Monday, 25 February 2013

Excess Baggage

Handbag. Clutch. Purse. Satchel. Tote.
Most women carry at least one of these items around with them on a daily basis.
And usually I’m one of them. Heck, usually I cart around two – a cute little satchel with a shoulder strap and a bigger cloth bag for all the bits and pieces that don’t fit into the satchel.
At the moment, however, I’m going through a bag-free period.
This is more out of necessity than design as I’ve managed to completely mess up my left shoulder.
It’s been playing up for years and I’ve simply been ignoring it.
Except now I can’t ignore it as it’s really really painful and the messed up muscles are causing a fairly nasty and permanent tension headache at the base of my skull.
But I really don’t deserve any sympathy, as this is all self-inflicted!
Recently, as I complained – again – about my poor, painful shoulder, I asked my boyfriend how I could fix the problem. Now, I didn’t really want him to give me solutions. I just wanted sympathy, and possibly some chocolate. But, being both a practical science-type, and a man, the boy sagely pointed in the direction of my bags.
“It would help a lot if you didn’t cart so much stuff around with you every day. If you really need all that stuff then you should think about getting a rucksack that you can carry on both shoulders.”
What is this crazy talk?!
StuffStuff. It’s not stuff. These are absolute essentials that I must have with me at all times.
And a rucksack. Seriously? Have we wandered back to my high school years by mistake?
Annoyed, and lacking chocolate, I hefted both bags upstairs with me, determined to prove to the boy that I simply couldn’t give up my essential kit.
Now, in my defense, the satchel did contain some must-have items for the busy woman-about-London-town:
Oyster card
Debit cards
House keys
i-phone and headphones
However, it also contained the following:

-3 small tubes of cold sore cream (yes, cold sores are annoying, but one tube would probably do!)

-3 small tubes of mouth ulcer gel (again, probably overkill to have 3)

-2 empty packets of throat lozenges (useful)

-receipts. Lots and lots of receipts just stuffed into various pockets. Now, I’m a bit pedantic about keeping receipts but really, what use is the receipt for a sandwich I bought two months ago??

-4 different lip-balms. 2 of these were completely empty. 1 is too sticky to be used (it leads to the oh-so-attractive hair-stuck-to-lips look). 1 I actually like and use every day.


-a selection of mismatched earrings (nope, I’ve no idea why)

-hankies. Many, many hankies. I’d like to say they were all clean and unused but that would be a lie.
-the remnants of a granola bar that was definitely several weeks old (yuk!)
-e-reader that hadn’t been charged in weeks and wouldn’t actually open
The bigger cloth bag contained an even more random selection of bits and pieces:

-lots of sports gear in various states of cleanliness (mainly tending toward the ‘wash-me-please’ end of the spectrum)
- a pair of legwarmers (for those moments when you just have to get your 80s vibe on and re-enact Fame, obviously)
- a mini make-up counter(foundation, powders, concealers, lipsticks, mascara). I can’t actually remember the last time I could be bothered to go and touch up my make-up at work, and I never wear lipstick so I’m not sure why I decided to cart around 3 different shades.
-A very beaten-up and dog-eared book that I finished reading ages ago
-Two hairbrushes and a variety of baubles, hair grips and hairbands. All a bit pointless given that 99% of the time, I wear my hair down.
And so I decided to conduct a little experiment. Could I go bag-free for a week? Could I pare down all of the above bits and pieces to the bare necessities?

Fortunately, it’s still pretty darn wintery here in the UK and so I’m still wearing my giant quilt-like coat of many pockets. On a cold and overcast February morning, I set off to the tube station without any bags. In one pocket I had my credit cards, Oyster card and keys. In another pocket I had my phone and headphones, and in a third pocket I stashed a solitary hanky and the lipbalm that I actually use every day.

I had made some advance preparations the day before and there is now a little make-up bag on my desk at work, filled with bits and bobs such as a mini-hairbrush, concealer (for those days when my insomnia makes me look like a zombie), spare pair of tights etc...

The first day was odd. I constantly felt as if something was missing, as if someone had snatched my bag. I also felt weirdly light and realized that my bags were much heavier that I had previously thought.
Not having any bags also makes you really aware of the fact that they are everywhere. Most people – women and men – are carrying some sort of bag. And yes, women are definitely more laden with bags, with most carrying at least two (and often carting around a few more plastic bags crammed with shopping just for good measure).
One week on and I’m wondering if I’ll ever be able to go back to my bag-full ways! It’s lovely to be able to walk around without excess weight dragging on my shoulder. There’s a very nice sense of freedom that comes with getting rid of excess stuff that I didn’t really ever use. And, although my shoulder isn’t fixed (I didn’t think it would be – I have many years of bag-abuse to make up for!), the nasty tension headache has almost vanished. Yes, maybe it has simply went away of its own accord, but I do think it’s been helped along by the fact that my back and shoulder are free of excess baggage and I’m no longer holding one side of my body rigid to make sure my bag straps don’t slip off!

No, it’s not for everyone. I realize I’m in a lucky position as I can get through my day with a pretty small amount of stuff. For example, if you need to take regular medication then a bag is probably necessary (fortunately, this doesn’t apply to me). And if you have a baby or small child then again a bag – or two – is likely to be a necessity (and again, fortunately, this doesn’t apply to me!). And, of course, if the UK actually has a summer this year, it will be tricky to get away without a small bag, as most of my summer jackets are pocket-free zones! So I might need to look into that rucksack idea after all!


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