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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What to Carry in Your Purse or Messenger Bag

Many times we're left wondering at why we carry the things that we do in our bags which go with us from day to day. We seem to never really have what we do need, yet we wear out our shoulders, backs & arms carrying this heavy bag around anyway!

Fashion aside, the most important thing to do is make sure your bag is as safe & comfortable for you to carry as possible. Before you go purse shopping, list every single item that you have to carry with you daily to help formulate a clear idea of what you'll need in a bag. For my bag, I need two outside deep pockets that are still on the narrow side for my travel umbrella & my 16 oz. stainless steel water bottle. On the inside of the bag, I want one zippered pocket for my keys, room for my sunglasses (which are already in their own case), room for my cosmetic bag, a little pocket for my iPod, room enough for my wallet/checkbook- and I don't want stuff all tightly packed against each other. A small-to-medium cross-body bag that rests on your hip, which is changed over from your left to right side periodically throughout the day, is often the most ergonomic choice. The general rule is the bigger the woman, the bigger the purse should be to balance her out. But that doesn't work for everyone. Some bigger women prefer to carry a small clutch; some small women need to carry a large laptop bag with room left over for gym clothes & reading material. Only you know what'll work best for your lifestyle. For safety's sake when walking, ideally I think at least one hand should be free at all times- a cross-body bag means you can still carry something else in one hand while leaving the other free. This is one reason why I don't like or recommend bags with just two small handles that can't be cast over a shoulder. The handles/straps should be comfy no matter where they hit you. Remember that if you have arthritis, you want to avoid any bag that will strain the joint that your stiffness & weakness is in. It doesn't always work, but a cross-body bag with a hard-to-cut strap can also be much more difficult to have stolen, too. If you travel often or live in a high-crime city, this is something important to consider. If you have to go through the airport often, obviously, you'll need to keep that in mind- generally, the more pockets you have in your handbag, the more time-consuming it is to locate & go through your items. You want to carry a combo of items which are a mixture of absolute essentials from day-to-day with a small assortment of "just-in-case" items designed for true emergencies. Non-emergency just-in-case items shouldn't really go in a purse- they are better allotted to your glove compartment, work desk drawer or any other little cubby you can use. Or if you're traveling, those can be placed in your carry-on/overnight bag. I recommend dropping these items because they require additional space, organization & add weight to your purse. (I have no affiliations with any of the companies or websites selling the following items, and I am not endorsing anything. I simply want to share with you what I've come across in my own research & use that works.)

These are a few of my favorite bags:

Here's a couple of mini first-aid kits to keep in mind, along with a few other essentials I would consider adding & carrying, especially if you often travel with kids or someone who has a serious medical condition:

If you have your own vehicle, I highly recommend carrying a more comprehensive first-aid kit there for more in-depth personal needs. When I worked outside the home, I also kept a complete soft case-first aid kit in my cubicle's file cabinet that was many times over a godsend to have on hand (it was locked up when I wasn't at work).

For women who are still menstruating, having your favorite brand & needs met in feminine protection to carry on you is imperative. Who wants to have to ask for any of that stuff from others? Assess what your personal needs are likely to be if you're away from home all day and put that amount into your bag. Don't forget to keep that stock replenished at all times. No one should feel shame in carrying this, or talking about it, so I'm not going to attempt to be more discrete. If you're a man reading this, or it otherwise doesn't apply to you, then just disregard this suggestion, of course.

