Podcast 55: The Problem of Switching Bags, Do You Prefer Long or Short Discussions, and Scratch-n-Sniffs.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

As we recorded this episode, Elizabeth was drinking coffee from her Happier with Gretchen Rubin mug! Inspired by Elizabeth’s longtime love of mugs, we decided to make a Happier mug. Want one yourself? Available here.

Try This at Home: Have a system for switching bags. We realized the importance of this try-this-at-home after Elizabeth experienced a near-disaster when we were together in San Francisco, the day of the live show. We suggest some tips — what are your tips? I’m sure there are many more great solutions.

Know Yourself Better: Do you prefer to discuss difficult subjects at length — or do you prefer to keep it short? Elizabeth and I are both long-discussers.

Listener Question: “I’m addicted to technology.”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth tells the story of the monkey and the banana — which reminded me of the “preciousss” in episode 17.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: Scratch’n’sniffs! How I love scratch-n-sniffs. I mention my favorite scratch-n-sniff book,  The Sweet Smell of Christmas. In my book Happier at Home, I write a lot about the delight and power of scent. Elizabeth talks about one of her favorite scratch-n-sniff books, Professor Wormbog’s Gloomy Kerploppus.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin - #55

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  • Mairsydoats

    Even more than a long-processor v. short-processor – I find the useful distinction is that I’m an EXTERNAL processor as opposed to an internal processor. I’ve found the folk in my life who process internally think about things just as much, but they’re not going to share their process with anyone until they’re DONE processing. So to me, it looks short. I, on the other hand, don’t quite know what I think or feel until I’ve bounced it around outside my own head. Therefore – lots of discussion while I’m externally processing. Might be useful to ask your short-processors about their experience. Seems to definitely line up with Elizabeth’s experience that Adam will process with her if she presents it as “for her.”

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting. A friend calls this “intuiting by extroverting.”

  • Bente Leiknes Thorsen

    I love bags and I have a few, so I am switching constantly. My tips are: Bags in bags (as you discussed) and a place for your “bag-stuff” when it is in transition. I have a home office and I have one drawer that is labelled “bag” (or actually “veske” since I am norwegian). When I come home with my bag I empty it and put all the bag-stuff in this drawer – and put other things where they belong (like a book or my laptop – they go to their place). A great side effect is that I constantly get rid of stuff like bills and empty gum wrappings. Whenever I am heading out I pick a bag or backpack, open the drawer and take out whatever I need from there. That way I know I´ll have all the bag-stuff that I want in the bag that fits perfectly that day.

    • gretchenrubin

      Another listener pointed out that this is Marie Kondo’s suggestion – empty out the bag every night.
      I see why it’s a great solution – but must confess that I don’t think I would be able to do this!
      Great to hear that for some people, it really works.

      • Bente Leiknes Thorsen

        I think it only works because I really want to use different bags. But before I made the drawer I was constantly irritated by half emptied bags and clutter from them. So having all the stuff in a designated place makes all the difference.

  • Heather

    I’ve struggled in the past with bag switching. Losing my keys, wallet, ect. So I’ve adopted the many bag and pocket technique. My keys, phone, wallet, and Chapstick all go in my pocket (and out of my pocket in the same place). Then I have many bags with specifics; work bag, Swimming bag, bag for taking the kids to the park/zoo/on a walk. The method isn’t fool proof- but saves me time, hassle, and worry about where the important things are.

  • Natalie

    I have one really nice Michael Kors bag that my boyfriend paid way too much money for, so I am hesitant to switch bags too often for fear of him thinking I hate the MK one or whatever. You know how men are. Anyways, I had one bad experience of forgetting my make up bag and having to go on a client call, so now I always have a mini-emergency kit wherever I am. I keep one at my desk, in my car, and automatically in my travel bag (besides I hate unpacking!). I keep an extra toothbrush, mascara, band-aids, Advil, a contact case, etc. Just basic stuff I may need. My friends and coworkers are always the first to ask me, “Hey do you have Tums?” I always do! 🙂

  • JB

    And here is the photo Elizabeth requested of the “Social Media Squat” 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      LOVE IT! Thanks for posting! How hilarious.

