If there were an Olympics of Schlepping, I'd medal for sure. That's because I'm a haul-a-holic.
My daily commute involves at least three separate bags: a purse, a tote and an enormous purse annex. That doesn't include the laptop, which sometimes goes in the tote but often gets its own bag-on-wheels, despite the dreaded nerd factor. So that's my confession.
I've tried to cut back and I have reduced (a little) my heavy haul by relying on my phone for photos instead of carrying a camera, eliminating one of the two coffee thermoses I bring to work and spending a couple of minutes before leaving the house to examine what's in those bags to make sure I'm not carrying around heavy stuff (books for the library, a dog leash) that I don't need.
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- Tom Leinenweber, 46, attorney
- Andrea Swift, 36, stock exchange sales
- Walter Ortiz, 21, art student/sales clerk
- Kathi Nudi, 58, audit assistant
- Shari Weber, 52, project manager
- Kelly Davis, 22, barber school student
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To walk you through the do's and don'ts of gearing up for your commute, I stopped commuters at rush hour to talk about strategies to look good and lighten their loads. And, yes, I admit, this is a classic example of "Do as I say — not as I do." I'm trying to do better, and so can you.
21, art student/sales clerk
"I really don't need much. I'm just going to work." His backpack is lightweight and contains only what he knows he'll use on his daily train commute: a sketchbook, sunglasses, iPod, charger, phone and Game Boy. Also, just in case, a small medical kit if there's a skateboard accident.
What's right: Backpack distributes weight evenly; contents pared down to essentials; skateboarding to his job from the train station is fast, cheap — and green.
What's wrong: Nothing.
36, stock exchange sales
"I normally don't have this much stuff. I normally (just) have my tote (the bag on her right shoulder) and try to fit everything in there. Normally I even have my laptop in there, and lunch goes in there too. I'm going to yoga, and this (black bag) is my workout bag."
What's right: Despite all that gear — three separate pieces — she looks chic and put together.
What's wrong: The Gucci bag she uses as a tote is heavy, even when it's empty. And she confesses she's hauling two big bottles of water — one sparkling, one regular — a large cosmetics bag and more. "I guess I do need to clean out my bag." Miniature cosmetics, less water, a lighter tote bag would help.
Christine Polk Mohr
The most together commuter ever! She's got all that she needs and not a single thing more, arranged for easy access, including work ID, office and home keys, lunch, cloth shopping sack. Her system — flawless! — "developed over time."
What's right: A while ago she swapped her heavy leather Coach bag for the much lighter all-black fabric Vera Bradley bag (on her left shoulder). Instead of a wallet, a credit card holder (in bright yellow; easy to find in her purse) holds the necessities. The leopard tote is lightweight too. She takes work home but is careful to pare files down. And she keeps a small makeup bag and her gym shoes at the office to further lighten her load.
What's wrong: Not a thing.
52, project manager
She considers this bag her rolling office: "I can stop wherever and work." And it also means she gets exercise. "I didn't want to take taxis. I wanted to walk." After several back surgeries, she tries to minimize the weight on her back and shoulders.
What's right: You can't beat wheels if you absolutely have to haul heavy stuff around.
What's wrong: There's a tendency to pack the bag fuller than it needs to be (and you still have to carry the heavy thing up and down steps at the train station or bus); not remotely a cool look.
58, audit assistant
"I don't really have a system. This works for me," she says, carrying a medium purse for her wallet, hand sanitizer and glasses. The tote is for lunch, umbrella, makeup bag and a sweater or jacket.
What's right: Two bags make carrying more manageable, and she can leave the tote at work or home when running quick errands.
What's wrong: Nothing, as long as she cleans out her bags often to eliminate what she doesn't need.
He says he's weighed down with an overflowing briefcase because he's delivering two giant textbooks — American history and college algebra — to his high school son. Leinenweber made a tactical mistake, having the online retailer send the books to his office when he should have had them sent to the house.
What's right: Not much. He's so hard on his briefcases, even when not carrying high school text books, he has to buy a new one every year.
What's wrong: The bag is digging into his shoulder; wearing it cross body would distribute the weight.
22, barber school student
"I just run out of the house in the morning, so I throw in everything that fits," she says. She's carrying a purse on top of her black tote.
What's right: The bags don't look stuffed, even though she carries a change of clothes in one of them, a requirement for school.
What's wrong: She carries two, and sometimes three, heavy, glass, full-size perfume bottles in her purse because she likes options during the day. Limit scent to one a day.
Tips for a lighter commute
•Be a smart shopper: If the bag is heavy when empty, don't buy it; choose a lighter one.
•A dose of realism: Are you really going to get all that paperwork/studying done tonight? If not, leave it at home, school or the office.
Minimize: Why carry a heavy wallet with check book, 18 credit cards and frequent shopper cards if you only need two?
•Calendars weigh you down; use your phone as a planner.
•Downsize: Opt for smaller makeup, water bottle, fragrance containers.
•Clean up: Assess your bag(s) every night to assure you're only carrying what you need.
•Leave extra shoes, workout clothes at your desk.