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What's (in) Your Bag?

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ONE OF MY earliest organizing experiences was my mother’s purse. Being her youngest, I was in tow a lot of places I didn’t want to go. So I found a handy but quiet diversion: Mom’s purse.

Among the things I found and learned from it translate into organization tips.

Don’t leave home without certain essentials
Whether you carry a purse, briefcase or tote bag, its purpose is to carry what you need — and not more. Packing too much not only is unhealthy for your back, but it’s also unnecessary. Use your desk or car to store supplies that you want available, but can’t be lugged around.

“I know it’s in here somewhere!”
Frantically searching for cash or glasses is unnecessary and can be embarrassing. You control your purse or briefcase, and when you organize it, you’ll gain more control of your life.

Enjoy some variety
If you like, or need, to change purses or briefcases, make it easier by using pockets and pouches. Containerize, placing common items together. For example, put your hairbrush, lipstick and compact in a zippered pouch instead of letting them float about.

What’s the best bag?
Briefcases or tote bags are good for commuters and others who must carry a variety of things. They accommodate business papers, reading, a bag lunch, newspaper, change of shoes and more.

The “wallet on a string” is an ultra-thin bag that my friend Susan credits for improving her back health. She carries cash, driver’s license, two credit cards and emergency phone numbers in her itty-bitty bag (she doesn’t carry a checkbook). Nonessentials go in a small tote she keeps in the car. Caution: A too-small bag will force you to remove everything to find what you need.

Healthy back bag. This ergonomically designed bag is contoured to fit the natural curve of your back, distributing the load through the entire length of the bag. It’s available in several materials and truly is functional with Velcro and zipper pockets.

Bag construction
A bag’s material makes a difference in appearance, durability and weight. While leather is popular, it can also be heavy (and expensive). Certain canvas bags are heavyweights as well. Microfiber is light and easy to care for. Fabric bags are light but not as durable, and may show wear readily. Lining is important, too. Black lining shows less dirt, but can make it hard to see the contents. The solution is to carry contents that stand out. For example: a zippered pouch in your favorite print for a calculator and pen, a wallet with colored trim, a glasses case in a bold color.

Moment of truth
Put your bag on the scale; it should not weigh more than 10 percent of your body weight.

Empty the contents, with a trash can at hand. Discard crumpled tissues, ticket stubs, anything expired, old lists, gum wrappers, etc. Sort contents into two piles: things you always carry (keys, wallet, glasses, phone, business cards, etc.). In the second pile, put items you use occasionally (shopping list, mail, dry-cleaning receipt).

Now you’re ready to replace the contents of your bag. Establish homes for the permanent items you carry. A must for me is a purse slot with a closure for the cell phone (to avoid damaging the phone or making accidental calls when the purse gets bumped). Be sure your keys are easy to locate; keep them in a specific place, and use a key chain that makes them easy to spot. (My sister’s key ring has a feature that allows her to attach it to the outside of a bag, making keys very easy to find.) The temporary items in the second pile can be placed in a pocket/slot, if still needed, or tossed.

The jingle of coins
Change was a windfall when I organized Mom’s bag — 10 cents bought a bag of popcorn. When change gets tossed in the bottom of your purse because you’re rushed, it’s hard to find the next time you need it. It also adds weight. Most wallets include a zippered section for coins, but some people like to carry a separate change pouch. If you’re a change-tosser, adopt one of two habits: Place all change in a zippered compartment as you get it, or master daily bag maintenance. If you like, remove change from pockets and place in a change bowl for the kids to roll (they love doing this, especially if they get the money), and transfer some to your car for parking meters.

Balancing the load
Think of daily bag/briefcase maintenance as helping to balance your life. At the end of the day, sit at the table or on the bed with a trash can nearby. Get rid of trash, wrappers, receipts and such that you don’t need anymore. Remove credit card and ATM receipts for reconciliation with statements. Count your cash to prepare for tomorrow.