I am celebrating the recent purchase of a new purse ... oops, I mean bag. Purses are what our mothers carried back in the `50s into which were housed only their vital necessities: compact, lipstick, hankie, a few dollars and a breath mint. A purse connotes simplicity and order. Conversely, a woman's bag tells the whole ugly truth -- the complete story of her life.

After a few years of lugging around what my husband, Mark refers to as "That Thing," I decided to come clean and start over -- buy myself a new bag that I resolved to keep uncluttered and organized. I would change my ways from a woman whose bag was once her home away from home, in which I tossed the remnants of a life well-lived. There its contents remain intact for few days -- a week -- a month until which time a ritual took place known as: The Bag Purge.

The Bag Purge happens when I can stand it no longer, when the bag becomes so overloaded with debris that it begins taking a toll on my body. An arm will suddenly ache, my shoulder might go askew, or I will feel a slight tug in my lower back resulting from a bag that was not designed for normal human wear-ability, but more as a carry-on for a beast of burden.

Once, years ago, when my bag weighed in at more than a typical newborn, I was stopped by a cop for speeding, or what I'd like to refer to as "politically incorrect cruising." I was pulled over and asked for the obligatory information: license and registration. For most people, such a request is non-confrontational. For me, it was an exercise in futility.

"If you'll just give me a moment," I told the officer as I rummaged through my bag, "I know they're in here somewhere." Fortunately, the registration form was in the glove compartment, but not the license.

He stood over me, watching as I performed the hide-and-seek maneuver as various and sundry items flew into the air.

Finally, his patience exhausted, he issued me two tickets: one for speeding and another for driving under the influence of bag pollution, using it as a garbage disposal. I never did produce the license.

"A little rehabilitation wouldn't hurt," he said. "You might think about a new purse," he said.

"It isn't a purse, officer," I replied meekly. "It's a bag."

I was sure he would throw the book at me, or haul me off to jail for breach of bag, but instead, he rolled his eyes and murmured "women" under his breath. It was at that pivotal moment I decided to alter my ways

Relinquishing a coveted bag and replacing it with another is a lot like abandoning one's best friend. At worst, it's an agonizing experience fraught with separation anxiety and a certain amount of guilt. Guilt for parting with what I considered a permanent appendage to my person like a limb for example.

A new bag meant giving up the old for the new and presenting to the world a side of me not often seen: "kempt." I decided if I was going to take the leap, I deserved a bag befitting my new persona. I went out and spent an obscene of money on what the saleswoman said wasn't a bag at all, but an investment in my future "like a good education." Truth is, if this bag were educated, it would have graduated summa cum laude.

I was introduced to bags of all styles and leathers. Bags so grand that carrying one would render me grand, too. Add to that a designer label and this became serious business where I would be entering into the competition with others who sported such status symbols on their arms.

The one that I eventually purchased was dark brown, or "dirty brown," as its designer shade was called. Ordinarily I go for conventional black, but decided to forego my usual image and enter into a new color scheme, an act so daring I felt liberated. I brought it home and outfitted it with only the bare essentials: my wallet, makeup case, credit cards and photo envelope of my kids. I vowed to keep it clean and not allow any contaminants inside. I toted this around for a week, feeling unencumbered and free. A week later, I left on vacation, the bag flung over my arm as I ascended the plane.

My traveling ensemble was entirely black, and pairing it with a different color seemed oddly conspicuous and wrong. All during that week, I walked around dragging this accessory along like an unwanted pet. "Dirty brown," I decided, was a shade I could live without. I missed my old beaten-up, well-worn black atrocity -- my faithful companion that knew me well and was an extension of my daily life. No matter how stunning or appropriately trendy my new bag was, it didn't exude my personal fashion statement. Having made the commitment however, I stuck with it. After all, it had cost me a bloody fortune, and had the garish designer label nailed to a silver plaque on the front latch.

After a few weeks the inevitable happened. I fell from grace. My new bag went from being a fashion plate to a fashion faux pas. I tossed inside it all items I had purchased on vacation. Soon, it was bursting at the seams.

"It's starting to look like `That Thing' again," Mark said.

By the time I returned home, I had developed what I thought could be a rotator cuff problem. I went to the doctor who proceeded to lecture me on the intricacies of proper weight distribution. "You women need to learn to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Bottom line: You need a more manageable purse that will keep you properly balanced."

I looked over at his wall, lined with medical degrees and impressive awards for expertise in his field. A medical guru he might be, but a fashionista, he wasn't.

"It's not a purse," I told him. "It's a bag."

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every Wednesday in the Westport News. She can be reached via e-mail at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.