Packing for the beach, KonMari style

This image shows a mustard yellow backpack in the foreground and the ocean in the background.

I was looking through the photos on my phone the other day and realised that even on the last day of May, my son was still in his winter coat and leggings, albeit eating an ice cream. Now it’s entirely possible that he refused to leave the house without his coat, and I know for a fact I had to bribe him with the ice cream as ‘the naughty doctor scratched my arms’ (vaccinations), but still, it feels as though as summer arrived overnight this year. 

Packing for the beach is one of those things that should in theory be simple, but can mushroom into an hours-long task, especially when children or large groups are involved. Today I’ll share ways to make it seem like less of an endless task. I try to use some of the principles of the KonMari method to keep it manageable.

Theory:

Throw a book, towel, bottle of water, and swimsuit / change of clothes into a bag. Go to beach. 

Reality: 

Take a large Bag For Life or beach bag. Empty last weekend’s sand from the bottom. Sigh as you find a crusty (or worse – still damp) swimsuit and towel in the depths. Spend a while looking for spare clothes, beach towels, toys, sunscreen, hats, beach toys and so on, that meet each person’s standards. This part will take approximately four years, as everybody has an opinion but nobody will actually want to find or pack their own things. Stand back and watch as each person approaches the bag at the last minute and crams in ‘just this last thing please’ until the bag weighs a ton and may burst in your face. 

I could continue for a while on that tack, but it’s a little demoralising and since the point of power is always in the present moment (thank you Louise Hay), let’s set up some healthier beach bag habits that mean less stress for all:

Look at your bag 

Is the bag you’ve been taking to the beach for the past three years fit for purpose? Realistically, is it the right size?

We’ve discussed the frustration of a too-small bag above, but anything too cavernous is also problematic. Who wants to spend valuable beach time clawing into the depths of your bag in the hope of finding the sunglasses you lost there four weeks ago? Obviously something waterproof works well. Will each family member need their own beach bag, or are you an all-in-one family?

Most importantly, does the bag spark joy? Here in Malta we’re lucky to have a long summer season, and that’s a lot of trips to the beach to make with a bag you truly hate. If it doesn’t spark joy, make a mental note to keep an eye out for its replacement. 

What should live in the bag?

As a KonMari consultant-in-training, I have to say here that Marie Kondo recommends emptying every bag after it’s been used and packing it only before you head out.

However, beach bags have such a predictable and repeatable use that it’s possible to identify certain items that you can leave in there, time after time. Others can be replaced as soon as you get home from one trip, ready for the next. However, a few will be dropped in shortly before you leave for the beach. I’m assuming for the sake of this list that you arrive at the beach wearing swimwear and a cover-up:

  • Sunscreen – for face and body. I’ve started writing on a bottle the date it was opened (Sharpie pens work well for this as the ink doesn’t smear away). 
  • Beach towels – one per person. We’re a family of three. We use two on the beach and keep one as a ‘last resort’ towel in case we need something not damp or covered in sand / ice cream for the end of our beach trip or the journey home. Decathlon (and other suppliers of course) stock lightweight microfibre towels that dry quickly and don’t hold onto sand. Three of these take up much less space than three standard beach towels, though we normally take a mixture as towelling fibres seem to be much kinder to our young son’s face when he inevitably falls headfirst in the sand! Again – use what sparks joy. My favourite towel is a hammam-style thin cotton type that feels lovely on my skin but doesn’t need a bag of its own as its quite compact. Unloved towels that ‘still have plenty of wear in them’ can be donated to animal sanctuaries where they’ll be used with gratitude and great frequency!
  • Book or magazine per person if you can squeeze in a little reading time. At this time of year I have one book that I keep as a ‘beach book’ and another that I read at other times of the week. Don’t forget something for children to read. Although the sea and sand are prime attractions, they’ll be back for a little shade and a cuddle, so having a favourite story or comic for them to enjoy can really enhance and maximise that time. 
  • Change of clothes and underwear per person. Pack these into a wetbag with a zip or drawstring to prevent the disappointment of having to put on a wet skirt at the end of the beach trip. I picked up some brightly patterned wetbags last summer in the USA and they’ve been a revelation. Be gone, damp ‘clean’ clothes! They aren’t big enough to put a towel into but are certainly big enough to contain swimwear. Ensure spare swim nappies and regular nappies, if needed, are kept in a waterproof bag too.
  • Talcum powder. The sand slides right off! 
  • Frozen water bottle. Remove from the freezer an hour or two before you leave for the beach. Allow to defrost a little. Even by the end of your beach trip, the water should still have a chill to it. It can also be used as a refreshing neck rest and ice pack for anybody suffering from over-exposure (me, most likely. I’m not at all tolerant of the sun). Bonus points if each person has their own reusable bottle. 
  • Snacks. There’s something about the beach that just makes you ravenous. Pack something easy to eat that you know will be enjoyed – this isn’t the time or place for new food tastings! Pack these in a sealable lunchbox to prevent the sand getting in. Try to go for things with less packaging to reduce the chances of any waste being blown away and becoming marine pollution. 
  • Small rubbish bag. If you’re going to an ‘organised beach’ they should have plenty of bins nearby, and may even hand you a rubbish bag. We always take one along just in case. Remember to recycle whatever you can. 
  • Beach toys for any children / playful adults in the party. These are best stored in a separate bag. I’ve seen some fab mesh bags around which solve the problem of taking half of the sand and water on the beach home. Ask your child to decide on a small selection of toys (giving them a number to stick to works best). And remember – kids on the beach usually end up playing together and sharing toys, so if you want to ensure they all come home again, consider marking them up on the base with a Sharpie. 
  • Swimming aids e.g. noodle, armbands, swimtrainer. The latter two can stay in the beach bag, deflated. The noodle may find itself living in your car boot. 
  • Hats for anybody who cannot be trusted to remember their own.

And this tends to be our limit – anything else is an added bonus. Last year we took wet wipes but no longer do so, a) because they blow away so easily and can become damaging marine pollution in a windy instant, and b) because the combination of wet wipes, sand and sun cream just doesn’t seem to remove anything properly. Instead we now take Cheeky Wipes and wet them as needed from a water bottle or the bathroom wherever we are. 

Unpack the bag as soon as you get home

Yes. This requires strength of character, because you just want to lie down on the sofa and nap. But unpack the damp items, put them straight into the washing machine, and empty any sand you did transport home out of the bag. Then you may nap!

Re-pack the bag

This won’t be instant. But as soon as you’ve unpacked you can add certain things back in – the sunscreen, beach toys and swimming aids. As soon as the towels are dry those can be folded and replaced in the bag. Once the wetbag is dry that can be filled with a fresh change of clothes for your next visit and placed in the bag. If you’re reliant on swim nappies, they can also go in instantly. 

By the time your next beach trip rolls around, hopefully you’ll just need to get dressed, apply sunscreen, and add snacks and that lovely cold bottle of water to the bag, and you’re out of the door. 

There. Beach time extended, stress reduced. 

What’s in your beach bag? Are you one of the organised types who have it ready and waiting to go at the door? Or is it more of a case of throwing things in and finding out what you forgot when you arrive?

TL;DR?

  • Beach bag packing can be stressful
  • Genuinely – use a bigger bag than you think you’ll need
  • Use a wet bag or two
  • Give children a numerical limit of toys they can bring
  • Unpack ASAP upon returning home

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