Carry All the Things???
September 27, 2012 7:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I carry around all my stuff with grace and avoid looking stupid? I carry around a lot of stuff everyday, and it's extremely annoying. People are always commenting about how I have "so many bags" but I really am not sure how to streamline my stuff.

Right now I'm working between a couple different offices for my job, so I have to carry my laptop bag with a notebook and some files. I also carry my purse, which isn't tiny but is only about big enough to hold a small book, my phone and wallet, and that's about it. When I go to the gym, I carry a small backpack, that's big enough to fit my sneakers, gym clothes (Shorts, sports bra, and shirt) and gym lock, and that's ALL the bag will fit. If I don't go to the gym, I sometimes still bring the backpack with my lunch in it and sometimes headphones.

I have to cart all this every day on the NYC subway. It's annoying. Also, re: "so many bags," I don't feel like I have good access to my money and phone and stuff if not in a purse, and the laptop bag is not big enough to carry all my stuff. I'm open to a big bag solution that can fit gym stuff, lunch, laptop, and notebooks but I don't want this to be a giant backpack, as those can be a total pain to get on and off on crowded subways.

oh and if it's raining I add an umbrella to the mix.

help. I don't want a solution like "don't bring lunch" or "get a locker at the gym" because at least for now I feel like I have to carry all the stuff.
posted by sweetkid to Grab Bag (44 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I have this problem too; lots of bags for different purposes. I just bought this super cute "overnighter" bag from BlueQ. It's made from recycled feed bags and is big enough to fit my purse and a couple other miscellaneous bags. Here are their other overnighter bags (I want all of them). I placed my order at 2 p.m. and it shipped at 4:30. (Not a paid shill for them, but would consider it if they'd pay me in bags.)

Another option that is $8.30 cheaper would be a big blue Ikea bag, the kind you get at check-out.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:45 PM on September 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

Attractive bag large enough to fit everything. I can't really tell what your style is, but I fit 2 laptops, my notebook, kindle, phones, wallet, umbrella, headphones, and lunch in it. If I needed to, I could fit in my gym clothes but the shoes wouldn't fit.

I think you'd get "so many bags!!" less if you only had two rather than three + bags with you. If you must have your little purse with you (which, forgive me, sounds tiny if you can only fit phone wallet and small book in it), stick it in another bag.
posted by arnicae at 7:47 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I carry a large canvas tote from VS and my purse. I lug around everything in that tote -- laptop, textbook(s), folders, gym clothes, lunch, water bottle, etc. It zips at the top.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:49 PM on September 27, 2012

Response by poster: No open bags. Those drive me crazy. And no shopping bags or plastic.

The purse is actually not THAT small. I'm trying to find a picture online. I could get like, another book in there and a bottle of water if I really wanted. But nothing like lunch or gym stuff or whatever.
posted by sweetkid at 7:52 PM on September 27, 2012

Scottevest! Coats and jackets and pants designed to carry hella stuff without showing it or feeling it.

I use the trenchcoat with a sweatshirt in winter and a travel jacket with sleeves removed all summer. I carry all my stuff with me all the time and never need a bag. No idea how I managed before I got a Scottevest coat, but definitely can't recommend them highly enough. The clothing is very good quality and lasts, definitely get your money's worth and more.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:53 PM on September 27, 2012 [11 favorites]

Maybe a small crossbody bag to hold your money and phone only? And then a big, bucket tote for your other things? Get the kind with a zipper. LL Bean totes are classic for this but there are lots of options out there. Have smaller bags within the big tote for discrete purposes so you aren't rummaging. So, all your private entertainment stuff - books, headphones, notebook - in one bag, have a dedicated lunch bag (or maybe just wrap it with cloth and tie) and your laptop just holds your computer & cords (maybe just a laptop sleeve), and your files are in a fastened folder, and your gym clothes are separate, too. But you can pile them all into the tote, and have your subway card and your wallet right on your hip.
posted by Mizu at 7:54 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would you consider a large tote that zips at the top and replacing your purse with a small clutch? Then you can throw the clutch inside the larger bag when you want to carry less stuff and use the large bad for everything else. Clutches are in right now so there are a lot of options out there, and you might be able to find one with a an optional cross body strap or wrist strap for when you want to carry it by itself.
posted by MadamM at 7:54 PM on September 27, 2012

