What To Do With Your Zillion Conference Bags

As an academic, I'm going to conferences all the time, and just about every time I do I get some canvas bag, often with the logo of the conference on it. Not knowing quite what to do with them, they pile up at my house.

One easy thing to use some of them for is groceries. Save the ocean and don't use disposable plastic bags, please.

One of the bags I particularly liked, so I started using it as my daily bag, what I use to get from school and back every day. I didn't like the logo on it, though, so I painted over it. When I make acrylic paintings, I always end up with some paint left over on the palette, and I use that for random things like binders and boxes. I threw some of that paint on this bag, and now it looks very cool, with abstract colors. A designer recently complimented me on it.

I thought about the excess bag problem and came up with a partial solution. Whenever there is something in abundance, try to think of some way to use it. One thing that's really annoying is emptying and filling bags every time you go someplace.

What I've done is dedicate certain bags to certain activities, and always keep them packed with the stuff for that activity.

I'll give you some examples of what we're using bags for in my household.

1. Singing. My wife is in a choir, so we have a bag for it. It contains her binder with her music, a pencil, and a water bottle. When she goes to rehearsal, she just grabs the bag and goes.

2. Art. I keep a bag with a pad, pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, etc. When I go visit the art museum, or the park, I often take it with me for when I feel inspired.

3. Role-Playing Games. I have a group of tabletop role-playing gamers. We're about to play a game of "All Flesh Must Be Eaten," a zombie survival game. I keep in it sunglasses (for the walk over), a bag of dice, a folder with my character sheets in it, a notebook for taking notes, and chocolate.

4. Busking. My wife and I sometimes go swing dancing in the Byward Market for fun, and get a few bucks in tips while we're at it. We have a backpack with the boombox, a bottle of water, a hat, sunscreen, etc.

5. The Car.  There's a bag in the car that is always in the trunk. It holds things for the dog (collapsable water dish, dollar-store collar and leash, poop bags), a handheld fan, equipment for listening to the ipod on the radio, a wrench, flashlight, etc. (While I'm at it, here's another tip for the car: keep a phone book in it, for getting phone numbers but more importantly for getting addresses to put into your GPS. Use last year's if you use the new one in the house.)

6. I still have lots of bags left over, so I'm making another bag now for the car as an overnight bag. It will hold underwear, toothbrush, etc. in case we get stuck somewhere overnight, or want to spend the night for whatever reason. 

7. Picnic. Blanket, plates, Frisbee, travel chess set, etc.

We keep most of these bags lined up in a space near our door, near the umbrellas. It has the following benefits a) it makes use of these endless bags, 2) it serves as a physical reminder of what you need for these activities, so you don't have to remember, iii) it's very convenient to just grab the bag and go on your way out the door.

Using the same idea, I keep everything I'd ever need to travel with in my suitcase. When I go to take a trip, I take out the thing I won't need (don't need a universal stopper and bungee cord for washing clothing if I'm just going to Atlanta). When I get back home I put them back.

pictured: A southern elephant seal in South Georgia, probably howling in anguish because he doesn't know what to do with all his seal conference bags.

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