How to Get Out the Door with Everything You Need

Image by Public Co from Pixabay

Life is getting hectic again. The pace seems to be picking up, and even though many are still working remotely, others are once again needing to show up in person. I see this every day here in New England, where the roads have been packed with heavy traffic at all times of day. After a season of staying at home, some may be finding it hard to return to a pre-pandemic schedule and all that this entails (showering, dressing, packing a bag, commuting, etc.). Not only are we trying to find our old rhythm, but we are also carrying the stress of continuing COVID uncertainty and the changes this continues to necessitate. Getting out the door may feel harder than we think it should. We may feel a bit untethered or incompetent. We may find ourselves leaving things behind.

If you are experiencing any of these emotions, know that you are not alone. Transitions almost always require time and patience. Even when we are returning to something familiar, it takes a while to get “back into the groove.” I’m reminded of how it takes me a couple of days after a vacation to get back into the swing of things. Furthermore, if you happen to be establishing a new pattern (e.g. because of a new job, a new schedule, a new location, etc.), the challenges can feel even steeper.

Feeling confident as we navigate change isn’t easy. One way to do so is to bring structure to the way we use our time. I’ve written about many aspects of time management in the past, such as being on time and making the most of the time you have.  

Another way we can improve our sense of control is by establishing systems for storing and accessing our belongings, particularly with regard to the things we need when we walk out the door. After all, it feels awful to arrive without critical items or to be unable to find our car keys when time is running short. One helpful technique for remembering is what I call “staging.” Staging creates a space (both physical and mental) to hold the items we will need when we head out for the day.

The reason we need a system like staging is that we don’t always recall what we need at the exact moment we are leaving the house. For example:

  • We come across paperwork for Monday’s committee meeting while clearing off the kitchen counter on Thursday evening.
  • We remember – while driving the car – that our child is supposed to wear his favorite sports jersey to school tomorrow.
  • Our computer battery goes dead on a Zoom call, and we remember that we should bring our power cord with us when we go to work the next day.
  • We see a friend’s post on Instagram that reminds us that we need to drop off a donation to church next week.

Our memories simply are not at their best when we are rushing around at departure time. In fact, we often have our best recall in times of relaxation. Therefore, it is beneficial to set up a mechanism for capturing these thoughts as they happen, reducing our cognitive load and ensuring we remember important details.

Here are a few ways to incorporate staging into your routine.

1. Establish a “staging area” for each person in the household

This can be a low-traffic section of the floor, a corner of the dining room table, a cubby in the mudroom, or any designated location where items can sit undisturbed.  When you think of something you need to bring to your destination, either put it physically into this area right away or place a note in this area (e.g., “clarinet”, “signed contract”, “ballet shoes”, etc.) to remind yourself to get it before you leave. This is also the perfect location to place your packed bag, backpack, and/or briefcase the night before. Every time you are ready to exit the house, check this area first to see if there is something there that you need.

2. Create a list on your smartphone called “Remember to Bring” 

When you are out and about and think of something you need, record it in this reliable place. Then, when you get back to your home or office, go get whatever you have listed and put it into your staging area. Once listed items are staged, you can delete them from your smartphone. Having this list helps minimize the weight of trying to remember things in the future.

3. Make a list(s) for items you repeatedly require

Many people repeatedly require the same items for specific outings, such as for a sports practice, committee meeting, class, rehearsal, etc. Also, some people have a vacation home or weekend destination to which they bring a common collection of belongings. Rather than having to continually remember what to pack, record everything you need for these recurring events on checklists. These can be physically located in your staging area (e.g.  a card hung on the inside of a cabinet door, back of a cubby, near your keys, etc.) or on a digital device that you can quickly reference.

Another idea is to keep bags for recurring events in your staging area. On these bags you can attach a laminated checklist of what needs to be inside. For example, if you are a public speaker, you might list your computer, projector, power cord, dongles, remote control, business cards, brochures and copies of your book. Or, if you to love to go picnicking, you might list plates, napkins, plasticware, cups, corkscrew, trash bag, grill tongues, and wet wipes. Every time you are about to walk out the door, consult your checklist to make sure you have what you need.

This can be a helpful approach for children’s activities as well. Establish a bag with a checklist for each activity (e.g., dance, soccer, piano, preschool, art, etc.) and have children check to make sure they have all the accessories they need in the bag before heading out to the car. Better yet, pack and check the bag the night before.

*    *    *

While “showing up is half the battle,” “showing up prepared” is even better.

What tips do you have for making sure you get out the door with everything you need?

27 thoughts on “How to Get Out the Door with Everything You Need”

  1. I am a fan of prepping the night before. Many times having a landing strip for those items, or just bringing these to the car right away can alleviate this stress. I do this for myself because with all the things we bring for self care including water it is a lot of trips to get everything in the car.

    1. I often pack my car, including paperwork for the next day’s client, ahead of time. It just calms me down because I know even if I wake up to a power outage or something unexpected, I’ll be prepared.

  2. Transitions are difficult. Your advice to make a list of things to remember and to create staging places for the things as you gather them. It is so helpful to have the list of always needed things laminated and attached to the relevant bag or wherever makes sense. When my boys were young they participated in a number of after school activities that had accompanying things (trumpet, hockey gear, tennis etc.). I always wanted them to have what they needed but I also wanted them to be responsible for their own stuff. Having a list for them to check made that possible. Really great ideas here, Seana.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…How To Leave The Past Organizing Mistakes BehindMy Profile

    1. I think learning to use checklists is one of those lifelong skills. I use checklists all the time, and I think training children to use (and rely upon) them is a wonderful gift parents can give.

