or packing paper is a better alternative.

Step two: let’s get rolling

We now have to place our clothes inside the suitcase like books on the shelves of a library, by rolling clothes up and lining them up. This means they are both tightly packed and that there are no sharp edges to crease. Remember not to fill the case to the top at this stage– we still have heavier items to put in. One or two layers of rolled clothes is usually the most you can afford to put into a small case without running out of space once other things have been packed.

Step three: knickers in cracks!

Pants, swimsuits, socks make good fillers for any gaps and help smooth out bumps, and can fit around the edges of the case either flattened or rolled.  

Step four: layers

Now comes the bigger part of the puzzle. Shaped things.

Shaped items like bras and shoes can either be flattened or filled to save space.  

Shoes can form great protective holders for things. I prefer to put my shoes into freezer bags to keep everything else clean and free of shoe smells rather than use them as holders, but that’s a personal preference as I’m heavy on my shoes. And I like to take several pairs with me, depending on where I’m taking the case, so this helps avoid buckles catching, suede being worn by something hard, or clothes with tassles, fringes, ribbons or hooks from catching the shoes. I’ve seen shower caps suggested as an alternative.

I also saw a lovely idea whilst researching: putting any small bottle of perfume inside shoes. I like the idea. The smell will be confined, especially if the bottle breaks, and frankly my shoes could do with smelling nicer. On the downside though, airports ask travellers to remove all liquids for scanning, so unless you want to unpack at the airport, probably best avoided in this situation, and if packing for storage, there’s simply too much risk of liquid escaping to be worth it. Stale perfume is NOT usually a pleasant smell. (As I can only get my favourite perfume in a few places, including airport shops, I use this excuse to buy instead of pack.)

Flipflops are easily pushed down the inner walls of the case and help create a stronger barrier for your clothes.

Jewellery is generally better off in a good jewellery roll than in boxes that are bulky and can fall open. Left loose, jewellery is easily broken or lost and can snag on fabrics – or even break the fabric of the case. Another tip I’ve recently found online but not yet tried is to place jewellery between two flat layers of plastic wrap. For me, this seems like an easy way to lose it, but there’s every chance that you are less clumsy than I am! I also found a suggestion to put things like rings and earrings (small bits of jewellery) into a pill box. If the jewellery roll doesn’t have provision for these items, this seems like a great idea, as pill boxes have secure tops.

Glasses and sunglasses, by contrast, are best packed in hard cases to prevent breakage and scratching. Don’t be tempted to put anything hard in with glasses as they’ll scratch. You may be able to squish a small pair of undies into the glasses case, but remember that on the return journey they may no longer be clean.  

Hairbrushes and combs also go in at this stage, and can often squeeze into gaps. Again, a small plastic freezer bag can be great protection around a hairbrush. Firstly, the bristles won’t stick into anything and secondly little cloth balls won’t get into your hairbrush. (Where DO these come from?) Combs are great - like flipflops, they can often slide in down the sides of the case. Just be careful of case linings. If something’s catching as you pack, don’t force it in blindly.

Step five: electronics

Whether the bag being packed is for storage or for travelling, there are usually rules around batteries etc, so having electronics near the top of the case makes sense.  

You’ll want to have protective covering on everything to avoid breakage and scratches.  

I save the gauze bags which people give out sweets in at weddings and small gift bags to pack earphones, USB sticks and chargers.

If your razor isn’t electric or covered, cover the sharp end.

Step six: soft toppings

Keep a cardigan, light jacket or sweatshirt for the top of the bag. If travelling you will be grateful to have it to hand, but in any case, it forms a soft, protective barrier for the other clothes inside.

If my destination doesn’t necessarily provide towel, or I know I’ll want extra for beaches or sailing, I usually pack sports towel which dry quickly and pack down way smaller than towelling.

Notes for longer term storage

If a bag is to go into storage or is moving with a removal firm, ensure every item of clothing is freshly cleaned and bone dry. Whilst a cardigan for travel, for example, may still have a few more outings before hitting the wash bin, any stains or smells that you can’t currently detect may set and worsen whilst in storage. Similarly any kind of dampness will encourage at very least smells, at worst mould throughout the bag.  

It is also often easier to keep ‘types’ of items separate so that boxes, bags or cases of clothes are separate from electronics, household goods etc. This makes both packing and unpacking far easier, as well as being able to identify where things are should you need them.

Always check the rules of any storage or transit provider before packing.

Space calculator

To help a little more, easyStorage has created a space calculator:

This handy tool allows users to enter item by item, room by room, what they expect to pack, in order to help calculate space.

There will always be exceptions, objects outside of the normal or which aren’t on the list. For these things, the ‘box’ exercise above, guestimating the space, should help.

Here to help

Apart from the space calculator mentioned above, a no obligation quote on storage can be found here: easyStorage prices are around half the price of traditional self-storage.

Moreover, easyStorage will collect and deliver back your belongings, saving the cost and hassle associated with traditional self-storage.  


Claire Thompson

Claire joined the easyStorage family as a blogger in August 2020 and is loving it! Her passions include writing and learning, and with easyStorage she’s learning new things fast. When not tapping at a keyboard she can be found renovating an old cottage, despite having inherited a complete lack of DIY skills from her father. She has two children, now grown up, and a dopey, loving Vizler (dog), Chester, who steadfastly refuses to do the same. She claims he’s her soulmate!

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