Space Saving Folding Clothes

Step 1: Lay the piece of clothing flat on a surface and smooth out the wrinkles. Step 2: Fold in one side of the shirt completely down the middle, folding the sleeves until folded neatly. Step 3: Do the same to the other side of the shirt. Step 4: Fold the bottom of the shirt up to the front, almost folding in half. Kondo’s philosophy is simple: by vertically folding your clothes in a precise manner, you can save lots of space by storing them upright in your drawers and keeping everything much more organized. With the KonMari Method, your clothing is folded into a rectangular shape and then compacted or tucked into a tight bundle.

The best way to pack your clothes would be a combination of both. Flat pack bulkier items, like pants, and roll smaller or more delicate pieces of clothing, like a dress or shirt.

Ah, the age old debate of flat packing vs. rolling clothes for travel; a mainstay conversation topic of hostel bars around the world. While some travelers swear that rolling your clothes is the best possible method, others shrug and say it doesn’t really matter.

Online, I sometimes wonder if we’re making this claim blindly — following the advice of others without having stopped to compare the two methods. So, curious to know the truth, I set out to run a test and find out: which really is better? Flat packing or rolling your clothes for travel?

One of the most popular reasons people give for rolling your clothes over flat packing is that it saves space in their carry on backpack. So, to test this theory out, I first flat-packed then rolled the exact same set of clothes.

In the first version, I used the Outbreaker travel backpack to flat-pack:

Everything fit in snuggly, but the bag wasn’t so full it was bursting at the seems. I even had a small space on the side where I could slip a pair of flip-flops in.

I then rolled the exact same list and while I had more space on top, I had no space around the edges of the Outbreaker:

To fill the extra space and figure out the max amount of items I could comfortably fit, I added in four more shirts and one dress. It brought the total count to:

Space Saving Folding Clothes Hangers

  • 11 t-shirts
  • 2 sweaters
  • 2 pairs of pants
  • 1 maxi skirt
  • 1 maxi dress

Like before, everything fit snuggly but the bag was not bursting at the seams or hard to zip up.

However, I suspected that I was able to fit more simply because I had the appearance of more space. At this point, a couple of advantages for rolling clothes were made pretty clear — it was better organized, I had maximized the space — but was more space one of them? Was I really not able to fit the extra tops and dress when flat-packing? Just to confirm, I re-packed the final version of the list as flat:

The Verdict: Is Rolling or Folding Better?

Everything fit in both versions. The biggest difference wasn’t more or less space, but rather where the extra space was.

  • Flat packing pushed things up, leaving pockets on the side
  • Rolling clothes pushed them out, creating a little extra space on top

This is especially true with a conventional hiking backpack, where the layers of items — if packed incorrectly — can create pockets of unused space throughout.

The even results happened, partially because bulky clothes, like the sweaters, were going to be bulky and take up a lot of space no matter how I packed them. A compression sack is the only way I’d be able to get the sweaters to take up less space and fit more in my bag.

Thin clothing, like the t-shirts, did pack better and take up less space when rolled. Or, at the very least, they had the appearance of being more compressed. I also would have been able to fit a couple of rolled items in the side of the bag in the flat-packing version if I had decided to combine methods.

While rolling clothes helps you maximize your space (by filling the bag from edge to edge), it doesn’t really save you space.

If you really want to fit more clothes in a bag, use a compression sack and put thought into the type of clothing you’re packing. For example, two bulky sweaters took up the same amount of space as seven t-shirts. I could have swapped out one sweater for two long-sleeve shirts if I’d wanted to bring more stuff (which I usually don’t).

Packing cubes are another option for compressing things just a little bit and keeping your clothes organized in travel backpacks. If you invest in cubes that are heartier than the flimsy cheap-o ones the structure will help find a little more space in your bag.

Even if rolling clothes doesn’t save you that much space, it has other advantages. Three main reasons why you’d opt to roll instead of flat pack include:

Did you know the military requires all members to roll their clothes when packing? Yup. When I consulted my in-house military expert (aka my dad) about this, he said, “It helps keep your uniforms crease and wrinkle free, or to prevent it rubbing up against luggage and creating rips.”

To that end, rolling your clothes can be very effective. Especially for items that wrinkle easily (like gauzy dresses), rolling can be a simple way of keeping them neat. Depending on how you roll them, however, you may still end up with a crease. To solve this, bring a small bottle of wrinkle releaser ($8) or briefly toss clothes in the dryer once you’re at your destination. Or, do as the pros do and roll your clothes military style.

As you can see in the rolled clothing example, I had much better visibility into my backpack when the clothes were rolled. I could see all of the items I’d packed at a glance, rather than having to rustle through a pile to find the right top. It simply looks more organized and it’s easier to find items quickly. Up your organizational game one more level by adding packing cubes.

