I Used A Tiny Purse For A Week

by Mariah Carrillo

While the perfect, carry-everything tote bag is a practical and beloved staple for many, the mini handbag trend has its own merits. A tiny purse may never be able to fit your laptop or favorite hefty paperback, but sometimes if feels good to go out without carrying the weight of the world. It can seem like women are expected to cart around an unending array of feminine paraphernalia everywhere they go, so throwing caution to the wind and limiting yourself to a clutch or petite satchel can be particularly liberating.

Personally, I am a huge fan of the giant, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach when it comes to buying and using a bag. I like to feel prepared for anything, and on any given day, you might find half a dozen lip glosses, phone and computer chargers, Band-Aids, forgotten receipts, notebooks, and tubes of hand lotion mixed up in an impenetrable jumble within the confines of my externally respectable black tote.

A few weeks ago, however, I went to get a massage for lower back and hip pain, and my therapist pointed out my beloved yet heavy purse as the culprit for my discomfort. Apparently, carrying my life on my shoulder was doing my back no favors, and he suggested I scale back my substantial tote for something a bit less burdensome. I was skeptical at the idea of paring down my long list of daily "essentials," but figured a smaller purse was worth trying for a week in order to give my back a break. Here's what happened in that time.

Day 1: Sorting The Jumble

I had every intention of making the change from my everyday bag to a smaller clutch in a reasonable and thoughtful manner. Unfortunately, I procrastinated transferring my essentials over to a smaller bag until about 15 minutes before I needed to leave for work in the morning. On one hand, this made the whole process of weeding out unnecessary items particularly fast and ruthless. Empty water bottle? Toss it. Lip gloss in a color I never wear? Bye bye.

On the other hand, waiting until the last possible minute made the whole process more stressful than it needed to be. As you can see in this pic, my regular tote is stuffed to the gills with all sorts of craziness, and it probably would have gone easier for me if I had taken the time to methodically sort and transfer things in a more leisurely way. Things were off to an aggravated start, with me hastily stuffing some bare essentials into the tiny purse and feeling unprepared to face the day.

Day 2: Denial And Barely-Managed Frustration

Have I mentioned that I really like having all my stuff with me? Because I really, really do. Going from a large bag that can easily fit my wallet, laptop, sundry chargers, a packed lunch, water bottle, and assorted makeup products, to a little handheld clutch with a few cards, one lip gloss, and my phone, was challenging to say the least.

Initially, I tried to stuff my poor, tiny purse with as many items as it could fit, and then carried my laptop in my hands. I was in denial about the whole "scaling back" bit of this experiment, hoping that with a little creative rearrangement, I could still haul everything I was used to having along with me. Inevitably, this led to me juggling my clutch, laptop, and hot tea perilously on the bus to work, cursing under my breath and vowing to mend my ways.

Day 3: Developing A System

By this part of the experiment, I was starting to learn how to manage with less. I began making sure I charged my phone and iPod every night before bed so that I wouldn't need to bring my chargers with me to work. I realized that I never used more than a couple of the beauty products I had been carrying around in my larger bag, and made sure to pack the few real essentials I needed.

I started using pockets for things like keys or my phone, to make a little extra room in my clutch for sunglasses and a notebook. I left my laptop at home, and realized that having constant access to a computer was more of an emotional security blanket than a necessity. I also noticed that the constant nagging ache in my lower back that I had lived with for months was beginning to dissipate. Maybe this tiny purse thing wasn't as crazy as I first thought.

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Day 4: Remembering Why I Like Big Bags

What is that quote about two steps forward, one step back? By day four, I was getting tired of working around a tiny bag. Sure, my back felt better, and there was something liberating about not having to carry a bunch of extra stuff with me everywhere, but how I longed for the freedom of being able to throw a couple of library books in my favorite tote, instead of tucking them under my arm along with my strap-free clutch and awkwardly trying to balance the whole unwieldy package while pulling my keys out of my pocket. I missed the simple, if not completely elegant solution of just dumping everything in one giant carryall and being done with it.

Day 5: No Purses Necessary

Day five of my experiment was Saturday, a day when I carefully avoid human contact and, if possible, never leave my house. Since I spent most of the day lounging on the couch binge-watching Netflix, I didn't need to even think about my bag, which, honestly was a relief. Sometimes, it seems like there's no perfect option when it comes to handbags. I loved the freedom of a tiny one, but was tired of struggling with the details of how to make this form of minimalism work for me.

Day 6: Grudging Acceptance

On Sunday, I was back to running errands with my mini-purse in tow, and feeling a lot less resentful about its limited carrying capacity. My back pain was practically gone, after more than a year of constant discomfort, and I was beginning to believe that this wasn't a fluke. Plus, practice was making me more comfortable managing with less.

It wasn't so much that anything had changed; it was still inconvenient to use a bag that couldn't hold my laptop or a full-size water bottle, but I'd gotten used to the juggling act. It didn't hurt that I had to rummage through my larger bag looking for a pen, and was shocked by how messy and overstuffed it looked after a week of carrying the equivalent of a large wallet. Why had I thought I needed all this stuff?

Day 7: One Surprised Convert

When I began this experiment, I had absolutely no intention of carrying on with it for more than a week. My love of big bags was too strong, and I had no idea how I would function without my entire unruly kit. But the truth is, after a week without the weight of the world hanging off my shoulder, I don't want to go back. Not only is my tiny purse much lighter, but it stays cleaner and more organized because there's really no place for old candy wrappers or extra lipsticks to hide. I don't have to excavate the depths of the giant-purse abyss when I'm looking for a pen, and I'm finding that all the odds and ends I used to cling to "in case of emergency" were actually not that hard to live without.

Should You Try A Tiny Bag, Too?

It does take a little more planning to use a tiny bag; I have to carefully prepare what I need for each day, instead of carrying every possible solution with me at all times. But it's worth it to me, especially since my back, neck, and shoulders feel better than they have in a long time.

I may upgrade to a small satchel with a shoulder strap, like this one from Everlane, since I'd like to be able to go hands-free again — something that is impossible with my current clutch. Overall, though, I'd call Project Ridiculously Small Handbag a surprisingly huge success. If you are considering downsizing your own carryall sometime soon, believe me when I say that it just might be a change worth making.

Images: Mariah Carrillo/Bustle