by Meli L.
How long it takes to find my keys and wallet is one of the most reliable indices of my mental health. It can range from as simple as “In the left-hand pocket of my bag, as I expected” to “Maybe they’re in the pants I last wore. I can’t remember what they were. What did I do the last time I left the house? Why can’t I remember the last few days?” Anxiety scales with obligations, and the effort of fulfilling them scales with anxiety.
I spent a long time berating myself for not taking the time to prepare lunches for work when I knew I couldn’t afford to eat out. And that still didn’t make it any more possible to prepare. But the way to win had nothing to do with being a better person: it was to put that idea down altogether and try a new strategy. I expect How I Won My Life Back with a Slow Cooker to be a bestseller someday.
It was much the same with my everyday life. I had work, volunteering, socializing, and commuting without a car between them to contend with. Switching contexts often means aesthetic and practical compromises like biking between work and a dressy event. I’m fortunate enough to enjoy working out these logistics, but only when I can limit the unknowns.
Being an organized person is not just about willpower and habit, but also about shaping your environment—even incrementally—to make it more amenable to building and sustaining those habits. Everyday carry is a name for making such changes in the items you carry on your person to ensure you’re prepared each day (when I recently brought up the phenomenon in IRC someone quipped “I just call that having a purse”). While these can be identical, one can have a bag they carry without being deliberately prepared, and a person can be deliberately prepared without keeping it in a bag—I’ve long been a member of the former camp. I can’t make myself a member of the latter without compromising on the personal principle whereby I would never wear cargo pants.
What exactly makes sense for you certainly depends on your career, hobbies, and more; the following is a list of what I carry each day as a full-time programmer, bike commuter, and occasionally social human. I list first what I think is important, and then what I think is optional.
Maxpedition micro pocket organizer, which has a water-resistant main compartment with three internal pockets and several elastic straps. This was the most important aspect of starting EDC for me to consider because it’d be where I keep everything except cell phone and first aid kit. It has reasonably been criticized as a single point of failure, but I don’t see how it’s extraordinarily more so than any larger system we all use to carry what we need each day. I bought a somewhat small one so it could fit it in each bag I carry, whether backpack, pannier, or purse, and also to limit weight (it’s 1 lb. 7 oz.).
Mostly-used checkbook, the usefulness of which depends on whether businesses typically accept them in your city! I like carrying a subset with very few checks left because they’d only be used in an emergency and for damage control in case my EDC is stolen.
$20 cash, because although I almost always pay with a card, I don’t like scrambling for an ATM in those rare cases that only cash is accepted. It’s also sometimes an elegant way of mitigating that awkward “Can you split this up for seven cards?” moment at the restaurant.
Limited wallet, allowing only ID and a couple of cards. I try to avoid reward cards, if possible; I use a disposable phone number for such systems so I can still benefit from sales and the like but without yoking my activity to my identity. Minimalist wallet options abound, but I chose the Flipside wallet because it makes accessing cards exceptionally fast, it’s sturdy, and it prevents RFID scanning. It’s fairly wide, though, and would be awkward to carry in a pocket; I deliberately chose this to mitigate accidentally leaving my wallet at home, in the pants I wore the day before.
Pill box with: one dose of medication, some kind of OTC analgesic, and antihistamine. The medication is in case something keeps me from returning home to take it on schedule. The antihistamine can double as a sleep aid.
Pen (for me and, anecdotally, for many other fellow lefties: the Zebra F-301) and outdoor notepad because I live in a typically rainy city. I have only a couple of friends’ numbers memorized, so in case my phone dies but I need to reach people, I have a couple more written in the back of this notebook. It’s also sound, to the extent that weather is a concern, to have a waterproof pen or pencil. This can also be a great way to distract yourself or take notes in a way that I think comes across more politely than being on a phone.
Tampons: always at least one, and it’s also nice to be able to help someone else in an emergency! Also, they (and pads) are a great survival tool: they can be repurposed as wound dressing (tampons by simply pulling apart) because they’re so absorbent and come in sterile packaging, and tampons can also serve as tinder.
A single bus ticket: in case my phone dies and I don’t have change. My emergency $20 could serve this purpose, but I don’t typically feel like donating 300% for a day pass.
Knife (I prefer to satisfy this by having a multi-tool, described below).
Some kind of nutrition bar, usually high in protein, because sometimes I have to rush between obligations and rushed-but-also-starving is an exceedingly vulnerable state to make purchases in.