If I had wanted to fit more clothing into the flat-packed version of my packing list, I could have rolled a few t-shirts and stuffed them along the sides. Rolling clothes helps you put items in smaller pockets of space.

In the end, though, it’s best to use a combination of both methods.

  • Roll small or delicate items, like shirts or dresses
  • Flat-pack bulky items, like jeans or sweaters

If you have a traditional backpack (where you can only stuff from one end), create a flat bottom by stacking rolled clothing on the bottom, then layer with flat layers. Fill small pockets with rolled clothes or other small items.

If you have a suitcase or a backpack like the Outbreaker, group rolled clothes on one side, flat on the other or stack rolled items on top of folded pieces.

While rolling clothes can help you create a better organized bag, maximize space, and keep clothing wrinkle-free, it isn’t a magic method that will help you bring more clothing. Flat packing and rolling clothes are equally effective to that end.

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I recently have been re-assessing my clothes storage techniques. You know what I mean? The way that we fold our clothes exactly the way that our mothers did it. The way that we get stuck in a pattern of doing things without realizing that there may be a better way. Well, after my reassessment, I discovered that the way that I have been doing things could stand to use some improvement, and these are the space saving ideas for clothes that I have adopted.

(This post may contain affiliate links (*). That means that I make a small commission from sales that result through these links, at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure here.)

Space Saving Ideas for Clothes – Drawers…

It seems like EVERYONE was has been flocking to the Marie Kondo* method for folding clothes. Well, since I was already pretty much in the habit of doing compact folding and standing – instead of laying – my clothes in a drawer, I didn’t think there would be anything that she could offer me. However, I decided to check it out anyway, because you never know until you try something.

For starters, I have now begun to fold my casual knit tops. Before, I only folded my t-shirts and sweaters. I discovered that these tops take up much less room in a drawer than they do hanging in my closet.

My drawers before were pretty organized, but as you can see, my t-shirts were still taking up too much space. This new technique for folding tops and tees is to do a small, 3 fold, rectangle. As you can see, the 4 tops in the first image (above) have been reduced to a smaller area than my current folding method. Plus, since they stand instead of laying, it is easy to see what you want – i.e. no more digging through stacks to find a top.

For my bras, I refuse to alter my methods, as I have yet to find one that I like better than what I have above. I use Victoria’s Secret storage method. Simply put, stack the cups inside each other -no folding required. Folding a bra can wear out the gore and damage the shape. This way helps them keep their shape. Not to mention, they look so pretty. ;-)

This method works for me, but I know some people’s bras do not have quite so much protrusion, and will not stand on their own. If you need something extra to help make your bras to hold their shape, the container store has this great Bra Organizer.* It is perfect for as a drawer divider for all of your bras. This bra organizer is recommended for bras up to cup size DD.
(Want more drawer organizing? Check out my dish drawer organizer).

Space Saving Ideas for Clothes – Closets…

5 utc. One of the ways that I save space in my husband’s closet is to group dress shirts with jackets. It takes less space and fewer hangers. It also makes it easy for him to decide. :-) After all these years, I have a pretty good idea of what shirts he prefers with what jacket, but I do like to switch things around between wearings.

This method can also work for women suits. Although I like to see all of my shirts hanging independently, I usually group the out-of-season items in this fashion. This leaves me with more room for the in-season stuff.

Best Space Saving Hangers

Another space saving idea for clothes in a closet is to utilize specialty hangers. I like the pants’ hangers because they reduce bulky items into a compacted space.

One thing to note: When I buy specialty hangers that are intended to hold multiple items, I always by the stainless steel or wood and never the plastic. Although they initially cost a bit more, I have found that the plastic ones rarely hold up. With plastic, I usually just end up wasting my money.

This is a good example of a specialty hanger that comes in plastic. It is a good concept that works well, but only if you buy the stainless steel version.

With these, you can reduce multiple tops to a very small space. I like these for seasonal storage, as well.

More space saving ideas for clothes…

I like to fold dress shirts when the closets are too small to comfortably fit everything. A stack of folded shirts takes up much less space than the same amount when hung.

Just take a look at this closet. Instead of a double hanging space, the right compartment has been converted into shelving. The shirts stored on these shelves would never have fit in the same space if the had been hung. (You can find more small closet tips and tricks here).

The same concept can be applied to jeans. I like to fold them and stack them on shelves. It works in the stores, so I figure it can work in my home.

Another method for jeans is to roll them. I like this technique with kids jeans, not so much for bigger adults. Once you pass a certain size, the rolls are difficult to make and they look bulky. But, I do use this method for my leggings.

Final Thoughts…

There are so many different spaces saving ideas for clothes out there, and new ones seem to crop up every day. Do you have a special technique that you would like to share? Leave a comment below. I am always on the hunt for good storage methods. I’d love to hear about it!


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