In shackles with the Freedom Bag

No matter how nifty the organizational innovation, some minds cannot rise to the occasion.

Published September 17, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

Socks in the sock pockets;
Shirt in the shirt pouch.
Shampoo, toothbrush, deodorant, shoes,
Nail clipper, face polish, lipstick, rouge.
Tie, belt, moisturizer, coat, bras, briefs,
Hair dye, compact mirror, books -- good grief!
Sewing kit ... Start over, nothing's going to fit;
Measure it, categorize and cram it, zip it, snap it --
Slowly sink to your knees.

Nothing quite beats being humiliated at the hands of a piece of luggage.

Of course, this wasn't just any old duffel, but the Freedom Bag First Class, a small black canvas contraption that sent me into tearful hysterics the first time I tried to pack it. Its accompanying literature promised to "let" me pack up to 250 items, but letting is not the same thing as enabling. A surfboard certainly lets you surf but, as many a despairing yuppie has learned, it doesn't necessarily turn you into a hepcat shooting the tube at Waimea. Of course, no one argues that sports equipment makes the athlete, but we all seem to expect organizational equipment -- especially from companies with ample marketing budgets -- to trigger a similarly magical sea change: PalmPilots will instantaneously motivate us to methodize our information; Franklin Planners will transmute us into masters of time management; Quicken will make us into insouciant tax accountants!

These products hold out the lure of an efficient and methodical brain, the way Slimfast promises a beautiful body. But for an unkempt lout like myself, who only recently learned how to operate a file cabinet, these are cruel promises, indeed. Even a bag with a lot of compartments stretches the very edges of my fragile organizing principles.

I began yearning to travel neat and light when I shed my giddy slacker-backpacker goodwill and joined the legions of cranky business travelers. Suddenly, traveling was no longer about my private idiosyncratic journeys of the self, but a job to be executed in the most efficient way possible. While flight attendants strode by with their quick, sharp steps and little black bags on rollers, I'd stagger along, trailing a bright green duffel bag with a broken strap and a hole in the side where my T-shirts emerged like entrails from a dying antelope.

I thought that the Freedom Bag First Class, with its "adjustable shoulder strap and outside ticket pocket," its "hanging garment bag" and "two freedom bag toiletry inserts," might save me from myself. When it arrived in the mail, I read all the literature, then opened the bag with ritualistic reverence: unzipping the concourse of zippers, tearing open the swaths of Velcro, unwrapping clear plastic components and laying them out on my bed.

All was well with this world -- until I set about packing.

The makers of the Freedom Bag claimed it would neatly carry everything I could need for a three- to four-day trip, and indeed its bevy of toiletry pockets might have made a Mary Kay representative weep for joy. But I don't really go in much for personal hygiene (though I dutifully pillaged my medicine cabinets to fill every slot of the virgin bag). The problem came when I tried to pack real clothes. The bag wouldn't hold my two most crucial items: overalls and running shoes. In fact, though immaculately well made, the Freedom Bag is quite petite -- perfect for a child, a tiny woman or a Pygmy -- but impossible for this milk-fed American. I crammed what I could into the myriad compartments and then set about trying to put the whole thing back together. It never went back in quite the same fashion, but the zippers eventually did zip and the snaps did snap, and I set out on my weekend trip to my parents' house with my Freedom Bag on one arm and my old grass-green duffel filled with the rest of my stuff on the other.

To be sure, for most people, the Freedom Bag might afford some much-needed freedom. The clear hangable pouches would be ideal for authors on book tours, for instance, because you would never have to unpack but could simply unroll the various parts and hang them in the bathroom or closet. But I had to come to grips with the facts: No piece of luggage could deliver me from my nomadic clutter. Objects that accompany me in this life must suffer the indignities of chaos or simply get lost.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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