Multi-tool: I carry this with me everywhere. I encourage you to do your own research to compare trade-offs in features, weight, and cost, but my favorite such tools so far have been the Victorinox Cybertool 34 (obtained secondhand, then lost) and its replacement, the Leatherman Skeletool CX. The former had more than enough features (including, most usefully, scissors and tweezers), but was quite heavy and would have been ungainly in a pocket or on a belt loop. The latter has the most important bits—quite literally, screwdriver bits—and a knife, is light, and can be either clipped to a pocket or a belt loop. A fun plus to the Victorinox was that it had a corkscrew which, while rarely used, was used to great love and admiration from that intersection of friends both wine-loving and underprepared.
Travel toothbrush and floss/toothpaste from dentist, because they’re free and typically travel-sized! I am also so intense about oral hygiene that I have a full non-travel-sized set of these things at work for after lunch, so I don’t have to replace the EDC set as often.
Travel chopsticks (Kikkerland), more compact than a utensil set and still super useful! I bring these out anywhere that silverware is disposable. They also happen to be among my favorite chopsticks generally because they have wooden tips.
Earplugs, in case I don’t want to be distracted and forgot to bring headphones, need to nap somewhere (this has really happened), or my friends want to go somewhere loud. How cool do I look when I can spontaneously go to my friend’s punk show WHILE protecting my hearing?!
Bike tools: these exist in many forms, and their usefulness depends on what you’re prepared to do on your own. When I lived in a city with fewer bike shops I carried hex wrenches, a patch kit, and a portable air pump. Here in Portland I only carry hex wrenches for adjustments or tightening.
Hotel sewing kit, because compact (and which I’ve even refilled since I first got it), plus a small bit of fashion tape. These are both for unforeseen emergencies like a tear or lost button and for when I finally wind up seeing myself in a mirror on a given day and realize something’s horribly awry.
Baby wipes (or face wipes, depending on what you fancy), especially while traveling but also for when you don’t have time between the gym (and/or barbecue) and your next engagement.
Dry shampoo: I recommend only going with powders, as I’ve repeatedly had bad luck with spray applications. This is good EDC for when you haven’t had time to wash, or your sweaty bike helmet hair isn’t the style du jour. I recommend it as a practice generally, because I only have to shampoo about once a week now and use very little of this stuff in between too.
Tile, a device that connects to my phone via Bluetooth and can both be called and tracked. While the range is only 100 feet, that can be repeated by any phone with the app. That is, if I leave my EDC at a restaurant, I can still find it privately in my app if someone else with the app is near it. It’s understandable if this creeps you out! I’ve yet to need it because simply having a centralized system for what I need each day has been enough to keep track of it.
Above and Beyond
This may be overkill, but I also always carry a first aid kit (the Lifeline Trail Light Dayhiker kit is both comprehensive and extraordinarily light: 3.7 ounces). Perhaps because I came from California and there are scary articles about a Pacific Northwest earthquake, I also always carry a lightweight personal water filter called a LifeStraw. Another, less obtrusive, option is to carry water purification tablets. I also have a tool called the safety cat, a cute cat face-shaped aluminum tool you can easily keep in your pocket but put over your knuckles for self-defense. You can also place keys between your fingers for similar effect and without risk of losing them to the TSA.
The Hairpin once published “How to Survive a 10-Hour Flight Like a Lady,” which I found both funny and useful, but the most useful bits of advice were to use headphones that can double as a cushion for falling asleep and always, always bring a snack.
A book or e-reading device at all times is how I’ve survived many an unexpected wait, whether for people or transit, and it doesn’t use up my battery. It can also be a more effective leave-me-alone-I’m-only-in-this-bar-because-I’m-waiting-for-someone device than the phone! Speaking of leave-me-alone: I never cross the city without earbuds or, more conspicuously, headphones even if I’m not listening to anything, so I can plausibly ignore anyone trying to get my attention while still being able to attend to my surroundings.
Establishing this system has saved me a lot of time and a proportional amount of grief: I hadn’t realized how defeated I can feel spending 10 minutes overturning my house to find what I need, because it cascades into missing the bus or being late to a meeting. While the privilege of having the extra spending money for some of these things isn’t always an option, it helps to build a habit of putting everything in one place no matter what. Also, everything can be done in steps (I separated every purchase by at least one paycheck), and excellent DIY options abound. Military surplus and secondhand stores are always rife with opportunity too!
- http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/06/05/survival-tampon/, a problematically named website
- my own totally valid experience
Meli is a Python programmer and preparedness nerd living in Portland, OR. She tries to be organized so she can maximize her time befriending neighborhood cats.