How to Make Living Out of a Suitcase Manageable with Little Kids

My husband and I recently decided to take an opportunity and relocate our family of four to a new state. Between the start of his new gig and the close of our new house, we’ve found ourselves living in a temporary corporate apartment. It’s a tiny space, and never do you realize how much stuff children require until you try to move it around.

Flying down here alone with the two little kids would have been comical if it hadn’t been so darn stressful. All I can say is, thank goodness for wine in airport restaurants, because after the absolute saga of getting a tantruming three-year-old and a shell-shocked baby, a double umbrella stroller, a small suitcase, a laptop, a thermal tote full of frozen breastmilk, and a diaper bag through airport security, I needed a glass. Actually, two.

But — then what?

We’ve been living out of that same suitcase for the past three weeks now. And while I love all the extra cuddles we’re getting in while staying in such close quarters, I’d be lying if I said it’s been a seamless transition. Especially for a three- and one-year-old so set in their typical routines (and of course, their work-at-home mom).

Whether you’re on an extended vacation with the littles, spending some time visiting family, or transitioning between life situations like we are, I’ve come up with some hacks. It took a bit of trial and error, but here’s what I’ve learned:

Accept Help

I’m so accustomed to maneuvering through packed malls, sitting on the edge of my seat in restaurants, and otherwise manning my own ship that when strangers offer to help me with my children I rarely accept. Do not make this foolish choice while you are in an in-between situation or on a long trip. From opening a door to carrying your suitcase up a flight a stairs, take the help.

And seek it out when you can, too. Within days of moving to our temporary place, I started feverishly googling local “mom’s day out” programs and certified mother’s helpers. Dropping the kids off for a few hours at a time has allowed to clean and organize the disaster that small spaces can bring on, and also given me some much-needed mental space from the constant needs of the children.

Even if you have to pay a nominal fee, in times like this you can’t manage alone. Outsource.

Pack Clothes of One Palette

Almost everything we’re wearing these days is uniform-like: I’m in all black and white with the occasional pink and my daughters are both doing all pastels, all the time. You don’t want to over-pack with clothes, leaving out other important details. And you definitely want piles everywhere. I am keeping clutter at a minimum and taking the guesswork out of getting dressed in the morning by making sure everything we have with us matches everything else.

Do Laundry Often

Speaking of cutting down on clutter, at home I can get away with going days between facing my laundry pile but here I don’t have that option. Doing frequent, smaller loads feels more manageable and ensures you always have things to wear. Because there is no greater waste of money than running out to the store for underwear, leggings, and so on when you already have access to these items, they’re just not clean.

Use a Backpack

This took some getting used to. I have always been the type to shove diapers into a designer handbag and get on with my day. But from the airport to the hotel you’ll be toting kids and luggage; why complicate things by having more in your hands? And, once settled in your temporary home, it’ll be much easier to get out and about when your needs are strapped on your back.

If your kids are little like mine are, invest in an actual diaper backpack that will come with a changing pad for baby and insulated inner sleeves for keeping bottles at temperature. Otherwise, pick something cool and compact that you won’t hate once this trip is over. I’m low-key obsessed with this one.

Pick a Perfect Shoe & Stick to It

Shoes make checked bags overweight and carry-ons impossible. Also, they’re a terrible source of clutter. For my term in the temporary apartment I chose attractive, comfortable sandals I could slip on and off but also wear to a decent restaurant. They are neutral in color and pretty difficult to find an outfit for which they don’t work.

If you need a fall/winter shoe instead, try a pretty slip-on sneaker or a neutral ankle boot.

The Clearance Rack is Your New BFF

It’s nice to be prepared for anything in the fashion department, but not always possible. While living here without access to our wardrobes, my husband and I have been invited to an upscale dinner, and celebrated an anniversary and a birthday. There was no way I could have packed three nice cocktail dresses among the diapers, dolls, and manual breast pump, so I high-tailed it to the local Target and shopped the 50% off racks for some cute frocks.

Discount diving can be addicting in a new town, so I recommend giving yourself a strict budget and sticking to it. You can also join a local mom’s group in the area where you’re staying and crowdsource for the best places to find deals. It was thanks to other mothers in this temporary city that I discovered a thrift store carrying high-end brands with tags still on, at up to 90% off retail. Crazy!

Find Coupons & Buy Store Brands

In times like this, I don’t worry so much about brand loyalty and instead focus on the absolute cheapest stuff I can buy. For example, at home we use glass baby bottles that retail at $10 for a three-pack. The bottles made it onto the moving truck and we’ll have more than enough when we’re reunited with them in a week or so.

So, I bought the store brand and a local drugs chain and spent about a dollar a bottle. Sourcing coupons for local restaurants we haven’t tried before has also been a great way to check out this place we’re temporarily calling home.

Whether you’re on vacation or moving houses, chances are if you’re currently living out of a suitcase, you have way better ways you want to spend that money than on re-buying your upscale essentials. That’s been my mode of operations since getting here: spend as little as you can day-to-day, so you can enjoy furnishing your home later. Or, treating yourself to a make sure that the next time you’re living out of a suitcase, it’s on mom-cation.

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