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THE CURSE OF THE PURSE

by Rose Madeline Mula

What is it with women’s pocketbooks? Who decrees that their dimensions and style must change from year to year, season to season? And why do we care what “who” says anyway? Why do we slavishly follow “who’s” dictates?

It’s ridiculous.

A few years ago, fashion determined that our purses must be tiny — or, at the very least, small. The clutch was in. Practicality was out. Unless a woman’s other accessory was a man with many pockets that could hold her necessities, she was limited to making do with a lipstick, one tissue, and a credit card. No cash. Not even a single bill. Because if she bought something that required change, she’d have no room for it. If she needed to carry reading glasses, or maybe an extra tampon, she was out of luck.

Today, on the other hand, the clutch is out and the mini-suitcase is de rigueur… bags so huge and heavy, even when empty, they should be on wheels … bags with a myriad of gleaming brass buckles, studs, decorative chains, and enough inner and outer pockets to accommodate a cell phone, a Blackberry, a Palm Pilot, an address book (in case the Palm Pilot’s batteries expire), a GPS system, a digital camera, a checkbook, a calculator, sun glasses, a memo pad, a pen, a toothbrush, dental floss, not one but several lipsticks, eye shadow, mascara, blush, powder, concealer, a pack of tissues, nail polish, a can of Mace, extra car and house keys, a book (hey, you have to have something to do while standing in those lines at the supermarket, bank, and post office), an Ipod, hair brush, hair spray, mirror, hand lotion, a water bottle, a collapsible umbrella, your computer’s external hard drive with your back-up documents (can’t leave it home where a fire could possibly destroy it, along with your computer), and of course a wallet bulging with a driver’s license, cash, a dozen credit cards, ATM card, library card, medical insurance cards, auto club ID, recent pictures of your kids, baby pictures of your kids, pictures of your current husband / boyfriend / partner, pictures of all your exes — just for starters, plus a granola bar to give you the energy required to tote all that stuff.

The irony is that despite (or because of) the bags’ multiple compartments designed to keep things organized, you can never remember where you put what. You end up unzipping, unsnapping, and unbuckling them all before you find the item you need. Then, of course, there are the objects which have no designated compartments — things like that half a roll of Tums, a band aid, tea bag, coupons, pill box, a crumpled grocery list…all of which drift to Never Never Land — the bottom of the bag — where they are lost forever.

Another problem with those oversized purses is where do you keep them? Especially if you have the multiple purses fashion mandates — summer and winter bags in various colors to match your thirty pairs of shoes. You certainly can’t tuck them into a dresser drawer. And forget the floor of your closet. All those shoes are there, remember? If the huge pocketbook trend continues, new homes will offer purse storage rooms, in addition to walk-in closets; and automobiles will have to add special overhead bins, like on airplanes, to stow our purses..

We used to get along without carrying all those so-called necessities with us wherever we went. Why can we no longer manage without them? We could, of course, but the problem is that nature abhors a vacuum. The larger the bag, the stronger the compulsion to fill every centimeter of space.

It’s the same principle that applies to homes — the more space, the more stuff we cram into it. If, for example we move from a 500-square-foot studio apartment (which holds all the possessions we need to live a full life) to a 10,000 square-foot mansion, I guarantee that within two weeks, every room and closet, as well as all the storage space in the cellar / attic / garage (none of which we had in the studio) will be bulging with miscellany we suddenly must have. If the space is there — whether in our homes or in our purses — we’re compelled to fill it.

We can only hope, therefore, that pocketbook designers will have pity on us and not foist even larger bags on us. If they do, we may then feel we must carry a roll of paper towels and/or toilet tissue, a bottle of salad dressing, a sandwich, a portable DVD player, an extra pair of shoes … where will it all end?

It used to be that the only thing we were cautioned not to leave home without was our American Express card.

Ah, those were the days!

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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