From a young age, I’ve always liked to organize and pack—I find the process of getting everything in order to be calming, and I like to be prepared for whatever the day may bring me. Packing my work tote is just as enjoyable for me, and as we prepare to head back into the office, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of what’s inside my bag (because let’s face it, we’re all nosy about this type of stuff and love to see what others are toting around!). 

When it comes to selecting a work bag, opting for something that’s durable (ie: no flimsy straps or thin fabric!) and practical to carry day to day is key. If you’re a purse enthusiast like me, note that you can save the glitzier options for nighttime—during the workday, we’re all about practicality, especially if your commute involves more than just walking from the car into the office building. I went with a canvas tote from Lands’ End, which is perfect for stashing everything (seriously, this bag holds a ton, as you’ll soon see!). I got the medium-sized tote, which can also fit a laptop, making it a great option for business travel in addition to everyday commuting. And selecting the colors was easy: How could I resist going for my all-time fave pattern, leopard print? Of course I had to monogram the tote, too, and I love how my initials pop against the canvas. 

Now for the revealing part: what’s inside my tote. As I mentioned earlier, practicality is key! I never like to be without an umbrella or a reusable water bottle, but I wanted to grab some stylish options. While shopping at Scout & Molly’s, I came across an umbrella that folds up and can be tucked away into a plastic container. What caught my attention first was the peppy pink and green palm leaf print, but really, thanks to its efficiency, this product boasts both practicality and style. As for the water bottle, I wanted something sizable yet cute. I’ve loved the other products I own from the Corkcicle brand, so when I saw their eye-catching iridescent pink bottle at Banner’s Hallmark Shop, I had to grab it! I love that I’ll never have to shell out extra cash for water while on the go and am adopting more environmentally friendly practices at the same time.

And speaking of going green, I always like to stash a reusable tote bag in my work tote. I’ve found that these come in handy so often—whether I indulge in a bit of lunch break shopping or just need to make a quick grocery or pharmacy run on my way home. This pink leopard one from Shop Local Rockville is adorable and easy to spot in your tote. Best of all, it rolls up and fits inside a pouch, so it takes up insanely little space. It’s time to stop paying extra for wasteful plastic bags once and for all! 

Because we could all use a little beauty refresh during the day, I like to keep some makeup staples in my work tote, too. TJMaxx is a great place to stock up on backups of your favorite products, as all of their offerings are so affordable. I was thrilled to find a lip color from a new-to-me brand that I’ve been loving lately, Milk Makeup, as well as some chapstick, because can a girl ever have enough? I then grabbed a small fabric case to house these products so they don’t get buried at the bottom of my bag. I also keep a hairbrush in my work bag, which I’m extra thankful for on windy or rainy days! Mine is a full-sized one from Anthropologie that is great for my thick hair, though a travel-sized brush will likely get the job done, too. Less exciting but still important are the mini first aid kit and toilet seat covers I grabbed at The Container Store and keep with these other cosmetics (honestly, sign me up for anything mini or travel-sized, I’m all about these types of products!).  

Two other essentials for any busy professional? Snacks and hand sanitizer! My favorite hand sanitizer as of this past year is by Megababe, and you can pick up a small bottle at Ulta. When it comes to snacks, granola bars are always a safe bet, as they won’t go bad easily and are low-cal yet nutritious. I picked up one of my favorite brands at The Fresh Market

If you take the Metro into work, you may want to come prepared with activities (we all know that delays can happen!). I’m an avid reader, so I love browsing through new releases at Barnes and Noble and had to toss one of the books I picked up into my bag. Whether you’re waiting for the train or are looking for a lunchtime distraction, you’ll be glad to have something to read—look at you turning downtime into something productive!  

Last but not least, you’ll want to make sure you don’t forget other cubicle musts, such as your ID card and glasses if you wear them (blue light glasses count, too!). To address this, I grabbed some Vera Bradley staples at The Cottage Monet. The key cardholder is perfect for holding an ID, Metro Card, and some cash, and the glasses case actually has two pockets, making it possible to store a couple of pairs inside. I love that the material makes it so much lighter in weight than most hardshell cases. 

Whew—I think that’s everything! What are some work bag items you can’t live without? 

Sarah Lyon is a freelance writer and interior design enthusiast who currently lives in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared on websites including Apartment Therapy, Architectural Digest Clever, Lonny, and MyDomaine. Additionally, Sarah’s own spaces have appeared on Apartment Therapy, The Everygirl, Houzz, and Her Dupont Circle apartment was featured in both the spring 2019 print edition of Small Space Decorating and the January 2019 print edition of Washingtonian Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @sarahlyon9.