All About Bags. Really!

One would think that with the addition of the new sign painted out front of our local health food store that I would actually have my portable grocery bags in hand. Right? Shamefully, wrong. It’s not that they are not in the car. They are. It’s that they are not in my hands. Why??

In light of the new energy pulsing through the nation, asking for more commitment to helping make a better place I took myself to task this week, creating space for some thoughtful reflection about why this is so. And the primary reason I could come up with was EGO. True story. My ego (long accustomed to being served in this small capacity) actually said to me, “I shop. I’m paying. Please put my purchases in a bag.” The illogic of this was the realization that no one is asking me to pack my groceries in a bag. I’m merely being asked to bring my own. So with this new awareness I decided to fully engage and explore my options, which turned out to be a fun thing to do! Who knew?

Advising some of the staff at the health food store what I was about, I brought my camera in and was actually very surprised at how very many options I had to carry home my groceries. Finding choices had me warming up to the idea of incorporating this practice. I’m sure many of you long ago started packing your bags with you, wisely eschewing both paper and plastic options, but for those of you who have not, let me share what I learned!

First a disclosure. I actually have some strong opinions about white portable grocery bags. [And to be honest, as I’m writing, I’m noticing I’m having an issue with what they are called. They are called bags. How un-fun! As a professional marketing person I think we have an opportunity here. I think they should be called something besides bags. Really. Suggestions?? For the moment I am going to be calling them Portable Shopping Bags, and that ain’t bad.] OK, back to the white bags. Who came up with white bags?? For something that is going to be lugged in and out and about in cars, garages, shops, etc. I just think white is completely impractical. Because then I’m thinking this is something I’m going to have to bleach, nothing I want to encourage. So white bags are out for moi.

Here was the first choice I found upon entering.

I’m not sure what these are actually made of, but they almost have a part paper feel, even though strong, and they were miraculously under one dollar. They would not be my first choice, but they must be popular for price alone.

Now, here are the rejected white ones, pretty as is the design.

It’s not hard to imagine people choosing these and replacing them as they deteriorate. It’s a step up from paper or plastic, no doubt.

Now having trashed the White Bag Concept I have to make an exception, as I then found these, which I am seriously considering investing in, though not for carting groceries, but as an alternative to small plastic bags into which I deposit, oh, say, celery or a few organic apples. So, produce. This would, in fact, appeal, if I could just imagine how the naked produce then gets checked out without being put on a scale or counter. Ideas? (You can see I’m a work in progress.)

Next up were bags I not only own, but have gifted to my daughter and a close friend as I love these. I do use them, frequently–just not for the purpose originally intended!

These kind of feel like oil cloth, though may be a kind of plastic. I’m not sure, but I love that they have a square piece in the bottom that keeps them open, thus allowing things to be stacked upright in the bottom. (I think one of my resistances to most Portable Shopping Bags is their impracticality where bottles and cartons are concerned.) The handles are strong and they are obviously the most colorful option I’ve found. So these are my local favs. Can you get these where you live? I hope so.

Now at the other end of the spectrum, and had I not specifically taken myself on this Bag Adventure I am confident would never have noticed these, someone on staff pointed out these ChicoBags, which are decent-sized nylon bags contained within teeny tiny bags which are literally attached to the bag at the bottom. So you just pull out when you need them. And the rest of the time they can live in your purse or car!

Probably the most aesthetic bags in the store were these wonderful bags made in Africa. You probably own one or two of these, right?

My Maine Coon cat Luna sleeps in one I bought for her years ago, so they are very lasting, I can assure you!

I must say, however, when all is said and done, my very favorite portable shopping bags remain the bags I learned to shop with when I lived in Mexico and went to the open market for my food. I have one old rather funky one I currently use to place all plastic bags that make it inside my house, that I do religiously recycle. And then I have a more modern version, which I would not be one bit surprised to hear you are familar with as someone decided to capitalize on Frida Kahlo’s image by placing her face on the sides of an old traditional standby in Mexico. Am I right?

Writing this post has caused me to pause and figure out why I prefer the old red one. I see now that it’s because the traditional design encorporates the understanding that groceries well tended often need a flat surface on which to reside in transit home, not unlike my favorite bag above. The Frida Kahlo version is simply flat, rendering it far less useful. I think I will trade out these functions and use Frida for plastic bag recycling and place the old favorite red one in my car. Bet I use it.

