The trick to getting out the door in record time? A well-packed bag. Here’s how to pull it off. 

By Rory Evans

Empty Out and Question Everything

You want to make sure that there’s not only a good reason for everything in your bag (looking at you, rando digital thermometer!) but also a logic to where it goes. “Start with your pain point,” says Molly Graves, a professional organizer and cofounder of  Neat Method. If you’re frequently dumping out the contents of your entire bag to locate your keys…only to finally find them in the back pocket of your jeans, get a lanyard that attaches them to your bag, and it will become muscle memory to simply tug on the tether.

Simplify the Tote

Keep your bag simple. Sure, you’re seduced by the one with all the right-sized and specialized interior and exterior pockets, but trust Graves: You will constantly be forgetting what you put in each pocket (especially when you’re in a rush). Also, using a pouch system (more about that on the next page) takes the place of pockets.

To Buy: Above left, sezane.com, $340. Above right, leatherology.com, $215.

Pick a Pack of Pouches

“In my mind, having an organized bag means having smaller bags within your bag,” Graves says. She recommends a modular setup: a few little pouches, each with its own distinct purpose—one for your makeup, say, and another for office-only things. This system makes it easy to identify essentials and also lets you swap items between bags (today the big canvas tote, tomorrow your black suede hobo purse) without having to fling everything out. By using pouches, you can also easily lighten your load depending on where you’re headed, because, seriously, when was the last time you needed—or even wanted to look at—your work ID on a Saturday?

Make Your Wallet Lose Weight

Your wallet needs to travel from handbag to work bag—and be handy enough to slide into a pocket when you carry nothing at all. Graves likes a mini wallet, which requires paring down that big stack of cards. “How many cards do you really need? I have my ID, one credit card, my insurance card and cash,” she says. The limited space in a tiny wallet forces you to be disciplined about what you’re always stuffing in there. If you feel naked without your usual fistful of shopper rewards cards and tags, you can consolidate them on your phone with an app like Key Ring by scanning their barcodes.

Handbag and Work Tote

Start by getting several small pouches that will fit comfortably in your handbag (and minimize your having to dig in your purse like a rabid dog). Graves especially likes the durable translucent ones from Truffle, because you can see at a glance what’s inside. Then figure out how to sort your most-used items into their own pouches. 

  • Keep a mini kit of your go-to makeup (and a sample size of your fragrance).
  • Create a tech pouch to hold a charger cord and headphones.
  • Get a workday pouch to hold your work ID and commuter pass. 
  • If you’re hoarding fat wads of receipts as if they’re collectibles (or, more likely, because your job’s T&E reports require this), get a separate little pouch for them, Graves says.
  • You can also consider a bare-bones catchall pouch, with a pen, pencil, stain stick, Band-Aids, stamps and a tampon (to celebrate the monthly surprise party known as the onset of your period). 

Air It Out

Teens’ backpacks have a way of turning into accidental time capsules—with months-old handout sheets, mossy swimsuits and fossilized food balled up in their deepest, darkest corners. Every kid’s backpack (or gym bag) should have a pouch for stashing sweaty sports clothes that then get tossed into the laundry as soon as they’re home. Because just as much as you want to travel light and lean, you want everyone in your family to adopt some tidy-bag habits. Graves suggests thinking of a teen’s bag as a mailbox, one they empty daily. “You want to create habits the entire family practices,” she says. That “everyone” includes you—if you’re not keeping up routines, it will be hard for your kids to.

Backpacks and More

To Buy: Above left, perrymackin.com, $48. Above right, fjallraven.com, $90. Below, backpack, burton.com, $55. Tech and pencils, scoutbags.com, $14 each. Laptop case, caselogic.com, $30. Gym clothes, mumidesign.com, $40 for a set of 3. Lanyard, threadwallets.com, $11. Phone case, Otter + Pop Symmetry, otterbox.com, $58.

Kid’s School Bag

Hallelujah! A pouch system similar to the one in your own bags can help keep your kid’s backpack from turning into a lumbar-ruining Dumpster fire. Even if teens aren’t schlepping the same things you are, they can follow the same basic organizing rule—i.e., divvy up like items and stash them in separate pouches. 

  • Every kid’s backpack (or gym bag) should have a pouch for stashing soiled and sweaty sports clothes that then get tossed into the laundry as soon as they get home.
  • Create a tech pouch to hold a charger cord and headphones.
  • Get a lanyard to hold a student ID. 
  • Don’t forget a pen and pencil pouch to keep highlighters (or that scientific calculator) from disappearing. 

*Go with the Flow: When your daughter needs the full monthly monty—tampons, pads, liners—Graves recommends an opaque pouch. “A teenage girl might not want all her stuff on display.”

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