It’s called a purse if you’re American and a handbag if you’re English, like me. But whatever name you call it, most women carry one, and it usually contains far more items than they ever need.

Many people have commented on an account I gave in my book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. I described the time I visited some friends and their two-year-old child decided it was guest-handbag inspection time.

Out it all came, piece by piece, while her mother and father looked fondly on. Apparently this little girl ransacked handbags regularly, leaving a trail of embarrassed women in her wake.

I can assure you it is a wonderful feeling to sit back and watch with enjoyment rather than concern. Her parents had been prepared to apologize to me. Instead they awarded me the prize for the tidiest handbag they had ever seen.

Of course, it’s not always so immaculate, but I really can’t see the point of carrying a bag of litter with me everywhere I go, so regular clear-outs are as fundamental to me as laundering my clothes.

What’s in Your Purse or Handbag?

The first recorded purse in history belonged to Ötzi the Iceman. He was a Neolithic man who lived over 5,000 years ago. His mummified corpse was found intact, preserved in ice. Around his waist he had a belt with an attached pouch containing small tools and a dried fungus that was found to have healing properties.

Nowadays women have handbags and men have man-bags, but the principle is the same. They are used to carry personal items when travelling from place to place. In the case of designer bags, they are a fashion statement too.

The problems start if you’re the kind of person who has a home filled with things you are keeping “just in case” you need them. You are likely to try to replicate this when you are out and about.

Items commonly found in a woman’s handbag are as follows. Take a deep breath if you’re reading this out loud:

Keys, cell phone, wallet, credit cards, store cards, other cards, cash, receipts, make-up, mirror, hairbrush, comb, hair accessories, nail file, tweezers. It might have perfume, deodorant, lip balm, jewellery, glasses, sunglasses, sunscreen, medicines, band-aids, dental floss, hand sanitizer, safety pins, sewing kit, tissues.

And don’t forget a notebook, pen, water bottle, flashlight, USB flash drive, portable music player, headphones, mints, and various kinds of munchies.

Extra items may be added according to need, such as an umbrella, magazine, book, eBook reader, hat, scarf or gloves. You can add your own favourites to this list.

Enter “purse dump” into Google images to see many examples of the contents of women’s bags. And if you’re interested to see the male equivalent, take a peek at whatsinyourbag.com.

How to Have a Clear-out

“Everything in my bag is essential”, you may think. But if you actually turn out the contents and go through them one by one, it’s a pretty sure bet you’ll find items you are needlessly carrying around. Here’s how to lighten your load.

First, create a place in your home where you can keep things you sometimes carry in your purse/handbag but don’t need to take every day. It can be a drawer, box, shelf, or whatever works for you, and preferably located near your front door.

This makes it much easier to change what you take with you from day to day, according to you need. This is instead of taking everything “just in case”.

Rubbish

Tip everything out of your bag. Shake out any remaining debris over a bin or, for a deeper clean, use a vacuum on a gentle setting. Keep a bin near you as you sort through your pile so that you can toss any rubbish as you find it.

Coins

They weigh a lot and quickly mount up. Keep a few, and put the rest in a money box to cash in at the bank when you’ve accumulated enough.

Keys

Carry only the ones you need every day. Leave any others at home.

Receipts

Create a place in your bag where you put receipts whenever you make a purchase. Go through and discard any that you don’t need to keep, and file the rest in monthly folders so that you can easily check through your bank and credit card statements when they arrive.

Credit cards, store cards and other cards

Do you have too many? And do really need to carry them all with you?

Food

Discard anything that’s been in there so long you wouldn’t feel right about offering it to a friend!

Seasonal items

Take out any items you’re not using in the current season, such as gloves in summer, or sunscreen in winter.

Make-up

Remove any items you rarely use. You can always add them back in for the days when you’ll need them.

Hair accessories and jewellery

Carry essentials only. Keep the rest at home.

Notebook

Get the smallest one you can for the purpose you use it for.

Multiples

If you have more than one of some items, see what you can whittle down.

Things You Never Use

Take out anything you’ve been carrying around with you for over a year and haven’t used even once.

Put back in your bag the things you need for today. Place other items you need sometimes in your designated drawer or box. Return items you never or rarely need to where they belong in your home.

Does It Really Matter What’s In Your Bag?

Your purse or handbag is a microcosm that says so much about you. Consciously or unconsciously, you’ve selected every item that’s in there, and each one tells its own story. The way your bag is organized reflects how you live your life. If you find you’re always rummaging to find things, use small pouches to keep items of each type together.

Get yourself a bag that has more compartments, or invest in bag organizer that can be put inside the bag you already have. When the bag you carry with you everywhere is more organized, your life starts to become more organized too.

If you would be happy for anyone at any time to see what you are carrying in your bag, that’s fine. This article will only help you organize it better. If you would feel shame if someone were to take a look inside, it means there’s some part of you that is hiding from the world.

This will reflect how open you can be in your relationships. Having regular clear-outs will boost your self-esteem and allow more of the real you to shine through.

The great thing about decluttering a purse or handbag is that it doesn’t take long to do. Get into the habit of a once-a-week clear-out and experience how much better it makes you feel. Not only that, but if you have a clutter-free bag, a natural progression is to want to have a clutter-free home. It begins in small and there’s no telling where it could end!

Do you have an organized purse? Or, is it a bit cluttered? Do you feel better after you give it a good clear-out? Please join the conversation.

Karen KingstonKaren Kingston is the author of two books with combined sales of over 3 million copies in 26 languages. She is a leading expert on clutter clearing, feng shui and healthy homes, and the world’s leading authority on space clearing. She currently runs online clutter clearing courses that have helped thousands of people from over 50 countries. Follow her blog at www.karenkingston.com/blog or connect via Facebook or Twitter.

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