Back in April when I was planning my wardrobe for the Association of Image Consultants Conference in Chicago, I decided to bring a tote bag with me. I’d wear a handbag, but carry a tote for holding my notebook, conference materials, and all the literature I’d pick up in the exhibit hall. Plus, if I wanted to, I could even slip my MacBook Air computer in it.
I needed to shop for the right one. What color would work with most of my outfits? Should it be plain or fancy? Could I find a tote that would look sophisticated with my conference wardrobe? It couldn’t look like a shopping bag!
After much thought, I went with a blue Longchamp Large Le Pliage Neo nylon bag. Super plain and a pretty shade of navy blue with no accent colors, it had leather handles and a leather snap-button closure. It also zipped across the top. I love when you can zip a bag closed and keep things from falling out.
I pretty much ditched the handbags and used only the tote bag at conference, except of course for the gala. When I got home and into my work and play life in Sonoma, I kept reaching for it. It was lighter weight than my leather bags. When I slung it over my shoulder, it stayed put and felt slim against my body.
Two totes are better than one
When the Bellas went shopping this spring, we were at Nordstrom in Walnut Creek perusing the handbag department. I felt a need for a chalk white-colored handbag to go with my summer outfits. I asked the sales associate if she could show me some. I didn’t ask specifically for a tote bag, but that’s what she showed me.
It was a washed nylon tote with leather straps and a zipper closure by Rebecca Minkoff. It had an outside pocket and inside pockets as well, great for stashing the iPhone. I decided to take it home and see how it looked with my clothes. It was great. Now I owned two totes!
I have worn it so much with white and cream-colored jeans, ivory pants, jeans, even skirts!
Large bags can be hazardous to your health
I needed to ask myself for some self-help so as not to overstuff the bag or hurt my body. When it comes to a big handbag size, it’s tempting to fill the space with stuff, lots of stuff.
I suffered through that period of handbag history when “It” bags—and copies of “It” bags—were big, heavy, and hung off our shoulders. If someone offered to grab your handbag off the couch and hand it to you, their shoulder would hang down and they’d say, “What the heck do you have in here?”
A cautionary tale
It got so bad for me that I had to go cold turkey. I found the smallest crossbody I could find that barely held a pen, a key, and lipstick and that’s what I wore. “My, what a tiny handbag,” people would say.
It was arty, hand-painted and I loved the relief from wearing a heavy one. It was really quite special. I wish I had it to show to you, but it passed away. It got a dense, blue stain all over the bottom of it that matched the blue ink color in the pens I’ve been using for decades. The experts couldn’t remove the stain and I couldn’t wear it like that.
Avoiding the embarrassment of disorganized bags
Besides the weight hazard of a full bag on your shoulders, there’s the problem of the mess that can accumulate inside of them when you have the capacity to carry all sorts of stuff.
Have you been the third person in line observing the first person in line checking out at a sales counter? The woman at the front is digging through her big bag saying, “I know it’s in here somewhere.”
I’ve been that woman at that counter with burrowing through my bag, sweat appearing on my brow, thinking, ‘This is crazy. I’m a grown woman. I should have figured this out by now!’
Fearing repeats of unladylike scenes like that one, I had to come up with a system to keep my stuff organized and tidy. It had to be simple like the way things are organized in a kindergarten room.
Creating my 1-2-3 system for organizing my tote bag
Ready for the big reveal? I have three pouches inside my tote bag. One-two-three. When I have a need for something in my bag, I have to identify it: Is it a personal care item? Does it have to do with reading or writing? Or is it one of my two rather chunky items?
Each of these pouches has a story behind it. They come from different places, different countries even, and are ones I love. Since I’m going to be opening my totes and seeing three pouches every day, I want them to be inviting and lightweight.
Two of them have words on them and you know how much I love words. It’s important to use what you love.
#1 Here’s what’s in my personal care pouch
The biggest bag is the one I grab most often. It has things in it that I use multiple times a day.
It has the lipstick I’m currently wearing (just the one, not my top five), lip liner, and lip primer. It’s important that I keep my nails clipped and filed as I’m touching clothes in my client’s closet and I don’t want to snag anything. I have troubled nails so they need daily attention. I have a small tube of Aveda hand lotion and throat lozenges.
#2 My reading and writing pouch
If I am reading something that requires switching to my reading glasses, or penciling in next appointments in my paper calendar, or writing notes in blue ink in my client notebook, I pull out this smallest bag. These are my precious tools. I read and write every day. I like that they’re all contained in this bag.
#3 Bulky items go here
This pouch has a flat bottom on it. It’s a perfect feature for holding my bulky sunglass case and my wallet which is small by most standards. It just holds cash and credit cards. When I need either of those two things, I grab for the medium-sized flat bottom pouch. Could I have those two bulky things floating around in my bag? Yes, I could. But there’s something so serene about looking inside my tote and only seeing three bags and no floaters anywhere.
A serene and simple system for tote bag organization
So here’s the thing: I’ve been using my pouch system and alternating tote bags all season. Sometimes I switch out and wear a smaller handbag. But I love how handy totes are. And switch bags is easy. I just toss the three pouches in the empty one and away I go.
Large totes have been a big fashion item this season and will be next season as well. In theory, I’m on trend in the fashion world, but I’m sticking to my principles and only going for what’s practical and lightweight. There are going to be lots of heavy totes on the scene but I won’t be wearing those. These nylon ones are just right for me.
I guess what I’m trying to get across is that a tote may be a good solution for you. Certainly, there are times when I love having the optional space to put in items I need for errands like banking, returns, exchanges.
And if you’re worried about a messy bag, these pouches can really curb that. Do you think you’d give it a try? Or maybe you are already doing something similar.
I know you have your own handbag stories and perhaps some organizing solutions as well. Or maybe something in this post has catalyzed a thought you want to share. Please do! I’d love, love, love to hear anything on this favorite subject.