Purse contents for the perpetually prepared person
April 22, 2008 3:44 PM   Subscribe

What are some good items to keep in my purse? The current set of things I keep in there seem to serve me well but I'm looking for ideas that would help me be even more prepared for whatever comes up.

Some of the things I keep in there that are non-obvious:
- tums
- otc pain meds like tylenol & ibuprofen
- glasses screwdriver with screws in the handle
- glasses cleaning cloth (I am anal about keeping my glasses clean)
- kleenex
- bandaids
- mp3 player and spare battery for same
- business cards
- stamps
- digital camera (sometimes)
- mini leatherman tool (must remember to remove it before going to the airport)
- nail clipper
- pens and a pencil
- tampons

Obvious items just for the sake of completeness:
- wallet
- checkbook
- phone
- keys (almost always attached to the handle with a trigger snap)

My purse is pretty big so I can add to this. What do you carry? Or what would you carry if you had more room?
posted by marble to Grab Bag (59 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
You might receive inspiration from the moleskined shutterbugs of What's in my bag?, or the suburban commandos garrisoning the Everyday Carry forums.
posted by zamboni at 3:48 PM on April 22, 2008

--Hand sanitizer/lotion or wipes
--Some sort of breath-freshening spray or mint (Altoids or Listerine Pocketmist)
--Notepad and pen(s)
--Lip balm and exfoliator (I get paranoid about lip crud)
--Oil absorbing sheets for the face
--Small brush and rubber bands
posted by bibliowench at 3:51 PM on April 22, 2008

A corkscrew (you never know when you're going to have a wine emergency); sunscreen & lip balm with sunscreen; little mirror; eye drops; cough drops.
posted by magicbus at 3:53 PM on April 22, 2008

Something to read, maybe? Pick up a few of the Penguin Great Ideas and delight in their physiognomy and content. For the romantic in you, try Great Loves. Want to feel worldly-wise? Then Great Journeys should be right up your proverbial alley. All eminently portable and lightweight. Plus, regardless of whether this concerns you or not, being the sort of person who carries a good book around with them wherever they go makes you roughly 300% hotter.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:55 PM on April 22, 2008

I carry a deck of cards because you never know when you will have to wait for something. It was great to have them when my mom was rushed to the hospital and we went straight there without anything else along.
posted by ugf at 3:57 PM on April 22, 2008

minimally prepared means a lighter and a locking knife, at least to me.
posted by okbye at 3:59 PM on April 22, 2008

I keep a 3' long measuring tape folded up in my wallet. It's one of those paper freebies handed out at IKEA and I find use for it every week: it's probably the most useful thing I carry around aside from a mini Leatherman.

I also carry a small notebook which gets a lot of use.
posted by jamaro at 4:01 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Learn how to use one, then take the 4 hour concealed carry class.

posted by yoyoceramic at 4:01 PM on April 22, 2008

I second the oil absorbing sheets that bibliowench suggested. I use these.

I also have a small card that reads "In Case of Emergency." It has my spouse's phone number, the information for another emergency contact and my current prescriptions.
posted by shesbookish at 4:02 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I keep most of the stuff you listed (except the glasses supplies, as I don't wear glasses), as well as the hand sanitizer, gum / mints, notepad, pens, lip balm, oil blotting sheets, hairbrush as suggested by bibliowench. I also carry a tiny light (this is actually on my keychain, although a regular "mag lite" is good too), a tiny tape measure, and a book of postage stamps (which comes in handy more than I ever expected). I also keep a spare pair of iIPod headphones and a spare hands-free set for my cell phone, although those keep getting misplaced somehow.
posted by boomchicka at 4:03 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Instead of a glasses cleaning cloth, I love these Bausch and Lomb Pre Moistened Cleansing Wipes.
posted by spec80 at 4:06 PM on April 22, 2008

Also, floss and a travel toothbrush and toothpaste.
posted by spec80 at 4:07 PM on April 22, 2008

Response by poster: These are great! Keep 'em coming!

