growing a minimalist wardrobe: bags.

December 18, 2014

growing a minimalist wardrobe | handbags Full disclosure: I’m not what you—or a fashion magazine—might call a “bag girl.” Give me some waxed canvas in the shape of a tote, add an interior pocket or two and a sturdy handle and I’m good to go. My current canvas tote (made of vintage canvas by Forestbound) has been with me for going on three years now. With very few exceptions, it’s been the bag that I’ve used every day. It’s big enough to fit a laptop and a wallet and a deliquent library book or two. When I need it to, it can fit my camera (tucked safely into an insert). But in the past six months, the things in my bag belonging to me were slowly being taken over by the things in it belonging to Faye. And when I returned to work a few months ago and began to leave Faye with a sitter, I finally admitted that my bag had become a de facto diaper bag. So I fished out the last of my chapstick and replaced it with an extra teether among other things better suited to an infant. (The poor bag is a little worse for wear at this stage, but it’s still kicking, so we’re still using it.)

Then I took stock of what remained in my bag collection. Besides the aforementioned trusty tote, there was a vintage clutch in a curious faded brown color, a second clutch in cream with embroidered blue flowers, a canvas computer bag which I adore (but which is really only big enough to carry a laptop alone), and many assorted canvas bags of the free variety. In sum, a modest but motley crew.

A few months out, I haven’t perfectly remedied my bag situation, but I have a better idea of what would be helpful to trade in, what has been helpful to add to the mix, and what I should opt out of from here on out.
growing a minimalist wardrobe | handbags The particulars of your own bag collection will depend on personal preference. If you’re really hoping to pare down, the four bags I’ve written about below could easily become two with some careful consideration. A leather tote, for instance, can be dressed up more easily than a canvas one and might omit the need for a handbag. And a handbag that turns into a clutch can do double-duty.

1. A large, sturdy tote for everyday….toting. Giving up my tote hasn’t been quite as tricky as I expected, but I sometimes miss having a large(ish) dedicated bag of my own. Another heavy-duty canvas bag (like this or this) might do the trick, but lately I’ve been tempted by the idea of an all-leather bag that I can dress up a bit. This one and this one and this one all look lovely and would be big enough for me to slip my camera insert into when I need to carry that around, too. (The addition of a small zipped pouch or two keep a cavernous bag neat and clean.)

2. A handbag for the in-between days. Handbag is terrible word, but I think it’s mildly better than purse, so let’s agree to use it. I was recently given my very first adult handbag and it’s been a kind of revelation for me. For me, a handbag isn’t an everyday bag exactly, but it is an out-about-town bag. If I’m lucky, it’s a bag that can serve me when ducking into a museum and a bag that’s just as at home at an interview as it is at dinner out. The bag I’ve been using is a crossbody big enough to carry a book, but sleek enough that the strap can be removed and it can work as an oversized clutch.

3. A simple clutch. The two clutches that I had were put to use practically never. On the occassions when a clutch might have been helpful, the ones I had rarely offered quite the right look. I’ve since kicked both clutches to the curb. For now I’ve been doing just fine without one, but if I did invest, I like the idea of owning one basic clutch that can be dressed up or down. This one is a nice option. It’s affordable and it pairs as well with jeans and a t-shirt as it does with a dress.

4. An assortment of smaller thin canvas or otherwise foldable bags: If you’re like me, you probably have more of these bags than you know what to do with. I’ve vowed to refuse any additional freebie bags whenever I can this year. The thought is very much appreciated, but I was starting to drown. Still: a few are essential for groceries and errands, etc.

Here’s one more thing to be mindful of:

Less means less: It might go without saying, but deciding not to have a lot of something means getting comfortable with making a few concessions. It might mean, for instance, that you opt not to have a satin clutch if you’ll only use it once a year. Or that your clutch doesn’t always perfectly match your shoes. Or that your husband occassionally carries lipstick in his suit jacket. Stranger things have happened.
growing a minimalist wardrobe | handbags More disclosure: The handbag that I’ve been using and loving and that I photographed for this post is the Petra Crossbody. It was a gift from Everlane, but they did not sponsor this post. Happy hunting, whatever your bag—or bags—of choice might be.

And now I’m curious: how many bags are lurking in your closets?

More minimalist wardrobe posts, HERE.

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40 Comments

  • Reply Micaela December 18, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    This is a great post! I need some help in the bag department – I'm trying to minimize my collection – so this was a great help.

