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Family Fun
Family Fun

Back-busting bags

You've been bad. Very bad. You know it, and you told me so.

You've crammed your purse with way too much "stuff"— you had another more expressive word for it — and now you've got the exhaustion, sore shoulders and aching back to prove it.

"Am I the silliest woman on earth carrying all this?" asked Sherilyn Neal, stopping on Michigan Avenue to put her purses on a scale I set up on a table bedecked with a big sign asking, "How much does your purse weigh?" (Short answer: too much.)

Neal was carrying just under 10 pounds, split between the Chicago account manager's purse and her purse annex, an ample tote filled with an extra pair of shoes, a just-in-case umbrella and a hardcover library book by the author of "Eat, Pray, Love."

"That's a light book. You should have caught me when I was carrying the ' Harry Potter' books," laughed Neal.

Although Neal's load was at the high end of my weigh-ins, it was nowhere near the top. Mostly women, plus a trio of 20-year-old guys visiting from Ukraine, weighed in.

Neal was a lightweight compared with accountant Suzanne Fisher, 43, of Western Springs, who was hauling a back-breaking 20.4 pounds (in two bags) along Boul Mich, including a hefty leather calendar that she cannot let out of her sight. "This is my life," she said as she let me weigh the thing (2.5 pounds).

With a stylish white monster hanging off her left shoulder, tiny Ana Rodriguez, 46, said, "I told my husband yesterday I need a smaller purse. It is heavy, and I had back surgery," said the homemaker and mother of four from St. John, Ind. Her wallet alone weighed 1.5 pounds, and her makeup bag wasn't far behind at 1.1 pounds.

Believe me, any purse over 5 pounds feels heavy, "especially when you've been walking for four hours. It gets heavier," said one woman who was weighed down by her bejeweled 6-pounder.

"I'm always picking up my patients' purses and asking, 'What the hell do you carry around?'" said Dr. Susan Dugan, a back pain expert and associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Rush University Medical Center.

"Big purses are 'in,' and they're beautiful, but if you carry a smaller purse, you have to prioritize. So choosing a smaller purse would be a good solution," says Dugan.

(For a peek at my personal purse psychosis, see opposite page.)

Dugan says there's no specific weight limit women should shoot for, but she had two ways to measure whether your purse needs to slim down. If you have trouble lifting it off the seat next to you with one hand, you're in trouble.

And: "If you will not let other people pick up your purse — 'Oh, no, I'll get it. It's too heavy' — then it's time to purge."

shopellen@tribune.com

Bags by the numbers

Purses weighed: 48

Average bag weight: 6 pounds

Women complaining of back pain: 5

Heaviest total load: 20.4 pounds

Heaviest purse (with laptop): 13.3 pounds

Heaviest purse (without laptop): 8 pounds

Lightest single purse 2.9 pounds

How many claimed they had just cleaned out their purse: 9

How to lighten up

Get a purse job description: Is it a laptop bag? Then take out the laptop while shopping and so on. Is it a snack bag? Leave the snacks at your desk.

Go digital: Try an audio book or electronic book reader instead of a hardcover book, and an electronic planner instead of a bound paper calendar.

Shop wisely: Consider the weight of that empty purse before you buy it.

Miniaturize: Opt for a smaller water bottle and tiny hand sanitizer; downsize makeup containers.

Try a backpack: It distributes the weight best.

Opt for a cross-body strap: It's better for you than a shoulder strap.

Vary your carrying position: Don't always carry your purse on the same shoulder or in the same hand.

Put your purse on a diet: Buy a smaller one, and make yourself use it. A purse organizer helps you ruthlessly pare down to essentials. Check out Purseket, purseket.com or Divide and Conquer, etsy.com/ shop/divideandconquer.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
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