This is not a post about fashion because I am not the type to change handbags every season, but bear with me. A couple of years ago I bought a new handbag. It’s sort of squashy, and made in dark brown leather; It’s got one big button on it so you can fasten it shut and straps long enough to go over your shoulder. It doesn’t have lots of compartments; and its big enough to fit an A4 notepad in and a sheaf of papers. I would post a picture of it but it’s no longer in stock – as I said this is not a fashion post.

My new adventure

So why am I talking about handbags or more specifically this handbag? This handbag is not a statement piece; it’s not really an accessory, but choosing this handbag tells me a lot about my journey, and lets me know “I’m alright!”. Let me tell you why. Many years ago I was invited to work in a beautiful northern European city. I arrived with a suitcase full of business clothes and excitement in my heart looking forward to my new adventure.

I had never worked outside of my own country before, so many things were new to me. I quickly realised that my business suits were outdated in this city of culture, and my work ethic was also a little off kilter with my sophisticated international colleagues. But it was still an adventure, and I felt if I could just get a handle on the local language and customs things would work out fine.

Keeping on top of things

I threw myself into my work, bringing new ideas to outdated systems, and challenging colleagues to look at processes with a fresh eye. I worked hard through the week, but went home to an empty flat in the weekends. Colleagues took pity on me, and invited me to parties and pubs, but truly, beer and raw herring served on a boat trip was a cultural shock; and outings to packed bars where I knew not a soul were exhausting. Language classes were my saviour; although the language itself remained a mystery for ages; I began to meet people outside of work and build a social life.

Life in this beautiful northern European city began to live up to my expectations. Relationships grew and I could begin to enjoy the local customs to the full. Combining this with the work ethic I brought from home began to get problematic. Juggling the demands of the job with the demands of the weekend became chaotic, life speeded up, and I was just managing to keep on top of everything.

Losing my way

Until I started to lose my way, literally. I had always had a good sense of direction, but I went through a phase of getting lost. I would walk down a street, sure it would bring me to my destination, and find I was in the wrong part of the city; or take a bus, which would veer off in the wrong direction just before I was thinking about getting off.

Always practical, I purchased a street map, very detailed, with all the transport routes indicated. I popped it in my handbag, and promised myself always to carry it. It went into my handbag along with; that spare pair of pantyhose I always carried, and the sewing kit, in case I lost a button. The manicure set, in case I snagged a nail, and the make-up bag. The purse; the credit card wallet; a few assorted pens; a note pad; address book; bottle of water; tissues; peppermints; and a book to read.

Lightening up

Carrying everything around entailed an ever larger bag; and because the bag was so large I kept dumping stuff in it – more and more baggage which I never emptied out. This bag became so heavy i began getting pain in my shoulder when I carried it. one day, looking at myself full on in the mirror I realised one shoulder was lower than the other. And that was it; the turning point. I knew I needed to lighten up.

No more baggage

So I opened the bag and examined everything in it; did I need to manicure my nails on the move? When had I last lost a button? Did I need the street map with me every day? And why was I carrying around receipts from three years ago? I streamlined right down and went on my way much lighter and happier, with a small shoulder-bag just big enough for my purse, keys and a lipstick.

And so I was for several years. After all it takes time to learn new habits. But when I bought my squashy, dark brown leather, one big button, shoulder-bag a couple of years ago, I knew I was cured. Practically speaking I knew I needed a bigger bag, so I could carry notes to client meetings and keep everything in one place. But these days I empty it out every time I come home, and I will never carry around so much baggage ever again.

So how big is your handbag? Are you carrying around unnecessary baggage? Maybe it’s time for a more simple approach and a new, lighter life.