Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Going on vacation is always fun, but it’s also a lot of work – especially if you’re a bit neurotic, as I am. I have lists of what I’ve packed in the past, what I’m planning on packing now, and what I think I should pack in the future. I have lists of what I need to get, what I already have, and what I don’t need this time. I have lists that are alphabetized, categorized, and color-coded. I spend nearly as much time making lists as I do collecting the stuff that is on them. And I definitely spend more time planning and packing for vacation than I do actually being on vacation. But what really takes up my time when it comes to vacation is not the preparation, nor the vacation itself. It’s the “de-vacationing” that comes after we get home.

The first part of de-vacationing is laundry. Even if a trip was only a quick overnight, my family somehow manages to generate 27 loads of laundry. In fact, whether the trip was overnight or two weeks long, the amount of laundry is roughly the same. It’s like some weird magic vacation physics. And since my family often goes camping for vacation, a large part of that laundry is washing sleeping bags.

I live on the edge when it comes to washing sleeping bags. I used to carefully read the labels and have them dry cleaned, until I noticed that one of our sleeping bags carried a dire warning: “DO NOT DRY CLEAN!!!!” It was in such a threatening font that I decided to give in to that warning and instead ignore the warnings on the other bags that said, sweetly and non-threateningly, “Wash only in a large capacity front-loading commercial grade washer.” Pfft. Ain’t nobody got time for dat. If I can stuff that baby into my washer, then that’s where it’s going. So far, neither the washing machine nor the sleeping bags are any the worse for wear. I do draw the line as throwing them in the dryer, though. I have had the experience of sleeping in a sleeping bag whose stuffing had shifted in the dryer and I will never again subject myself to that. Instead, my back yard is covered with sleeping bags draped over every available surface. At this very moment, there’s one hanging over the fence, another draped over two carefully placed patio chairs, a third hanging over the railing of the pool steps, and a fourth looking like a heavily-padded tablecloth on the picnic table. I spend most of “drying day” praying for no rain.

Another large part of de-vacationing is re-stocking and de-stocking. Our camping supplies include a mix of perishable and non-perishable items, so things like Ziploc baggies, rolls of paper towels, and long matches are re-stocked prior to being packed back away in the attic, and things like pancake mix, Clorox wipes, and batteries are pulled out and added to our daily stores before their boxes are tucked away for another year. Of course, this leads to a complete reorganization and repacking of all the items in every box. There is a complicated system of nesting and tucking items together to maximize use of storage space. (This is where my years of playing Tetris come in handy.) The paper towel roll nests perfectly inside the Dutch chimney, and the space left by that cereal box I just took out can be filled with two boxes of ziplocs and a pack of firestarters. If I do my job correctly, next year these boxes will look like so many clown cars, with many more supplies spilling out than could possibly have been packed in there.

And of course, the final stage of de-vacationing is cleaning out the car. Once the bulk of the boxes and bags have been removed, the process of picking through the detritus begins. Like a gold miner panning in a river, sorting through mud and stones to find a glimpse of gold, I sort through petrified raisins, stale Froot Loops, and empty juice boxes to find miniscule Lego pieces, Matchbox racecars, stuffed animals wedged under seats, and other treasures hidden amidst the chaff. If I could invent a vacuum cleaner that would suck up Cocoa Pebbles while leaving Legos behind, I’d be a millionaire (and the hero of every mom who ever lived).

It may take some time, but at some point after arriving home, the car is clean; the boxes are once again stashed in the attic; the scents of campfire, bug spray, and sunscreen have faded away; the photos have been posted on Facebook; the updated packing lists have been filed; and all that’s left is a few tan lines and a lot of happy memories. We are officially de-vacationed! Hmm, I’d say it’s time to start planning the next vacation. Now, where’d I put that packing list?

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