Complements, Unzipped


In our first installment of UNZIPPED, in which we shamelessly look inside your pencil case/backpack, we get supply tips from our founder, Cate. As a math tutor with a packed schedule, Cate knows what to carry around. (Passes mic to Cate…)


Hi guys! Before I get into what’s in my case, let me talk about this case itself. It’s not actually a pencil case, but a clutch that I got when Target did their Marc Jacobs line. I love Target, but I get really stressed out when they launch a designer brand because everything gets sold out immediately. For some reason this bag didn’t and instead got marked 50% off. So I bought it as a little present to myself. I’m a big fan of getting creative with your pencil case. Etsy is an awesome resource. I searched “pencil case” and “makeup bag” (also a great option) and came up with some supercute results. You can also always trick out a regular case with duct tape or Mod Podge or stickers or Sharpies or patches or… The point is, make it your own. I would love to see what you use, so email me a photo at [email protected]!

1. Ok, let’s start with basics. I always have a bunch of pencils with me because I am either loaning them to students or leaving them places. I love Paper Mate Sharpwriter pencils because they hardly ever break due to some kind of spring inside of them (mine have broken a total of 2 times and I was was deeply unsettled on both occasions), and they have real erasers and not the kind that smear (not gonna name names). Also, I met a girl who works at Disney, and she told me that all of the animators use these particular pencils. So that’s pretty cool.

I also keep a couple of novelty pencils in my case. I found these ones in the Target dollar bins: you know, the ones right when you walk in? There’s a bunch of stuff in my pencil case from here, and I consider them supply goldmines. These had geometric patterns which I thought were adorable, and sometimes you just want to write with something that’s got a little flavor.

2. You never know when you’re gonna need scissors. I think I found these small ones at the dollar store, which is ALSO a supply goldmine.

3. Highlighters. I think it’s so important to make your handouts/notes colorful. It pops the important information off the page, and also makes them pretty to look at, which is actually very practical: I’m 99% more likely to get something done if I like looking at it. Also, highlighting your planner is a great way to make sure you remember when important tests and deadlines are. And highlighting is super helpful in geometry, to distinguish angles and segments from one another. These are Target’s Up & Up brand. I love the look of them, and they work well. They come in 5 different colors. I couldn’t find them online, but similar ones are here.

To the right of the highlighters is my Bic 4-color pen in “Fashion Colors” (amazing), which is a great multitasker. I also got it at Target. Colored pens are equally useful for note-taking, geometry, etc.

4. I got this small ruler in the museum shop at the La Brea Tarpits in LA. Museum shops are a fantastic resource for unique school supplies. (I also got a pencil that’s like 2 feet long, which tragically won’t fit in my pencil case.) It’s so important to keep a straight edge with you, because drawing a line or a graph that’s all bent out of shape is kind of like getting mud all over your new Chucks.


5. A baby stapler comes in handy so often, especially when you print something out and get to class only to find out that the stapler in your classroom is empty. And please don’t do that corner-fold thing — every teacher I know secretly hates that. Speaking of secrets, here’s one: Good presentation can get you added points on assignments. If what you turn in looks good, your teacher either consciously or subconsciously registers that you must care more, and then she feels more loved/appreciated, and then consequently your grades will likely benefit. No teacher will admit to this, but I’ve seen it happen time and time again. (Psychology.) I got this stapler at Target, but Staples or even drugstores should carry them. This cute supply site also has ‘em. You might also want to keep some spare staples (this one came with some) in your bag in case you run out.

6. This is my favorite eraser on the planet. I call it my “magic eraser” and I am not exaggerating. It is insane how effective this eraser is. Target and Staples have them, and I just found this amazing variety pack online at Staples. Again, if you erase something, erase it fully! Not doing that is like putting on makeup in the morning without washing off what you wore last night. I’ll just leave you with that image.

7. Like my pencils, I also love novelty erasers. I found these sushi erasers in a 6-pack at Target for $1.97. The stereo erasers were in the dollar bin in a 4-pack for 50 cents. They’re so cheap that I feel great about giving them away.

8. Wite-out tape is essential when an eraser won’t work. When I was in high school, this stuff hadn’t been invented yet; we still used the smelly bottle with a brush in the cap. So I’m still mesmerized by it. I got this one at Staples.


9. This pencil sharpener was a gift from my ex-boyfriend, who understood my love of school supplies. He got it at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao (swanky). Another awesome museum shop find.

10. These gold paperclips and binder clips were also a gift, and I found some more at Staples. I love these. They are a little more expensive than silver paperclips (which I also like), but something about the gold makes using them feel extra special.