Just wanted to add that I remembered that I usually do have a brush, and a little cardboard thing with about a dozen 4 x 6 cards (I'm a little ... crazy with 4 x 6 cards, I must have a thousand of them of various kinds).

If it matters, my purse is a Timbuk2 metro bag.
posted by marble at 4:07 PM on April 22, 2008

I've found a swiss army knife and a flash drive useful... and my Nintendo DS. :D
posted by reebear at 4:20 PM on April 22, 2008

A pair of tweezers has come in handy for me for a variety of reasons. Lighter or matches. I also carry a travel size thing of deodorant, because for some reason that's one of the things I occasionally forget to put on in the morning.
posted by frobozz at 4:22 PM on April 22, 2008

Instead of plain old Tums, I keep antacid/antigas chewables. I use the Rolaids softchews, which are less chalky/squishable than tablets. Why? Because if there's one thing worse than acid, it's the gas that results from trying to fix it. OW.
posted by Madamina at 4:23 PM on April 22, 2008

In addition to many of the things already mentioned, I always carry a Tide-to-Go pen, safety pins, paper clips, Rescue Remedy spray, and an Irish penal rosary.
posted by candyland at 4:23 PM on April 22, 2008

Stain stick (one of those tide emergency sticks works wonders on coffee drips), condoms (this may not apply to you), compact umbrella (almost always in my bag during rainy season), pens, bandaid or two, matches, hairclips or bobby pins, hair elastics, small tube of hand lotion, caffeinated mints.
posted by greta simone at 4:26 PM on April 22, 2008

I think the only things I normally carry that haven't been mentioned already are a very small sewing kit and, umm, a disposable face shield for CPR. I got that one free on the last first aid course I went on, it's not something I'd carry otherwise. The sewing kit is about the same size as a stack of three credit cards, and the last time I used it was when I got a splinter in my hand and needed the needle to get it out again.

A recent investigation of my grandma's handbag revealed, among all the other things mentioned above - including a tiny and very cool corkscrew - a penknife and a whistle. We put the whistle down to her having been a sports teacher, but on the other hand it's possible that she carried it as an attack alarm, who can say.
posted by Lebannen at 4:27 PM on April 22, 2008

I keep a pedometer in my pocket. You could keep one in a purse I suppose. Also one of those travel Christmas Tree toothbrushes. I am bummed out bigtime when I need one and don't have it.
posted by snowjoe at 4:40 PM on April 22, 2008

How about an epinephrine shot? It's about the size of a starburst candy and can save a life.
posted by tickettrader at 4:50 PM on April 22, 2008

I carry a teeny-tiny pocket survival kit. Not that I expect to use it -- it's just that it's so cute.
posted by sculpin at 4:57 PM on April 22, 2008

i tend not to carry my checkbook, because i use my debit card. i always have a pen, tiny umbrella (good for sun as well as rain), eye drops, lip gloss, and my "go" bag (in case of an accidental overnight at my bf's).

my "go" bag contains a comb, hair tie, tampon, face powder, contact case, a pillbox with some tylenol, a couple of tummy settlers, a sleeping pill, and a dose of birth control and my antidepressant. and dental floss! so annoying when you get something stuck in your teeth when you're out.

i also usually carry reading material, breath spray, gum, and occasionally cigarettes. and keys, of course.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:05 PM on April 22, 2008

Not sure if this really counts as a purse item so much as a wallet item, but I usually try to have a calling card on me, just in case the cell phone dies/doesn't get reception and I need to use a payphone. I also throw in sunglasses, because you never know when the sun may become a pain in the ass (i.e. driving).
posted by riane at 5:06 PM on April 22, 2008

I like to have toys in my purse, like an action figure or a couple of heroclix miniatures, I think it's fun to be bored waiting for something and suddenly start making your Han Solo walk up and down the waiting room chair...

On a more grown-up note, I keep a tiny bottle of fragrance-free hand lotion (Target sells minis of the good Aveeno stuff), as well as a paper breathing mask in case I have to deal with something I'm very allergic to (dust or perfume mainly). I also like to have a few different colored pens and blank paper because Mr. Tesseractive cartoons and I like to play the "ooh while we wait for our food to come, draw me a picture" game.