  • Christin

    I was plagued by the bag-switching dilemma until I discovered Miche, a fashion brand that allows you to switch the exterior of your bag while keeping all of the internal contents intact. That way you can have a variety of different looks (different bag exteriors or faces – from fun to professional, including different silhouettes, and also different straps – short, shoulder straps, cross-body straps) and yet always know exactly where everything is. It’s magical! I was so excited about this I joined the company (cmyers.miche.com). Thanks, as always, for your terrific podcast! I subscribe to many and Happier is my absolute favorite.

  • Kate

    Your gold star made me want to buy some scratch and sniff books for my kiddos! We have the sweet smell of christmas- any other recs?

  • gretchenrubin

    Yes, that’s an advantage of a car. I lug a ot of stuff around.

  • Natalie

    I have one bag until it falls apart. Then I get another one. If possible, I just have keys, phone, credit card and handkerchief in my jeans pockets. I hate carrying stuff around.

  • Denise

    I try to buy a bag with a light interior, so the contents don’t fall into a deep dark hole. Also I keep a couple of med sized, clear cosmetic bags inside my larger bags. I can organize make up, lotion, headphones, mints, floss, bandaids etc in just a couple of places. The only things “floating” around are my phone, a pen, and something to read. Works great!

  • Rachel

    When you redesign the mugs, you should add Elizabeth’s name!

  • Mimi Gregor

    I have a minimalist sort of wardrobe — everything is black or brown, and everything goes with everything else. I have one bag that can go anywhere — it’s high quality, can be worn with casual things or dressy things, and is large enough to hold my things, but not so large as to be cumbersome. It’s black, and is designed like a biker jacket: lots of zippered pockets on the outside, and a large zippered pocket inside. One outside pocket is perfectly sized for my phone. Another holds my keys. Another my reading glasses. The inside zippered pocket serves as my “makeup bag”, and holds my compact, comb. lipstick, eyedrops. I have a “French purse” that serves as my “wallet” that I slip inside, and it holds all my various plastic cards as well as cash and coins. I love my “biker bag” — it just looks so stylish and it is just so “me” that I don’t have any desire to use another bag. Occasionally, I do use a smaller purse for evening wear, in which case I just go through my various pockets and transfer whatever I need to. Since everything has its designated place in my purse, it is easy to find what I need without overlooking anything.

    • santaclams

      This is essentially my system. I needed a cross-body messenger type bag, and it took a long time to find this style that also had *a lot* of pockets (which I prefer over multitudes of interior bags). I found the bag of my dreams (or the closest thing to it) on Etsy (link below). It is sturdy, water repellent enough. Keys, phone, glasses, makeup, paper shopping lists, phone cord (in a cord taco), business cards, pens, hankies, nylon shopping bags, hand spritzer/lotion all have their own individual pockets. Another pocket holds my work badge, checkbook, small notepad, gum. Anything else goes in the “main” part (mints, wallet, cozy scarf), including “outgoing” items…that way I only have to clean that part out; everything else stays. When I need to change to a smaller bag for the weekend or evening, I follow J.’s MILK mnemonicl. My purse is the “Waxed Canvas Purse – Large Bucket Bag – Canvas Handbag – Crossbody Bag – Tote Purse -Messenger” from https://www.etsy.com/shop/WhiteCrossDesigns?ref=l2-shopheader-name.

  • ChrisD

    I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want variety but just one thing that is right. So I have always had just one bag. Though i read Marie Kendo and tried out emptying the bag it absolutely doesn’t work for me. Instead I have a spot I keep the bag in and my keys, umbrella etc. belong in the bag.

  • Denise Bell

    You can Google purse organizer insert. Choose from all the different varieties and pick the one that works best for you to transfer your stuff from one person to another

    • gretchenrubin

      Great idea!

  • Denise C

    Here’s my tip: I keep my keys on carabiners (one for work, one for home), and clip them to whatever bag I’m carrying, be it my purse, laptop bag, gym bag, lunch bag, etc. That way they are always super handy and I never have to dig for them.

    • I do this, too! It’s also really handy for when I’m not wearing something with pockets — I can just clip them to my waistband or belt if I’m not carrying a bag.

