Confession: I'm a Shopping Bag Addict

A few weeks ago, an old friend arrived at my front door with a hostess gift in hand. Over the years, we have given each other enough trinkets to fill a small room, and I reminded her that we should put an end to this tradition -- that is, until I saw the bag she was holding. I was not so concerned with the contents as I was with the shopping bag itself.

It was perfect -- small to medium in size, cream-colored, made of thick paper with a cardboard bottom and sturdy red ribbon handles. The store's name was displayed in a subtle way -- not at all prominent. I immediately knew that this shopping bag would serve me well on numerous occasions. Perhaps I'd transport cookies to my children's school, wine out to a dinner party or maybe even a change of shoes on a snowy day. The possibilities seemed endless.

I can admit it: I am obsessed with shopping bags, and I am not alone. I know of women across the country that seek out good shopping bags as I do, and they hoard them too. If you don't believe me, take a peek in the backs of their closets. You'll find collections that resemble mine.

My shopping bag collection is well organized, and that is because all of the good bags are folded up and put into the queen bee of all bags -- the large and very sturdy one that holds the entire collection. Without this very important bag, the rest of the bags are simply a mess on the bottom of the floor.

As it stands now, my queen bee bag is an oversized J. Crew one, and it has held up nicely for the last few months. My children and husband know not to grab that bag when they reach in the closet for something in which to carry their projects or changes of clothes. I taught them well, just like my mother did. I knew better than to grab the oversized Bendel's bag from her closet floor when I needed a bag. Even if my other options were not of the right size, I had to make them work.

When I think back on certain friendships, I can see how they evolved through the use of shopping bags. I knew that I was becoming close with one friend when she dropped off hand-me-downs from her daughter in a plastic Rite Aid bag. I hugged her in the parking lot of our children's school, finally knowing that she was no longer trying to impress me, and that I would find a use for even the Rite Aid plastic bag.

The first few years of hand-m- downs from the new friend came in glossy bags from Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and even Neiman Marcus. Slowly, items were left at my door packaged more casually in Gap and Old Navy bags, and at long last, we had made it down to the drug store bags.

Every shopping bag has its time and its place, even the drug store ones. The next time you make a purchase at a store -- any store-- take a minute to appreciate the free gift you have been given, and think about how you want to use this bag. Perhaps no one use will come to mind instantly, and that is OK. Whatever you do, do not throw it out. Put it in the back of your closet like my mother always did and rest assured, its time will come.