I had the same problem when I was hauling stuff around campus. I ended up getting a large Wenger computer case at Staples as well as a very large wallet that I still use--it basically holds every single thing I would put in a purse except for my phone. In my Wenger bag I had 2-3 textbooks, a laptop, a Kindle, a couple of slim binders, my giant wallet, and I kept my phone tucked into an outer pocket. Since you wouldn't need to fit large science texts, I imagine you could fit your gym clothes in one half of the case as well as your gym lock. The shoes might need to be carried separately.
posted by xyzzy at 7:54 PM on September 27, 2012

Best answer: After seeing these bags in another question, I covet them. I think they could hold all your stuff.
posted by mercredi at 7:55 PM on September 27, 2012 [21 favorites]

I'm a guy so I understand reaction to my accoutrements may be different, but I just take a backpack everywhere. I sometimes get shit for it (have a corporate office job). Ain't no one giving me shit when they need: a pen; a piece of paper; a band-aid; waiting for ages and need a book; a snack etc though. Who's laughing then?? It's me!!

I find good backpacks by looking in adventurey stores like Patagonia, or other camping shops, army surplus supply shops etc, and online at shops that sell laptop backpacks (but with a lot of varieties. Some of them are quite big. Bags I have are usually around schoolbag size (at least here in AU).

My bags can typically take my laptop, a book, my breakfast, my lunch, and gym clothes, small gym towel, and flats for weights (I need a separate bag if I'm packing my running shoes which are large).

Good luck! You can find this backpack!
posted by smoke at 7:56 PM on September 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Came to say that my solution is also bags into bags, with some variations.

One alternative is to put gym stuff into a collapsible nylon shopping bag (with zipper if necessary), and put that stuff into your larger purse with your wallet etc.

Keep a small purse at the office for walking around during the day. Whenever possible, leave gym clothes at work under your desk.

A the vary least, I expect my purse to hold a small umbrella.

On preview, what MadamM said
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:57 PM on September 27, 2012

I vote for large bucket tote bag with zipper and your purse. I can usually fit sneakers, change of clothing, all-the-toiletries-needed-for-work-after-walking, lunch, snacks, chargers, books, bandaid bin, and so forth into mine. The trick is having ways of keeping it all organized, whether it's small cloth bags for each "department" of your life or getting a bag with decent dividers and zippered compartments. Your purse items can either be carried in your purse or in a clutch, like MadamM suggested. It doesn't have to be a laptop bag, you just need a neoprene sleeve for your computer gear. Get something with substantial straps that can be reinforced if necessary.

Alternatively, a well-designed backpack. It doesn't have to be huge. You might feel more comfortable with one with a side handle, which is a neat feature for places like trains or other crowded areas. Easier to balance, better for your posture, better space than anything that has to go between your torso and your arm.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:58 PM on September 27, 2012

I carry a Swig backpack from Timbuk2 (mine's customized though). I'm not sure if that fits your definition of "giant backpack," since it's not really wide/deep (like the bag my husband carries), but instead is tall. I put my purse inside it, along with several very large textbooks and notebooks (and it could fit a laptop too), lunch bag. I imagine since you wouldn't be carrying very large textbooks, it could neatly fit your gym stuff instead.
posted by asciident at 7:59 PM on September 27, 2012

PS, one of my laptop backpacks is a Wenger, and I'm happy with it. Don't go with a tote unless you want your back to feel like you've been hauling coalsacks; become an easy target for snatchers; have difficulty on public transport vis sitting up and down and jabbing fellow travellers unhelpfully; have a fun challenge trying to find anything its cavernous interiors with not enough internal pockets etc.
posted by smoke at 7:59 PM on September 27, 2012

I use an Herve Champlier bag for all my stuff - it fits a laptop, lunch, and I could probably squeeze some shoes and gym clothes in there too. I would put a smaller clutch/purse inside of the larger bag, and you are set to go!
posted by fermezporte at 8:04 PM on September 27, 2012

I agree that two bags look a lot more normal than three.