  • Dayna

    I have a relatively short list of essentials so bag switching is easy but I have a bad habit of leaving the random junk in one bag when I switch to another. I’ll switch to a bag and find coupons, lip gloss, granola bars and bits of paper from the last time I used it! I second the carabiner idea for keys I felt that digging for my keys with my kids waiting to get in the car was starting to be a safety issue.

    I am an over talker. I have a really good friend that is really good at listening without judgement and lives about an hour away (not part of my daily life beyond talking on the phone). We will let each other talk and talk and talk about something going on in our lives. We’ve been best friends since I was 17 and she was 13 (we’re in our 30s now) so there is a lot of understanding between us. I don’t know what I would do without her.

  • I loved this method of purse organization from Tracy, she uses a “purse organizer” system that holds everything and she moves that entire thing from bag to bag.

    I love to discuss things at length! One thing I love to talk about are all the updates I would love to make to our home (thousands of dollar worth!). I found that when I would bring this up my husband was just seeing dollar signs and getting stressed. Then I explained that I am not saying we have to do these improvements soon, or even ever, just that it’s fun for me to talk about, sort of like a conversation version of browsing Pinterest. So similar to Elizabeth when I explained why I love talking about something it made my husband see it differently and now it’s not an issue.

    For controlling social media I put my phone on airplane mode and put it away in a closet. I also usually only allow myself to check notifications on social media, no scrolling. I find that it doesn’t take me long to fall out of the habit of constantly checking although I do have to recommit every now and then. I am an obliger and also a moderator so these things work well for me and if I set up rules or a framework I can follow them.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great insights and suggestions —

  • Evelyn

    I wanted to add a suggestion about bag switching that I learned the hard way. I once headed out on an 8-hour drive by myself to a friend’s house at the beach. After an hour I pulled over for coffee….and discovered I left my wallet in my other bag. No coffee,10-hour drive instead of 8. I have a little laminated card with everything essential listed on it that I put in a pocket of the bag that I’m carrying. Then, when I switch I only have to remember the card. It remembers everything else for me.
    I love your podcast!

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestion! I even have my own laminator.

      • I was going to say, maybe you could have a “note” in your phone with this list, that was what I thought of when you said there isn’t an app for this.

        • gretchenrubin

          Turns out there IS an app for everything!

  • Carole

    This is my first time commenting – love the podcast! I am intrigued by the mesh bags you say your mom uses. Do you have any info on where they can be purchased? Or a photo? Thank you!

    • gretchenrubin

      The brand she likes (and I’ve adopted, too) is Walker.

      • Carole

        Thank you for the quick response. I just placed an order!

  • Elle

    I like the mesh bag idea. (My purse is a black hole – literally. Most of my things are black.) Can you please tell us more about your mom’s system? What sizes and colors does she use for what things? Thanks!

    • gretchenrubin

      She uses Walker bags, though I’m not sure she has a system!

    • Tracy

      You might want to consider using small bags from Vera Bradley. They are lined with plastic, which is good in case something leaks, and they come in a jillion patterns. I have one bag with all of my “be prepared” essentials, one that is just stuff I like to have at the gym, and my wallet. To switch purses, I just take those three things out and put them in the new bag. This has the added benefit of letting me buy some crazy patterns that are just too busy to be a whole purse.

      • Elle

        Thanks for the suggestion. Vera has some cute small bags.

  • JennyP

    I can relate to the phobia of purse switching and not utilizing all my handbags because moving my stuff was too tedious. Now I keep everything in a nylon “handbag organizer” which has a bunch of pockets and slots and loop handles on top. I got it on eBay for about a dollar (from China). Now I just lift it out and drop it into another bag when I want to switch. I love it so much I bought a bunch and gave one to all my friends. Check it out:

    • Alyssa B

      I have one of these too! They really are very useful.

  • Amy Lynn Loomis

    I love the idea of discussing ideas at length vs. at short. It definitely explains my husband’s and my mutual frustration with each other when discussing important topics (that seem to come up more and more often after we had our daughter, and after our sleep levels were dramatically decreased). I can’t wait to put this advice into practice when my husband gets home from his business trip!
    I’m also loving your podcast that I just discovered, and working my way through the older issues.

