Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

YouTube is rife with rabbit holes. Type in a topic and the page offers up so many similar videos that you find yourself pulled into the swirling depths of mindless but irresistible content.

This week I wasted an hour watching famous women emptying their handbags to show what they carry around with them. The only videos seemingly more boring would be makeup tutorials, and yet I kept clicking and watching.

I’ve needed a new handbag for ages; watching the actor Helen Mirren unearthing from her bag what could pass as the entire contents of my kitchen junk drawer inspired me to think about buying a new purse. For me it’s a bigger commitment than buying a new pair of shoes or a jacket because I carry the same purse every day. It’s my sidecar.

These days I like a bag whose strap crosses my body like a Miss America sash. This arrangement is most important at the grocery store, where both hands are needed to wrestle open a plastic baggie at the apple display. The purse is convenient in that respect, but the zippered top is too small and every time I reach in to pull out my wallet, the rest of the contents come sliding out with it.

Browsing the handbag collections online, I noted there are really only four categories, each aligning with the kind of woman who would carry it. There are the ladies-who-lunch bags, which are sturdily boxy and expensive, and made to be carried in the bend of the elbow and then stowed under the table at the restaurant. Pretty, but I don’t really go out to lunch. In this category are the famous Birkin bags, many of which cost as much as my car.

More affordable are backpacks, meant to hold not only many small items but also several larger things, like boxes of wipes and sippy cups. Unwilling to carry a quilted fabric bag with pastel bunnies on it, I used a leather backpack as a diaper bag back then, but that moment has passed.

The next category still tempts me: the big, floppy, bag meant to be slung over one’s shoulder, its leathery goodness following behind like a cinnamon-colored balloon. I graduated to such bags when the kids were finally out of diapers and sippy cups. A few of these castoffs are still in a box in the closet; I’d donate them but they all have pen ink stains that soaked through on the bottom.

And then there are the cross-body bags, which have become popular. The category has hundreds of options, but none is quite right. Larger cross-body bags are roomy enough, but for some reason they contain stiff handles in addition to the longer shoulder strap, and those would just get in the way of my elbow. I’d be taking the scissors to those straps.

But most cross-body bags without the extraneous straps are too small – surprisingly so. Read the customer reviews and you learn that the bag that looks just right on the screen is actually only large enough to carry a credit card and two Chiclets.

Defeated, I turned off the computer without buying anything. There’s a gaping hole in the handbag market. Someone should design a cross-body purse that zips across the top, is large enough for my wallet, a book, my phone, a notebook, hairbrush, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. I know, that’s a lot of stuff, but it’s not even half of what Helen Mirren carries around.

And leave off the extra straps. They just get in the way.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at

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