I'd recommend getting a larger everyday purse/messenger bag with a laptop compartment, or a laptop bag large enough to throw a small purse in.

My bag preferences are the opposite of smoke's, apparently: I find backpacks impractical for daily use (how do you reach your phone/wallet/subway pass?) and too casual for anywhere with a businessy dress code, plus large ones get in other commuters' way on the trains. But I love zippered totes: they're chic and versatile, and one would work well as either your purse, laptop bag, or gym bag, or a combination of any of the above.

If you lug a lot of heavy stuff in a shoulder bag, however, it will wear you out quickly. If load weight is a concern, use a crossbody style or a (small) backpack for whatever's heaviest, and a shoulder bag for the rest.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:17 PM on September 27, 2012

It's not beautiful but I use my Chrome bag for this sort of thing and I love it. I have a holster attachment for pulling out metrocard/phone, and I keep my wallet in one of the small pockets. I like that it's not floppy like a shopping bag or a tote bag (those drive me nuts); I can put stuff in one place and it will stay there and not move around. I once took my bag to San Francisco and put all my clothes/books/etc into it and didn't bring any other luggage. For the newer bags, I believe they have some sort of attachment to hook laptop cases in. And I have the metro mini one.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:26 PM on September 27, 2012

If you organize your stuff into smaller "feel-identifiable" soft bags all thrown into a larger bag of your choice, it speeds your day. So, for example, your whole gym outfit is in one bag "within a bag", but you can identify it quickly by feel, you pull it out and there is everything you need for your workout. All of your work clothes plus toiletries are in another bag, there's your change after your workout, etc. None of these bags have to be too sturdy or weighty because they're all supported by your big container bag or pack. I learned this trick from a girl on a mountain biking camping trip in Moab. I was finding it difficult to get dressed quickly in the morning in my small tent when this girl told me that she packs several individual sets of clean socks, underwear, cycling jersey, bandana, etc. into individual ziplock bags so she just pulls out a ziplock bag and there are all of her cycling clothes for the day. Genius.
posted by Rafaelloello at 8:29 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

My bag preferences are the opposite of smoke's, apparently: I find backpacks impractical for daily use (how do you reach your phone/wallet/subway pass?)

As I say, cause I'm a guy, I'm able to put wallet and phone in my pants so I totally acknowledge it's a different ball game if you're in a skirt/dress/tight pants etc.
posted by smoke at 8:42 PM on September 27, 2012

I carry a small daypack OR a messenger bag, depending on how much stuff I have to carry. They each have a small front zippered pocked that I use for my wallet, phone, mp3 player. If I lived in a high-crime area, that might not be so great, I guess, since it's easier to access for someone pressed up against me on public transport.

They each fit a sandwich, wallet, phone, female necessities, a book, and a laptop and gym gear. The daypack fits the laptop AND gym clothes/towel and could fit some files or more books as well.

Neither bag fits gym shoes alongside as everything else. I have two solutions for this: I have some shoes that are appropriate enough for casual work wear and for the gym so I don't HAVE to carry a change of shoes, and I also have some super light-weight gym shoes that fold up and take up next to no room (Vibram five-fingers, but I know there are similarly light shoes without the creepy splayed toes if that isn't your thing). I take a super-light quick-dry camping towel for my gym towel, so that doesn't take up much space. I don't carry toiletries for the gym shower besides deodorant, so YMMV if you need to take a lot of those.