  3. oh my god I loved this blog!! As a person who always prepares the night before…during covid I didn’t have to do this…and now..getting back to my routine has taken me a bit to get use to again!!!

    1. I’ve had to find my way back into the routine as well, Lisa. Now I have to “add back” the whole mask thing, as we seem to be moving in that direction. One day at a time!

  4. Great advice, Seana! I totally agree! I call this my “landing spot.” It is near the front door in our foyer since both the front door and the garage are next to each other in this area. When the kids were little, they had cubbies near the front door, and that is where they would place their bags, instruments, etc… It was easy for them to place the items there to grab when they leave the house.

    I love that you mentioned creating a checklist for recurring items you may need. I have one for rental homes, so I remember everything since we only do this a few times a year.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…20 Ways To Take Care Of Yourself In 20 MinutesMy Profile

    1. Rental homes is a great one, as you sometimes bring a few things there that you might not take to a hotel. Why reinvent the wheel each time, right?

  5. I love these tips, Seana. I am not a morning person, so I learned long ago to gather everything I need for the next day the evening before, usually just after dinner, so I won’t get distracted. Each place has a specific space where it lives in my work backpack, so I can see if it’s missing. If there’s something else that needs to leave the house with me, it either goes at the top of the stairs so that I cannot possibly depart without it. Lists are good, but you have to remember to check your lists, which is why I like your tip #3 a bit better than #2, unless you set an alarm to remind you to look at your phone.

    And the tips for kids are excellent. It’s exactly how to built good skills for when they’re grownup!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Paper Doll To the Rescue: How To Save Wet Books & DocumentsMy Profile

    1. I set up the night before as well. Or actually, like you, I try to set that up before dinner, because after dinner I sort of fall apart LOL! It really does help to have a place where you know to put things when you think of them. I do this when a vacation is coming as well, typically on a chair in the dining room.

  6. Love this post. I wear many hats and need different things for each “out the door”. I have a staging area on the couch in my office for things I want to take to long doctor appointments. I also stack things there for upcoming meetings. If I have a client appointment that needs extra materials, I put them in the car as I think of them.
    I had one ADHD client that was often forgetting important items and tasks before leaving for work. We used both a checklist on her door and a reminder to check it or do another task with the cat food (she would never forget to feed her cat before she left).

  7. I pack for trips the same way — I do have a list to make sure I don’t forget anything, but I “stage” my packing by designating a spot several days ahead of time to put things I want to take as I think of them.

    1. I stage for a trip as well, Hazel. I tend to stack my vacation or trip items on a chair in my dining room. I’m known to start doing that weeks before I’m actually ready to pack.

  8. I like that you call it staging. You are trying to create a story for how you want you day to go. I tend to stage my things in my office and then first thing in the morning, I open my calendar, set timers for things I need to do throughout the day so I don’t forget anything and then gather all the notes, papers and items that I’ll need throughout the day. A little planning goes a long way.
    Janet Schiesl recently posted…Unconventional Time Strategies That WorkMy Profile

    1. It’s so true, planning can avert so many hassles. I’ve been especially thankful on the days I’ve woken up to something unexpected, like no power or a sick child.

  9. It seemed like just as our family was getting older and more in the groove of getting out the door (no more little dance bags, soccer bags, taekwondo gear, etc), here came COVID. After 12+ months of being at home, now I’m finding I can’t even remember what used to go in my backpack. I’m liking your laminated list idea! I also find it more draining than I used to – driving, parking, etc. What’s helping me for now is having plenty of time margin on either side of what I need to do, because I do NOT want to rush anymore. Keeping a list on Google Keep is helpful too, because I can access it right next to my email (which I check every morning without fail).
    Sara Skillen recently posted…The Tale of Left-BehindMy Profile

    1. Great idea with the Google Keep! I’m finding a lot of us are struggling a bit to get back in the routine. The traffic around me is making it all harder as well. What used to take me 25 minutes is now routinely taking an hour!

  10. There is an art to creating a staging area. I love all of the practical suggestions you shared for how to do that. But in addition, you acknowledged that creating a staging area after or during a transition time is something to be cognizant of. What worked in the past might need an adjustment. Finding your new flow or items that are relevant now need some additional thought.

    We recently returned from a mini-vacation. At home, our staging areas are well established. But when I go away, I also need to have my “areas.” So without much thought, both my husband and I found our areas to create temporary homes for things like keys, electronics, reading material, glasses, etc. And being that we were staying in a tiny home, there weren’t too many options for where to put things. But even in a tiny home, having places for our things was important.

    1. Perhaps in a tiny home this is even more important, right? I always set up a staging area in a hotel or rental right away, because I am more likely to loose track of things in an unfamiliar space. Great comment!

  11. Sometimes we have Alexa set off certain alarms for us but I admit I don’t remember what they’re for! It’s really hard getting the kids out the door for camp these days. I guess it’s just good that Scarlet is 12 because she can do nearly everything for herself. It’s me juggling the purse, diaper bag, kid stuff, etc.
    Tamara recently posted…Cotton Candy Fudge RecipeMy Profile

  12. I find its good to put what I need with my car keys or my purse. I love the idea of a staging area. We have a bench that we use for things we need to remember to take. I have to say it usually works but not always. We have so much going on all the time that it is easy to feel overloaded with info and then you can’t remember. I use my phone with the notes app as well for reminders.
    Kim Tremblay recently posted…Fall Routines and ProductivityMy Profile

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