I've never been a person who lives out of my car. I have friends who do - friends whose car becomes their office, as they shuttle from hospital to hospital, selling medical devices and assisting doctors in surgery, or as they drive all over New England, patching the foundations of water-logged houses. Suddenly their cars are full of work orders and inventory documents, email print outs and boxes of devices and work tools, littered with Starbucks cups and fast food wrappers. Occasionally the cars are cleaned on some ambitious weekend, only to be trashed by the end of a busy work week a few days later.
That's not me. I have a cube where I can park my email print outs and inventory notes, thank you. It's also where I have an assortment of a dozen post it options, all in various sizes and colors, and four different beverages at the moment - still water, sparkling water, Coke Zero, and Starbucks. The closest I've ever come to a messy car is beach stuff, something that I'm still getting used to, still figuring out my routine, as this summer will only be my second near a body of water. And even then, it's a minor assortment - beach chair, beach blanket, both neatly tucked away in my trunk, just in case there's a last minute trip to the beach after work or on the weekend.
But otherwise my car is spotless. There are the requisite papers in the glove compartment, along with a pen and two different first aid kits. In the arm rest, there are a handful of CDs and my sunglasses. In the compartment beneath my shifter, there's my work badge and cell phone, when I'm driving. The messiest thing about my car is the USB cable, forever dangling out of the armrest, waiting for my commute home. It doesn't matter how often I have the phone plugged in while I'm at my desk, it always needs a charge on the way home.
So my car is neat. Which means anything I take with me, I take with me. There's never a gym bag, hanging out in the car in case it gets used. There's never an extra set of clothes, in case I end up at the boyfriend's house or get stuck somewhere because of the snow (still figuring out New England, both summer and winter!). If I get food in the car, every bit of it leaves the car with me afterwards, wrappers and cups and all.
But lately it seems like a lot of stuff comes with me. I've got my purse, my work bag (both personal and work papers and folders, usually the work laptop, in part so I can check my email and in part in case I have to work from home the next day), and, as part of new year's resolutions, I've added my gym bag. And these are basically daily accouterments, to be packed the night before, lugged to my car in the morning, then lugged to my cube, then lugged back to my car, and finally home again. Each day, I have this almost suitcase full of stuff that has to accompany. When did this happen? When did I become this person? I could probably live off the stuff in my three bags for a week or so, if I really needed to. But again, when did this happen?
The gym bag is fairly new. And it's not a gym bag, it's actually a Victoria's Secret tote, that I picked up for free when I was purchased three new bras. Someone saw it and asked me if I was okay advertising I shopped at Victoria's Secret. Well, sure, everyone needs underwear. And the tote is great, just the right size for my gym clothes, shoes, bag of assorted hygiene products, and, when there's a chance of staying over at the boyfriend's, a change of clothes and also a bag of makeup. It also fits in the Planet Fitness lockers just right, which is not unimportant. And speaking of Planet Fitness, those things are everywhere! I've never belonged to a gym before, previously relying on my apartment or work to supply a treadmill. My new personal challenge is to see how many I can go to. I'm on my third month of membership and so far, and I've been to six different locations. Six! There's the one by work, the one by my apartment, the one by the boyfriend's house, the one by the theater I have season tickets to, the one by the restaurant my book club always goes to, and the one by that random restaurant when I had an hour and a half to kill. So many locations! This isn't an advertisement - I'm sure this is true of other gym franchises. But it means I should always have my bag, stocked with fresh clothes, fresh socks, and the necessary hygienic products (deodorant, body wash, shampoo, face wash, and moisturizer, plus towels). It's a lot of stuff but my prior method of 'just hope you fit a workout in somewhere' wasn't really working either.
Then there's the work bag. Taking the laptop with me every night is required in a variety of ways. To check email and potentially work from home, sure, but also peer pressure. Everyone else in the office takes his or her laptop home. There's this moment of condescension when I come in empty-handed or someone notices I didn't take my laptop home. Oh isn't that nice for her. She must not be as dedicated as I am. But I am dedicated! Sure, most nights the laptop just sits there, sometimes it doesn't even leave the bag. But it's there, just in case. Then there's the other work stuff - laptop charger, post it notes, pens, work documents, in case the urge to be productive strikes at 8 PM while I'm watching John Oliver with a glass of wine. Is a week night complete without these things within an arms' reach? And then there's the personal stuff in that work bag - umbrella and planner, my own personal folder of my documents - things I need to deliver to the doctor or landlord when I get around to it, mail I need to go through eventually, to do lists and notes for book club. That random coupon I need to use sometime, extra paper for notes when the moment strikes.
And finally, the purse. Three compartments, one for medical/hygienic stuff, one for wallet and passport (until I get my driver's license in the mail), and one for miscellaneous - Tide marker, phone charger, Anker, mints. Sprinkled throughout is the usual purse detritus - six different lipsticks plus two chapsticks, pens, note cards and envelopes from Target, pads and tampons, gum, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, TUMs, Midol, my prescription medicines, my boyfriend's prescription medicines, nail file, nail polish, compact mirror, mini hairbrush, hair tie, pens, headphones, Kleenex. All of these things I carry with me everywhere and all of them seem necessary. Occasionally I have to minimize, like when I'm traveling and switch to a much smaller cross body purse or if I'm going out in the evening and switching to a small clutch. It's basically Sophie's Choice as I look through my purse, determining which items aren't absolutely necessary, feeling guilty when the Tide marker or Anker doesn't make the cut, abandoned in a half-empty purse for the day.
