Handbag-Organizing Tips: How To Clean Out Your Purse

On a recent afternoon, 11 women in three cities dumped the contents of their purses onto the ground. With the rigor of type-A archaeologists, they sifted through lip glosses, business cards, receipts and tampons. Also catalogued? One stray seashell, a rabies tag for a pug named Petunia, a flashlight and a bottle of Xanax.

If you -- like these women -- are guilty of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, it’s time to clean out your purse by following these six steps:

1) Ready, Set... Dump!
If your purse is stuffed with more odds and ends than Mary Poppins’ magical carpetbag, know that you’re not alone. “Our bags are bigger, our lives are more mobile, and the lines between work and personal are more blurry,” says Julie Morganstern, organizational expert and best-selling author. All of that has affected how much stuff we carry. Start the de-junking process by throwing away anything that qualifies as trash (expired coupons, half-eaten granola bars, gum wrappers). Now divide the remaining items into three piles: essentials (wallet, cell phone, keys); accessories (favorite lipstick, sunglasses, phone charger); and “just in case” items (umbrellas, gym clothes, “going out” jewelry). Ideally, Morgenstern says, a woman should be able to pack and repack her purse in 10 minutes or less.

2) Banish The 'Just In Case' Stuff
Morgenstern says, “Don’t put options in your bag -- just-in-case-I-have-time things. Options are what bog people down.” You might think you can’t leave the house without hand cream, sunscreen, a screwdriver... or if you live in Seattle, an umbrella. If that’s the case, Morgenstern suggests buying the smallest, lightest versions of these items you can find. “There’s really no excuse for carrying full-size anything,” she says.

3) Find Your Short-Term Bag
Like many professional women, Morgenstern takes work home at night. She abides by a two-bag philosophy: Everyday essentials live in her purse, while work materials go into her transient bag. “Somebody else may have a transient gym bag or errands bag, but nothing lives in that bag,” she says. “Mine gets emptied out the minute I get back into the office.”

Christy Paisch, a chiropractic physician in Cinncinati, likes this advice. She says distributing the weight between two bags (and two shoulders) can also help prevent long-term damage to the spine. But, if you’re a one-bag kind of gal, Dr. Paisch suggests switching it up at least every half hour. “It may feel very unnatural at first -- almost like writing with your other hand," she says, "but it can help prevent neck and back pain, as well as migraines, muscle spasms and decreased circulation along the arm."

4) Avoid Disaster Bags
Morgenstern says there are some things every woman should look for -- and avoid -- when shopping for a new purse. First, make sure the bag is light when empty. Don’t let excessive hardware weigh you down. Second, avoid purses with center compartments that divide the space in half and what she calls disaster bags (with narrow openings and wide bottoms). Instead, look for bags with open interiors and generous pockets along the lining.

5) Find Your Quick-Change Accomplice
At last count, there were 13,180 purse organizers available for purchase on Etsy.com. They come in an array of sizes, patterns and price points, so there’s no excuse for stray pens and lost lipstick. If you’re a woman who changes purses as often as you she changes shoes, Morgenstern says the pouch system is a time saver. Bags that have a lot of internal compartments can delight an organized person. "[But] every time you change bags, you have to switch all that,” she says. “I’d rather have the ingredients in pouches and switch them from bag to bag.”

6) Discover The No. 1 Aggravation Saver
An outside pocket for a cell phone is a must. “No matter how nice a bag is, if it doesn’t have a separate little pocket [for your phone], it’s going to get lost,” Morgenstern says. “And it’ll drive you crazy.”