• How to tell if your purse or shoulder bag is too big

    huge purse

    Confession: I used to carry a ginormous purse. And by ginormous, I mean positively gargantuan. A few of the things I carried in my purse at the time were a full-size hair brush, a comb, a full-size bottle of hairspray, a huge wallet, my entire makeup bag, feminine hygiene products, a small travel-size kit with all the office essentials like tape, stapler, ruler, etc., and lots more. I finally realized it was too big when my (now ex) husband asked me to put his coat in my purse and it actually fit! It was only a light windbreaker, but still… it shouldn’t have fit in my purse. Hell, it shouldn’t have fit in anyone’s purse.

    But I NEED That… and that… and that

    Back in those days, I wanted to be prepared for anything, and I pretty much was. Trouble was, my shoulders were taking a beating, I had a helluva time moving through crowds without my purse smacking every other person I passed; and to find what I was actually digging for in there… forget about it.

    Today, I carry a very small purse. It’s a book purse, so it’s the size of… a book; a thick book, but a book nonetheless.

    Book purse

    My current purse

    I understand the desire to carry as few bags as possible. I often carry my purse and at least one other bag (usually a cloth shopping bag of some sort) when I go to work and usually wish I could fit everything into just one bag. Depending what’s in the other bag on any given day, I can sometimes also fit my purse into it. Voila! One bag… Happy dance. However, somedays the other bag is full and I have to carry both it AND my purse. It’s inconvenient for sure. But here’s the thing: I don’t need a large purse/bag any other time. In fact, I absolutely LOVE the freedom that having a small purse brings.

    That freedom includes:

    • It fits on my lap quite comfortably
    • It doesn’t need it’s own seat
    • It fits in small spaces easily (I just watched a lady with a ginormous purse almost knock a laptop off the counter at the Apple Store when she tried to make room for her purse.)
    • I don’t accidentally assault anyone with my purse while walking through crowded areas.
    • Finding things easily… there’s just not that much space for stuff to hide in
    • Feeling physically light because it’s super lightweight.
    • Less neck and shoulder pain
    • Feeling metaphorically light… Talk about some major decluttering!

    I don’t need to carry a mini office and the contents of my vanity wherever I go. (Any more.) Chances are, neither do you. Besides, carrying a bag that’s too large is a great way to cause pain in your shoulders, neck, arms, and upper back… The very same muscles that stress causes pain and tension in. Talk about a double whammy. Ouch!

    In case you’re not sure if your purse is too big, here are a few indicators that it might be:

    • There’s room enough for a small dog, large cat, or a coat to fit inside it
    • There’s room for full-size bottles of hair or beauty products
    • You lean toward the side you carry your purse on… even when you’re not carrying it.
    • You have to lean toward the opposite side of the one you carry your purse on as a counterbalance.
    • Your purse shoulder is noticeably raised or depressed, even when you’re not carrying your purse
    • You spend half your time trying to find something in your purse
    • It covers one full leaf on your dining room table
    • People often ask you for weird, random items that most people don’t carry around because there’s a good chance that you’ll have it in that huge bag of yours… and you often do
    • People often refer to your purse as a small suitcase

    So, whaddaya do if your purse is too big to carry without hurting you? Well, as I see it, you have a few options:

    • Change nothing. Continue to have tension, distorted posture, and hope that your pain doesn’t get worse.
    • Continue carrying a massive purse but begin getting regular massage and possibly chiropractic adjustments to keep your neck, shoulders, and upper back from hurting all the time.
    • Slowly start downscaling. Carry smaller personal care items (think travel size), carry fewer items (do you really NEED to have a stapler or padfolio in your purse?)

    I’ll admit, it took me several years to finally get down to a “normal’ sized purse. Each time I purchased a new purse I’d buy a smaller one than I was currently carrying and then eliminate a few items and downsize a few more. It was easy at first: switch to travel size items, replace the padfolio with a small pad of sticky notes (now I just use the notes function on my phone), and replace the stapler with paperclips.