A USB flash drive is very useful, also to have important documents you might need or want to show off to someone on it. Mine currently has a PDF of my zine and a PDF of the West End Games Ghostbusters game...I was just at a very nerdy convention where I thought that might have been useful.

Finally, I never go five steps out the door without medicine to treat gastrointestinal distress.
posted by Tesseractive at 5:34 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I carry pepper spray in mine, and it's not the little lipstick case kind, it's the four-inch black kind that comes with illustrated instructions for incapacitating your foe. My dad got it for me before I went to college. Other than that, always a little notebook and lip balm, besides the stuff you have. And I like the aforementioned idea of playing cards enough that I might just start carrying them too...
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:43 PM on April 22, 2008

I always carry or wear a scarf with me or in my bag wherever I go. Why? Well, I can tell you that in my experiences I've used them unexpectedly for: a head covering entering an Orthodox Church in Ethiopia, a sling or bandage after witnessing car accidents, impromptu strap when the bag strap broke, or as protection from rainstorms in the middle of the jungle.
posted by carabiner at 5:57 PM on April 22, 2008

I got an Environsax for giftmas, and I keep it in my purse all the time. It folds up to a very small size, and weighs nothing. I used it a million times more than any other reusable bag I own because I always have it handy. It's really reduced my plastic bag pile.
posted by kimdog at 6:03 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Shout wipes and safety pins- never worry about a wardrobe mishap again.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 6:32 PM on April 22, 2008

If you want to be someone's hero, carry Claritin. I can't tell you how many times I've walked into a party/stepped off a plane/stepped out of a car and thought "Crap, there goes my day" because of a cat or pollen in the air.

Similarly, if you chill with a lot of Asians (or other folks intolerant of lactose), carrying Lactaid will enable your friends to spontaneously eat ice cream with you! I started carrying my fiance's Lactaid a few months ago and it is a big improvement over him keeping it in the car.
posted by crinklebat at 6:34 PM on April 22, 2008

pocket flashlight
posted by MiffyCLB at 6:39 PM on April 22, 2008

A pair of non-latex first aid gloves might someday come in handy. A list of any medications you're currently taking, along with any useful medical history, would be good to have in your wallet in case of emergency, too.
posted by vytae at 7:56 PM on April 22, 2008

I always carry or wear a scarf with me or in my bag wherever I go. Why? Well, I can tell you that in my experiences I've used them unexpectedly for

I feel like you meant to say "towel" :)

Didn't Macgyver teach us all you ever need is a few rubber bands and like, an abandoned stick? I dunno, travel light, I say. If you try to prepare for every contingency, you'll have a whole medicine cabinet in there (where's the toothpicks, the travel toothbrush, dental floss, bacitracin, deodorant, etc) not to mention the tool belt (flashlight, lighter, exacto) & rec items (cards, vid games, books, puzzles).

I mean, sure, take what you're always wishing you had, but don't you don't need to overthink for situations that have never come up. The best days are when I can leave my apartment with just my pockets (1-2-3, phone, keys, wallet). When I have to take a bag, there's chapstick & nail clippers & moisturizer & so on in it, but really, I can wait 'til I get home to clip my freakin' nails.
posted by mdn at 8:01 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Deodorant, toothpaste and a toothbrush. Sometimes I carry a clean pair of underwear too.
posted by easy_being_green at 8:16 PM on April 22, 2008

mdn: Nope, scarf. Like one of one of those things you wear in the winter. Not a towel, which is completely different (and too bulky). A scarf like this one is hardly a towel. Scarves can be easily turned into impromptu tensor bandages, really. Also, to protect yourself from the elements, wrap your scarf around your head like a hijab. Towels are too big for those things! :)
posted by carabiner at 8:21 PM on April 22, 2008

"Grab bag"? Haha.

