Packing Is Basically The Executive Functioning Olympics

Why it's so hard and some tips for how to do it better.

Packing is a masterclass in executive functioning. It requires planning, organisation, proficiency in adaptable thinking, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory and time management. All things I struggle with.

As a result I have made some insane packing choices. Do you relate?

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Poor packing #3

Destination: a writing residency at a castle in Edinburgh

I was the guest of the castle for a month, with four other writers staying. What should a person take to such a dream scenario?

My work-in-progress was based in the forest and so I packed as though I were a lady writer version of Bear Grylls. Raincoat, leggings, checked shirt, walking boots. And pyjamas.

It turns out that staying in a castle means daily three course dinners as well as walks in the woods. My fellow writers wore nice skirts and trousers, shirts and jumpers. And shoes. Every eve the only choice I had was between walking boots and slipper socks.

I felt self-conscious turning up in the same leggings, checked shirt and slipper socks every day. But I couldn't wear my muddy walking boots.

Eventually I went into Edinburgh to buy some jeans and shirts and some smart little boots. A blankety scarf. And all was well again.

Executive functioning deficits: planning, organisation, proficiency in adaptable thinking,


Daft packing 2

Destination: sailing the Arctic archipelago on a writing residency with other artists for a month.

Snow boots were recommended. But they were also expensive. And so I made an executive decision. I would take wellies and thick socks.

This in spite of the fact I have Raynaud's syndrome which is a circulation condition that means your extremities get hot/cold very quickly.

I was so cold every time I went onshore that I didn't want to get off the boat. Ever. Within 10 minutes of landing, my toes would be like ice.

My brain just told me everything would be ok, in spite of the suggested packing list, in spite of my knowledge of Raynauds and general life experience of having freezing cold feet.

🤦🤷

Executive functioning deficits: planning, organisation, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory and time management.


Packing malfunction 1

Destination: snowboarding in Chamonix with a friend.

It was snowy and cold. So what should I take for my footwear? Reader, I packed flip flops. Only flipflops.

The snow was slushy and so I ended up borrowing someone else's trainers most times I went out. I looked for affordable trainers in the shops but they didn't exist. This was my 20s when my overdraft was eternally maxed out. So I just kept sheepishly borrowing my host’s shoes and feeling like a bell end.

What was I thinking? Hard to say. These were the heavy drinking years so, honestly, who knows.

Executive functioning deficits: planning, organisation, proficiency in adaptable thinking, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory and time management. (Yep, all of them.)


I don't know what to pack and so I delay the process. (Poor planning + organisation.)

I tell myself I'll do it tomorrow until the very last day. (Poor time management + self-control.)

Eventually, I do it in a rush and make strange decisions like taking flip flops to the mountains in winter. (Poor self control + working memory + planning + organisation.)

I forget what I am like and what I need to be ok. (Poor self-monitoring + proficiency in adaptable thinking + working memory.)

So if you struggle packing, go easy on yourself and ASK FOR HELP. Packing is basically like the executive functioning olympics. You need team mates.

These days I don't go on as many trips as I used to because I realised I don't actually like them that much. But maybe I don't like them because I struggle to be sufficiently prepared.

Yet another autistic chicken n egg scenario. Hopefully now I know what's going on with me, I can improve at packing sanely. 🤞🤞🤞

I'll keep you posted. 🤠


To help those of us who struggle, I asked Twitter for help. The main tips were as follows:

Simon Jay, autistic writer/performer:

In other words, leave enough time. This is crucial and what I forget to do always.

Holly Smale, autistic author, takes this tendency in the opposite direction.

Autistic artist, Shelley Wallace:

Author Emma Pass suggests the power of spreadsheets:

Catherine, an autistic mother, says:

Keep the things you need in the bag forever. This can work well when you are working away from home.

And a final word from Holly, to reassure you:

So long as you have the absolute essentials for sleep, peace and self-soothing, know that you will be okay.


Final reflections on how to pack

Leave enough time. Start packing early, if you know there are lots of different things you are going to need for your trip.

Make a list. Make lists for all of the travelers if you are chief packing executive.

Check the weather! And if it’s snow, don’t only take flip flops.

Make sure you have any sleep/self-soothing/medication essentials.

Remember the destination has shops (unless it doesn’t.)

If you are making frequent trips or working away, consider leaving essentials in your case, or at work, so you always have them when you need them.

Ok, talking that much about packing has exhausted me. I'm going to lie down for a while now. Tell me your tips n mishaps.

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Chelsey Flood is the author of Infinite Sky and Nightwanderers, and a lecturer in creative writing. She writes about freedom, addiction, nature and love at Beautiful Hangover, and is also working on a non-fiction book about getting sober, and a new YA novel.