The One with the Straw Tote Bag

Today marks a transition in the life of this blog. After 128 Friday Five posts, I thought it was high time to do something different. I’ve been honored that you spend part of each week here. Your feedback and comments have kept me dusting off the stools and pouring another round. But changing things up a bit will give me the chance to write in a slightly longer form with greater focus. I’ll still post on Fridays. I hope the following is a good example of what’s to come. Let me know what you think. And keep reading to find out the winner of the Birthday Pop Quiz

A lot of people have junk drawers; I have a junk shelf. Even though I rummage through the closet every day, sometimes twice a day, I have turned a blind eye to the the ragtag items on the shelf. I know they are there, I just choose to pretend they’re not.

By most U.S. standards, mine is a small apartment. If you stand in a certain spot near the front door, you can see every bit of it. In other words, storage space is precious. But even in an apartment the size of a kid’s bouncy house, there are nooks and crannies to squirrel away things that I’m not ready to deal with.

Like straw tote bags.

Straw Tote Bag

This tote bag was purchased specifically for a trip to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ten years ago. Since then it has not only patiently waited to be brought to another sandy beach, but it has also come along on an apartment move.

A few weeks ago, I needed something on the shelf. I patted around blindly as I stood on a step stool when my hand brushed against the coarse straw. I brought the tote bag down to eye level and thought how much fun it would be to use it this summer. It’s large enough for a beach towel, suntan lotion and the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. I returned it to the shelf with dreams of bikinis and ocean waves dancing in my head.

Except I can’t remember the last time I read an issue of Entertainment Weekly or wore a bikini or been on a beach in a manner that would require a tote bag. I want to do those things. (The bikini, only after an extensive number of crunches and cocktails with umbrellas in them.) I want to want to do those things. But I obviously don’t want them enough.

If you asked, Do you like the beach? I would answer with a resounding, Yes! It’s one of my favorite places to go. This isn’t a total lie. My summers as a teen were a blur of sand, salt water, volleyball and a few jellyfish stings. But times change as did all the ripped and tanned surfer boys of my youth. Where I live now has sucked all the joy out of a day at the beach. If you’ve seen Jersey Shore (I won’t tell anyone), well, case closed. Besides, now I’m curmudgeonly. I worry about overdoing it in the sun, stepping on medical waste, and who is tracking so much sand into the car.

Clearly it was time for the tote bag to go. It takes up a lot of space and, most importantly, I never use it. Then why did I put it back on the shelf? And why did the tote bag mock me every time I opened the closet door?

Of course, it’s not about the tote bag; it’s about what the tote bag represents. Get rid of the bag and face the fact that I’m no longer sixteen. That was a time when I thought run to Key West to live the life of a Jimmy Buffett song. By holding onto the bag, I’m holding on to a more idealized version of myself. Am I over-thinking this?  There are entire websites, magazines and television shows dedicated to getting people to come to grips with the reality of their lives by discarding the fantasy.

I had to let go of the ideal so I could make room for the real. (Hey, that could be a line on a teabag.) It took a couple of weeks to get the courage to bring the bag to Goodwill and give it a chance to live the life it was meant to have – on a beach filled to the brim with Entertainment Weekly.

Do you have anything you can’t bear to part with? 

Thanks to everyone who took the birthday pop quiz. A special thanks to those of you who thought I was at Jay-Z and Beyonce’s vow renewal. I flattered that you think I’m that cool. So many of you got all the answers correct, but the very first was Nancy over at The Invisible Shadow. Nancy, I’ve made a donation in your name to Best Friends Animal Society. Thank you for visiting and leaving such thoughtful comments.





  1. Love the change of pace Jackie! When I was on a beach a month ago I noticed something odd, I stayed under the shade the whole time. Am I a curmudgeon now as well? Sun burns and heat stroke don’t sound fun and now I don’t take too many risks. And I’ve finally admitted that I just can’t tan. Bright pink–that’s all.


    1. I was a bit nervous about shaking things up – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – but creatively it’s nice to get out of my comfort zone. I am looking forward to getting more practice with nonfiction writing.

      That is so funny about your trip to the beach. My last trip to the beach, I could only bring myself to dip my big toe in the water. When I was a teen, I used to spend hours bouncing in the waves until I felt like I was still in the waves when I tried to go to sleep that night.


  2. Courage is a good concept to describe what it takes to let got of certain thing. Hope you’re happy that the bag is out there in the world.

    I’ve got a sweatshirt from my high school track team that I won in a bet from my coach. I can’t send it away. It isn’t trash, it isn’t goodwill worthy and I can’t wear it. So it stays.


    1. That sweatshirt sounds like a sentimental favorite. I still have the race t-shirt I got from my very first 5k back in 1995. I just can’t bear to part with it, even though I haven’t worn it in decades.


