I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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Costanza WalletDo you remember George Costanza’s mammoth wallet?

It was so enormous, he had to stuff napkins in his other back pocket to keep himself balanced when sitting down. After causing back problems, it eventually exploded out onto a street, unleashing a torrent of receipts, coupons, and Irish money.

To avoid George Costanza’s fate, here’s how to radically slim down your wallet:

1. Get a smaller wallet

Slim WalletsThe first step to a super-slim wallet, is to simply get a smaller one. This forces you to ask:

  • What do I absolutely need and use everyday?
  • Why are there so many gum wrappers and receipts in my wallet?
  • Should I really use my wallet as a photo album and a Rolodex?
  • Do I really need 10+ credit and rewards cards?

If you think a smaller wallet can’t possibly work for you, remember Parkinson’s law: data expands to fill the available space. In other words, your wallet is never big enough, because we just can’t help fill it up until it breaks. That also goes for our homes, our closets, and our hard drives.

Instead of buying a bigger wallet to fit more, get a smaller wallet to fit less. Here’s a selection of super-slim wallets that purposely don’t hold a lot:

  • The Jimi
    The choice of Silicon Valley tech-geeks, called “the wallet for people who hate wallets.”

  • The SlimSlimmy
    Claims to be the “slimmest” wallet on earth.

  • The card holder
    My personal wallet is a simple one-pocket leather card holder.

  • The binder clip
    The most minimal of all. Cheap, durable, and versatile.

For more options check out the minimalist wallet discussions on 43 Folders and 37 Signals.

2. Use a trash can (or recycling bin)

Even after you switch to a smaller wallet, garbage can make its way into it. Because I have littering guilt, this happens to me a lot. I’ve had my wallet filled with everything from bus transfers to gum wrappers. These should obviously be thrown out, but there’s also another type of trash that can also bulk up your wallet: bits of paper that seem important but aren’t. These include:

  • ATM receipts
  • Movie stubs
  • Restaurant receipts
  • Past concert tickets

Sure, there’s a chance you might need these later, but more often than not, you won’t. The next time you’re at a trash can, go through your wallet and throw them out.

3. Leave your photos at home

There are some things you don’t want to throw out. Like photos of your friends, relatives and pets. We all want to remember our loved ones. But is sitting on them in a warm wallet underneath your butt the best way to cherish them? Probably not. Instead, use Flickr or any of the one million photo album sites to treasure and share your photos.

4. Stop using your wallet as a filing cabinet

Your wallet isn’t a photo album, and it shouldn’t be a filing cabinet either. Avoid using your wallet to permanently keep important notes like appointment reminders, revolutionary ideas, or the phone number of a hot date. Instead, enter this information in a smartphone or notebook you already carry.

5. Review your wallet regularly

Don’t have a smartphone or notebook to capture vital notes? Store them in your wallet–but only temporarily. When you get home, review your wallet and empty out everything except the most frequently used items. Process the rest into your trash can, calendar, address book, or filing cabinet. If you’re a GTD-addict, think of your wallet as an Inbox that must be reviewed everyday.

6. Stop using cash

Along with trash, photos, and notes, you should also rid your wallet of paper bills. Cash is dying a slow death, and for good reason. It clogs your wallet and if lost or stolen, is gone forever. You can ensure its death by simply using your check or debit card all the time. It lets you track your purchases online and has the convenience of a credit card, but without the finance charges. Best of all, most banks have fraud-protection, meaning you get your money back if your card gets stolen.

7. Use only one credit or debit card

Without cash, the allure of collecting more credit cards is nearly irresistible. But no matter how many cards you spread it out on, debt is still debt.

For a super-slim wallet and a healthier budget, stick to one credit card–or your debit card. For the other cards, you can:

  1. Cut them up, and pay off the debt slowly.
  2. Cut them up, and pay off the debt quickly.
  3. Cut them up, and consolidate all the debt into your primary card or low-interest loan.

I reluctantly cut up all of my credit cards last year, and it was the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. If you do the same, your wallet and your budget will thank you.

8. Consolidate your rewards cards

After getting rid of your credit cards, you’ll still have to deal with all the endless reward cards packed in your wallet. These proliferate because it feels special to be a member of anything, from bookstores to supermarkets to unicycle shops. Many of them do offer useful savings, so I wouldn’t recommend throwing them all out.

To ease your crowded wallet:

  • Punch a hole in the corner of each of your rewards card and gather them together with a carabiner. Keep them at home near your front door and take only the ones you need when you leave.

  • Use JustOneClubCard.com to create and print out the barcodes for each card and combine them all onto one card.

So there you have it. Eight strategies to get you on your way to an ultra-minimalist wallet. One final note: please respect your wallet.