I would be remiss if I did not share that my fondness for the old red practical bag is built on a very nostalgic and endearing memory of staying for two weeks out in the smallest of Mexican villages along the Pacific Coast. A village so small and remote it had only one electric light. Period. Dirt floored huts, where I slept. Dirt paths, where I walked. One afternoon I felt honored to be invited by the local women to join them on the beach where they taught me how to use one of these very bags to catch our dinner. They showed me how to hold the bag into each successive wave that crashed upon the beach, followed immediately by a scooping motion that left sand and small shellfish captured in the bottom of the bag. As the bags were porous, the sand would wash away, leaving behind the fresh shellfish. Aw, now that’s a way to bring dinner home in a bag, my dears. Yes, it is.

Love and household blessings,
Kathryn xoxoo

30 Responses to “All About Bags. Really!”

  1. Lovely, mom! I do so adore my African bag, and have been seen with it at the
    local Farmer’s Market! But, for my local marketing trips, I always reuse paper bags. I keep them in the back of my car and use them over and over again. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Europe is Way ahead of the states on this one, as one must purchase bags
    if you don’t bring one. Re-use ~Re-cycle ๐Ÿ™‚

    Love and Blessings,

  2. Hi, Antonia! That is so smart!I don’t know why I’ve never done that, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone do that, but maybe I simply was not paying close enough attention. I’ve even thought of taking my bags back to the health food store, but thinking telling them,” Can’t you reuse these? They are hardly wrinkled!” would not pass some health code laws. Never thought of reusing them for myself! I really am now inspired to find the perfect portable shopping bags for my tastes and stick to that. I can see it has required some real thought for me and entails using a combination that I will find satisfying in terms of practicality and aesthetics. I’m almost there! Thanks! Love, Mom xoxo

  3. Hi Kathryn, Ah the bag dilemma! I’m still working on it too. You’ve got some good choices! The Chico bag is intriguing. I might like to test drive a couple of those!

  4. I have been taking my own bags to the store for some time now. It takes a little longer at checkout if you a purchasing a large number of items. That seems to annoy other customers and cashiers sometimes, but it’s getting better. I think as more and more do it, it will become less of an issue. Eventually my hope is that people will be annoyed when they see someone asking for a plastic bag.

  5. Hi, Linda, Whew! I’m glad I’m not alone. Some part of me thinks everyone has it all figured out and I’m just stumbling along behind. ๐Ÿ™‚ Kathryn xoxo

  6. Hi, Seth! Welcome! How fun to have you over here from Twitter! When you decide, tweet your results, will you?? The shellfish were small and grey, as I recall. The women referred to them as “tikilichis” which I have now officially tried to translate. While I can find a few references to the word, totally unsuccessful at translation. I will need a native speaker to help me out. Must be colloquial or regional. Hope it’s not offensive! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the visit! Kathryn xoxo

  7. Hi, Susan, and welcome! It’s good to hear you have it worked out. I am guessing that at the health food store they will welcome it (as will customers) and that at the supermarket I will be tree-hugging yuppie freak. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope I’m wrong. In any case I’m going to do it. Finally! This post was the final push. Kathryn xox

  8. Kathryn, what a great post! I am all for re-using bags too, and I try to hang them on the doorknob after I bring in the groceries so that they make it back out to the car before I need them again. We’ve had to buy plastic bags from the big grocery chain where I used to live for 10+ years (3 cents for the thin ones, and 10 cents for thicker re-usable ones, which were still plastic). In the last year, a charge for plastic bags has started showing up here in Nova Scotia, starting with the liquor stores (I know, weird, right?), and one of the local grocery chains (Pete’s Frootique). People here are really catching on, and it is quite fine to hand your own bags to the clerk at the supermarket, and she packs your shopping into them. I really enjoy going to the farmer’s markets and seeing folks with their collection of bags, baskets and other carry alongs – kind of reminds me of a gentler time.

