The first purses I remember were the enormous bags my beloved Aunt Toodles always carried. I couldn’t tell you what they looked like. I just remember they were huge. When I was little, she’d ask me to get her purse for her. I’d grab the handle with both hands, pull it onto the floor, and drag it across the room because it was too heavy for me to lift.
I have no idea what all she kept in her monstrous bags. Like Mary Poppins, you never knew what she might pull out. Retrieving the desired item always involved a lot of digging. Now and then she’d remove a few items to make the rest easier to dig through, but I don’t ever recall her dumping the contents.
For at least the first half of my life, I dismissed purses as something women needed because their clothes didn’t have pockets. At some point I realized that feminine hygiene made purses essential. I was glad I didn’t have to have one. Keeping up with a purse seemed like a major pain in the ass.
As I got older, I came to believe that carrying a purse gave women a distinct competitive advantage. No matter the problem, the solution could be found somewhere in that purse. When the boss drips coffee on his shirt, she pulls a Tide Stick from her bag, saving the day. Messy sneeze? Out comes a little pack of tissues. Hangnail? After some digging, clippers magically appear. Breath mint? Bandaid? Bingo dauber? Yes, yes, and yes.
I got a nice little tote bag with The New Yorker logo on it after subscribing to the magazine. It’s perfect for my writer’s group meetings–big enough for my Macbook Air, a pad for taking notes, pens, my cellphone, and my eyeglasses. Then I started taking the bag with me on road trips, adding my iPod Nano, Kindle, and the chargers for both devices and the cell phone.
The more I carried the bag, the more stuff ended up inside. Chewing gum, tissues, dental floss, a spare toothbrush and a little tube of toothpaste found a spot in the bottom of the bag. Over time I added cigarette lighters, a dog leash, bags to pick up dog poop, paper towels, and a bottle of water. For trips I’d throw in an apple or two, maybe a few little packs of almonds, wet naps, sunscreen, and a paperback to read.
There was so much stuff in my bag that finding what I needed took forever. I started using the compartments, which mostly meant I had more places to look. A thumb drive, four sizes of batteries, and an extra set of earbuds later, it became clear that boundaries were needed.
My theory now is that women start out adding things to their purse, knowing that sooner or later, each and every item will be needed. At some point–perhaps in her twenties or thirties–she realizes that carrying everything is simply not possible. She learns to pare down to just the essential items, and develops habits for where she puts things to avoid having to dig so much.
Do they offer classes in purse management? Or is this something mothers tell daughters when they explain the facts of life? I need to know, before I end up loading my bag down with everything in…
My Glass House