Never-ending search for perfect handbag

Melanie Balog and her purses.

I hate carrying a purse. I think there's a conspiracy between women's clothing manufacturers and bag manufacturers. After all, men don't need purses. They have pockets. Nobody would think of making pants for men without pockets that can comfortably hold keys and a wallet, at the bare minimum. Try putting those in your skirt or pants pocket, if you have one.

The purse I do carry is probably best described as small to midsize. Big enough for wallet, keys, checkbook, some pens, possibly a travel pack of tissue, some gum, my security card for work, no makeup unless you count Burt's Bees lip balm, and if I arrange everything just right, I can get my cell phone and BlackBerry in there. And I wouldn't carry it at all if it weren't for the time of the month when it serves as basically a case for feminine hygiene products.

All this could be solved with adequate pockets. I have one fabulous dress that I bought at Target that looks tailored, is appropriate for work or a modest social

event AND has two real pockets that I can put my keys and cell phone in. The only problem is that the dress is brown, and most of my wardrobe is based around black.

So when I wore the dress to a family function, I had to borrow a brown purse from my much younger sister, who is, paradoxically, a purse connoisseur.

It was shortly afterward that I acquired two purses, the same make and model, one black and one brown. But switching between them proved to be more trouble than it was worth. What if I leave something important in the wrong purse? Who has that kind of time on the way out the door to change everything from one purse to another when you're grabbing your lunch, car keys and coffee?

At this point, you may be thinking two things: one, get over it already, or two, why not go hands-free by getting a purse with a longer shoulder strap to wear across your torso — secure and better weight distribution. Well, after I saw one too many episodes (for those scoring at home, I think this was four episodes) of "What Not to Wear," I was shamed into abandoning the across-the-body purse look. Hands-free, yes, better distribution of the weight of the bag, yes, but attractive? Apparently not. Stacy, one of the two show hosts, said wearing a purse this way cuts people in half visually and rarely brings out their best physical attributes. That was the end of that.

Fashion and function seem to be mutually exclusive. Most purses with a lot of well-designed pockets and placements are utilitarian and almost always utterly unattractive. Every stylish purse is essentially a black hole once you open it, or is completely incapable of actually holding anything you need to keep in a purse.

What it comes down to is that I hate being encumbered. I hate deciding whether to dangle it at my side or hoist it awkwardly on my shoulder. I hate deciding whether to put the purse on top of the bar or table, or hang it on my chair, where it'll get knocked off, or hold it in my lap like I do in a crowded movie theater. I hate that there's 10 minutes worth of shuffling to get my license, debit card, cell phone and cash out of it and into my jeans pocket (the exception to the no-pants-pockets rule) if I'm going somewhere where I absolutely don't want to carry it ... which is, you know, pretty much anywhere.

And then, while Christmas shopping, I found a purse that I liked so much that I bought two of them: one to give as a gift and one to keep. It's not black. It's smaller than my current model and would require me to pare down what I carry — considerably.

So where is it? Getting shuttled back and forth to work in my briefcase, with the tag still on it, unused. Maybe it's really a fear of change that's holding me back from the optimal purse experience. Which probably says more about me than the purse does.