  9. Hi, Pam, What a great tip, to put the emptied bags right on the doorknob so they for sure make it back into the car for the next shopping trip. I will do that, thanks! I’m fascinated that Nova Scotia is charging for bags now, more in keeping with Europe! I think this post is going to be very revealing for us all. Thanks for your contribution! Kathryn xoxo

  10. Great post!

    The thing about living in the city (as I do during the week) is that the bags have to be small enough to tuck into a backpack or briefcase for shopping on the way home from work. I bought some ACME bags from (link to the bag: that I think are terrific. Rip-top nylon. And they come in dark colors only. And I throw them in the wash when they get dirty. Not flat-bottomed, but nice, I think.

  11. Hi, Jared, Welcome! Those bags do look handy, indeed! Good price and dark colors. Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out! Bravo! Kathryn xox

  12. I have a collection of bags to use for groceries and such. Reusable bags are slow to catch on in my parts and the grocery story staff has eye rolled me a few times. I don’t care. The dollar store staff calls me the bag lady or the no bag lady, there is a debate amongst them about which title is more appropriate. This is the stuff you get talked about for in a small town.

  13. Hi, Deb, I so appreciate your sharing your experience. I’ve hit a nerve in this post and it wasn’t just mine. It’s tough Being First. I know. I remember when people in the press would eye-roll me for using the world “planet” back when no one did. Yes, we live on a planet. It’s called Earth. Why do we capitalize every planet except our own? Too real? My theory is that once we universally capitalize planet Earth we will have to acknowledge fully what it means to share a planet with limited resources and so much human common ground. We’re getting there but clearly too slowly. Congratulations and bravo to everyone using their portable shopping bags. Let’s make them hip and cool asap, OK? The In Thing To Do. Thanks for doing your part. I promise to do mine. And thanks to all the Debs out there being brave enough to face the subtle judgments. Amen. Kathryn xox

  14. I never once minded “being first”. I think itโ€˜s noble to be a pioneer. Iโ€˜ve been using Chico bags for a year. Granted, they are not flat bottomed, and if I think Iโ€˜m really going to need that feature, I do what Antonia does, and that is bring back a pre-used brown paper bag. But I LOVE carrying my Chico bags around in my purse. My door knobs are not cluttered, and they are AWESOME to wash. I just rinse mine out in the sink (with a little soap if they got greasy), hang โ€˜m up, and they are dry and ready to go back in my purse an hour or two later. They also hold a remarkable amount of stuff. I donโ€˜t just use them at the grocery store or stand. I use them at Radio Shack, Dept stores, Costco!!! I have never once had a counter clerk give me “stink eye” for bringing my own bag(s), and in the last 6 months, I more often get a mighty nod of approval.
    As for what to call them…. hey!! Theyโ€˜re BAGS!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Short and simple. All bags are portable. Seems redundant to me to add more verbage than necessary. But no matter what you want to call it – please bring your re-usable bag(s) to all your shopping experiences. Itโ€˜s called for.

  15. Hi, Pamela! Yes, my dear, you are out on the cutting edge on many fronts. It’s probably easier to do where you have lived (CA and HI) than, say, small town Alabama. You get my drift. Thanks for the Chico bag recommendation. I think I will do as someone else suggested–in fact I did it this morning: put my Officially Chosen Portable Shopping Bags on the doorknob of the front door so the next time I went out, bang,they were back in the car. Works for me. I’m also more inclined to use two or three big bags than a bunch of little ones. And I still will opt for the ones that “have bottoms.” It feels more secure to me. As for “what to call them” I was speaking as a marketing person. If someone actually marketed shopping bags with a trendy name, I guarantee you they’d mainstream more quickly. Chico bags. Case in point. There needs to be something so standard it mocks the success of Kleenex. (Who says tissue?) I’m just saying…:)
    Love, Kathryn xoxo

  16. Ah! Bags can be just as appealing as you want them to be. Great variety. It also makes shopping a lot more fun (when I remember to use them)! I’ll get better at the habit!!

  17. Hi, Shady Gardener, I think you hit the nail on the head. You do what works for you. I’m finding out what works for me so I can be a better steward. Thanks for helping. Kathryn xoxo

  18. Kathryn,

    Thanks for the reminder, we’ve been using Trader Joe bags on picnics and camping trips but always seem to forget to use them for shopping. A good little nudge towards mindfulness.