    On the subject of totes, I can personally vouch for the Cuyana leather tote to which you linked. It's roomy but sturdy and looks great after 1.5 years of near-daily use. I also have a great tumbled-leather tote by Billykirk which is slightly less roomy, but has held up nicely.

    What I really need to do is let go of some of my older bags that are still kicking around – thinking in particular of a well-loved canvas messenger bag from college, and a satin Kate Spade bag from high school (!) I haven't worn either in years, but I get hung up on sentimental value. I need Marie Kondo to straighten me out!

    • Reply Erin December 18, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      Glad to hear it!

  • Reply Cindi Brumpton December 18, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    When it comes to bags I am a maximalist. I have over 275 and I love every single one and I use them all. I have different sizes for all the main colours. While I am striving towards mindfulness and minimalism and reusing and using our world's resources, my bags are here to stay. Now mind you, I used to work in downtown Toronto financial district when this collection was got, and truly, I do not need to ever buy another purse. But I love my bags!!!!

    • Reply Erin December 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Oh my goodness!!!

    • Reply Lexie December 19, 2014 at 7:35 am

      275! You own more bags then I have ever had in over 55 years of life. I never heard of someone having that many, Imelda Marcos step aside. I cannot begin to imagine how you store them all .

  • Reply lameredenu.com December 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Great post! I discovered your blog yesterday, and love the simplicity. I've read all the baby and wardrobe posts so far, and I really appreciate your approach to minimalism, particularly stating that babies really don't need much. So true!

    • Reply Erin December 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Thanks so much!

  • Reply missris December 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    I have four. Three are leather, for durability, and one is a canvas crossbody that (just barely) fits my laptop. Most of the time I go without a purse/bag/etc and just carry my ID and lipstick in my pocket, but when I really need to carry something I choose from a medium-size shoulder bag in bright red leather (my favorite color), a brown leather bucket-style shoulder bag, and a dark brown leather wristlet that's barely big enough for keys, phone, and cash. Do my bags match what I'm wearing? Almost never. Do I care? Almost never.

    • Reply Erin December 18, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      ha! sounds perfect.

  • Reply 13bees December 18, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    baggus for groceries, a canvas tote for library books back and forth, cuyana leather totes (have one in black and another in champagne metallic) for everyday, a huge llbean canvas tote for toting big things, a plain black canvas backpack for the baby's stuff and a vintage 1940s black tile plasticflex clutch for dress up. basta! (if only that was all I had, but still).

    • Reply Erin December 18, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      sounds like a good collection!

  • Reply Hannah S December 18, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    I love these tips, I will def have to look over it when at home in front of my box of bags. I have had no luck with minimizing my bag collection. I dont have too many, but I have 6 or 7 that just sit in a box hoping to be worn yet somehow always seem to fancy or too casual for the occasion I need a bag for. Most of the time I end up piling as much as possible into my pockets. For my birthday I did get a Longchamp medium sized tote, it is too expensive for me to buy for myself, but now that I have one I have to say it is pretty awesome, it can be folded up and washed and looks perfect for every day wear.

  • Reply Anonymous December 18, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Love your minimalist wardrobe posts. They always make me want to run to my closet and dresser and ditch 1/2 of what I own. While I need a slightly larger every day bag (to hold necessities for both of my children) I love the idea of pairing down. Perhaps I should empty out the bag of bags sitting on the top shelf of my closet. 😉

  • Reply Jen December 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Love your minimalist wardrobe series! I'd love to know, what do you use for a wallet and what are your essentials in it? Thanks!

  • Reply Little Miss Know-it-all December 18, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    I used to have lots of handbags/purses. I liked the idea of a classic, a quirky, a colourful one… Then I realised I am the kind of person who likes to use one bag. And I got into minimalism. For the first couple of years, I used a tiny circular bag with a couple of zipped pockets for my money/cards and it was fine for my cellphone, chapstick and keys, too. Then I swapped for a small satchel style in a natural leather colour – only it wasn't leather. Now I have a supersimple Fossil leather bag that just holds the above, earphones and a pen…it's just big enough for an ipad mini, with a zip along the top.
    All of these are crossbody and the first and last have a detachable strap so could be used as a clutch. If I have more to carry with me, I use a canvas bag in addition, or a shopping basket, depending on what I'm doing!

    • Reply Erin December 19, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      Sounds perfect!