If you wear lipstick or lip gloss, carry your favorite shade with you to reapply during the day, or a lip balm, preferably w/ SPF 15. If you have oily skin and/or wear makeup, carrying a compact of translucent pressed powder w/ a mirror in it is good to have along. If you can find a pressed powder w/ SPF 15 or higher in it, all the better. If you don't wear makeup, but would like some oil absorbing, blotting papers can work. A small tube of a moisturizing cream appropriate for the face, hands or other small dry areas, that has SPF 15 or higher in it, is a good idea to carry with you- not an absolute essential, but it could come in handy. If you have dry skin and/or spend a lot of time outdoors, this is an essential. Again, I recommend something other than just straight hand cream and definitely nothing with a heavy fragrance to it, because it is nice to have something on you which is appropriate for multiple needs. Also, if you have kids or loved ones with you frequently & are the "bag-carrier" in the bunch, a product with SPF is important if you'll be outside. Better to carry a small tube of this with you, than to risk getting a sunburn. And sometimes dry skin can become itchy skin, so a small amount of moisturizer can provide needed relief to the skin in a pinch. Neutrogena makes a couple of formulations that work in this capacity. Paula's Choice (available online at carries a wide variety of SPF 15+ products, including a hand cream. I like her products because they are usually fragrance-free, also a good feature to have in the products you use for numerous reasons. A roll-on perfume tube in your favorite fragrance can also be nice if you know you've got a date that night or will be going out somewhere nice, and is better than a purse spray version (for people around you with allergies). Be aware, though, that even a roll-on can trigger allergies or asthma attacks in people around you, especially in fragrances with musk or floral notes. Don't carry fragranced sprays with you & use them in public restrooms or your workplace (especially if you don't have your own office with a door to shut). I suggest carrying these items in a small cosmetic bag which can be removed easily from your purse if you'll only be going out for a quick trip, such as to the grocery store. Zippered, clear PVC or plastic bags are great cosmetic bag choices- and they also conveniently hold receipts, first-aid supplies or other little items in a place where they can be found in a flash.

Consider your lifestyle when you add in any body products to your bag. If you are very active, have an outdoor job, work in a hectic indoor space where you sweat a lot or work as a personal trainer, you may have needs that perhaps an office worker won't. In any event, I recommend everyone carry with them a 2 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer (I like Purell Aloe Formula), a small Lysol or other sanitizing spray bottle (good to spritz on ATM machine buttons, grocery store cart handles & much more) & a few individually-packaged wet wipes (Purell, Wet Ones, Handi-Wipes, etc.) Keep these items very accessible, preferably on the outer flap of your messenger bag or in an open purse compartment. I learned this lesson about sanitizing surfaces the hard way- after being inside for a week due to a snowstorm, I went out to the grocery store once & ONLY there, yet came home & promptly got sick with both double pneumonia + bronchitis. Yeah, needless to say, I will never again take germs lightly! The little tube of Lysol that I carry with me for sanitizing public-use items is a virtually-unscented formula, with no additional scent added to it (the scent also wears off extremely fast). Usually, organic sanitizer sprays made only with rubbing alcohol & possibly citrus oils won't set off anyone's allergies, either.

Creating a checklist of all the supplies you'll carry with you ensures that when you do your weekly cleanout, you know what needs to be replaced, if it got used up. Here is my own list:

A copy of my friends' & family's contact info (just a couple of folded up, stapled pages of typed info- this saves a lot of headaches when I need to list people as references for applications, have an emergency that comes up & more; if you don't feel comfortable carrying this in your purse, put a copy in your locked-up work desk drawer or your Office in a Bag- don't rely on just the info in your cell phone, in case your phone dies or gets lost)_
Checkbook w/ a black extra-fine point Sharpie_ three of my address labels_ & three postage stamps_
Clean-up/sanitizing supplies (a mini-Tide To Go pen, 3 Purell individually-packaged wipes, a mini-Lysol Disinfectant spray & a 2 oz. bottle of Purell hand sanitizer)_
Contact lens rewetting drops_
Emergency meds (3 Nexcare waterproof bandages, three cough drops, a small first-aid kit, a few Excedrin, a packet Pepto-Bismol chewables, a packet of Dayquil, a pillbox with that day's dosages of medication only, feminine products)_
Fingernail clippers & a small nail file_
Keys on a keychain, on which I carry an emergency whistle, a mini-flashlight & a small pepper spray (pepper spray not legal in all states, but then attacking a lady isn't legal, either...I'll take my chances with the cops if I ever have to use the pepper!)_
iPod (I don't carry this very often anymore, but I did when I worked outside the home, to wear on my lunch hour)_
Mini-umbrella w/ it's own sleeve (I keep this in a pocket on the outside of my purse, with it's own waterproof liner)_
My medical & surgical history (a two-page doc explaining exactly what it sounds like)_
Neutral pink lip gloss w/ SPF 15_
Small memo pad w/ lined paper (really great for grocery lists, to-do lists, song lyrics that come into your head & much more; you can of course just put this info into a PDF or cell phone if you like e-noting instead)_
Small tube of moisturizer w/ SPF 15_
Spearmint-flavored mints_
Sunglasses in their own case with an eyeglass cleaning cloth_
Translucent pressed powder compact_
Wallet (I go through this weekly, too, to clear out receipts, straighten up & count cash/coins)_
Water bottle_