  3. Was the tote bag representing a more idealized version of yourself or was it just clutter you held off dealing with for ten years in the hope that you would need to use it again, Jackie? Hm. I suppose your decision to donate it to Goodwill is the answer. Every so often I do a big purge of the stuff cluttering my modest Manhattan abode. One thing that I cannot bring myself to part with is a buckskin jacket that my mother gave me when I was fifteen and living in San Francisco. I wore that jacket for eight years, but didn’t take it with me when I moved to New York because the lining was torn. My mother knew how much I loved that jacket. One day not quite thirty years ago she sent it to my office — relined. I probably wore it another five or six years until I started making decent money. Then, I got a very chic suede jacket from Bendel’s. Even though that Bendel’s jacket is now long gone, it’s that buckskin jacket from my mom, who suffered a stroke in 1990 that left her completely incapacitated until she died in 1999, that I simply cannot part with. Even though it is in the back of my closet and I seldom look at it, it comforts me to know that it’s there. I think that it represents some connection I had with her. I know that I cannot let it go. When it’s my time to buy my rainbow, only then will someone unload it not realizing its sentimental value to me.


    1. You know, I think I kept the bag for so long because I thought I could be that person. That person who gets whisked away by the jitney every Friday afternoon and has a share at a gorgeous beach house. I wouldn’t have a care in the world until Sunday night. I already had the perfect bag. I just needed to be the kind of person who would enjoy riding the jitney. 🙂
      But that bag didn’t hold nearly as much sentimental value as your jacket. I don’t think I would be able to part with something that meaningful. When you look at it, you’re reminded of your mom. When I looked at the tote bag, I was reminded of a lifestyle I didn’t really want any more.


  4. Ha ha I have a shelf of fancy dress products from university that “might come in handy” sailor hats, builders hats… I’m kidding myself that I will need them someday. It’s been 2 years with no use yet! Not as long as the tote bag though!


  5. Letting go of the tote bag represents so much more than space in your closet. Good for you, for recognizing your need to let go of the ideal it represented, and good for you for being willing to let it go, even if you can’t help having a few longing thoughts about the bag.

    For me, it was an old wooden school teacher’s desk. I’ve carted that heavy (sturdy!) thing around with me through several moves, squeezing it through narrow doorways, and parking it in the middle of my living room furniture when I couldn’t find another space to let it live. Finally, in my most recent move, (in March of this year), I made the decision to give it away and let it go live in someone else’s ideal. For me, it was a craft desk, and a grandbaby coloring book and puzzle desk. My grandchildren are all old enough to drive now, and the crafts? I haven’t sprinkled glitter or played with a glue gun in YEARS. It was time to let it go. Past time. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t still sometimes think of it fondly, and have a little bit of an itch to feel the sturdy wood beneath my fingertips, but the house I live in now is much smaller, and there is no room for pretend. Better to have let it go.

    p.s. appreciate the donation made in my name to Best Friends Animal Society.


    1. That desk must have seen a lot of fun times when your grandkids were little. Now someone else’s grandkids are enjoying it – so the tradition lives on.
      Congrats again on your new house. I wish you many years of enjoyment and happy times there.


  6. I have far too many things I cannot part with… Mayn different reasons.
    No more Friday Five… You really do let go.
    I’d like a chnage on my blog too, just not sure yet what kind of change…


  7. Oh, I’m all in favor of more writing from you!
    I completely understand about the tote bag. I can’t part with the tiny jeans I wore in my 20s. I know I’ll never be that skinny again, but part of me keeps hoping.


  8. I hung on to my Hew Hampshire winter coat for 10 years. Finally threw it out about a month ago – admitting to myself I never want to live where a huge jacket with (I’m ashamed of this part) fur about the hood is necessary ever again!
    Enjoyed this piece, Jackie, hope we’ll see more like it. 🙂


    1. It’s so easy to keep it in the back of the closet for those “what if” situations. What if I suddenly find myself on a beach vacation with no straw tote bag?!? What on earth would I do? 😛
      Thanks, Cynthia! Hope you had a great weekend.


  9. I’ve never been disappointed by anything I’ve read on your blog, Ms. C…
    I can’t imagine there is any format you’ve written in that I wouldn’t enjoy reading (and this is certainly no exception)!
    I know I have way too much ‘stuff’. Yet I’m a bit torn. Looking at clutter almost gives me a headache, and at the same time if I think I might be able to use something (for a future project or whatever) I should probably hang-onto it. I guess there’s probably a balance in there, somewhere, but honestly, I’m still looking for it!


    1. That’s so nice of you to say, SIG!
      I feel the same way about clutter. When it gets too much I tend to feel the stuff is closing in on me. Then I go on a big cleaning spree. I’m trying to cut it all off at the pass by not buying as much from the beginning. I’ll let you know how that goes. 🙂


      1. Me, too! I’ll be saving stuff thinking, ‘Oh, I can maybe use this for a certain project’… then at some point I notice how much stuff is piling-up and I switch over to ‘Forget it – I can’t take it anymore’ de-clutter-mode.


  10. I love this, Jackie! It’s so true. I have a saddle packed away in a Rubbermaid container in my basement. It was a gift from my parents on my 15th birthday. I sat in that saddle religiously until I had children, then packed it away with the thought that I’d break it out for my own children to use when they were old enough to ride. A few years ago, I discovered that my kids are all allergic to horses!


What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s