  • J.

    My friend’s college roommate developed a handy mnemonic so we’d remember the minimum of what we needed to bring along for a night on the town: got MILK? (Money, ID, Lipstick/Lipgloss, Keys). This still serves me well for most occasions, though I’ve modified it to P.S. don’t forget the MILK (adding Phone and Sunglasses). I build in redundancy, too by buying extras of incidentals like tissues, mini emery boards, small tins of mints and etc. and then leaving them in each bag, so I don’t have to worry about checking all the side pockets for forgotten items when switching bags. I’ve also stashed some of this stuff in my car, plus a little cash in case I forget my wallet, and quarters for meters. I have an app that stores card info like my library card or club cards, so I don’t have to worry if I’ve forgotten them at home. For longer trips, I keep packing lists in my phone for each family member that note everything (medications, clothing items, entertainment options) we might need. I’m sure there’s an app for this, but I just use Evernote checklists.

    • santaclams

      Love your MILK mnemonic!

    • Isaac Watson Stephenson

      What is the app you use for library cards etc?

  • I do switch bags often as I take a book bag to work and carry a purse any other time. I keep all my stuff in a wallet and zipper pouch that way it is easy to switch and I won’t forget anything. Another idea is to make a list of the things you need on a to-do list app and every time you switch bags just follow the list. I do this when I am packing for a trip.

  • RS

    My purse situation is pretty organized and I try to only buy purses now that have pockets etc that are similar to what i am used to in my everyday purse so that if I do end up switching it’s not too uncomfortable. Also I keep smaller bags inside to keep things organized like makeup, clippers, bandages, aspirin, etc so if I change bags I just pluck the smaller bag out of the old and into the new. And I never buy a purse that won’t fit at least my wallet in it. I have mistakenly bought bags that don’t fit my things comfortably and I always regret it. There’s nothing more frustrating than being at the checkout and you are fighting your purse because your wallet doesn’t go in or out easily. GRRRRR!!!

  • RS

    I am for the most part in favor of longer discussions. My husband not so much. I do feel it is a gender issue and men are very much about getting to the point and figuring out a solution. They want to identify, fix and move on. Women on the other hand generally seem to want to hash out a topic in great length as to address all of the feelings we tend to have about things. What’s weird is that it’s different for me at work. My boss loves to go into detailed conversations about things which turn into other things and so on. Before you know it we’ve talked for a half hour and never resolved one thing. That annoys me, I at least need resolution or direction on how to proceed.

  • Cordelia

    First of all, I loved this conversation and was immediately reminded of an episode of Mad About You where Jamie and her disorganized sister Lisa accidentally swap purses and sort of turn into each other. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0638923/

    Anyway, I mostly deal with this problem by basically just using two bags – one black and one brown, which pretty much go with almost everything I own. I have a black leather bag with fringe that’s big enough to take to work but fashionable enough to wear “out” and a roomy brown leather tote bag (from Madewell – it’s THE BEST purse ever). Then I have a fancy silver clutch that’s my go-to fancy bag. With only three purses in rotation, it really cuts down on the number of times I forget something in a different purse!

    The other thing that really helps me is a version of your mom’s mesh bags thing (though much less elegant). Like almost everyone, I have a wallet, sunglasses, phone, keys, and makeup bag. But then I organize the “bits and pieces” into Ziplock bags: one for “medicinal” items like Advil, Lactaid, breath strips, and hand sanitizer; another one for my hairbrush, rubber bands, and mini dry shampoo; and a third for receipts, gift cards, and coupons. Oh, and I put the wallet, phone, and keys into the purse’s pocket. It’s not a perfect system, and I DO sometimes still forget stuff, but only very rarely since starting with the Ziplock bags!

    I also clean out my purse once a week, usually on Sunday nights as part of my “getting ready for the week” ritual. If I don’t do it, I just feel so much more flustered all week.

    (Oh, and I’m a Rebel, but a Rebel who enjoys decluttering and organization…as long as no one is nagging me to do it!)

  • I had to comment on the mug. While you were talking about it I immediately pictured a big yellow mug, so was disappointed to hear it was white. Please fast-track the yellow version 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for the feedback!

