“At the end of every day, take one minute to remove unnecessaries from your handbag,” says organization expert Donna Smallin, author of The One-Minute Organizer ($11, amazon.com). If you wait until the end of the week, it will take more time. And before you know it, you will have amassed a dozen receipts, a handful of pens, a few dollars’ worth of loose change, and a half-full water bottle or two. “That can add up to a pound of stuff you don't need,” says Smallin.
Choose a Smart Style
The best way to avoid pain is to keep the weight of your bag centered on your body. Imagine that your spine is a stack of blocks. If you carry a heavy load on one side, whether on your shoulder or in one hand, those blocks—your vertebrae—get yanked into a column that’s not neatly balanced. “Your body makes accommodations to bear the weight, which means muscles and ligaments become unbalanced, then your posture shifts, resulting in tension that builds up over time,” says Mary Ann Wilmarth, a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapist Association and the director of the physical-therapy program at Northeastern University, in Boston. “The safest carryall is a small, light backpack,” Wilmarth says, “since it encourages you to keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down.”
If a backpack isn’t your style, opt for a messenger bag with a long, adjustable strap. That will allow you to distribute the weight of the bag between one shoulder and the opposite hip, and you can wear it close to your body. Before you even start loading the bag with your stuff, consider its size and material, as well as its bells and whistles. Even if you don’t carry much, many leather styles are heavier empty than are lightweight nylon, cotton, or canvas ones. “If you want a huge bag with lots of pockets and buckles, I won’t try to talk you out of it,” says Prather, “but you should be even more vigilant about what you put inside.” If you carry a computer and lots of paperwork and you don’t want a backpack, consider a rolling bag.