A month or so after the gym bag was introduced to the equation, I decided I couldn't take it any more, I had to regroup and minimize the crap I insisted on carrying around with me every day. And I had a great, brand new company backpack I had gotten when I joined the company almost exactly a year early. It had sat in my closet, unused but oh so useful, with it's many various pockets and compartments.
First, I tried combining the work bag and gym bag into the backpack. It didn't work. There were too many varieties of things, too many pieces of clothing and shoes and stiff folders. It just didn't go together. I would need to keep my gym bag separate. And really, it would be easier - the gym bag varied, depending on when I was going to the gym (in the morning means I need to shower and apply makeup afterwards, in the evening means look like garbage afterwards, go home, and take a shower) and what I was doing later in the day (Theater? Okay, put the shower stuff and makeup bag back in the gym bag. Boyfriend's? Now throw in an extra set of clothes.). The gym bag was too in flux to co exist peacefully with one of my other lifelines.
So the purse and work bag it would be. And the thing is, they fit really well together. There was one large compartment with a laptop space that fit most of my work bag stuff, rather neatly. There were two small compartments that had many little pockets inside for all the pens, Kleenex and other purse debris I listed above. I had just made the physical switch, emptying all of my work bag and purse contents into the backpack, finding a home for everything, when I realized I couldn't do it. I couldn't say goodbye to the purse.
First, it just wasn't practical. Yes, every day I took my work bag to work with me, then home afterwards. But out to dinner? To the mall on the weekends? No way. I would need just the purse for that, so I imagined a life in which I was constantly moving purse things from the backpack to the purse, not just on weekends but also any time I did anything but work on the weeknights. Practically, it didn't make sense.
But a purse is part of my identity. It's my opinion that there are two types of women - those with stuff and those without it. Sure, most cube-bound women have work bags. And most have wallets. But there are those whose purse could subsist a small country for a day or two and those who just have enough to complete a Starbucks order. There's not a lot of in between.
A few months ago, I went to New York City for the day with a friend. That involved six hours on a bus, in total, plus a bunch of running around the city and a Broadway show. She arrived at my apartment an hour before the bus with nothing but the clothes she was wearing and a wad of cash, credit cards, and IDs, bound together by a rubber band and shoved in her jacket pocket. I was shocked such a person, regardless of gender, could exist. Meanwhile, I had my sensible cross body purse, perfect for a day of running around the city and hopping from one subway to the next, filled with a book and headphones for the bus, copies of the Broadway show tickets, phone charger, wallet, and the usual - Kleenex, lipstick, sanitizer, etc.
I didn't use to be one of those women. When I was younger, the only time I carried anything at all, besides homework to school, was on mall weekends, when we would drive an hour and a half to the closest shopping area and spend the whole day going from one mall to the next, trying to find something to spend our money on. And then, I might have had a wallet but probably just had a couple of twenties, my life savings, shoved in a pocket.
When I turned 16, I bought my first purse, mostly as a place to put my keys. And for awhile, that was all it had in it. Wallet and keys. I went through four or five purses in high school, all some variant of jean material, all from Wal-Mart or JC Penney. I wasn't really a purse person, either in caring of the thing itself or in its contents. Occasionally I would add a pen. But most of my life was still in my school backpack. The purse only a necessity because of the car keys. Car keys and wallets don't fit in women's pockets like they do men's. Recently, when in Europe, I chastised my boyfriend until he switched his wallet from his back pocket to his front pocket, to avoid pick pockets. I was shocked - his front and back pockets can fit a wallet, can fit a phone? The jeans I'm wearing now only have fake pockets on the front and the back can barely hold a phone, let alone a stuffed wallet.
In college, the pattern continued. I had a backpack, who needed a purse?
Then I graduated. And I spent 300 bucks on a Coach purse. Coach isn't the fanciest brand out there and I'm sure their stuff is way over priced, but it was my first big paycheck, the purse was cute, and it's still hanging in my closet.
And then gradually, I became a purse person. It started out casual. My planner, which had previously guided my life and lived in my backpack, moved to the purse. Then so did the associated pens. Then I became a person who needed chapstick and Kleenex and various medicines with me, always. In the years since, the purse list has just kept growing. Adding headphones and chargers and notebooks and mirrors and hair brushes until I can't fathom just shoving a credit card and an ID in my pocket and going out the door.
I'm a purse person. Attempting to switch to a backpack made clear how far I've come, how far along this path I am. There's no going back. If my commute changes, I may have to switch to wheels for the work bag (I actually already have this very nice briefcase that has wheels and a handle, purchased by my last company in a fit of generosity from my then-boss). Because now I'm also a gym bag person and a work bag person, too.
I need to de-clutter, potentially.