  • Reply Little Miss Know-it-all December 18, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    I just found it is the Sydney Top zip bag, also available in black, $199 at David Jones.

  • Reply Archana December 18, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    I write on behalf of a friend who has the Cuyana tote. She loved it for the first 4 months. She carries her light weight laptop in it from time to time. And she says the leather on the edges is cracking and is very disappointed with her purchase. So beware on what you actually put in it Vs durability.

    I have 8 bags. 3 brown bags of different sizes. I use brown in summer/spring. 3 black bags of different sizes. I use the blacks in Fall/winter. One red handbag. And one blue clutch. Am in the process of letting go one of the brown bags soon, coz its no longer my style. I dont think its excess, and really enjoy switching them out for different needs.

    • Reply Erin December 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      Sounds like a good system! Bummer about your friend's tote!

    • Reply touniversewithlove.com April 2, 2015 at 6:22 am

      I feel like i have grown so much since i last wrote that comment. I own 6 now and 8 sounds like an excess.
      1. A canvas camera duffle bag that i use for school or hiking. Can fit a hydration pack. And laptop. Its quite versatile.
      2. One black brief case for days i teach and want to look a little professional. Biking with it is a pain though.
      3. One black clutch.
      4. One brown bag.
      5. One red evening bag.
      6. A beige box bag, for days when i need something to break the all black/navy outfits.

  • Reply Kate December 18, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Good selection! I have a thing for vintage Coach purses, as they can usually be picked up on the cheap and clean up so well with a little care. I'm also a big fan of Duluth Trading Company's Lifetime leather tote bag. It's a little bit more rustic (and less expensive) and mine is still going strong after four years of near-daily use.

  • Reply ieva December 18, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    oh, that thing with lipstic in husband's jacket/coat pocket is our daily life nearly 🙂 red lipstic, mind you! 🙂

    i own 3 bags and few totes. Leather tote bag, in which i managed carry (well, fly actually ) flourless chocolate cake between 2 countries; oversized cluch for daily and evening use and cross-body handbag.
    ok, 4 bags if bike's basket counts 🙂

    • Reply Erin December 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      A bag that fits a flourless chocolate cake is a good bag, indeed!

  • Reply Vanessa December 18, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    I got a basic Clare Vivier clutch when I had a wedding to go to and realized that although I am totally ok with lipstick in the suit jacket, or even my phone, I draw the line at asking my guy to carry extra tampons.

    • Reply Erin December 19, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      ha! toooootally!

  • Reply Amelie December 18, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    Being a 26 year old student, I actually carry a laptop and several books to study rather than baby supplies. When I do not need my Patagonia backpack for bikerides to and from university, I use a beautiful madewell leather tote bag in a burgundy color (that fits a water bottle, a newspaper and an extra scarf or spontaneous grocery shopping), or a vintage black coach bag, that looks smart but shows enough wear to be cool in Berlins bars (and my boyfriend gifted it to me when we came across it in a vintage shop in Bushwick).

    • Reply Erin December 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      You guys are making vintage Coach sound great! (Just wait 'til it's laptop + baby supplies;))

  • Reply Alix December 19, 2014 at 3:44 am

    I think I've finally figured out my bag situation, which includes in its entirety: (1) vintage Jansport backpack for everyday/work, (2) leather Madewell tote for dressier business occasions, (3) leather purse (custom made) from Etsy that can be worn on shoulder or cross-body, (4) black clutch with removable strap for dressy events such as weddings, and (5) cotton Muji tote for summer or when I don't need to carry much. I love only owning 5 bags and I never feel like I need anything else.

  • Reply Lexie December 19, 2014 at 7:40 am

    I am proud to just have 3 bags, a large pvc recycled material navy Roxy tote, a everyday canvas and a cross body. no need for more and never will. Its a silly waste of money to buy expensive bags, I buy all mine at thrift stores and they last for years. I think its sad how women believe that carrying something expensive makes them better then others. To me its a pathetic habit and a terrible waste of money. Great post. We all need to learn to do with less bags. To me they are a practical item that serves a purpose and nothing more.

    • Reply Erin December 19, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      Oh, dear! To each her own, but 3 bags sounds great to me!

