Purses: The Other Kind of Baggage

When we talk about unnecessary baggage, we usually mean the emotional kind. But some baggage is vital to carry on our daily lives away from home. A purse, that thing hanging at your side that contains your home away from home. That satchel of necessaries without which we cannot function.

Having nerve damage from MS complicates our ability to tote stuff, especially if we use mobility aids. Using a cane or two canes or a walker can really throw off your game. Before the MS, I used to carry short-strapped purses I could either grasp in one hand, or shoulder and tuck under my arm if I needed my hands free. So there’s been a definite evolution in the lading of Kim’s goods which I label “before MS” and “after MS” on the toting continuum. Before MS, I fell completely for the rules of girl fashion, convinced that owning just one purse wasn’t enough. Any girl that doesn’t know she needs different sizes and styles for different functions must have grown up in a cave, or worse, doesn’t have a life.

Here is a sampling of the purses I used to carry:

Tiny evening bags with only enough room for a tissue and a lipstick. Ah, those were the days, the evenings out when a tissue and lipstick were all I needed.

Clutch bags. I actually used to use them. A strapless, rectangular piece of leather that cannot leave my hand for a moment or else I will leave it where I laid it--in a public restroom, on a restaurant table, at a party. It’s about the size of a small serving tray, and that’s mainly how I used it. I held it parallel to the floor and balanced my coffee cup on it. The front of my expensive leather clutch always sported a couple of brown coffee rings near the clasp. Attractive. A stellar accomplishment of both form and function as a beverage holder, but not as a purse.

Backpack purses were the most ergonomic and least stressful on my shoulders, but were a pain in the ass when I actually had to take it off my back, unzip it, rummage through all the stuff inside, and fish out my wallet.

Carrying big purses tempts us to accumulate store receipts, candy bars, ipads, notebooks, pill bottles, disposal catheters, whole packages of personal wipes, twenty dollars in loose change and an entire box of tissues. For some reason that is buried deep inside our genes, whenever humans encounter empty space, we feel compelled to fill it, something along the line of manifest destiny, that thing that made us go west, build cities in desert wastelands, and siphon off water from the mountains so we wouldn't die of dehydration.

A friend of mine recently confessed that she used to carry around a lamp base in her big purse. She was a collector and it was a vamp lamp from the forties. Funny thing is, she’s not alone in carrying offbeat stuff; I used to think it was good to carry potentially useful items just in case. You know how we can get into a kind of Good Samaritan mindset when we have this big purse with space to spare? I’m guessing this might have been part of my friend’s rationale. After all, some stranger some day might be desperate for a vintage lamp base and ask if she happened to have one on her. This might be a girl thing, I’m not really sure. But the main problem with carrying around everything including the kitchen sink, is that the bag is so heavy that we can suffer from chronic shoulder pain, herniated discs, or worse. Bad enough when you don’t have MS. With MS, we risk knocking ourselves off balance, too. We are walking fall risks as it is, so why tempt fate?

And don’t get me started on purse linings. Whatever idiot came up with the idea of black inner linings definitely did not carry a purse. Think of gazing into a deep dark well. Toss something down that well and it disappears forever. Especially something dark-colored. Like a powder compact. Sunglasses. Cell phone. A checkbook cover. A cell phone charger cord. Gone. You have to locate things by touch. Need a pen? Plunge your hand into your purse and feel around for something skinny, long and tapered on one end. Don’t bother to look for it, you won’t see it. Now add the problem of numb, weak fingers; you can’t see anything inside the purse and when you start feeling around for that pen, numbness makes it difficult to identify what you’re touching. You have to be able to see inside the purse, too. But what if you have vision problems from Optic Neuritis? Gazing into a deep purse with a black lining might make you think you’ve gone completely blind.

Solution: Crossbody purses. This is what I carry now. It solves every problem for me. I have one in yellow leather with a matching yellow lining. It is wide and shallow, so no digging down to China for a breath mint. The light lining makes everything show up inside. And wearing it diagonally across one shoulder and having it rest on the opposite hip is a totally hands-free proposition. The adjustable strap allows me to put it at just the right level for easy access. I purposely chose a smaller one so I wouldn’t be tempted to stuff it with flashlights and Subway sandwiches. Or, God forbid, lamp bases.

What do you use to tote around your necessaries? Please do share your ideas, someone out there will be eternally grateful to you.

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