The Schlep

[Shlep] Verb. Haul or carry (something heavy or awkward); Noun.  A tedious or difficult journey.


She’s fascinating, isn’t she? The woman who arrives on time with her breath intact, hair in place and skirt zipped on properly. In the winter months she hangs her coat in the same fluid motion that she removes her gloves — a smart leather pair which are then folded neatly and tucked into her pocketbook that she hooks to her chair as she sits. “I don’t need a menu,” she says through a smile. She already knows what she wants.

Twenty minutes later you come barreling in, late for a thousand different reasons but the easiest one to offer at the moment is, “Subway.” Your hair is staticky from the hat you’ve just removed in wild pursuit of escaping the rising heat that your body is now generating; the sweat care of your having run one block with a scarf wrapped so many times around your face it’s a wonder you didn’t pass out or choke. Skirt’s swiveled around. You dislocate a shoulder while trying to take your coat off and you’ve just sat down. Not before accidentally punching a stranger in the upper thigh, though. Now you’ve dropped a fork while unrolling your napkin and no, you have not yet looked at the menu. Yes you need one.

You have about 100 shopping bags at your feet because today seemed like a good day to clear out your desk. There’s also a gym bag, a tote bag (for your change of shoes, which you are now — mid-restaurant — bending over and changing into) plus your clutch, which is about two seconds away from falling off of the table that it’s precariously perched upon, and though no one’s ever outright expressed it, you’re pretty sure the whole clutch-on-table thing is considered rude.

This is routine for a schlepper: we who schlep where others simply commute. But in a city where driving is the exception, cabbing is a luxury and walking is the rule, carrying your crap is an urbanite’s rite of passage. To all those who enjoy the sport of backpacking — come visit Manhattan.

The thing about schlepping is that it’s not so much about frustrating logistics or attempting to sooth the lingering notion (and often, reality) that you’ve forgotten something important. It’s more of a consistent reminder that you are not That Woman. The one who arrives on time with her breath intact and all ten nails buffed and her skirt facing forward as it was designed. It’s a nagging shoulder tap, an “Excuse me, ma’am, your life is in no way together” from some voice in your head that means well but does nothing to help. This woman across from you, the non-schlepper, she’s at once your inspiration and your cause for distress. Surely she knows how to do her taxes, has health insurance under control and never once has run out of clean socks.

How did she figure it out? When did she get so good at growing up?

After you share your drinks and promise to do this again some time, you bid your adieus and go your separate ways — she in her heels and her car and you with your baggage and two feet, try remember that whether you glide or shlep doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that you’re on your way.

Idea: schlepping in mountain boots may be easier.  

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  • Cinamaron

    I am 100% a schlepper. If I’m going to/from work I guaranteed have my purse and giant Whole Foods tote bag with me, in which I put grocery items/Chipotle/whatever else I run into during the day. I take the bus and the totebag helps a lot for conserving space. Instead of a million little bags it’s all in one (or mostly in one…)! I’ve been considering using a backpack as a purse to A. be super cool and B. help alleviate the schlepping, but even a backpack can only help so much…

  • ReadER451

    Everyday. Crazy bag lady aka schlepper. Now with my oversized winter coat I’m unable to carry items on my shoulders resulting in bags hitting my legs swinging all over the place. Also, with this morning’s weather, my weekly lunch prep for the office in one hand and an umbrella in the other, it was rough. This story resonates strongly with me. Great read for a Monday morning!

    • Amelia Diamond

      the fucking umbrella.

  • I schlep and I’m proud of it. It makes you an incredibly good multi-tasker, and really, really strong. You also find uses for your inner thighs, under armpits, and any cranny that can hold something…

    • Amelia Diamond

      necks hold things!

  • Quinn Halman

    Do you think schleppers get “bye Faigel” instead of “bye felicia”?

  • I am definitely the schlepper. I don’t know how people can even wear a hat all day or heels all day long, let alone drive in the heels. Schlep away fellow schleppers!

  • parkzark

    Schlepped to work today with snow boots on, big ass tote on arm, and backpack on back. Who do I see right when I enter the building? The beautiful french professor I’ve been lusting after #schlepperproblems

  • BigAppleChick

    Here’s what happened to me schlepping in NYC for 13+ years. I have been told by my orthopedic doctor (I didn’t have one until recently) that all those years of schlepping has landed my wrists and elbows in to an extension that has caused damage. Yes, I have tennis elbows and wrists thanks to toting around too much for too long….

    • Amelia Diamond


    • ReadER451

      You are not alone. This happenened to a family member of mine. She was assigned exercises. On trips she asks me to carry her luggage because she has tennis elbow as if she’s Pete Sampras.

      • BigAppleChick

        I remember when I first moved a pal would have her rolling older lady cart and I laughed as I toted everything in a 20 lb oversized purse and my NPR bag. Whose laughing now?

  • andrea raymer

    I was a Painting major, I am used to schlepping, I once carried a giant paper mache hat around campus getting it to and from class. I have also carried a “portable sandbox” and dozens of other ridiculous things including a massive portfolio weighing almost 30 lbs. However, since moving to New York I have lessened my schlepper tendencies. oh the joys of working only a block from your house. If I forget something I run home, if I need to go somewhere after work I drop my stuff off because it is always on the way. The only time my schlepping habit resurfaces in when I am working on a photo shoot or during my stint playing soccer this fall (because Roosevelt Island is a bitch to get to).

