Challenge: Cleaning out a handbag

Like Fibber McGee’s closet, a woman’s purse can be “enemy territory.”

Note: This was first published on Yahoo Contributor’s Network a little over five years ago. I recently ran across it in my files and, because of the demise of the platform, I decided to republish it here. I must admit that my habits have not changed in the intervening time, and my handbag today is just as disorganized as that other one. I simply ignore its contents, and I have perfected that attitude. But I have moved in the direction of smaller bags. Is that progress? I’ll let you decide.

It’s always happening to me — I reach for something in my handbag and instead of finding it, whatever it might be, quickly and easily, I emerge with a handful of paper remnants, snippets of napkins, business cards with indecipherable notes on the backs, sales slips with faded, scrawled words and phrases. Each time, I make a silent resolution to clean out the contents of my purse and restore order (the hope is that by so doing, I can perhaps instill some order in my life — to date it has not happened).

I have writer friends who swear they do the same. Is it then a shared affliction?

And, what to do about it?

On a recent foray into the depths of my “carry bag” the yield of remnants was especially telling. Aside from the assorted receipts which clearly no longer serve any purpose and which I cavalierly tossed in the trash, I found:

  • 3 words on separate remnants of old paper – Inkheart, badinage, and “old-fangled” –attesting to a quirky thought process. I like to think that I treasure words, and explain to family and friends, especially the young ones, that words are “fun” and that learning meanings is a game. They often respond with blank stares.
  • 3 scraps with phrases – “Now is the time,” “sede vacante,” and “Americans: Outliers Among Outliers.
  • One square yellow sticky note with a name and time scribbled in red ink — important appointment would be my guess. Surprisingly, I have no recollection of ever meeting or talking with “Rae.” So, Rae, if I missed our appointment, I am truly sorry. Perhaps you could contact me again.
  • 2 slips with dollar amounts, nothing major: Simply $12.97 and $3.34. Really?
  • One half of an old bank deposit slip with the following numbers: 12-17-36. I thought perhaps it was a combination, the safe deposit box? Then I remembered: It’s Pope Francis’s birthday. Shouldn’t we all know when the pope’s birthday is?
  • A 3×5 file card with an email address (which I will not print, because I really do know him).
  • Two recipe cards picked up at a local grocery store – Snapper with Parsley and Cilantro Rice, and Haddock over Walnut Rice. I see a pattern there – they sound good, too; I resolve to try both.
  • And, finally, two scraps with what I will assume are either pieces of song lyrics or phrases from a book I was reading; no attribution, however. But I am known for doing that – scribbling phrases that I find moving or meaningful and then forgetting the occasion or the author to the point that I am always afraid to reuse them out of respect for copyrights and creativity. Maybe I wrote them and I shouldn’t worry. Maybe they are things my grandmother used to say and I should simply laugh. Maybe they are the code to a secret strongbox full of jewels. See where my twisted mind takes me?

In writing this, I decided that I really did not know the precise meaning of the word “foray.” So I Googled it. I have become a child of the computer age, however unwillingly!

And I found:




A sudden attack or incursion into enemy territory, esp. to obtain something;

a raid: “The garrison made a foray against Richard’s camp.”

Now, that is a definition I will nevermore forget. And it describes perfectly my reconnaissance mission to my handbag. It was successful. It was effective. And, as I explained to my grandson just recently:

“We are always learning, aren’t we? I think that we should try to learn something new every day.”

He nodded, smiled, and promptly returned to what he was doing before.


About Adrienne Cohen

For more than a decade, Adrienne has been a freelance writer specializing in travel, food and drink, small business, urban agriculture, entrepreneurship, home design and decor, construction and real estate topics. Her bylined work has been featured in numerous print and online publications in this country and internationally. Read and follow her at, or follow her here to get her thoughts on current events, modern life and the complexities of living in a fast-changing world.
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