Our Love Affair with Bags

We all love bags but, here at the dawn of 2016, I think it’s safe to say most of us love them a little too much. How did all these bags get into our lives? Well, there are two main ways: either because we bought them for something, or we bought something that we put in them. The first category of bags, well, those are our silent workhorses. We need them to tote our laptops to work, to cart our rain gear and gym clothes, or to haul bottles, diapers and snacks for our offspring. If you have a school-aged child, she needs a knapsack too, and, eventually, a gym bag. Oh, and does your child do any extra-curricular sports? Then you will need a swim bag, ballet bag, judo bag, or fill-in-the-blank bag to contain all that equipment and keep it ready-to-go. Active lifestyles need bags, and that’s okay. But so often we fail to get rid of bags that have outlived their use and so our collection grows, and one day you open a closet to find bags spilling out, many of which you may not have used in years. Believe me, it is now time to donate or throw away that over-used handbag, or that backpack covered in characters your kid stopped liking long ago. Go ahead, you have my permission–just do it!

Culling your “purpose bag” collection will certainly feel great and free up some space, but there’s a far sneakier category of bag invader on the loose. Walk into any home and you will find shopping bags stuffed in closets, hidden in drawers, hanging on coat racks and nestled on chairs. We have plastic bags that hold more plastic bags. We use bags to sort out our possessions, often with the intention to recycle, donate or complete as a future project. Broken bits to fix/glue? You put it in a bag. Leftover assembly parts? You put it in a bag. Loose cables and cords? You put it in a bag. Screws, nails, tacks, tape? You put it in a bag. Don’t know where it should go, but I “need” to hold on to it? You put it in a bag.

How many of these bags do you think you own? Take a guess. I am going to bet that number is actually double, perhaps even triple what you might think. How do I know? Well, as a professional organizer, I get to peek into how people live, and nearly every client I have met has more bags than he thought, and certainly many more than he needs! In 2010 there were 98.6 billion plastic carrier bags placed on the EU market; nearly 90% were for single-use. That means that every EU citizen was in possession of around 198 plastic carrier bags in 2010 (source: IamExpat), and most of us can’t help hanging on to them. We are so good at stuffing them out of sight that soon they are out of mind and so our collection grows.  But now is the perfect time to break free of our “bag habit.” Dutch legislation that went into effect on 1 January 2016 means businesses will no longer offer these bags free of charge to consumers, presenting us all with an opportunity to be more mindful about letting these bags into our homes.
So what to do about all those bags?
  • Just say no to plastic carrier bags and don’t pay for them. What a waste environmentally and an unnecessary drain on your finances. Instead, reuse all the bags you currently own, decreasing rather than increasing your collection. Put one or more in your work bag, your handbag, your bike bag and your car. Have them available in places where you are going to need them for essential purchases. If you’re really drowning in plastic bags then use them as trash liners for your small bathroom wastebaskets until you run out. Above all, when a plastic bag can’t be used again . . . recycle it!
  • Carry along a tote or fold-able bag for personal purchases. Lucky enough to have a day out shopping for a new outfit? Will that new blouse or jeans, that bottle of perfume or lipstick fit in your hand bag? Say no thank you to the cashier, and take your new purchase as is, using a tote or fold-able bag brought from home, or try to combine multiple purchases into one shopping bag.  If you like to bring your purchases home and ‘unwrap’ them”, ask yourself why you are experiencing that feeling. Was the ‘gift to yourself’ more important than the purchase? Are you purchasing to fulfill another need?
  • Use large shopping bags or carriers for donations and/or recycle them. Sometimes we make a large purchase such as new pillows or boots that simply won’t fit into a tote. The store offers us a large, sturdy paper bag with rope or fabric handles which we gladly accept to make the transport from store to home easier. Don’t become attached to the bag!  Either recycle it immediately, collect your recyclables in it, or de-clutter a closet and fill it with your donations.  Then drop it off and walk away.
  • Don’t go tote-ally crazy. How many of us have been to a conference, workshop or other event where you have been given a canvas “goody bag”? Canvas bags and totes are a popular and practical souvenir for any event; they offer great advertising for the provider and are convenient for carrying around event swag. Next time you hit an event, though, bring your own tote, and if another bag is offered, ask yourself if you like it enough to re-use it after the event? If a new tote makes it home with you, either start using it right away (and think about getting rid of an older one) or donate it.
Now-back to all those loose bits and pieces and unfinished projects:  I give you permission to throw them away! If you really needed it you would have fixed it by now. Say good-bye to all that excess baggage in 2016 and start fresh!