I always carry a reusable, 16 oz. stainless steel water bottle filled with ice water, as well, wherever I go. I notice that if I don't drink water throughout the day, I am left with a sore throat, allergy attack or headache. Once you get used to sipping on fluids throughout the day, your body will feel the difference if you don't do it. It saves you money, if you're used to buying bottles of water or other drinks on the run, and is more environmentally-friendly. FlyLady sells an awesome stainless steel water bottle that I swear doesn't leak, sweat or break- it's available in both a 12 oz. & 16 oz. size. Her bottle fits in any vehicle's cup holder, too.

Whatever you can take out of your purse & keep on your person instead while remaining comfortable, I recommend. I keep my cell phone in a belt clip- one less thing to get lost in my purse, weigh me down, etc. Also, since I almost always keep it on vibrate (habit!), I can't sense that if it's all the way in my purse. When I had to wear ID badges & a key card for work, I wore them on a lanyard around my neck. While I don't personally carry one, a nice option to add your bag is a Swiss Army Multi-Tool. I'm not outdoorsy in the least but I could definitely see where someone who is could use the magnifier, small saw, ruler, needle & more that is in this kind of tool. If you're really big into reading and/or will have a lot of spare time to kill that day, pack a small lightweight book or your e-reader. Use the electronic technology of this day & age available to you, within reason, to cut back on as much weight as possible & go paperless if you can. Keep electronic items covered w/ scratch-guards & cases, just as you would protect eyeglasses.

Keep in mind your particular lifestyle needs when packing up. If you frequently go to bars, concerts & clubs, I recommend carrying a couple of ear plugs in a little case with you. I love Hearos Extreme Ear Plugs & they can be found on You can buy an inexpensive Hearos package there that includes a little storage case for two plugs. I once went to a concert at The Black Cat in Washington, D.C.- Blonde Redhead was playing. Great show, except that it was so loud my ears rang for two days straight afterwards! One of the many dumb things I did at eighteen was to not carry ear plugs although I often went out to live shows. Learn from my stupidity! If you do a lot of shopping, bring papers home a lot from work for business or have small children, it may be worth it to carry a virtually-weightless nylon tote bag in your purse. This can be folded up & kept at the ready for "extras" you pick up throughout the day. If you frequently end up having business dinners, dates or special events in the evening, you may want to carry along a small evening bag or clutch in your bigger, day-to-day purse. Alternately, you could keep this aside in a locked desk drawer or out-of-sight in your vehicle. While not always required in today's more casual environment, sometimes you'll want to switch over from your daily bag to a sexy little clutch at night.

