Optimizing your everyday carry (EDC), or the essential items that you carry on your person every day, is a hot topic these days especially in the life-hacking world. While all of us have items that we carry daily out of habit or necessity (e.g. a wallet or cell phone), many of us do not focus on optimizing all of the items that we carry on our person to meet our daily needs. I was first introduced to the concept of putting intention around your everyday carry essentials by Tim Ferriss, an author and podcast host best known for trying to optimize one’s daily routine for optimal efficiency. I quickly realized that the concept of everyday carry (EDC) is a really important tool for enabling each of us to live more sustainably. An EDC tailored to the life you lead can easily eliminate the single-use packaging that you most commonly use and reduce how much waste you generate, while simultaneously enabling you to enjoy the things you love more easily.
I started to put intention around my everyday carry in January. First, I looked at my daily route and identified where I generated the most waste. I realized that I always had an energy bar of some kind in my purse in case I got hungry; food wrappers are one of the most common kinds of litter I have found collecting trash on Litterati and I didn’t want to be part of the problem. To fix this, I bought a small stainless steel snack box and started to fill it every morning before leaving the house with a variety of seeds, nuts, dried fruit, crackers and pieces of dark chocolate. I love good food and carrying my own snacks ensures that I always have high-quality food on me and don’t have to eat less desirable snacks while I’m out-and-about. Next, I asked myself if there was an EDC item that would not only reduce waste, but that would also enhance my quality of life. I love drinking a smoothie mid-morning when I get hungry and I can make one at home for a fraction of the price of buying one at a store. To enable me to have a daily smoothie without going broke, I bought a 16 oz. travel mug from Hydroflask that would allow me to make a smoothie at home and bring it with me to the office, keeping it cold for hours until I am ready to drink it. This addition to my EDC enabled me to indulge in more frequent smoothie consumption, which has made me both happier and healthier.
In building out my EDC, I tried to use things I already owned where possible. I was able to repurpose several things I owned and rarely used into items I use daily. I sometimes tried adding something that I already owned that wasn’t optimal to see if I would use the item and then went about replacing it with a new, more optimal version of the item once I confirmed that it would get used frequently enough to justify the purchase (e.g. I carried my food in a heavy glass container that I already owned before investing in a lightweight metal one). I’m finally at a point where I am really happy with my EDC and am ready to share what is working well for me after a few months of really getting it dialed in!
Here are my everyday carry essentials for living more sustainably that all fit alongside a purse and laptop in my tiny Timbuk2 backpack:
- A stainless steel water bottle. This is the most important part of my everyday carry. Water is essential for human life, more essential than food. We can go weeks with out food but only days without water. I live in California where tap water is potable so I can easily refill pretty much anywhere for free. If I’m traveling in countries where that is not the case, I bring a SteriPen and swirl it around my water bottle for two minutes to make it safe to drink.
- An insulated travel mug. This usually holds my homemade smoothies or a cup of pour over coffee. Somedays, I want to bring both to the office and wish I had a second insulated mug instead of choosing between my morning beverages. The smoothie always wins, because I can get coffee once I arrive at my co-working space in a ceramic mug. I wash my insulated mug before leaving the office so that if I want to grab a drink on my way home, it is always ready to fill. Bonus: if you buy drinks out, you often get a discount for bringing your own container.
- A bandana. I use this as a cloth napkin or sometimes to wrap up the pastry I often treat myself to at my favorite local bakery. It is easy to hand wash and dries quickly since the cotton is so thin. I have a bunch of old ones lying around the house, but if I was in the market for a new one, I’d totally buy this gorgeous Lonely Whale Bandana from United By Blue because it is made from organic cotton (which is almost impossible to find in a bandana) and they will remove one pound of trash from our waterways for every bandana purchased.
- A stainless steel lunchbox. I use this to either bring my own lunch or I have taken it to the Whole Foods salad bar to avoid using the single-use boxes they provide (Tip: ask Customer Service to weigh the container before filling it and they’ll remove the weight of your container when you pay). I like how lightweight it is (.48lbs) compared to the glass food containers that I own. The downside is you cannot reheat food in it directly like you can with glass, but since I typically bring a sandwich, this has not been a problem. It is also a great tool for bringing home restaurant leftovers, so I try to ensure it comes with me when I go out to eat in case I don’t eat all of my food and want to take some home.
- A stainless steel snack box. I have a smaller container for carrying snacks on me that I have just in case I get hungry so I don’t end up buying something in single-use packaging like a LÄRABAR (my old go-to snack when I got hungry while out of the house). As previously mentioned, it is typically filled with healthy snacks like nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dark chocolate (the building blocks of a LÄRABAR), although the occasional homemade cookie has made its way in there. I got mine at a local Indian grocery, but To-Go Ware has a nice sturdy one that is similar.
- A spoon. I bring a homemade smoothie to work almost everyday in my insulated coffee mug and when it is really thick from all of the chia seeds I add, I like to use a spoon to eat it. I wrap the spoon in my bandana and put both of those in a small zippered fabric bag that my friend made me to carry my utensils (thanks Jamie)!
- An Opinel folding knife. I like to bring avocados with me to work for making avocado toast and use my Opinel knife to cut them open. I realized recently that if you don’t want to bring a knife or cannot because you are taking a flight, you can cut an avocado in half before leaving the house and if you leave the two halves together, the flesh stays nice and green for at least a few hours, so this may eventually fall out of my kit but I’m leaving it in for now.
- A reusable grocery bag. After being caught many times without one, I’ve realized that you never know when you might need a reusable grocery bag. I have a small nylon one from Chico Bag that is lightweight and takes up little space. Even if you don’t need the bag, you never know who will. I once gave a reusable bag to someone on the bus whose fully laden paper grocery bag gave out during their commute home, spilling all of their groceries on the sidewalk. Hopefully, it made their day a big brighter and encouraged them to use a reusable bag in the future.
Do I carry a reusable straw? No, because I don’t use straws very often and prefer to pass on using a straw versus carrying a reusable one with me. Do I carry a fork? Not yet, because all of the food that have been bringing with me recently out can be eaten with a spoon or my hands. With the summer coming, I’ll likely be adding a fork or chopsticks to my EDC to eat salads or chilled noodles, but I have not needed it yet with my smoothie-heavy diet.
If you plan to participate in Plastic-Free July next month, an optimized everyday carry will make it easy to be plastic-free without giving up the things you love, like a cup of iced coffee at your favorite cafe that only offers its beverages in disposable plastic cups. When you build out your EDC, be sure to it reflects your lifestyle. What works for me will not necessarily work for you since we have different likes and routines. Have you already put together your EDC? Please share in the comments the items that you carry daily to help you reduce how much waste you generate and live a better life!