    • Posey

      YES! DEF BIG YELLOW (and a tiny bluebird inside the rim)

      • gretchenrubin

        Love it!

    • Katie Davis

      I immediately assumed it was yellow as well!

  • nickyp

    Another mug idea: mugs with each of the four tendencies and a brief description(or one of the motto ideas). Of course, you’d have to make fewer of the upholder and rebel. 🙂

    • Posey

      hahahaha i like it

  • KD

    I’m so curious about conversation styles. My hubby seems to favor efficiency unless he initiates discussion. Then we could be at it for hours. If you ask ahead of time to discuss a topic later in the evening then it can happen. If I just want to share a few sentences about the day he’s not interested unless it’s like 1 short sentence. I don’t know what to do.

  • Christina Bergstrom

    These are my two items that I transfer from bag to bag and the contents of the small bag. Just two items makes it really easy for me! The wallet contains checks, credit cards, pens, insurance cards, cash, etc. I have a work bag and an “other days” bag, so I switch these regularly. The small bag contains (CW from top left) foldable shopping bags, a pack of gift cards and less-used bank cards, etc, Apple headphones, essential oils (to help with kids tummy aches), lipstick, chapstick, hand cream, breath freshener, floss, tweezers, nail file, handbag hanger, condo garage door opener, vitamins. Really helpful! I used to suffer from the bag-switch problem and now it’s a breeze.

  • Barbie

    when you mentioned buying the happiness project mug, it occurred to me that with your love of office supplies there should be happiness pencils and post-its and other office supplies

    • gretchenrubin


  • Christine Roth

    I listened to this episode today and I remembered I bought this little bag a while back. It’s been in a desk drawer- I’m now going to use it to organize the essentials in my purse. When I switch bags, I can just grab this and my wallet and I’ll have everything I need. It has 3 separate zip compartments!

  • Pingback: Let's Talk About Bags | Working Moms Against Guilt()

  • Julie Holunga

    Thanks for another great podcast!
    It took years for my husband and I to understand each other when it comes to discussing at length or short and sweet. I finally learned through an assessment tool I use with my clients, about a natural preference we all have to make decisions or hash something out:
    Some of us are internal processors (discuss at short) meaning we are thinking inside our heads. They use only about 5,000 words a day. Others are external processors, where we need to discuss something with another person. We typically use 30,000 words a day! These differences can cause misunderstandings both at work and home. I advise external processors to preface a lengthy discussion with, ‘Can I just hash this out with you for a minute?’ This allows the other person off the hook (especially if she’s an internal processor) and not feel the pressure to add value. Rather the expectation is to be a listener and point out what the person is telling them. Similarly, an internal processor can say, “I’m thinking about your questions. I’ll get back to you in a second/this afternoon/tomorrow.” Frustration levels will dramatically decrease!

    • Sara S

      Yes! I was just going to comment that my husband talks little, but has to think about things for a long time (rarely actually sharing his thoughts). Whereas I love to talk about it at length and then make a quick decision. I am so glad you posted this comment- it makes so much sense.

      • Julie Holunga

        Glad to hear it helps!

    • This is such a great way to handle discussions. My husband’s definitely an internal processor, and I’m by far an external. Thanks for the suggestions! The IP giving a timeline for a response is incredibly reassuring and helpful to the EP — I find not knowing *how long* I’ll have to wait makes me more anxious than the actual waiting, and more likely to keep pushing for answers.

  • e panozzo

    I swear by mesh bags to keep my life on the go organized,, but didn’t realize other people did too. I use these in both sizes
    http://tinyurl.com/zv9x946 http://tinyurl.com/hb7aga6 and love them.
    I’ve also used these before
    but with bigger bags I find they tend to tip over inside the bag

  • I got behind and just listened to this episode yesterday. I do the Marie Kondo method, where I empty my bag every day (well, every few days, anyway). I have a dedicated spot for my wallet, keys, lipsticks/glosses, change, notebook and planner. I also have a couple of routine packing lists written down in my notebook just to make sure I don’t forget something (gym bag, working outside of my home office, airplane/other travel)! I do keep a spare deodorant and shampoo and my goggles in my gym bag at all times, since they don’t need to travel in any other bag.