Things that you should NOT carry with you? Birth certificates, Social Security cards & other one-of-a-kind, priceless, incredibly important documents, unless you are going to a place where you MUST present these items. When you are done with needing the document for this place, take those items IMMEDIATELY out of your bag & return them to their normal safe storage place. DON'T carry them around with you regularly. Cut up any outdated or unused store cards, expired credit or insurance cards, voter registration cards if they're no longer accurate, expired ID badges & the like. Don't carry excessive amounts of makeup with you- if you must, keep a backup bag of additional makeup in your glove compartment, work desk drawer or gym bag. Unless you're a triathlete or something & are constantly using these items day in & day out, eliminate the deodorant, perfume and other more extensive body care items- put these in your gym bag, an overnight bag to keep in your car or locked up in your work desk. Purge all old, discolored, expired or odd-smelling makeup, dried-out cleaning wipes, old meds, items w/ incorrect or outdated contact info on it (either your own or someone else's) & as much as you can w/ personal information that isn't essential to carry w/ you (the exception being something like your driver's license- I know that's necessary to carry with you!) Don't carry bills in your purse on a regular basis. Tempting as it may be, a better place for this is your desk or your Office in a Bag. Bills have a way of falling into The Purse Abyss, a parallel dimension for handbags that things fall into periodically, especially when they're really important and/or really expensive items, never to be seen again. Or to be seen when they're past due. Don't carry jewelry in your purse, as this is like sending an invitation to The Purse Abyss to open it's mouth up for you & swallow your valuables whole.

It's equally important to have a wallet that works for you. Either pick a lightweight wallet that holds just enough (coins, cash folded over, a couple of black checks, a few cards + your state ID or driver's license), or choose an organizer wallet which combines a checkbook, calculator, wallet & zippered coin purse together. It's your choice- maximum space & organization vs. going very lightweight. Neither is better or worse in theory, just different. If you want to go the minimalist route, FlyLady's wallet is nice, as are several other small-but-pretty-complete wallets:

I admit that I personally prefer an organizer wallet- I like to just have everything in a single, organized place- my calculator, checkbook, coin purse, card holder & billfold in one. Even if you don't have credit cards, most of us have a state ID, visa or license, grocery store discount & coupon cards, a voter registration card & a debit card. Yes, it's a bit heftier to do this, but I'm willing to take the tradeoff. If you can, pick a wallet that will stand out nice & brightly against your purse lining, especially if you have to carry a bigger bag- no more digging around in a store for it while people are waiting impatiently in line behind you! These are my favorite organizer wallets:

Every single week I have a Purse/Wallet/Office in a Bag Cleanout, which is precisely what it sounds like. Set a day that works for you to do this consistently, record it on your calendar & stick to the schedule. I promise that once a week is usually plenty to keep clutter & chaos at bay, especially if you only carry the essentials. Remove unneeded receipts, gum wrappers & other trash at least once a week.

Stylists & women are always on the fence about choosing a colored bag versus a neutral. I say pick out whatever appeals to you. Don't "settle" on a bag you don't love, especially if you'll be using the same one for months on end- when it's the right bag, you'll know it. I prefer to keep my fall/winter bag in black. In spring & summer, I switch over to a tan-colored bag. Wearing your "signature color" in a bag can be a lot of fun, too- obviously, my favorite color is turquoise! The functionality & comfort of the purse is even more important than the color, though, and definitely more important than someone else's opinion. Wear what you love, what's comfortable & what works for your life, regardless of what anyone else says or thinks.  

1 comment:

  1. My purse of choice: Keen Montclair Mini Bag

    - wallet
    - mobile/BT(bluetooth)
    - notepad/small retractable pen
    - keys
    - kiva bag
    - silent ear earplugs

    During the summer months I carry a larger purse to accommodate a water bottle. My wallet is a small one that forces me to carry only the essentials, excess change must be removed.
    Anyone who knows the handbag knows it is a small purse, but has many compartments. This is a great bag if you’re small like I’am (5’1”).
    Before finding the handbag, I use to wear a fanny pack and when casual, I didn’t carry a purse at liberating not to..however business attire leaves little room for practical dress with faux pockets and such.
    The Montclair bag is perfect to carry cross-body with a separate compartment for my mobile.
    When I travel, to visit family, I do pack a purse that is allows for more space. The purse offers a zip around that expands for those unexpected shopping trips.

    To help me minimize what I carry, I consider where I’m going and carry ONLY what I need.