Organize your bag: Find things easily and reduce back pain

Have you looked inside your bag lately? I’ve been checking out What’s in your bag?, a regular feature on the website Verge.com, where people open up their bags to show everything they carry around with them. The bags of both men and women are profiled and it’s interesting to see the similarities of the things they normally keep with them (almost all bags contain a pen and a marker). Equally as interesting was that some people carry as many as 60 items on a regular basis, some of which are heavy (like cameras and laptops).

It’s likely that many people select bags not just for function (being able to carry essential items), but also for style (ability to complement most things you wear). But, if you look in the latest fashion magazines and catalogs, you’ll notice that bags seem to be getting bigger and bigger, probably so the people using them can carry more stuff. That may sound like a good thing, but overloading your bag can make it difficult for you to find what you’re looking for when you need it and, more importantly, can be a source of physical pain.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, weighty bags can have a significant impact on your body:

Carrying a bag with detectable weight–more than 10 percent of your body weight–can cause improper balance. When hiked over one shoulder, it interferes with the natural movement of the upper and lower body. The person carrying the bag will hike one shoulder to subconsciously guard against the weight, holding the other shoulder immobile. This results in the unnatural counterbalance movement of one shoulder and little control over the movements of the arms and legs. Even worse, the spine curves toward the shoulder.

If you tend to put a lot of things in your daily bag just in case you might need them, you may want to do things differently. While you might like the idea of being prepared for anything, in reality, you’re simply doing physical harm to yourself and cluttering up your time searching for stuff. As you decide which items you need to carry on a daily basis, consider these three simple things you can do to organize and reduce the weight of your bag:

Use a smaller bag

Using a smaller bag will encourage you to carry around your essential items only. If you have to use a larger one, consider getting one with wider straps, alternate carrying it on both shoulders, or get a bag on wheels. And, when you use a backpack, wear it (use both straps) instead of slinging it over one shoulder. If it helps to see cold, hard numbers, put your bag on a scale to see how much it weighs.

Clean and organize your bag often

It’s a good idea to organize your bag on a regular basis. Take out the non-essential items (like expired coupons, receipts, loose change) and keep only things you need to have with you every day (like keys, wallet, glasses). You’ll also want to vacuum the inside and clean the outside (especially if you place your bag on floors or public restroom counters). Pick a day of the week that you’ll regularly organize your bag to ensure it’s not overloaded with things you don’t need.

Consilidate and keep like items together

Both Erin and I are fond of bags with compartments because you can’t overstuff them and all of your things have a home. But, you don’t need a special bag to achieve the same results. You can create a bit more order in your current bag by downsizing (how many pens do you really need?) and consolidating similar items into pouches or zip top bags. This will keep things easy to find and help you to be more selective about the items you carry around with you.

18 Comments for “Organize your bag: Find things easily and reduce back pain”

  1. posted by Debra on

    One tip I have about bags – assuming that you’re not using some fancy, pretty purse or whatever but that this is a bag or backpack or something like that, attach a clip to it. I have a simple caribiner clip that I probably bought for $1.50. I clip it to the front of whatever bag I’m carrying and then clip my keys onto it. I never have to root around in my bag for my keys and they don’t scratch up my phone or other belongings.

  2. posted by Britannia on

    You say “keep only things you need to have with you every day (like keys, wallet, glasses)”. I say, keep only those things you can afford to lose in your bag. Keep the other things in your pockets and carry them around with you always. Many is the time I saw people at work, who had gone away from their desk or onto another floor and then felt they had to go back to their desk when the fire bell range, to get their purse/wallet/keys/etc. If any of those false alarms had been for real, those people would probably have died in the fire.

  3. posted by Randy on

    My pack is a thirty year old Jansport that looks remarkably similar to the one pictured in the article. Four zippered compartments (the two closest to the back are compressable) plus three mesh pockets (one on the back and one on each of the sides. One of the outer compartments has additional internal pockets for pens, wallets and other assorted small items plus a short strap with a clip for one’s keys. I’ve owned many packs over the years but somehow this one has survived.

    Ever since I read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I’ve always carried a towel with me. It goes in the first compartment (the one closest to my back) to provide a little additional cushioning. Other items that live in my pack: Leatherman multitool, small LED flashlight, first aid kit and a water bottle.