11. Washi tape (small masking tape) has become insanely popular, which is great news because it means you can find it almost anywhere. The trick is finding washi tape that has some good stick to it. I found this hot pink Scotch Expressions tape at Target along with a bunch of other colors, and so far I’m pretty happy with it. Here it is online at Office Depot. Washi tape is fun for a bunch of things, and since I find it sticks best to paper, I like decorating study guides and handouts with it. Duct tape is also awesome and now comes in a billion colors and patterns, too. It’s a much bigger commitment, since it has staying power, so use it wisely.

12. I cannot express my love for these MiniPLOTs by Freestone Peach enough. They’re like Post-Its, but have a clever adhesion so they don’t lift up. They’re not very expensive and they save a lot of time. I use these 4-quadrant ones a ton, but they also make different styles. Super useful for note-taking and homework in algebra and geometry.


13. I use sticky notes constantly, for things like marking pages, writing down assignments, and reminding myself to buy toilet paper. I found these adorable pie-chart sticky notes in the Target dollar bins. The yellow lined notes are a little bigger than most and are great for making lists. The hot-pink ones are bright and catch my attention, and the little blue and pink ones are great page markers. All of those are Post-It brand, which I got at Staples, and which really do stick better than any other notes (thanks Michelle). They even make graph-paper Post-Its now.

14. Stickers just make me happy, and can go on anything from calculators to laptops to homework. When you get a problem right that’s been challenging you for a while, give yourself a sticker. You’ve earned it. You can also find stickers everywhere. I got the owls and candy stickers at Target and I think I got the hearts at the grocery store.

15. When I used to get stressed in school, I’d bite my nails. Now when I get stressed, I play with Play-Doh or Silly Putty. I can’t describe why I like it other than it just makes me feel better. Maybe it reminds me of a simpler time, when I was 3 and the only thing I had to turn in was my abstract watercolor painting so my mom could hang it on our refrigerator. I found the Silly Putty in the dollar bins at Target, and the mini Play-Doh was a gift, but I found this amazing party pack online.

16. I got these Math Dice in the museum shop at MoMath, which is right by Shake Shack in New York. I keep dice with me because you never know when your teacher’s going to make you do probability again. Math Dice are cool because they’re a great way to practice your basic operations (multiplication/division/addition/subtraction), and if we’re all really honest with ourselves, we could all use some more practice. Here they are online.


17. Ok, let’s get to the important stuff in my pencil case, the things that keep me looking/smelling decent during study marathons. First, hair ties and bobby pins. I’m always looking for them, so I finally got smart and stuck a few in with my supplies. Got ‘em at my local drugstore.

18. Let’s call this the dental section of my pencil case. Altoids (or any mints) always come in handy, especially if you didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before and the guy/girl you like sits next to you in class and you realize you forgot to brush your teeth.

I usually like carrying dental floss in my bag (because you never know what’s going to get in your teeth during lunch) but then I found these amazing disposable toothbrushes with floss-like picks at Target. Brushing your teeth is an instant pick-me-up, and flossing supposedly adds 10 years to your life, so do it.

I am in love with Aquaphor: I use it as lip balm, put it on dry cuticles, even massage a little under my eyes to blend in my makeup. It’s pretty easy to find it in small tubes at your drugstore. I found this lip-balm version of Aquaphor at Target; it has an SPF of 30 (bonus!).

Those little white wrapped rectangles under my hair ties are Hi-Chews, which are a delicious chewy candy you can get at 7-Eleven or gas stations. The grape flavor tastes like edible Bubblicious. I like to always have a few pieces of candy in my pencil case for a little sugar rush when I’m studying. Smarties, Starburst, or anything wrapped also work well.

19. Let’s call this the personal hygiene section. Just because you’re prepping for a big test doesn’t mean your hygiene should go out the window. I keep a nail file with me in case I break a nail on a text book, so I can smooth over this traumatic event immediately and move on.

Aunt Flow can come at any time for you or your friends, so I always keep a couple of tampons with me. These are U by Kotex, and I like them because they’re compact and not to tampony-looking (you know, in case you drop one in a less-than-advantageous setting). I found them at Target.

Hand sanitizer is essential when your classmates are coughing on you. Plus there’s something about the scent that always kind of wakes me up, like smelling salts. I found this one in the travel section at Target (there’s also a travel section at your drugstore), which is a great place to find small versions of things.

I also found this small deodorant in the travel section. Forgetting to deodorize happens to the best of us. Make sure you have a backup plan.

20. Another travel-section find: this little hairbrush with a mirror. Study Hair is real, so having a brush comes in handy. The mirror is great for tracking the evolution of a nasty zit on your face.

21. Finally, let’s get back to math. This adorable protractor and compass were less than 2 bucks each at Target. Cheap and cute: my two favorite adjectives.


If you’d like your pencil case to appear in a future installation of UNZIPPED, email us a few snaps with the subject line “Unzipped,” and we just may feature you! In the meantime, tell Cate what she should add to her bag in the Comments below.

143, Betts + Cate