Although George Costanza fondly called his wallet “an organizer, a secretary, and a friend,” he tortured his trusty helper until it got fed up and exploded.

Instead of abusing it like George, treat your wallet as a sacred vessel. Let it hold and protect your most frequently used items, but never give it more than it can handle. Trivial and vitally important items should never ever remain there permanently.

48 Comments

  • Layne

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    8:59 am

    >> 7. Use only one credit or debit card

    Be careful about this one if it’s a credit card. It’s a common misconception that your credit rating is improved if you have less open credit card accounts. The more important statistics are percentage of credit being utilized and number of late payments. In other words, it’s usually better to have three credit cards with balances under 30% of their credit limits than one card that’s maxed out, even if you are making your payments on time. Keeping your balances under 15% is ideal.

  • swissfondue

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    10:26 am

    I do the same with my key ring: eliminate anything that isn’t needed on a daily basis. As I often use my car only on weekends, I leave the car keys at home during the week.

  • mark

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    11:27 am

    Coach makes a great credit card wallet:

    http://www.coach.com/content/product.aspx?productno=8640&categoryid=200

  • Jon

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    12:08 pm

    “2. Use a trash a can”

    Shouldn’t that be “Use a trash can”, or even better “Use a recycling bin”?

  • Chanpory

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    12:20 pm

    Jon, thanks for catchin that!

  • Mark

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    12:49 pm

    I bought this wallet a few years ago http://www.all-ett.com/ It is incredibly thin and durable. I was skeptical at first but it still looks new after much abuse.

  • Jason

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    1:25 pm

    Excellent post, Chanpory! Thanks for the tips, I’ve been trying to slim down my wallet for the past few days, so it was very nice to see all these pieces of advice on one of my favorite sites :)

  • dansays

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    2:37 pm

    > 6. Stop using cash

    Or, if going cashless is not an option, carry a money clip. By keeping your cash/cards separate, you can leave one behind if you won’t need them, or keep them in separate pockets if need be.

  • Michael

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    6:10 pm

    I’m kinda like George, I guess. I keep receipts and tons of cards in my wallet, and it’s actually become painful to sit on it, so now I keep it in my bag instead of in my back pocket.

  • Linda Neal

    gravatarApr 9, 2007
    8:08 pm

    I invented a new wallet and got a patent-pending. I make it of light-weight nylon. The invention part is that you can fold it over your waistband to securely carry your cell phone & iPod. Simple things are best, and this one is secure and convenient. NuPocket.com

  • DaveR

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    6:20 am

    This post made me realize something… I have been using the same wallet since 1992-1993! My buddy in college had a minimalist-style nylony/canvas type billfold with a clear plastic window on the outside. His sister who was in the military bought it for him at her base. I gave him a few bucks and she bought me one too. Been using it ever since. It’s a great minimalist wallet, but the plastic window started busting out. Thinking about getting a moneyclamp. Interersting that none of the posts that I have seen here or elsewhere about wallets mentions the desire/need to carry insurance cards.

  • Pete

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    6:33 am

    I love my Big Skinny wallet (Big Skinny Website), which didn’t even require me to give up credit cards or cash. It simply makes every thing smaller!!!

  • james

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    6:38 am

    I’ve been using the money-band to keep me from filling my wallet with junk. http://www.money-band.com

  • Doug

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    7:18 am

    I highly recommend using the “All-Ett” billfold (available online for about $18). Construction is out of nylon spinnaker cloth, and the design allows multiple credit cards to be stacked in a way that minimizes thickness and protects their magnetic strips. I’ve used mine for about a year, and it shows no signs of wear. It’s so thin, that I have to consciously check for my wallet presence.

  • DaveR

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    7:48 am

    I posted earlier this morning about my military-style wallet that’s lasted almost 15 years. Found a link to the same brand, but this one’s a trifold rather than a bifold. So while mine is definitely a minimal wallet, this one might not be.

    http://www.militaryclothing.com/IBS/SimpleCat/Browse.asp?PRODUCT_NAME=%2325WWB&search.x=11&search.y=12

    Keep in mid I used this wallet everyday for 15 years. 7 bucks.

    Beat that.

  • Jackie Treiber

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    10:05 am

    I suggest the Jimi. I was a minimalist to begin with, but this wallet forced me to reconsider the essentials.

  • Daniel Hertlein

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    10:49 am

    I agree with Jackie about the Jimi. It’s got enough room for 4 credit cards, a few bills and a drivers license, plus a break away money clip that holds a single card and bills for times when you really want to go light. And the clicking noise it makes when you squeeze the side to pop the top is very satisfying.