    Anyway, my main reason for commenting is that the pull tabs on my zippers finally began to break off (after years of hard use) so I decided to replace them all with toggles. Didn’t see the point of just keeping some of them. I used a wire cutter on my multitool (which also lives in my pack BTW) to nip them off and then threaded the toggles ($0.10 apiece at Wal-Mart) directly through the slider body. It looks very clean and also works great. A simple “upgrade” that only set me back eighty cents. :)

  4. posted by Kerrie on

    I have to carry around a laptop for work and quickly found that a traditional shoulder bag is too painful and a traditional backpack is much more supportive. I have a dakine backpack similar in design to the pictured one and appreciate the simple style with just enough compartments in the smaller zippered section for smaller items like cell phone, wallet, pens, and lip balm. My problem isn’t with disorganization or too much random clutter in my backpack, just that I am a bookworm who still refuses to switch to e-reader and average 3 books in there at any given time ;-)

  5. posted by Sharon on

    Another hint to reduce the weight of your bag is to pay attention to materials used in the construction of the bag. I LOVE leather purses but they are so much heavier than canvas or fabric purses. Since my purse doubles as a diaper bag I have a lot of stuff to carry around and found that starting with a lightweight bag is essential.

  6. Avatar of

    posted by chacha1 on

    What’s in my bag: wallet; sunglasses; cell phone; keys; a ballpoint and a fine Sharpie; sunblock stick; zip bag with compact, lip balm, Listerine strips, metal card case, ponytailers, etc.

    The bag itself is cotton canvas, big enough to hold an iPad, weighs almost nothing and is machine washable.

  7. posted by Christina on

    I agree with Sharon. Recently, I needed a bag to carry on an airplane, and I discovered that all my bags were heavy EMPTY. I used a lightweight canvas bag instead.

  8. posted by lady brett on

    i think the key to switching to a smaller bag is to figure out what your “must haves” are *first* and then find a bag that will fit those things well.

    for me, that meant finding a purse that my kindle can fit in along with my basic wallet/pocket things (phone, money, chapstick, pocket knife, pen, note paper, and pillbox). it basically won’t fit anything not on that list, but it will fit everything i am likely to want to take with me. other folks’ must-have’s might be bigger (or smaller) than mine, but it was well worth finding a perfectly sized bag – i never feel like i’m hauling around more than i need, and i don’t feel like i don’t have anywhere to put my stuff (my previous purse managed to do both – too big for my small amount of stuff, but shaped wrong to hold the kindle).

  9. posted by bandicoot on

    what is in my bag?
    cash, card, keys, sunglasses, lip balm, lipstick, perfume, pen, phone. there is room for a lot more, but i like it emptyish because it is easy to grip or throw under my arm.
    it is a lightweight leather cosmetic bag (a very simple shape with no straps or handles) from a reasonably posh brand and it goes everywhere with me. and it is bright fire engine red so it never gets lost in dark corners or left anywhere!
    i empty it out every day or so, to file receipts / notes and corral loose change.
    every now and then it gets wiped out inside and more frequently on the outside.

  10. posted by guest on

    really? The “chiropractic association”, why not the “homeopathic association” or the “international astrology association”. I’d rather get my information from a more credible source (like an orthopedic..you know, a real doctor)
    at the same time, old news. but a good hook. I only carry what I really need. no perpetual survival bag.

  11. posted by Jen on

    When you live in a city like ours, still suffering aftershocks two years after a major earthquake, walking shoes and a water bottle join the wallet, keys and mobile phone trio as absolute essentials to have on you at all times. Good thing I’ve always carried a backpack instead of a delicate little handbag!

  12. Avatar of

    posted by lifekeepshappening on

    I carry a small nylon bag, but the strap slips off my shoulder when I wear my quilted winter coat – no matter if it is worn on one shoulder or cross body. I don’t carry enough to warrant a backpack (card wallet, keys, phone, lipbalm). Any suggestions on how to either get this purse to stay put or for an alternate bag that sticks to a slippery coat? I need both hands free when walking on ice and snow. I realize it should all fit in my pocket but it doesn’t.

  13. Avatar of

    posted by mdfloyd on

    I assume y’all know the forum isn’t working and looks like it’s been hacked . . . .

  14. Avatar of

    posted by gailbon on

    myfloyd, I just went to post on ATAD, and saw gibberish where the forum used to be.

  15. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @mdfloyd — As we have discussed for months over on the forum, we are finally upgrading! Stay tuned, big exciting changes are coming!! :)

  16. posted by JustGail on

    And unless you have small children, you don’t need to be the pack mule for the entire family. At least not all the time.

    @lifekeepshappening – 2 possiblilties come to mind –
    1. check with a shoe repair place if you have one – they may have an idea
    2. I know there are anti-slip strips you can put on a straps – search for “purse strap grippers” or similar terms

  17. Avatar of

    posted by lifekeepshappening on

    Thanks JustGail. Purse strap grippers sound like the solution. I googled slippery coats and discovered that many young mothers have issues holding onto their tiny kids in these coats. I’m glad my only issue is dropping my purse!

  18. posted by Liz I on

    My “bag”??? A Jimi wallet around my neck, iPhone in a pocket, neoprene lunch bag from NY Built.
    When I teach I carry an iPad and file folder or notebook and adapters in a very slim neoprene messenger bag, also by NY Built.
    When I’m hauling my laptop and who knows what else back and forth from my studio, I use a rolling bag.

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