I’m not sure when my handbag obsession began, but I have clear memories of being in 3rd or 4th grade and contemplating which bag would be the “best” bag to tote my belongings to and from elementary school. I also remember walking to school behind an older girl when I was in the 7th grade and wondering if her mornings were less mentally cluttered because she ALWAYS carried her books in the same backpack, thereby freeing up brain space that I was dedicating to the details of style, color, scope, and functionality of the transportation of my learning materials. Now, some 40 years later, I possess a handbag collection that in and of itself could be an asset class on a balance sheet. Which is why I may go to my grave never fully understanding my impulse action of a rainy Saturday afternoon a few years ago.
As a college graduation gift my mother gave me a Louis Vuitton tote bag. I asked for it on a whim, never dreaming that she, the epitome of Yankee frugality, would pony up such a ridiculous sum and buy it for me. The whole thing – my asking, her buying – was such a deviation from the norm of our relationship that I am still perplexed when I consider what may have been going through her mind as she went about procuring this particular item. Viewing her actions from the distance of experience and age, I imagine she was trying to make a connection with a daughter that she didn’t understand. It may have been a gesture of pure love, and likely was. But the same vantage point allows me the perspective to understand that a Louis Vuitton tote is too old for a 22 year old. It’s too much bag, too much baggage.
Somewhat predictably, the LV tote and I never jived. The bag and I were like Goldilocks and the bears, never quite finding the right situation, and when we did, something or someone always seemed to screw it up. I was never able to grow into the bag, and as my emotional baggage got heavier and heavier, it was clear that this tote wasn’t going to be the workhorse I longed for. Other bags had entered the picture and were in regular rotation. They met me where I was, and morphed effortlessly into my life. I didn’t have to think too much about them, they just… fit. After 20 years of trying to make things work, one afternoon I impulsively tossed the Louis Vuitton tote into the Goodwill bin.
This wasn’t a Mari Kondo “spark joy” kind of toss. This was a throw the baby out with the bath water kind of toss. My mother and I zigged and zagged our way through life, connecting at certain points, but most often finding ourselves at the opposite end of the equation. Getting rid of that bag was getting rid of emotional baggage, but what I didn’t remember to do was empty the pockets. There were scraps of memories, pearls of wisdom and nuggets of advice tucked in the lining. I look at my own daughters now, approaching the same age and graduation, and I have so much empathy for who my mother was, and who she hoped I would become.
I sometimes wonder who found the Louis Vuitton tote in their Goodwill store. Did they think it was fake, or a cast-off from a careless person? Did they marvel at their good fortune, or perhaps not notice, so burdened by their own reality? I wonder too if the new owner is able to fit everything they need inside the tote, or if they will someday look deep inside the pockets to discover what may have been forgotten.
And I sometimes wonder too, as ponder which outfit to wear and bag to carry on any given day, will I ever stop feeling like something is missing from my closet…