Nora Ephron: “I Hate My Purse”

Nora Ephron's bestselling books and screenplays include "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle," and "Julie & Julia."

By Nora Ephron excerpted from The Most of Nora Ephron
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine December 2013


I hate my purse. I absolutely hate it. If you’re one of those women who think there’s something great about purses, don’t even bother reading this, because there will be nothing here for you. This is for women who hate their purses, who are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of negligent housekeeping, hopeless disorganization, a chronic inability to throw anything away, and an ongoing failure to handle the obligations of a demanding and difficult accessory (the obligation, for example, that it should in some way match what you’re wearing).

This is for women whose purses are a morass of loose Tic Tacs, solitary Advils, lipsticks without tops, ChapSticks of unknown vintage, little bits of tobacco even though there has been no smoking going on for at least ten years, tampons that have come loose from their wrappings, English coins from a trip to London last October,boarding passes from long-forgotten airplane trips, hotel keys from God-knows-what hotel, leaky ballpoint pens, Kleenexes that either have or have not been used but there’s no way to be sure one way or another, scratched eyeglasses, an old tea bag, several crumpled personal checks that have come loose from the checkbook and are covered with smudge marks, and an unprotected toothbrush that looks as if it has been used to polish silver.

This is for women who in mid-July realize they still haven’t bought a summer purse or who in midwinter are still carrying around a straw bag.

This is for women who find it appalling that a purse might cost $500 or $600—never mind that top-of-the-line thing called a Birkin bag that costs $10,000, not that it’s relevant, because rumor has it you can’t even get on the waiting list for one. On the waiting list! For a purse! For a $10,000 purse that will end up full of old Tic Tacs!

This is for those of you who understand, in short, that your purse is, in some absolutely horrible way, you. Or, as Louis XIV might have put it, but didn’t because he was much too smart to have a purse, Le sac, c’est moi.

I realized many years ago that I was no good at purses, and for quite a while, I managed to do without one. I was a freelance writer, and I spent most of my time at home. I didn’t need a purse to walk into my own kitchen. When I was out, usually at night, I frequently managed with only a lipstick, a $20 bill, and a credit card tucked into my pocket. That’s about all you can squeeze into an evening bag anyway, and it saved me a huge amount of money because I didn’t have to buy an evening bag. Evening bags, for reasons that are obscure, cost even more than regular bags.

But unfortunately, there were times when I needed to leave the house with more than the basics. I solved this problem by purchasing an overcoat with large pockets. This, I realize, turned my coat into a purse, but it was still better than carrying a purse. Anything is better than carrying a purse.

Because here’s what happens with a purse. You start small. You start pledging yourself to neatness. You start vowing that This Time It Will Be Different, you start with the things you absolutely need—your wallet and a few cosmetics that you have actually put into a brand-new shiny cosmetics bag, the kind used by your friends who are competent enough to manage more than one purse at a time. But within seconds, your purse has accumulated the debris of a lifetime. The cosmetics have somehow fallen out of the shiny cosmetics bag (OK, you forgot to zip it up), the coins have fallen from the wallet (OK, you forgot to fasten the coin compartment), the credit cards are somewhere in the abyss (OK, you forgot to put your Visa card back into your wallet after you bought the sunblock that is now oozing into the lining because you forgot to put the top back onto it after you applied it to your hands while driving 70 miles an hour down the highway). What’s more, there’s half a bottle of water, along with several snacks you saved from an airplane trip just in case you ever found yourself starving and unaccountably craving a piece of cheese that tastes like plastic.

Perhaps you can fit your sneakers into your purse. Yes, by God, you can! Before you know it, your purse weighs 20 pounds and you are in grave danger of needing an operation just from carrying it around.

Everything you own is in your purse. You could flee the Cossacks with your purse. But when you open it up, you can’t find a thing in it—your purse is just a big dark hole full of stuff that you spend hours fishing around for. A flashlight would help, but if you were to put it into your purse, you’d never find it.

What’s the solution? I’m no longer a freelance writer who sits at home all day; I need stuff. I need stuff for work. I need cosmetics to tide me over. I need a book to keep me company. I need, sad to say, a purse. For a while, I searched for an answer. Like those Hollywood women who are willing to fling themselves into the kabbalah, or Scientology, or yoga, I read just about any article about purses that promised me some sort of salvation from this misery. At one point I thought, Perhaps the solution is not one purse but two. So I tried having two purses, one for personal things and one for work things. (Yes, I know: The second purse is usually called a briefcase.) This system works for most people but not for me, and for a fairly obvious reason, which I’ve already disclosed: I’m not an organized human being. Another solution I tried involved spending quite a lot of money on a purse, on the theory that having an expensive purse would inspire me to change my personality, but that didn’t work either. I also tried one of those semi-backpack purses, but I bought it just when it was going out of fashion, and in any case, I put so much into it that I looked like a Sherpa.

Next: There was the Kelly bag. »