Finally, if you look into clothing with good pockets (I know women's wear kind of sucks for this often), you might be able to carry your wallet (or at least subway pass/credit card/whatever the essentials are) in a pocket for easy access, which means your bag doesn't have to be quite so accessible. In winter my coat has good zip-up pockets that can carry a ton of stuff (wallet, phone, mp3 player, chapstick, tissues) so that only ends up in my bag in summer.
posted by lollusc at 8:52 PM on September 27, 2012

Get a smaller purse, and put it INSIDE one of the bigger bags, preferably in an outside pocket.

Also, you might want a laptop-backpack. (A backpack with a padded section for a laptop.) I have one that i take on short overnight business trips, and i fit a laptop, chargers, files, a book, and my small purse in it, no problem. (Also, these laptop bags tend to be fairly 'sleek' or professional looking, so they aren't bulky.) I'm sure you could fit all your stuff in one.
posted by Kololo at 8:54 PM on September 27, 2012

I carry a zippered bag that is collapsible (bought at Walmart for $12). It has a small zippered pocket insidr where my wallet goes. My tablet and all kinds of crazy stuff goes in the main pocket. Today, I had a two liter soda, cups, snacks, and assorted other small items. I have been known to stuff a change of clothes into it. It would not fit shoes, so not quite enough for your needs. But if you can find a good bag that serves one of your other needs and also fits a wallet in a readily accesible small zippered pocket, you might be most of the way there.
posted by Michele in California at 9:10 PM on September 27, 2012

Response by poster: Get a smaller purse, and put it INSIDE one of the bigger bags, preferably in an outside pocket.

The problem with this is access to money, subway pass, etc. This is easiest with a purse.
posted by sweetkid at 9:11 PM on September 27, 2012

Weekender bags are awesome. I don't use them myself (I rarely have that much to carry on public transport and if I do I use a backpack because I also have a toddler and I cannot stand trying to carry a bag and a child) but my sister does and she usually has the same amount of stuff on a work day. I love weekend bags for weekends when I do have iPad, clothes, books etc.

But the biggest thing I've found is having my wallet in my pocket. It has my transit pass in it (swipe and go - no fussing) and if I need to get cash it's right there. I hate not having a pocket but when I do I try and have my wallet/phone in a pocket in the bag so I know where it is. I still have to undo stuff but I don't have to grope for it. You can DIY a clip into some bags (if they don't already have it) to make it even easier. I'm considering a kind of elastic lanyard thing for my next handbag so I don't have to try and get it into the right pocket. On the rare occasions I use a weekender as my sole bag AND I don't have pockets, my wallet and phone go in the outer pocket.

(All of that said, I made my handbag so it is big enough to carry my ipad/small notebook, plus a normal notebook, plus lunch, plus pens and my girly pack and tissues and blah blah blah. It clips at the top rather than a full zip and I have also jammed a change of clothes in there too - it didn't clip and I couldn't take lunch but worth it to have only one bag.)
posted by geek anachronism at 9:17 PM on September 27, 2012

Maybe downsize your wallet and just carry the cards you need for your job? I generally run around with cards/ID money-clipped together in my back pocket, phone in front pocket; they're easy to reach so you could do away with the purse. If your company's dress code is more formal, you might be able to get away with the pockets in a blazer or coat. (data point: person with ladybits here, and my phone/ID fit relatively smoothly into my blazers/coats with little distortion. YMMV.)
posted by zennish at 9:27 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am very familiar with this problem. I love the bags by Lo and Sons but they're pretty rich for my blood. Have you seen the Gaiam bags? They have some nice totes.
posted by kat518 at 9:38 PM on September 27, 2012

If access to money and your subway pass is top priority, then why don't you get a small wallet that has a strap for your wrist and forego the purse?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:20 PM on September 27, 2012

Ok, so I think you have to sign up to see this (which I think is bullshit but seem to be the way things are going so) but Everlane has a great 'weekender bag' that would hold your non-purse stuff.
posted by grapesaresour at 10:50 PM on September 27, 2012

Neck pouch for my transport card and the exact small change I need for a cappucino from the vending machine at the railway station; keys and a small wallet with driver's license and bank cards in zippered inside coat pocket; backpack for everything else (I don't carry a phone).
posted by rjs at 11:32 PM on September 27, 2012

Get a smaller purse, and put it INSIDE one of the bigger bags, preferably in an outside pocket.

