I knew I had too much shit in my purse when it took me nearly five minutes to find my ringing cellphone.
This was when it was “in” to carry your entire life’s contents within a small rucksack on your arm, when magazines boasted incessantly about fall collections of high-end, gargantuan shoulder bags. These purses were intimidatingly large, the kind you could fit small children into. The bigger the bag, the chicer you were.
And I was just impressionable enough to buy into this notion.
My fancy, giant purse (which acted more as a glorified trash bag) was filled with seemingly everything I needed:
books (just in case I got bored); handkerchiefs (just in case I should happen to start crying); a water bottle (just in case I got thirsty), feminine hygiene products (just in case I sprung a leak); aspirin (just in case I got a headache); my Walkman (just in case I needed a soundtrack to my day); a couple granola bars (just in case my blood sugar dropped low); a miniature sewing kit (just in case I lost a button); a comb & mirror (just in case the wind was vicious).
It was the perfect plan: carry enough essential items to prepare oneself for those wretchedly random conundrums: a broken nail; paper cuts; a shiny forehead; static cling. And if none of those things ever happened, I at least had enough supplies to last me a few days if I found myself trapped in a crevasse.
So what if my shoulder was ridden with knots & my neck was sore? (And it was.) I had to be prepared, for it was better to be safe than to be eventually sorry.
One day I was out with friends (who all owned equally monstrous purses of their own, stocked full with first aid remedies, miniature hairspray bottles, & gossip magazine), & as we were chatting animatedly one of my friends stopped, leaned in & whispered, “My god, do you see that girl’s purse? It’s like the size of my wallet!”
Naturally, we all turned to look & my friend was right; this girl’s purse was small, almost terrifyingly so. We then began to imagine out loud what contents we thought this stranger’s purse could fit in it: “Her house key!” “A miniature pencil!” “A pair of shoes for her Barbies!”
Amidst the giggles, it rather fascinated me to know that a woman could walk out of the house so boldly with so little without freaking out about not being properly prepared for the “what ifs.”
I remember being a bit allured by the concept of this kind of minimalism, but remained unconvinced.
And then, I recently read this*:
All this time I thought that my tendency to lug around a variety of essentials (see: junk) in my purse stemmed from a practical, better-safe-than-sorry mindset, when it really came from a source of perpetual anxiety, this overwhelming urge to be adequately equipped for the hypothetical what-ifs. My habit of being so irritatingly hyper prepared translated into that of disconnected mindfulness; of looking forward into the illusion that is the Future; of an obsession with being ready for something that has yet to (& might never) come.
Within moments of reading (& re-reading) that passage, I came to a bit of enlightenment. I realized the depths of my proneness to bracing against the future by overpacking my purse with useless-to-the-present-moment things: the bandaids, the ibuprofen, the ink pens, the mints, the remedies for dry hands, eyes, lips, & hair. It was all part of a desperate need of control, of having stones turned up, exposed, predicted.
Who would’ve thought that something as seemingly superficial as what you carry in your purse could translate into something so incredibly telling about how we practice mindfulness? I certainly didn’t expect such wisdom to come about from my $30 faux leather satchel.
What all of this amounts to is this: We worry so much about what the future holds, so we anxiously prepare for what could happen, the what-ifs. This is a form of unconscious fear: a fear of no control, a fear of being caught off guard, a fear of being bombarded by life’s tendency to surprise us. So we make ready. We pack our bags & store food in our pockets. We fill our bags to the brim with things we do not need in this moment, but quite possibly in the next. Just in case.
But this kind of hyper preparedness keeps us frantic & on edge as we wait with baited breath for jinxed things to fall upon us. Eventually.
Which isn’t to say that true & mindful preparation for things isn’t noble. Equip your car with a spare tire. Gather jugs of water for your earthquake kit. Plan for a zombie apocalypse, by all means! But when it comes to the load you carry on a daily basis, pack light, stay practical, lug around only the immediate essentials. Take “just in case” out of your thinking every so often. That, in & of itself, will prompt a marvelous kind of liberation.
As for what unexpected catastrophes lurk in the future, focus on what’s important — this present moment.
Whatever will be, will be.
(PS: I would really appreciate it if you’d help me spread this message. So many people need to be liberated from hyper preparedness.)
*From the book What French Women Know, by Debra Ollivier. A must-read by my standards.