  • Reply Craftysquirrel December 19, 2014 at 8:56 am

    I have 6 bags, only 3 of which get regular use – my rule is they must have a strap to sling over my shoulder so I can be hands free. Lately however I have been just using my wallet and carrying it like a clutch – I recently purchased a fantastic wallet which has a wrist loop and a phone pouch from Australian firm mywalit : http://www.mywalit.com/en/shop/telephone-holder-wallet/sangria-multi/?view=front#sthash.z39yORmw.dpbs

  • Reply Erin December 19, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I really love my Hobo Lauren wallet (more of a clutch). It holds all my important stuff, and then I can toss it into the diaper bag (which is a Patagonia light weight backpack, but a Boken bag would be similar). Right now I don't really use anything else.

  • Reply Heather December 19, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    I agree that a large wallet functions well as a clutch! I have two bags I use the most frequently–a waxed canvas tote from the Etsy shop Bookhou that is my weekday commuting/work bag and then a smaller leather cross-body bag for the weekend. I do have one more bag, which is an old tote bag, that I use for travel because it's a great size for carry-on and it's so broken in I don't worry about carting it all over the place. Good inspiration to pare down all the free "reusable" bags though–I need to do that!!

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic December 20, 2014 at 4:20 am

    I usually just use a messenger bag, because there's a lot of space to put stuff like my journal, a book, pens, and my wallet and phone in there. Also, I like messenger bags because I can wear the straps across my chest instead of over my shoulder; that way, purse-snatchers would have a tougher time trying to steal my bag.

  • Reply Caitlin | Our Natural Heritage December 23, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    This came at the perfect time, thank you! I have been feeling like a frumpy mess – I have a giant old and dirty Roxy zippered tote bag that I use all the time. I need it to carry my wallet and my lunch and reusable water bottles to work. I've been meaning to upgrade so thank you for these links and advice!

  • Reply tors grantham December 28, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    I'm afraid I am one of those bag (and shoe) people, I have far too many and rarely use any but one or two. I recently was gifted with Uashmama Carry Bag (http://thefuturekept.com/collections/for-her/products/uashmama-carry-bag) which is made from a type of cellulose that's washable and stronger than leather. I can happily say it's replaced just about every bag I own, except my handmade ombre fold-over clutch, because a girl sometimes needs a bag when out on the town that doesn't look like a giant paper bag 😉

  • Reply thebentobuff January 19, 2015 at 4:07 am

    Loved this post!
    I actually have a crossover of a purse/hand bag and a tote. It's a pretty big and roomy vegan Guess purse that is bigger than most minimalists would use. But when you think about the fact that for the most part my life is in this bag, I don't carry a separate lunch box(I almost ALWAYS pack a lunch for work and/or school) a book(because buying from Goodwill is often cheaper than kindle, although I'm whittling those out by trying to read them and then get rid of them), my makeup bag(because if I leave my makeup at my house I'll want to use it when I stay over at my boyfriend's and visa-versa) my wallet that's sizable because I clip coupons(college student, and I only print out coupons for things I actually use already like replacement razor blades or Gardein products), my Moleskine and fountain pen, etc etc.
    This purse is structured enough for everything to fit like tetris pieces. If I used a canvas tote it's all settle to the bottom and become a mess, and I'd hate it if my bento box leaked!
    So yeah, I like having a large "purse" that's not massive. It also matches most of my outfits, INCLUDING one of my lolita dresses(which is perfect for conventions because lolita purses are tiny and as a vegan I need to pack a lunch to eat there, fairly often anyway… con food is also super expensive, veganism aside).
    I need to do a W.I.M.P. video now! 😀

  • Reply Emily C February 23, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    I have a beautiful white wool coat my grandmother gave me years ago – it's from J Crew, and they don't have one quite like it now, but it's along these lines, though wasn't as expensive:
    https://www.jcrew.com/womens_category/outerwear/wool/PRDOVR~49622/49622.jsp
    The Thinsulate inside makes a notable difference blocking the wind compared to other wool coats I've had. I just recently pulled it out of my closet – I've been wearing less-fancy coats all winter (ahem, puffer) as I was saving the white one for special occasions and then realized… why not wear a beautiful coat that always makes me think of my grandmother? She was a beautiful person known to say "winter white was always right", and loved wool.

  • Reply Emily C February 23, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Oh, man! I just realized I posted the above comment on the wrong post… ah well.

  • Reply Hannah February 24, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    I got this leather bag at oriety http://www.oriety.com/products/jessica-vintage-high-quality-genuine-leather-tote and used it as an everyday bag. It’s just enough to fit my daily needs, laptop, wallet, phone, keys..etc yet to see how long the leather will last. 🙂

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