Why I Finally Broke Up With My Oversized Handbag

oversized purse

As early as I can remember, I’ve had an inexplicable love for purses. As soon as I could manipulate scissors, my tiny, toddler self would construct them out of paper and a bottle of Elmer’s glue. Like intricate works of amateur origami, my paper creations weren’t actually strong enough to hold anything, but it didn’t matter because, at that age, I had nothing important to keep inside them anyway. All that mattered was that they were mine and they were beautiful.

My love for purses only continued as I grew older.

In grade school, I started sewing together vintage sweatshirts and denim and cherished my creations so much, I sold the few I could part with to only my closest of confidants. When we got our periods for the first time, we were proud to carry the necessary pads and tampons as a badge of honor and as we quickly became more aware of our “femininity,” the number of objects we carried in our bags steadily increased. The glimmer of womanhood fast approaching in the distance was exciting and like many girls, my education on what it meant to be female was heavily influenced by the movies I watched and magazines I read.

Thanks to fictional characters I idolized like Cher Horowitz and Lizzie McGuire, I learned that in addition to feminine products, I also needed sparkly eyeshadow, lip gloss, Tic Tacs, hair clips, rhinestone tattoos, fuzzy pens and a notebook with me wherever I went. There was even a period of time where I made a pact with my best friend to meet in the bathroom every day after lunch to religiously obey something I once read in Teen Vogue, which, for us, became Commandment Number One: gloss after every meal.

as if flatlay

Image via Elle Daniels

However, as I grew older and busier, the contents of my handbags no longer traced my path of discovering what it meant to be female, but instead signified my independence from my parents as a capable female adult in society. With my own set of car keys, house keys, snacks, and cell phone, I was the real deal and my handbag reflected that. In fact, in my eyes the bigger the handbag, the more independent and capable the woman. As a result, I spent so much of my life, as many girls do, toting around the biggest handbag I could get my hands on.

… in my eyes the bigger the handbag, the more independent and capable the woman.

Looking back at photos of my younger self, I can only think of how silly I looked — a small girl carrying around a handbag more the size of a suitcase than a purse. Regardless, I still remember how very important, powerful, and ready-for-anything those oversized handbags made me feel. Never mind the fact that I never actually used the stuff I carried — the important thing was that I had it all, just in case.

When, almost a decade later, my mom decided she wanted to reinvent the fanny pack, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Always coming up with crazy ideas, my mom received words of encouragement that were lukewarm at best. “Ok, mom— you do you. I’ll support you no matter what.” Yet, when I came home from college for winter break, I was genuinely impressed with her first few designs. She wasn’t making fanny packs. They were more like beautiful bags that can be worn on your hips.

While I liked the design of her hands-free bags, my big-bag-addicted self was afraid to wear one. There was no room for my makeup, my mints, my lotion, my charger, or oil removing pads and quite frankly, shedding the items that weren’t straight-up essentials was hard for me. It seemed as if my confidence and self-worth had somehow become intertwined with the objects I carried and these objects became crutches for my insecurities. There was no room for anything even remotely unnecessary in my mom’s belt bags and, at one point, I really wondered — can I really go outside like this and be okay?

It seemed as if my confidence and self-worth had somehow become intertwined with the objects I carried and these objects became crutches for my insecurities.

At this point, I began to realize I’d developed an unhealthy attachment to my oversized handbag, which was made apparent by an all-encompassing, awkward feeling of nakedness while forced to be without it. After relying on it for so many years, it seemed my relationship with my purse had become one of co-dependence and my very large, “important” bag quickly turned into my very large, “important” bag of insecurities. This, for me, was problematic and coupled with the fact that my big bags weren’t exactly loving me back as much as I loved them (I’d been seeing a chiropractor for my uneven posture and headaches), perhaps it was time to re-evaluate one of my closest relationships. Yes, the one I had with my beloved handbags.

