What I Carry Every Day

A few weeks ago, I finished up the weekly reader mailbag column with a question about what I carry every day. Here’s the question and the answer, reprinted for you

I love seeing “everyday carry” articles where people show off what they carry around with them every day. It usually reveals items that the person considers to be truly useful. What is your “everyday carry”?
– Andrew

In my pockets, I usually carry a small pocketknife (one with some personal sentiment), a leather wallet containing just a few cards but large enough to protect a pocket notebook, a pocket notebook, a couple of pens, my keys, and my phone.

In my backpack, which essentially functions like a portable office for me, I carry a lot more. I have my laptop, my laptop charger, some vitamin C and zinc and cough drops, a few “emergency” Synthroid (for my thyroid condition I’ve had since birth), a few backup pocket notebooks, my fiction writing journal, a couple of small reference books, several pens, an expandable water bottle, a tin of breath mints, a toothbrush, some toothpaste wrapped in a baggie (in case of spillage), some dental floss, deodorant, some business cards, a couple of memory sticks, and some chargers for my phone and a few other devices. If I am in an emergency, I can just grab this and run for the door and be good for a few days (assuming that I can buy some clothes along the way at some point).

It’s actually not very heavy, believe it or not. I carry it with me a lot.

This simple question triggered a surprising number of emails from people with follow-up questions, so in order to answer most of them, I thought I’d walk through my “every day carry” in a bit more detail.

Pocket Items

Most of the time, you’ll find me carrying the following items in my pockets:

A small pocketknife I used to carry around a pocketknife that I got when I was in high school that had some sentimental value, but it was practically useless as of late. Every trick I had for keeping the blade sharp no longer worked. So, right now, I’m on the lookout for a new pocketknife. This holiday season, I’m going to be spending time with several people who are pocketknife aficionados and I’ll be asking them for advice, but I’ll probably stick with their previous recommendation of getting a medium-range Spyderco. As of right now, I’m not carrying one.

Why carry a pocketknife? I use it for all kinds of things: opening packages, cutting strings off of clothing, trimming things in a jiffy, and so on. I used to carry a multitool, but I found myself just using the blade 90% of the time, so I started leaving the multitool in my backpack (I’ll get to that in a bit).

A small wallet This mostly just contains my cash and a few cards such as my drivers license, my medical cards, and one credit card. I leave most of the stuff people carry in their wallets at home. My wallet is as simple and small as humanly possible – I avoid the giant “exploding wallet” that some have.

A pocket notebook This is simply for jotting down notes whenever they come to me. I’ll jot down lists, things I need to remember, ideas that people give me, interesting things that I see, doodles and sketches – all kinds of things. I used to carry a spiral-top Mead notebook, but I found that they were always falling apart. Right now, I’m using a Field Notes pocket notebook, which is much more sturdy.

A couple of pens I keep a retractable pen with a very hard body in my pocket so that I can always jot down notes if needed. Pens with softer plastic bodies sometimes break in my pocket, which is disastrous, and pencils smudge a lot in pocket notebooks, to the point that earlier notes become illegible. I usually use Uniball Signo 207 pens and I’ve never had one have a “pocket disaster” on me.

Keys and phone These are items that almost everyone carries with them, so no real special comment is needed.

Backpack Items

I have a backpack that basically functions as a portable office. I currently use a North Face Surge II backpack, which has served me well for a little less than a year so far without any significant wear. It replaced a bag that I had used since my college days.

The rest of this list is literally the items I’m pulling out of my bag, excluding a few things like the notes that my daughter likes to stick in there when I’m not looking, miscellaneous receipts, and other irrelevant things. So, yes, I’m writing this paragraph by paragraph as I dig through my bag.

The purpose of this bag is to have one bag I can grab no matter what’s happening. If there’s an emergency and I have to travel, I can grab this bag and have much of what I need. If I’m just going to the library, I can grab this bag and have what I need.