    When I actually started removing things it was harder; I actually jonesed for a few items when I initially took them out. After a few weeks, however, I began to realize how little I’d actually used them and I felt better. I also realized that some things,  like my full makeup bag, made me much more self-conscious. Since I had the means to fix the tiniest flaw whenever one appeared, I was constantly looking for flaws. If you ever want to feel extremely self-conscious, look for flaws in your appearance whenever you have a chance. Through trial and error, I found that my oil blotting papers, powder, and lipstick were all I really needed to carry on a day to day basis. (Now, I only carry lip balm)

    The things you decide to keep in your purse will undoubtedly vary from those that I kept, as will the size of the bag you ultimately decide to carry. The important thing to remember, is you don’t want this wonderful, useful item we call a purse or handbag to be causing pain or dysfunction in your body.

    Now it’s your turn: What’s the largest purse you’ve ever carried? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever carried around in your purse? Tell me about them in the comments below.

    And don’t forget to share using the handy buttons just below!

4 Responses so far.

  1. Cat says:

    Hi Michelle, I LOVE your article. I am living your article! I’ve already had to go the chiropractor route for the neck and back pain and am currently trying to correct my posture which I suspect is also a byproduct of my purse. Which, incidentally, is often referred to as my suitcase, not my small suitcase, just my suitcase. Along with all the contents you listed, I have also been known to have shoes, books (full size, paperbound tomes), my friend’s purse, and on one occasion, a credit card machine (I had to bring it home from a friend’s store). Until the backpain got too bad. But did I downsize to a smaller bag? Hell no! Never! I started getting adjusted every week!) I’m finally ACTUALLY trying to ween myself off this painful, unnecessary pacifier as I’ve become slightly wiser & perhaps a little older. I still have the suitcase, I just have less in it. And it turns out the heaviest item IN my bag, was my make-up bag! That contained a mini beauty counter in it, just in case. I finally realized there was NO scenario possible that would require 3 different perfumes and 12 different lipsticks. The travel size wrinkle release and dry shampoo however, remain. But I changed into a smaller make-up bag that weighs less than half of its predecessor. Here’s my issue though. I like the weight if only because I’m very scattered and w/o that reminder, I’d leave my new lovely “purse” in one or all of those tiny spaces it fits into. So is there any kind of rule that I can use to accomplish both? Like no more than 1/10th of your body weight and you must rotate shoulders daily? Surely if every weight lifting exercise has them, couldn’t we? I’m trying to change, but until I get to that complete flip flop of my usual ways, I’m trying to find reasonable middle grounds on topics exactly like this. Any suggestions? Or am I a lost cause?! (Lol) Thanks again for the inspiring article. Such sound advice. Now if I could just follow it…
    Cheers, Cat

    • Michelle Doetsch says:

      The general rule when carrying anything on your shoulders (purse, laptop bag, messenger bag, etc.) is to carry it in on one shoulder and carry it out on the other. If you’re going to be walking around with your it, switch sides often. For instance, if you’re shopping at the mall switch sides every time you make a purchase. As for weight and forgetfulness, the key is to slowly downsize over time. Next time you get a new purse, get one that’s a bit smaller. Time after that, make it a bit smaller still. It took me well over a decade (closer to 2, actually) to go from suitcase to book purse and I absolutely could not have done it with just one switch. Each downsize allowed me to get used to the new size and weight, I’m sure the same will happen to you. That’s if you want to downsize, of course.

  2. Kelsey says:

    Hi Michelle, Thanks for this great article! Can you show a progression of your bags, i.e. the biggest one and what size they were each time you bought a new one? I’m trying to downsize, but I’m afraid! haha, I think I’ll have to do it in stages like you did…I don’t want to buy too small of a bag and just hate it. I carry a water bottle with me everywhere I go so I think that’s one reason why I “need” a big bag. But yes it can fit full size hair products, jackets, and even beers lol.

    • Michelle Doetsch says:

      Sorry Kelsey, I can’t show you the progression because I don’t have any of the other purses. I owned the largest one 25 years ago and they were either thrown away or donated, depending on their state when I replaced them.