Once I realized I hadn’t melted like the Wicked Witch of the West without my oversized bag by my side, I slowly grew comfortable and empowered by the feeling of freedom afforded to me by the fanny pack. It took me more than a few times to get used to being okay without all my “stuff,” but when I finally did, nothing was sweeter than the freedom of realizing I didn’t actually need most of the things I was carrying around. When I lightened my load, I not only experienced freedom with regard to what I was carrying, but also experienced freedom through finding confidence within myself, rather than the objects that would keep my makeup fresh, mouth minty, and face de-greased. This newfound confidence came from the realization that I didn’t actually need the “things” I had so tightly clung to. I was just fine as I was, imperfections and all.

freedom from handbag

Image via Monica Outcalt

I had always thought that the more you fill inside your bag, the more capable and independent you are as a woman, however as I grow older, I’m now realizing that it’s just the opposite. It’s not the “things” you carry with you that give you independence, but rather, it’s the freedom from “things” that actually does. It’s amazing how much more you can fit into your life when you’re not carrying a big handbag filled with things you don’t need. More happiness, joy, spontaneity, fun, and best of all, freedom, in exchange for less stuff. When I finally rid myself of my big bag, I also rid myself of the need to be perfect and that is the most liberating feeling of all.

Have you gone through a similar attachment scenario? What was it?

Feature Image via Michelle Madsen

Rachel is a co-founder of Hipsters for Sisters, a line of hands-free, belt bags inspired to liberate women from their baggage. All of their bags are made locally and sustainably in Los Angeles.

  • Erin July 30, 2017

    I never comment on articles… but I felt the need to comment on this one because I truly love this one so much. Thank you for this well-written article. I resonate with it and it truly speaks to me xo

  • jennifer December 4, 2016

    I am a huge what if girl – what if I need that, what if I need a journal if I feel the need to write, what if I need that makeup, I am terrified of doing this – I recently bought a new tote but the saving grace is a small cross body that came with it. I am hopeful that I can just bring the small cross body with me into stores and short errands and hopefully just the use the combo bag for work. Wish me luck

  • JY November 27, 2016

    So opportune to stumble on this as I am currently down sizing what I carry! This need to carry the bare essentials was born out of having traveled this summer and not wanting to drag a huge bag/backpack around. It gets tiring after walking around everywhere.

    I still want to be prepared so I have a small transparent zip case of bandaids, aspirin and knick-nacks. This leaves room in this Muji bag organizer that doubles as its own small cross-body. This way, I can just transfer the organizer to a bigger bag when needed 😀

  • Adele November 17, 2016

    Unique slant on fashion ! Clever presentation. Every women who carries a bag can identify with this dilemma.

    Your article gives women permission to ….. dump the junk !


  • Kate D November 12, 2016

    Really love this article, inspired to get rid of my big bags!

  • Charmaine Ng November 12, 2016

    Yes! For a while, I loved big bags, but it actually also encouraged me to carry much more than I needed. Now I prefer small bags because I can pick out the key things I need. No more junk. 🙂
    — Charmaine

    • Rachel Denniston November 12, 2016

      Hi Charmaine,
      You’re so right! When you pare it down to just the essentials, life is so much easier. No more spending 20 minutes digging through your bag to find your keys! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  • Natalie November 12, 2016

    A really lovely piece – thanks for sharing your story. I feel like I have a similar attachment to my backpack that I need to work out

    – Natalie

  • RITA November 12, 2016

    I TOTTALLY AGREE WITH THIS! I’ve just bought a suitcase so big to have my computer, my tablet, wallet, makeup, snack, bottle of water, everything. It gets heavy sometimes but it’s the testimony that I have everything I need in just one bag.
    However, I really want to be less dependent on things. When I went camping last summer, we would hike all day long and all I had was a fanny pack and I realized how comfortable and free I was with JUST that bag. Back to work I still use the suitcas but on the weekends I just want to use a smaller bag to have home keys, car keys, some money and lipstick. Just that and you’re perfect and ready to go!

    • Rachel Denniston November 12, 2016

      Hi Rita, exactly!! How lovely that sounds, camping and being able to hike all day long. Spending quality time in nature often reminds us that we really don’t need all that much to exist. Sometimes the more simple life is, the happier it can be too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. 🙂