The problem with this is access to money, subway pass, etc. This is easiest with a purse.

I handle this issue by using a Patagonia laptop bag similar to this MiniMass bag. The side pocket (more visible on this picture of a purple version) is just right for a wallet, keys, and transit pass. For awhile I carried a larger wallet, not a trifold but one of those checkbook-sized ones, and for that I slipped it in the first of the three pockets that are inside. They make larger ones that would be large enough for your gym clothes, though personally I'd prefer one gym bag and one laptop bag.
posted by slidell at 11:41 PM on September 27, 2012

A backpack will hold everything mentioned and is perfect for the subway. The access to cash etc is solved by having a wallet that lives in a pocket. You can get a minimal wallet that just has cash and your metrocard if you want.

Take New Jersey Transit and you'll get to see what all the commuters use - they're usually carrying a laptop plus stuff. There's a wide variety, but some are clearly more popular.

Messenger bag vs backpack - I tried using a messenger bag for quite a while but switched back when my back refused to cooperate.

Keeping things compartmentalized - I used a reusable grocery bag to keep clothing/shoes separate from the work stuff. This particular brand of bag folds/crumples up quite small and you can keep a couple in your backpack for clothes and for grocery shopping.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:37 AM on September 28, 2012

Oh, for easy access to my phone and a couple of cards I need to frequently pull out (when I'm not using my backpack, they go back in my wallet), I bought the Timbuk2 "dime bag" to strap on to my backpack's shoulder straps. They seem to have discontinued it in favor of this "shagg bag" which is essentially the same, with the addition of an extra zipped pocket. The dime bag version perfectly fits my iPhone in a Candy Shell and cards.

So I guess technically I've got 3 bags, but functionally it all looks like one thing since the purse is hidden and the other two are attached and match.
posted by asciident at 12:53 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just popped in to say I hate my girlfriend's bucket totes with the heat of a thousand suns. They are a mess waiting to vomit/explode all over everywhere, it takes her too long to dig whatever it is she's looking for out of the Katamari ball formed by her belongings, and her clothes end up looking like a wrinkled mess.

Buy a real overnight bag for overnighting. One that's longer than it is tall, with compartments, handles, and whatnot.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:18 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel your pain. Here is what I suggest:

I think this ergonomic backpack looks interesting but it's hard to comment without having used it. A feature I do notice is that it has a laptop segment at the back and a pouch towards the front. The peripherals and power cords could go in the front. It converts from a backpack to a shoulder bag, so your purse section could be reasonably accessible at all times.

In between, you could fit a medium packing cube with your gym gear, and have room for the handbag organizer and lunch bag as well. Etymotic make good quality, small earbuds that are good enough to get me through a day.

The only one of those that I've roadtested is a similar purse organizer (I also routinely use the bigger Envirosax). So it's hard to tell without trying them out myself. But I think an arrangement like that would work for you.
posted by tel3path at 4:26 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest a bag designed for travel, like Tom Bihn bags. They have compartments and spaces for organizers and packing cubes, as well as outside zippered pockets for wallet/phone. Check out the packing cubes that convert into a small backpack - perfect if you're going to stash your bag at the office while you run to the gym.
posted by ourobouros at 5:21 AM on September 28, 2012

I have a HeadPorter messenger bag that is basically my everyday bag - big enough for waller, phone, mp3 players, ipad, huge horrible office keyring, etc. There are separate velcro or snap-on attachments for stuff like metrocards and whatnot but I don't bother with them. I could easily also fit my gym clothes and an umbrella in the bag if I needed to. Trainers would be a tight fit though.

