12/02/2013 11:27 am ET Updated Feb 01, 2014

It's the Best and Worst of Times for a Shopping-Bag-a-Holic

I am no hoarder. Not yet. But cloth shopping bags are luring me down that dark path.

As a child, I helped my mother ferry groceries home in brown paper bags that were then recycled into wrapping paper for boxes or bird cage liners. I never even saw a "green" shopping bag until my stint as an exchange student in Argentina, where I went to markets with my host family and marveled at the string bags that fit in a raincoat pocket, yet expanded to carry everything from hunks of Argentinian beef to jars of dulce de leche.

Disposable shopping bags were in vogue by the time I graduated from college. I got used to the "paper or plastic?" question in every checkout line starting in 1977, and recycled those airy white clouds of odious but useful plastic by using them to clean up after my dog or bundle up soiled diapers.

As environmentalists argued the pro's and con's of the "paper or plastic" question, some clever, forward-thinking individuals began making cloth bags available. And not just in grocery stores, either, but in department stores, bookstores, libraries, etc. You name it, there's probably a cloth bag for it.

So now my house and car are stocked with cloth bags. I won't use plastic or paper anymore, so if I'm stupid enough to forget my cloth bags when I go to the store, I buy more. It's a cheap do-gooder's thrill, whether I'm choosing a giant TJ Maxx bag in bright teal paisley or a Barnes & Noble bag imprinted with my favorite classic book cover. Other favorites: a bag from a posh London department store, a museum bag with tea cups, and seven bags--yes, I counted them--from different libraries.

At home, these bags are put to uses that have nothing to do with shopping. One holds my son's extra shoes, when I'm tired of seeing them lying around the kitchen and need to carry them upstairs. Those shoes sit in the bag until he needs them again, a time which, at the rate he's growing, may never happen. I have a bag for extra socks, waiting to be paired with whatever socks show up among the clean sheets or in the dryer vent.

Another bag--this one from a Trader Joe's in San Francisco--is devoted to mittens and hats that once belonged to people in our family who no longer use them. I will take them to Salvation Army one day, as soon as I make sure nobody wants them back.

Then, maybe I'll find the time to clean out the cloth library bag with the owl on it that contains all of the used children's backpacks I've accumulated but haven't had the heart to clean out and give away. (I know it'll make me cry to see all of those wadded pieces of lost art from elementary school that never even made it onto the fridge.)

But wait, there's more! I have a red cloth bag designated to hold the mail that goes out to the post office, and six blue Market Basket bags filled with papers that need to be filed. I just have to make sure not to hang them from the back of the chair in my office like I did last time--the chair ended up tumbling over under the weight of those bags like an ant under a tower of sugar cubes.

A few more bags on the floor of the closet in the living room hold my craft projects: the two sweaters I started and then got stuck on, the embroidery kit my mother knew I'd love, and my daughter's watercolor set that she forgot to take to college.

I will paint some day. I will! First, I just have to find the right bag to hold my art books and canvasses.