I always keep a plastic bag in my bag. The kind that you get at the grocery store that can't be recycled. I find they're very handy if you suddenly find yourself needing to carry something that is leaky or otherwise volatile(?), or on the other hand, something that needs to be protected from the crap in your bag. For example, I would use it if I want to take some snacks home from a work party, or if someone lets me borrow a book and I don't want to get it dinged up.

It's also good for vomit if you, or one of your friends, gets travel sick (I can't believe I just typed that, but it's time-tested).
posted by unknowncommand at 8:44 PM on April 22, 2008

If you're in a school setting at all, the white board marker is invaluable.
posted by lilac girl at 9:13 PM on April 22, 2008

Don't forget some emergency money in cause of emergency (such as losing your purse and therefore not having money for the bus home, and c.)

It may be juvenile, but I find it hilarious, on I guess a scatological level, when people say they are anal about being clean/cleaning.
posted by oxford blue at 9:42 PM on April 22, 2008

I usually carry a notebook (larger moleskine) and a very fine-tipped pen. Also chapstick. Sometimes a book if I think I'll have to wait around for something. Wallet & keys & cellphone go in my pockets. I used to carry a maglite & pepper spray on my keychain, but lately it's just been keys & a bottle opener.

When I'm being ultra-prepared I carry my Diva Cup, a jacket for cool weather/air conditioning, tea bags & sugar packets for making tea, a water bottle (actually a washed out peanut butter jar), hand lotion. Sometimes I carry my bulky SLR (I'd like to get a tiny camera for surreptitious photography and carry it around constantly instead).
posted by soviet sleepover at 9:55 PM on April 22, 2008

I keep a fold-up shopping bag (the fabric kind that zips into its own pouch) and I almost invariably have a half-knitted sock in case of boredom.

I have pretty long hair, so there's usually a chopstick floating around in there in case I want to put it up. I never go anywhere without sunglasses.

Instead of a tube of lotion, I keep a small tin of hand salve--I got tired of wiping lotion off of everything after the millionth time the lid didn't get screwed back on the lotion tube all the way. Plus, the tin takes up less space.

I haven't left home without a snack and a beverage in about six years. Right now it's generally in the form of a Luna Bar and a Sigg bottle, but during the season I will carry a few clementines around.

I carry hankies instead of disposable tissues, because I'm just weird.

There is a basket on my dresser full of "purse stuff", and each day I choose what bag I'm going to carry based on what I'm going to be doing and what I'm wearing, and I pack accordingly. I empty the previous day's purse contents back into the basket, so everything stays together.
posted by padraigin at 10:20 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Things I have carried or do carry regularly in my pockets/bag (I'm a man and have the luxury of always having pockets):

Not yet mentioned: Pocket-sized calendar (on a card, just for scoping out day/date in the future). Comb. Oil for anointing the sick (others might carry holy water or something, however you swing). Ziplock bag large enough to contain my wallet and phone. Get-to-know-you photos (my family, my dog, my house, me hiking on a gorgeous mountainside). Cash in two different places, only one of which is likely to get pickpocketed at a time. A plastic trash bag (to shelter things from rain or just to collect trash).

Previously mentioned, worth repeat: Pen. Knife. Flashlight. Handkerchiefs (eco-friendly and much kinder to your nose-skin). Flash drive. Phone card. Photocopy of passport and visa (when needed). Phone numbers (friends, work, embassy, whatever you need). Antidiarrheal drugs.

Things I've seen others carry, not yet mentioned: Chopsticks, either straight or in two sections that nest for storage, in a little case.
posted by eritain at 12:01 AM on April 23, 2008

I carry a very small, very cheap AM/FM radio with earbuds. It's about 2.5"x3.5"x1", and it cost about $5, earbuds included. I learned during the last blackout in NYC that the only source of information was battery-powered radios, and since then, I don't like to be without one. I keep it in a baggie so it doesn't get too battered, and I test it every 6 months or so.
posted by ROTFL at 3:02 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

dental floss! so annoying when you get something stuck in your teeth when you're out.