  19. Hi, Bill! Welcome. “A good little nudge towards mindfulness” hits the spot. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks! Love, Kathryn xoxo

  20. Hi Kathryn!
    I think the words “Market Tote” has a bit more romance than “Shopping bags”…brings to mind espadrilles, sunny outdoor markets, hanging salamis and fruit in pyramids!
    I like a removable insert at the bottom of the bag which gives it more body for bottles…Italian soda anyone?
    I agree that having fun in something as simple as what you cart groceries in a makes life much more fun, and helps the planet, too! Luna certainly looks contended…look at those big eyes!
    I love the story of gathering shellfish in the surf!

  21. Hi, Philip! Market Tote! Trust you to think of something lovely and aesthetic, Philip! Maybe we should sponsor a contest to Name That Bag? ๐Ÿ™‚ And, yes, I’m with you on the removable insert. I squirmed every time the supermarket put my red wine in a plastic bag. But I’m reformed! I’m set! I figured it out! I’m so pleased! And, agreed, agreed, fun and aesthetics had to blend with the practicalities of it. I make zero apologies. I’m a happy girl. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the visit! Kathryn xoxo

  22. Ohhh you have struck a nerve in my house! I use large reusable bags that make me feel good about what I’m not contributing to the landfills. My hubby (who works in the paper industry) picked up one of my beloved bags and read “Made in China” on the bottom and proceeded to go on and on about the carbon needed to make my bag and ship it clear from China…ughhh you can’t win!!!

    Great post! Kim

  23. Hi, Kim! (I was just talking about your camel with a friend!) Your hubby has a point. If someone in the States had made the bags I have now elected as my Official Portable Shopping Bags I would have bought those. This is rather like the argument for gas-efficient cars (though I own a Ford). I now own four of those “fav bags.” I bought the other three today. They are all from China. And I will probably have them for a very very long time. So ultimately I think it will balance out and I made a good choice. I bet you did, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ (Ideally, though, he’s right. :)) Poco a poco. Kathryn xoxo

  24. Great discussion. We have several solutions here in Worthington Ohio. If we are going to Kroger, we always get the big brown Kraft grocery bags for anything that needs to be bagged. They are made of recycled paper and we use them for our recyclables, two bags fit into our curbside recycling bins (which are way too big to have in the kitchen). So the bags go back out with the recycling and get recycled again. We also use them for clothes for Kidney Foundation or sorting books for the Linworth Alternative Program High School Book Sale. Any plastic bags that make it into the house are recycled and/or go to the Worthington Farmers Market where we reuse and reuse clean ones. My food comes home from Market in a big wheeled wire cart that was originally bought in San Francisco in the 1960s. We also have dozens of cloth totes from all over. When we go on vacation, Ed always comes home with books that poke through regular bags so I always buy the museum or book store signature tote as well to bring them home in. That collection and the wonderful boat totes from Lands End and LL Bean make up most of our “transporting” totes. The boat totes are very strong and have flat bottoms and some of them zip and they come in all colors and sizes (I always buy them on sale). I started using them as diaper bags when the kids were little and then book bags when I when back to school again for my PhD. It takes years to wear them out. If you are careful, you can wash them, but get the darker col.ors so it doesn’t matter so much.
    Cheers, Julie and the rest of the Rice Clan

  25. Good morning, Julie! It sounds like you have thought this all through and have incorporated a system that works well for you. Good to see the whole family is on board! Hugs! Kathryn xoxo

  26. Ooooh, love those baskets! I will keep this post in mind as I shop tomorrow.

  27. Hi,CurtissAnn! I do hope you are able to find them. They are such a wonderful addition to the household!
    Kathryn xoxo

  28. Great post, I love reusable bags. I have a lot of them. The ones I carry with me the most are my chico bags and envirosax bags. They fit in my purse so well so I won’t forget them!

  29. I’m with your daughter – I like paper. Special trees are a planted crop to make paper (old forests are not cut down). The big brown bags with handles can be made triple to last years. Be careful though, the baggers will try to separate them! If a handle rips, just staple it back on or use packing tape. When they expire, put in compost or recycle bin.
    Those flat purple bags are made from petroleum and the last time I checked are not taken by any plastic recycler. They must be put in the landfill where they last forever.

  30. HI, Karen, and welcome! Thanks for your input. I didn’t know the purple ones are made from petroleum. (Whew! Glad I didn’t pick those!) Kathryn xoxo

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