Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #1: A Bag

[First note that I have organized the list alphabetically to avoid discussion of prioritization or ranks within the item list.]

What is it: By a “bag”, I mean an empty or spare bag that you have with you. (You know… a bag… to put things in). It has 100’s nay 1000’s of uses. And it should be empty when you leave home as the value and utility of an empty bag is directly proportional to just how empty it is. An empty bag, folded up and stowed, has maximum utility value, whereas one that is half-full when you leave home has much less value as a “spare”.

The best empty or spare bag to take with you is an “eco-tote” as I call them. These inexpensive, and lightweight bag are themselves usually made of a recyclable material, such as polypropylene or recycled cotton fibers, are increasingly sold almost everywhere as a green alternative to plastic bags.

Well-loved Staples eco-easy bag

My favorite is the “eco-easy” tote from Staples. It is HUGE and decently strong. Most of the ones sold in grocery stores for about a dollar are very small (and much smaller than the average plastic bag they are intended to replace). The Staples “eco-easy” tote only cost about $1 (on sale) or $1.50 (if not).

bn-bagAnother favorite of mine is the slightly smaller eco-tote from Barnes & Noble; it’s got that stylish New York black color and is also only about $1.50. Bags on the Run also sells decently sized eco-friendly bags in batches as low as 10. See http://www.bagsontherun.com/.

There are hundreds of alternatives out there. Pick one (or several) that matches your lifestyle and needs.

When empty, these eco-totes fold down to a very manageable size for fitting into a coat pocket or another bag (say if you carry a backpack, purse or briefcase with you anyway – throw an empty eco-tote in each and every one so you’ll always have one with you; leave them by the door so you can grab one on the way out). In warm shorts & t-shirt weather and climates, this becomes admittedly more troublesome…

landsend_packable_backpackAnother favorite type of bag is a packable backpack from Lands End. These are now available only in the Overstocks section, so these may not be available from this source for much longer, so I would grab one (or three) now in red at $19.99 while they last.  They also come in a packable tote and a packable duffel as well. I love the duffel and I grabbed one of those a while back – great to take olandsend_packable_backpack_packedn trips/vacations where you think you might come home with more stuff than you leave home with – they are now only available in pink, which may work for everyone. The totes are available in a bunch of colors, but I don’t think these totes have anything to offer over eco-totes and are a lot more expensive. Anyway, the best things about the packable backpack is they are truly lightweight, decently sized when open, small when folded up (only 6″Wx1″Dx6 1/2″H), easier to carry when open than a tote or a duffle, and strong enough not to rip when filled up with groceries, drinks or kids toys. Packable bags are also available from many camping and hiking suppliers.

Kiva Keychain BackpackKiva Keychain Backpack - FoldedI’m going to be evaluating the Kiva Keychain Backpack as an alternative to the Lands End one.  It is only about half the cost of the Lands End bag, but doesn’t look as durable to me.  I’ll report on these in a future post.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Bringing your own bags has become a great way of “Living Green” and helps make the practice of taking an empty bag with you when you leave home habitual. In urban living this works great as us City folk often set off on foot in the morning from home, go to work by public transportation, stop for groceries or sundries at a drug store, and run numerous other errands before returning to our homes at night. Having a bag with you is essential to this lifestyle and having an (additional) empty bag with you becomes so valuable you can’t imagine life before the empty bag.

Living in Brooklyn, I am in one of the select places in the country (if not the world) where people don’t take their cars with them wherever they go. But being originally from Massachusetts, I do have the experience of having to drive everywhere – even for a simple bagel, which never seems further than the closest corner here in Brooklyn – but I digress. It should be even easier for those who drive from home to point A to point B to point C to point D to… home again to find great utility in having an empty bag with them during the day.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? I can report that personally, this practice has become very habitual for our whole family once the commitment was made. We bring a bag of eco-totes with us to the grocery store for our scheduled weekly household shopping – most of them eco-easy bags from Staples because of their HUGE size. Because they are so HUGE and decently strong, you can do a HUGE shopping and fit everything into about 8 bags.

Living in Brooklyn, we also run a lot of errands on foot on a daily basis – part of City living – so once the commitment was made to use an eco-tote as part of Living Green – it did become habitual to never leave the house without one.

On those rare days when I run out of the house without an empty bag with me, I usually regret it. Those days are becoming rarer and rarer, but one did occur only yesterday. I ran out in the morning to drop my daughter off at school, then needed to stop at both a drug store and grocery store on the way home to pick up some essentials that we had run out of. Alas, no bag. I ended up with four double-bagged bags (total eight!) plastic ones to carry the admittedly heavy items I purchased. I would have needed two eco-easy bags and having only one with me would have spared the use of four plastic bags. We still find utility in having a few plastic bags around the house, especially around the time it is to clean out the cat’s litterbox.

On the other hand, I have had less success in trying to take an empty packable backpack with me. One of my packable backpacks is used on a daily basis by our babysitter to carry along extra clothing for the kids, as well as drinks and snacks for the kids. Another was taken over by my wife, who loved it because it was so light. I have a third hidden away and take it with me only on longer trips away from home; mostly I do carry an eco-tote with me somewhere.

Criticality after a disaster: I think that the utility of carrying an empty bag with you when you leave home on a daily basis is unquestionable; and it should be considered no less critical following a disaster. As I said before, an empty bag has 100s if not 1000s of uses, and has maximum utility when empty. When a disaster strikes, whether in close proximity to you or not, and you have to respond in some way to it (whether it is to get yourself and your family to safety, to evacuate the place where you are, to not being able to return home), chances are you are going to find yourself wanting or needing or asked to take some of the stuff around you with you.

And your go-bag will not be with you. We will discuss go-bags and the contents of same in other posts. Basically, a go-bag is prepacked with all the stuff you want to take with you when a disaster strikes. It will include things like a flashlight, an emergency radio, a small first aid kit, (and an empty bag ;-> ). But we don’t carry our go-bags with us whenever we go out. It stays at home, easily accessible in a coat closet by the front door, for example. But if disaster strikes when you are not at home and you can’t get home, you are caught out without your go-bag. So what do you do? You scrounge. You might be able to find some of your go-bag items at your workplace, in your car, or even at a nearby store. If only you had something to put them in!!! Oh, that’s right – you do – you have an empty bag with you! Good thinking!


The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Bag

  • Easily Carried: YES
  • Not too heavy: YES
  • Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: YES
  • Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES


So, carry an empty bag with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.