It's not super stylish but it's really durable and that, plus the multitude of interior pockets, is pretty much all that matters to me.
posted by elizardbits at 5:44 AM on September 28, 2012

I have this same problem! I've been looking at waxed canvas bags on etsy, and there are some awesome ones in a range of prices and sizes, and ones you can customize by color.
posted by lagreen at 6:10 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could get a fanny pack for your small wallet items. Wait! Hear me out! Cute fanny packs are a thing! There are designer ones, if you like that style, and etsy ones if you prefer that style. Also there are athletic-looking ones, if that's your style, and hunting/ army ones too. See also: hip bags, waist packs, belt bags. Honest!
posted by windykites at 7:02 AM on September 28, 2012

For many years, I have carried one in a succession of big black bag/purses. Wallet, meds, phone, keys, glasses, etc. If I need shoes to swap for boots in the winter, they'll fit. shorts, tshirt, sneakers? no problem. folding umbrella? yep. Not all of these at once, of course. I also carry a messenger bag big enough for my laptop, cables, and enough extra room for stuff that won't fit in the purse. On a day when I need spare shoes(messenger bag), water bottle(purse would handle spills better than laptop bag), book(messenger bag), and extra files from work(messenger bag), I still have just the 2 bags, but they're not fun to carry. I've considered a wheeled backpack, but my back is doing okay, so the current plan is fine.

The key is to unpack anything you don't need for the next day. It's easy to let useful but not crucial items and change accumulate, and the weight adds up fast. My messenger bag is from LLBean, similar to this, because I live near an outlet store. The current leather bag is from Cole-Haan, by way of Goodwill, and is the most stylish one yet, as well as having excellent interior pockets.
posted by theora55 at 9:25 AM on September 28, 2012

I too would like to register a vote for one bigass monster tote with everything else in a smaller bag inside, paired with a wee little purse for your metrocard and small change. I keep my bus card and phone in a small purse on a strap off one shoulder and everything else in one big bitch of a messenger bag on the other and it's worked wonders for me.

Likewise I have had great success in streamlining what I do actually need. You'd be surprised how much cruft accumulates in your bags when you aren't paying attention. Emptying the lot out and only repacking things you know you will need will inevitably lighten all your loads.
posted by Jilder at 10:14 AM on September 28, 2012

They make cute backpack purses.

I say search There are so many to choose from. They make backpacks that don't look like you are going camping and then you can wear your purse on a shoulder.

here is one example"
posted by eq21 at 11:02 AM on September 28, 2012

When I have to carry a lot of stuff, I like to use one backpack - different pockets for different categories of stuff - and a small across-the-body purse that is just big enough for keys, cash, metrocard and phone. I have all my stuff, quick access where I need it, and only one big bag to keep track of.
posted by bunderful at 11:34 AM on September 28, 2012

Brooklyn industry hobo bags(also $60! And cool patterns!) are pretty damn big. I've crammed pretty much everything I need for an overnight in there. (Although laptop+ gym sneakers is a hard one, laptop, notebooks, files, sandwich, gym clothes+ flats fit in there fine) I transitioned to trail running shoes a while ago, and those tend to not stick out too much so that helps. I also wear very light gym clothes that pack down well, so sportbra, tanktop and running shorts, socks and toiletries all fit into one gallon sized ziplock that I squish the air out of takes up much less space.

My regret is that the brooklyn industries hobo bags are much to informal for my current level of responsibility and don't really go with a suit. I haven't really decided how to replace it, but probably will go with a leather version sourced online.

(Linking is failing)
posted by larthegreat at 2:11 PM on September 28, 2012

I use this one, and it carries a heck of a lot with excellent balance and is smaller than it looks in the photos. Lots of access points, handy pockets, padded sleeves, etc. Construction is of a very high standard — Crumpler stuff is tough.
posted by Wolof at 6:47 AM on September 29, 2012

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