Laptop and charger I keep my laptop in there, along with a charger for it. My bag is the “home” for my laptop – it’s where it goes when it’s not in use.

Two AC-to-USB converters These are just outlet plug-ins with USB ports on them. They’re useful for charging lots of things on the go, such as my cell phone, my wife’s cell phone, and other things along those lines.

Four miscellaneous charging cables These are just cables for devices that we often use in our house. I keep them wrapped up and stuffed into an old mint tin with a rubber band around it to keep it from exploding.

Two memory sticks I keep these on hand in case I need to move a computer file off my laptop and hand it to someone, or they need to give me a computer file. Both of these appear to be freebies that I’ve been given by companies as promotional items at various points, so it’s not a big financial loss if I misplace one. I usually have three or four sticks, so I must have “loaned” one or two to people recently… although I can’t remember why. This is something that I’m sure will trouble me for a while.

A Target prescription bottle with several Synthroid pills in it I was born with hypothyroidism and have been taking Synthroid daily since I was three days old. If I miss a day of the medicine, I notice it and feel kind of tired and sluggish. If I miss more than two or three days, I get really irritable and want to sleep all the time. It’s worth having those pills in there as backup. I rotate them every few months so that they’re “fresh.”

A box of sore throat lozenges Fisherman’s Friend lozenges, to be specific. They taste horrible, but they do the job.

A half-empty bag of vitamin C drops Vitamin C probably doesn’t do a thing to help with colds, but sucking on the drops does help to soothe my throat and sinuses if I’m feeling a bit down and out. I’m glad to have these when my throat feels “off.”

A Ziploc bag with several tea bags in it I’ll sometimes just order hot water as a beverage at a restaurant and use my own tea because, frankly, I’m picky about tea. If I’m in an office somewhere, I’ll microwave some water to boiling and put one of the tea bags in there.

A water bottle It’s just an ordinary empty water bottle of some kind that I know is microwave safe. I’ll use it to heat water for tea sometimes.

About ten pens They’re all bundled together in the bottom of one of the pockets. Whenever I need a pen, I can just reach in there and grab one out.

Three backup pocket notebooks These are in there in case I’m out and about and fill up my current pocket notebook. It happens more often than you’d think.

A pocket tool Right now, it’s a Leatherman Wingman. I keep it in there in case I need to repair something on the go. It has most of the tools I’ll need in a pinch all in one place.

A really small toiletries bag Inside is a travel-sized bottle of mouthwash, a toothbrush, a disposable razor, a tube of toothpaste (that’s in a Ziploc itself), and a deodorant stick. Those are there mostly in case I need to go somewhere in a big hurry, though I have used them here and there to “freshen up” before meetings.

A copy of Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin This is probably my most frequent reference book for writing. I flip through it for both personal and professional inspiration all the time.

A copy of Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker I usually keep a second book in my backpack that rotates on a somewhat frequent basis. Right now, the book is Early Retirement Extreme. A few months ago, it was Raising Financially Fit Kids by Joline Godfrey.

A journal This journal is for my fiction writing. I tend to keep it here, but I often pull it out at home. I use it to sketch out plot lines and characters for my attempts at short stories and novels.

A “backup” t-shirt for myself I’ve spilled on way too many of my own shirts over the years, especially when my kids were little. It’s rolled up in the bottom of one pocket.

A “backup” t-shirt for my four year old My youngest one also spills on himself more than he should. It’s rolled up in the bottom of a pocket, too.

Six granola bars These are as much for me – when I need energy in a pinch – as they are for my children. In fact, I suspect my children wind up using them more often then I do.

All of this fits nicely into my bag with plenty of space left to spare. There are often “irregular” items in there, like a recent magazine or something like that as well.

Having this kind of “portable office” has saved my cookie a bunch of times in making sure I have everything I need when traveling. It’s also made it very convenient when working in different places. The amount of money and time it’s saved me over the years is tremendous.