Organizing Challenge: Bags, Bags and More Bags

So, today, we’re going to talk about something that is a little close to home for me: Bag Hoarding.  I don’t even mean nice purses. I mean bags that you put stuff in, like groceries or stuff you’re toting from A to B.   I’m not just talking about plastic grocery bags.  I’m talking about reusable shopping bags, paper shopping bags with handles, and canvas totes.  And I’m talking about the empty ones… the ones just waiting to fulfill their purpose of carrying stuff, just waiting to get called up to the show.


So, let’s start this off the honest way.  Hi. I’m Kathy.  I’m a Bagaholic.

Here’s what I know about me (see if it sounds familiar to you):

1) I like bags.

2) I find myself saying, “Ooh. That’s a cute bag. Keep that.”  A lot. 

3) Bags seem to reproduce asexually in my closet (are you familiar with the Tribbles? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.)

4) I have favorites.  I have favorites that I use, and favorites that I keep for a special occasion. (FYI: there is no such thing as a special occasion for a bag. I’ve tried to find one, and I just can’t.)

5) Then the rest are not favorites.   I’m keeping them because…  um…  well….  shoot.

So, I did some tough love on my own bag stash recently.  Because I needed to. Because I KNEW I had too many, and for no good reason. Because I knew I couldn’t imagine NOT getting MORE bags without an intervention.  I came up with a Twenty Minute Attack plan, and got to work.

I separated out each kind:

  • Paper shopping bags

  • Plastic or vinyl shopping bags that look like nicer versions of paper shopping bags

  • Reusable grocery bags (most were giveaways, of course)

  • Canvas bags (again, most were giveaways from conferences or some special shopping event)

{By the way:  plastic grocery bags? You probably have more than you need, unless  you have a dog or a cat and you’re using it for litter and clean up and such. (“such” is a euphemism.)    If they’re not part of your DAILY routine to have them, you don’t need more than a dozen on hand. You’ll likely get more if you need them, right? Take the rest to the recycling box at your grocery store; they’d love to take them off your hands.}


What I saw, as I gazed upon my collection of toting treasures:

My first observation:  Gee, I have a lot of emotional investment in a collection that probably didn’t cost me more than $2.  (Not including the things that went IN the bags when I obtained them, of course).

My second observation: Great Googalymoogaly; I have a lot of bags.  I could put everything I own in bags and carry out all of my worldly possessions.

My third observation: Sometimes, I think of some of my bags ARE my worldly possessions.  And some of them ARE worldly!  Here’s one from Harrod’s!  Here’s one from the duty-free shop in Tokyo!  Here’s one I got from my very first job, 20 years ago!  (Oh my gosh… bags are my souvenirs?  Not the actual souvenirs that were in them? Oh, the shame….)

So, I gave myself a kick in the butt and said that this wasn’t going to work any more.  I had to make some tough decisions.

1) Paper shopping bags. These were the easiest to go through. First, I sorted by size (from the itty bitty to the “I can put my lunch in this” to the “well, if I have to bring a VCR somewhere, I can put it in this” sizes).  Got rid of anything that had the slightest tear (because they don’t seem to heal themselves, and hemorrhage at the worst possible times) and got rid of the ones that are the smallest sizes because, let’s face it: I don’t ever use them.  I kept one really large one, 3 large ones and 3 medium-sized ones.  The rest (dozens) went to the recycling bin!

2) Plastic versions of paper shopping bags.  Okay, this was harder. These are more durable! But, I also knew these are the ones that, if I bring them somewhere, I’ll want them back (unlike the paper ones, which need to be functional, but I can sacrifice them to the cause, if necessary).  But, I was ruthless. I kept the Container Store ones (they are really nice and well made) and got rid of all the rest. (Note: this category includes Lulu Lemon Bags, which can be great, especially the small ones, but for political reasons, I’m not a fan of LL the way I once was. Sad, because I got a lot of use out of those bags). There weren’t that many of them, but more left than stayed.  If they appeared to be recyclable, I recycled them. Otherwise, they were thrown away. I don’t feel great about that. I should have kept them to use for garbage or something, but I honestly felt like that was just an excuse to keep them, and I needed a zero-tolerance policy on this task.

3) Reusable shopping bags.  We get SO many of these, don’t we?  Some of us are great about remembering to use them when we shop (not just at the grocery store, but any store we go to). Some of us are not so good at remembering… despite the amount we left behind at home or in the trunk of our car.  This is another example of an item we should only keep as many as we will realistically use at once.  AND it is also an item that you need to be a little careful about… if you use them for groceries, especially veggies and fruit, they can gather bacteria and can lead to some unhealthy conditions.  Many can be washed or, as we’ve stated, for the amount we paid for most of them (zero) we can afford to let them go and replace them.   I went through mine and decided which sizes were best, which were in the best condition, and which ones I liked the logo on (that’s right… a completely irrelevant factor in their functionality, but I don’t care) and kept a dozen.  More than I need, probably, but I’m okay with that.  As for the rest?  I’ve put some to use around the house in a variety of longer-term storage capacity (like clothes-for-consignment stash) or I used them in corralling gifts at Christmas time before I wrapped them.  But the goal was to either use them or let go of them. One good use for these that helps them function but also leave your house for good: Set them up as the “Donation” vessels.  When you gather your donations, put them in these bags — easy to carry, and okay with leaving them behind.

4) Canvas Tote Bags. I saved the hardest for last.  Obviously, these are the best made, and the most likely to either have a fun or memorable print on them, or be really functional, with zippers or extra pockets (that I never use but always find compelling to have).   Honestly, I’d done so well purging the other bags, that I was able to role with the momentum.  Bag without a zipper from a conference I barely remember?  Goodbye! Bag with a zipper but too small to really warrant carrying something around that size in a tote?  Goodbye!  Bag with stains on it?  See ya!    Again, these got repurposed for donations or other things that could exit the house, never to return again…

What is left? One hanging reusable shopping bag, with other bags folded in it, hanging on a peg near the car, and one box of paper and plastic shopping bags folded neatly, tucked in the box in size order.  The canvas bags are collected in my closet, where I’ll look to find one most often (I tend to use them for carrying around clothes for overnights or needing a change of outfit here when I am on the go or at a client’s house.)

I’m hopeful that sharing my bag shame, and my aggressive route to recovery, will help you tackle your own issues. Do they take up a lot of room? Of course not.  But we don’t need them, and we’re storing them, especially ones we’ll NEEEEEVER use, for no good reason.

Good luck!  I know this one is a tough one for some people.  I can obviously feel your pain.





  1. Fran And Frank Gallo

    Ah ha! There’s that apple/tree thing again! You will also be happy to know that I tossed all but 3 holiday gift boxes and all other gift boxes except a couple of small tin ones for gift cards. We got our canvas, under the bed, wrapping paper bag yesterday. Works perfectly. Didn’t hold the remaining tall roll of snowman paper so that’s getting recycled. Added a little white tissue and stashed it under the bed.

    Sent from my iPad

    • Clever Girl Organizing

      ^^ Kudos to Clever Mom ^^ 🙂

      Remaining tall roll of wrapping paper didn’t fit so you just let it go and recycled it, rather than try to make it work some other way? Mind = Blown! Great job!!

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ellen Delap

    Hilarious! I love your personal observations! It applies to us all as we look through any of our stuff. It’s true that the best first step is to assess.

    • clevergirlorg

      Thank you!


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