    I don’t think I really understand the purpose of the mesh bags or how to use them — maybe because I don’t put much stuff in my purse. I did see these super-cute zipper bags today, though, and they might be of interest. They’re plastic, so they’d stand upright like file folders, and they’re colorful and see-through. I think they’re 9×9. http://freckledfawn.com/collections/trinkets-stamps

  • Kathleen Paley

    I solve the switching-bags problem by not carrying much! On the weekends, I carry an iPhone in a case that holds 3 cards: license, credit card, and insurance card. Now that my kids are out of diapers, it feels AMAZING to fly free with nothing more than a phone in the back pocket! I’m a girly girl and pretty together, but I can’t imagine wanting to lug around makeup, a brush, and all that other stuff.

  • Brette

    Just last week my roommate from college was in town. And one of the things we like to do is introduce each other to our new favorite products. It’s one way we stay connected living on opposite ends of the country and staying connected makes us happy. While picking up a few things at Trader Joe’s I spotted pickle popcorn. Figured it would be a fun one to try together, and the kids’ expressions would be priceless. As soon as I opened the bag she and I were instantly transported back to being kids and our scratch-n-sniff collections. It smells and tastes just like the dilly pickle sticker did! It’s uncanny! I know popcorn is not on the approved list of snacks – but it’s worth one kernal for the experience (and not so tempting to ruin your abstainer run!) Here’s a photo of the sticker: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/140737557079673076/

    Have fun tasting!

  • Marcia @ Organising Queen

    I loved this episode since I’m a bag switcher 🙂

    I used mesh bags with great success because you can see inside but I also love Baggu bags (they come in a set of 3 – I have a small set and a medium set – so 6 total). I’ve had my Baggu bags for about 7 – 8 years and they’re durable and easy to keep clean too, I just toss in the washing machine.

  • Katie Davis

    I have one purse and a tote bag that I use constantly. Every now and again, I switch purses and end up going back to my familiar purse within a week or two. (I remind myself of this whenever I see a new bag online or in the store that I think I “need”! If I DO buy a new bag, I make myself get rid of another bag as soon as I get home!)
    I clean my purse out weekly to get back to the essentials (Wallet, planner, small notebook, knife, keys) and to keep from carrying around the extra weight of too many chap-sticks, gum I forgot I had, and other random items.
    I carry a separate tote bag during the work week. This is where I keep items that change out frequently such as my lunch, current books I’m reading, journals, reusable grocery bags, work projects, etc. This keeps me from losing things in my purse and ensures that I have the things I need for that days activities. The tote gets cleaned out when I get home from work. I put away the things that I won’t need tomorrow, and re-pack it for the following morning so it’s ready to go!
    Not necessarily a “switching” system, but may be a good system for those of us that are super attached to one purse 🙂

  • Shea Green

    Every time I hear the song “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots it reminds me of Gretchen talking about the powerfulness of smells! I know you are not a huge music fan, but I think the lyrics are something many can relate to! Love the podcast!

    ‘Stressed Out’ Twenty One Pilots

    Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young,
    How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from,
    I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it,
    Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell one,
    It’d be to my brother, ’cause we have the same nose…

  • Janet Deniz

    Ok the memories that you brought back when you mentioned the book the Sweet Smells of Christmas was awesome. Thanks so much for reminding me of that book and all the scratch and sniff books I enjoyed growing up. I would love to say my children have the same memories but I am sure they do not although I did read this book to them.

  • Meghan Keleher

    I just discovered your amazing podcast a few months ago and, as a completionist, had to listen to every episode from the beginning. I’m actually listening to this episode as I type and when Elizabeth mentioned Professor Wormbog’s Gloomy Kerploppus, I had to come here and comment. Profressor Wormbog’s Gloomy Kerploppus is one of my all-time favorite children’s books and I am continually dismayed that it’s out of print. My well-loved copy was gifted to me by my grandmother when I was a child and now lives on my eight month old son’s bookshelf along with a number of other favorites. I’m happy to report that after many years most of the scratch-n-sniff patches still smell, although they are fading by the day. I wish there was a way to restore them to their former glory!

    • gretchenrubin