Dental floss is a must. If you don't need it, odds are someone you're with might. Also can be used as thread in a pinch (if you have a needle, that is!)
posted by Locative at 3:33 AM on April 23, 2008

one of those teeny tiny fold up umbrellas in their own pouch.
posted by agentwills at 4:54 AM on April 23, 2008

On summer weekends I usually throw in a pair of socks. My friends are likely to decide while we're out that we should go see a movie, and I freeze in theaters if my feet are just in sandals. Just wait til the lights go down to put the socks on, and make sure you go to a theater that keeps their floors clean.
posted by vytae at 7:05 AM on April 23, 2008

carabiner - it's a reference to douglas adams.
posted by mdn at 7:31 AM on April 23, 2008

One evening, I climbed aboard a bus and stepped on the hem of my dress as I did so.

The dress had buttons down the front, and easily 75% of them popped off -- from about the bottom to just above the waistband. I managed to clutch it to myself and quickly gather all the buttons before shuffling to a seat in the midst of others (grownups, no less) giggling. I knew only too well that I had about 40 minutes to go on my commute, and I had no idea how I was going to get through it without exposing myself to most of the greater DC metropolitan area.

Without saying a word, the woman I'd sat down next to reached into her purse and handed me a large safety pin with about fifteen smaller safety pins pinned onto it.

It's been ten years, and rarely does more than a month go by without my thinking of her and continuing to wish her extremely good karma.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:34 AM on April 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

Once I had a block of Reggiano cheese and a tiny grater in there, and it came in handy.

That was once, years ago, and I still have a reputation in my circle as The Prepared One.
posted by Sallyfur at 8:27 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mace spray...preferably that stuff that leaves flourescent paint all over your attacker. My boyfriend and I were assaulted in the street a few months ago and believe me, that's the one thing I wished I had handy.
posted by cardamine at 10:37 AM on April 23, 2008

a sock project for knitting, chapstick, small hi-liter. I know women who carry clear nail polish. For the panty hose protection.
posted by bilabial at 1:40 PM on April 23, 2008

nthing a handkerchief. They are bigger and better than tissues, and useful for wrapping stuff in or wiping your hands dry, or your mouth clean. Also, it's good for protecting stuff you don't want to get scratched (like your digital camera).
posted by hooray at 2:17 PM on April 23, 2008

I carry a tiny compass. When getting out of an unknown subway station, walking in a city with tall buildings or on a cloudy day it's a good way to navigate.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:34 PM on April 23, 2008

you might be interested in this askme thread.

i think a compass is the single most useful but uncommon item to have handy. i'd keep mine in my car though...
posted by ifjuly at 6:37 AM on April 24, 2008

I've got allergies, so I always pack eye drops, nose drops, kleenex and albuterol.

Other purse items include a tape measure, small bottle of tabasco or cholula hot sauce and Tums!
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 4:49 PM on April 24, 2008

I forgot to add condoms to my list, don't know if that one got mentioned yet.
posted by easy_being_green at 4:57 PM on April 27, 2008

shout wipes!!
posted by JJ Jenkins at 4:26 PM on May 19, 2008

I have a small first aid kit and lip gloss in the front pocket, and post it notes and gum in the back pocket. Then inside I have my digital camera, my Nintendo DS lite, a small (palm sized) five-star notebook, a change purse, my wallet, my keys, and whatever paperback I can squeeze in. Then when I'm note wearing it in my holster, I shove my cellphone in there too.
posted by FunkyHelix at 8:45 PM on May 24, 2008

A small thermos and a spoon seem to come in handy for me. You can carry just enough cold water in case you get thirsty or have to take medication, or you can put coffee or tea in it from home or out in the world and avoid the disposable cups. You can use that spoon instead of flimsy stir sticks to mix in your sweetener, or you can have the option of picking up a snack like yogurt or fruit cup from the grocery store because you have a utensil to eat it with.
posted by onoclea at 11:51 AM on October 21, 2008

i may add some matches protected with wax, and specifficaly the ones that you can scratch everywhere.

posted by bussiere at 10:20 AM on April 8, 2009

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