The Pack Mule Prize

If there’s an award for how much stuff it takes to get you through a workday, I win it hands down.

The bag I carry into the office each day is a beautiful piece of luggage decorated with a fox print that I received for Christmas from my sweet in-laws. I put it on my wish list not only because of the foxes, but because I never could find a big enough bag to carry all the things I take to work. At last, I have one that meets my needs. It’s technically a weekend bag with the capacity to get a normal woman through an entire 48-hour jaunt to an exotic location.

Colleagues regularly ask me things like, “Are you moving in?” when they see me early in the morning, slogging toward my desk under its weight. When I have it slung over my shoulder and go into a bathroom stall after work to change clothes, I have to shimmy and wriggle in sideways because the bag is wider than the stall opening. I’ve gotten stuck more than once. It’s not pretty.

EPSON MFP image

But here’s the thing: work days are long and hard. In order to make it through them, I need breakfast, tea, coffee, snacks, lunch, a mid-day visit from my beloved (no, I don’t pack him, but I do pack a second lunch for him to eat when he comes over), and an immediately-after-work session of Zumba or yoga or circuit training to scrub down my brain with endorphins and wash away the day’s bullshit. That means also packing workout clothes and a water bottle and socks and, depending on the day of the week, either big-ass size 11 sneakers, which I swear account for half the bag’s capacity, or my Amazon-scaled, extra-large, tall-girl yoga mat.

What gives me the edge over any other contenders for the Pack Mule Prize has to be my system of nesting bags. Over the years, I have experienced the heartbreak of things forever lost inside the gaping black hole of the main bag, been a chronic phone-forgetter, and locked my keys in my office so many times I’m probably on some kind of frequent offender list with Campus Police.

My solution to each problem: buy another bag. I know some women change their purse depending on their outfit or the season or some other mysterious parameter. That’s too difficult for me. I just carry all my bags at once. Inside the giant main bag is an insulated lunch bag and a small purse. Inside the purse is a smaller clutch to hold just my phone, keys, employee ID card, and a small pad of paper and pen that I can take to meetings. Inside that is an even smaller bag (shaped like a zombie bunny and custom sewed for me by the incomparable Naomi, aka nomesnotions) that holds my jewelry when I’m exercising and has singlehandedly put an end to my epidemic of misplacing one earring.

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Do I feel absurd zipping my way deep into these many levels of baggage to retrieve an item? Nope. I feel wise and organized and awesome, especially because all but one of the bags have images of cute critters on them. (I’m working on that one, but, as one of the middle nests, there are very strict limitations on its size.)

Sometimes I see women walking into my office building in the morning carrying a tiny purse or even nothing at all, and I am dumbfounded. If you’re one of those people, I can’t help but wonder what your secret is. Do you have deep, hidden pockets sewn into your clothing? Do you know of a Room of Requirement on campus where everything you need appears with nothing more than a whispered spell? Or are you that hard-core ascetic that you need nothing to survive 8-12 hours away from home beyond an occasional sip of water from the fountain?

Whatever it is, I’m deeply impressed by your lack of encumbrances and your ability to step so lightly and freely through life. I’d salute you, but I’m afraid my cricked neck won’t allow such range of motion. If, at any point during the workday, you need to borrow an umbrella, a ponytail holder, some Excedrin, four different kinds of tea, or a spoonful of peanut butter, you know where to find me.

bear hiker

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