    • Amelia Diamond

      oh god the portfolio schlepping……

      • andrea raymer

        One semester in figure drawing I went through over 500 sheets of 18×24 paper.

  • Allie Fasanella

    Great last line. I’m into the schlep life. Something about chaos weirdly intrigues me. I feel more comfortable around people that don’t have it all together and don’t apologize for that. I guess in a way, we all want to be the women from the beginning montage of The Devil Wears Prada, but Anne Hathaway is the one that ended up being Miranda’s choice.

    Anyway, can’t ever imagine your mane being frizzy Amelia! Let’s not pretend you don’t have the best head of hair in New York apart from when Connie Britton comes to town.

    • Amelia Diamond

      #schleplife also I love you for the CB reference and I am telling you, when I have schlepper’s hair it looks like a Texas cowgirl on day 2 of a bender hangover.

      • Allie Fasanella

        hahah i love how specific that was. Alright, I believe you diva.

  • i just never understand how the gliders sleep properly….

  • Esty Turner

    I don’t know if I count as a schlepper. I try to limit all the things I have to schlep to one bag (usually my knapsack which then ends up weighing about 3285392842 pounds) so while so don’t have to wrangle multiple bags, I end up feeling like Godzilla and knock over anything that’s even remotely near by.

    • Amelia Diamond

      That one bag is the silent killer. For me, the bottom usually breaks which is so fun.

  • AKA a birkin bag which is the heaviest bag I have ever tried to “shlep” around 😛 Curse it’s beauty


  • Amelia! Beautifully written as always! I think I’m 40% shlepper and 60% glider. Working on making the gap bigger – being the shlepper is exhausting! Z.

  • Sneakers and Silk

    i work privately with clients in their homes, which is wonderful for many reasons, but it also means i’m schlepping an entire office around Manhattan. plus, gym gear and of course the obligatory change of shoes and giant makeup bag for a night out. there are times when i look at a crowded subway and just know, with all these bags…. i’m not gonna fit.

  • Sometimes the best way to be, is to be a schlep x.

  • Between dodging tourists and umbrella duels, schlepping in NY is a sport unto itself. Honestly, I don’t know why Nike Fuel Band doesn’t already have a session programmed to accomodate for the extra calories.

  • Jenny

    This post could not have been more true- nice to know I’m not alone! The last line is so inspirational and important to keep always in mind. Chills!

  • Oh god I remember one horrible schlepping incident that included a stack of papers from a job interview, a cup of steaming hot coffee (because, why not), a pair of terribly soled shoes from Office and rain-soaked stairs at Oxford Circus Tube Station in London. During rush hour. The end result was me slipping down the stairs as papers and coffee went flying and my legs most definitely doing that thing they do in cartoons (but very much shouldn’t do in real life) where they go over the persons head. I landed on my tuchas halfway down the stairwell, bruised, coffee drenched and pride properly wounded. Thank god there were a few good people in the station that day who helped me pick myself up and move on.

    • Amelia Diamond


    • Super late to this comment but god I feel for you. Last month I slipped down the escalator in Oxford Circus Station and it was so so so painful, but at least there was a few kind people to help me too (too often, there isn’t)!

      • OH NO!! That entire tube station is one giant death trap. Tourists should be banned between the hours of 8-10 and 5-7, because trying to navigate around them while running for the train is just infuriating/dangerous. Glad to see that there were people there to help you. 🙂

  • Aditi Mayer

    My life.

  • Kate

    I just recently moved to Copenhagen, where I am adjusting to shlep life: the bicycle edition. Thanks for the reminder that, though awkward upon arrival, I am not only moving but someone worth knowing.

    • Amelia Diamond

      I love all of these takes on it! “shlep life: the bicycle edition.” love this.

  • Valentina Marcela Montecinos P

    Schlepping is international. In my country is summer and I’m the schlep ambassador. The tote bag with pool stuff, the shopping bags and the purse just like Mary Poppins’ –full of useful/less things.
    The subway people hate me, my friends love me (because I have everything, always)

    • Amelia Diamond

      !! schlep ambassador !!

  • I am the schlepper whose bag is so heavy that my body permanently leans to the left. The irony of that of course is that everything in my bag is mostly a tool or device to fix what I look like after all of the schlepping (concealer, makeup brushes, dry shampoo, hand sanitizer, lip balm(s), lipstick(s), etc).

  • it’s like the urbanite’s “oh, the places you’ll go!” you’re a modern day seuss. //

  • Having kids turned me into this. It’s depressing because it’s someone else’s sh*t I’m schlepping. I think I’m going to have hip problems from playing the “how many things can I carry at once” game. I have this cute tiny minimalist black purse in my closet that I dream of using someday.

  • kellymcd

    Schlepping has got be universal. I’m in SF and for a while, I had a giant backpack (which has previously been used for traveling around Europe FOR 10 WHOLE DAYS). Daily contents usually were: Macbook+iPad+water bottle+change of clothes for overnight to the BF’s house+makeup and toiletries+all the normal things a purse would contain and usually by the end of a day, my coat. It’s crazy, it’s painful and totally normal if you live in a city where quickly stopping by your apartment/home for something is not a realistic activity

  • OMG another German word that has made it into English/American vocabulary. YAY 🙂

  • so cool. By the way, I just bought a stunning
    handbag from: Louise
    Vuitton BIG SALES
    , big discount!

  • Aravis

    I have definitely noticed that New York is a city of schleppers. We are a purse-and-tote-bag society of women.

  • silla

    I was just whisked over here by the big bags article and goddam I lurve dis