    Unfortunately, the hinge snapped after 13 months (probably from too much popping) so now I’m back to using the nylon Betty Boop wallet I picked up at Target for $1.00 -which still can’t be beat for comfort and style. I had the black Jimi, but think my next one will be clear so I can display my business card from inside. Layne, thanks for the good advice.

  • Moe Rubenzahl

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    11:10 am

    Another wallet tip: A couple of times a year, photocopy everything. If you lose your wallet, it makes it easy to do all the required notifications.

  • Adam

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    11:49 am

    Why don’t you all just get a bag of holding? Then you can take whatever you want with you. Credit Cards, Debit Cards, Club Cards, all your gold coinage, and maybe even a magical item or two.

    Good article!!!

  • David

    gravatarApr 10, 2007
    8:05 pm

    I don’t carry club cards. I simply keep the member numbers in my cell phone address book. Never had a problem.

  • Bryan Larsen

    gravatarApr 11, 2007
    7:31 am

    The all-ett is slimmer than the “slimmest wallet on earth”. I’ve been using it for 2 years now and it looks better now than when I bought it.

  • Travis

    gravatarApr 11, 2007
    8:56 pm

    I use the Slimmy, which is slightly bigger than the SlimSlimmy for 3-4 years now and it’s held up fine. I carry the basics, no more than 100 dollars, debit card, drivers license, insurance card and a few other cards. I probably need to clean it out because I’m sure there are some cards in there I don’t use. As for club cards etc I just tell them I don’t have it on me and they can usually look it up via my phone number. The only card I really carry is the grocery card because they have to scan it, and it’s on my key chain which consist of a vehicle, house, and work key. They call the Slimmys a front pocket wallet but I carry it in my back pocket all the time. I’ve never had anything fall out of it, but I’m always careful when I pull it out of my pocket. The design of it is basic and gives you 3 place to stick things which I break down as money, debit / driver license, and then anything else.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarApr 12, 2007
    12:06 am

    These extra tips and wallet suggestions are great everyone. I just realized another way to slim down your wallet is to also use the new fandangled “mini” credit card that goes on a keychain. It works pretty much everywhere a normal-sized credit card would, but without it taking space in your wallet.

  • kevin

    gravatarJul 31, 2007
    10:19 am

    I use a binder clip wallet. The goal is to very comfortably fit in my front pants pocket. It works remarkably well. Pictured is a 1.25″ clip.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/buehlerphoto/491135197/in/set-72157600195999213/

    1.25″ clip: 10 US bills tri-folded, 5 plastic cards (1 credit card, 1 ATM card, gym membership, driver’s license, insurance card), a few receipts, 6 business cards

    1.5″ clip: 10 US bills tri-folded, 6 plastic cards (hotel room key card, 1 credit card, 1 ATM card, gym membership, driver’s license, insurance card), a few receipts, 20 business cards

  • Peter

    gravatarOct 2, 2007
    6:18 am

    I’ve scanned my cards (except the magnetic ones) into my iPhone. The strange looks alone are worth it.

  • Kiril Alexandrov

    gravatarOct 5, 2007
    11:24 am

    for super thin wallets, please check on my site http://www.BigSkinny.net I designed these thin wallets because I was fed up with thick bulky wallets. The nylon micro-fiber material is supper thin, durable and water resistant (jump in the swimming pool with it and it just dries out in an hour). My Big Skinny thin wallets are roughly 1/2 the size and weight of regular leather wallets with the same amount of stuff.

  • Ken

    gravatarJan 8, 2008
    8:03 pm

    Another alternative for those who really want to carry photos with them is a small digital photo viewer that’s designed to fit into a wallet.

  • Slimslimmy Wallet

    gravatarMar 12, 2008
    5:36 am

    I like your post with regard of slim wallet….Keep up your good posts

  • Steve

    gravatarMay 6, 2008
    6:50 am

    Money-band is the anti-Contanza walett!

  • JF

    gravatarJun 11, 2008
    9:13 am

    I just got the Jimi. I like it, but 4 cards is not really enough. Consider:

    • Amex (why Amex? because much better customer service than MC/Visa)
    • Visa (for those who don’t take Amex)
    • ATM card (w/o Visa debit, because possession is 9/10’s of the law.)
    • Heath Insurance (because I’m not ready to die)

    OK, that’s 4 necessities. And there will always be one or two more, in my case, my work key-card, and transit card. Plus driver’s license on the money clip side.

    In any case I got it all in there but it’s a little tight.

  • Peter Glyman

    gravatarJun 26, 2008
    3:50 pm

    Can’t wait until I can use my cell phone as a debit card. For now I cram about 4 cards in the protective sleeve they give you at the bank for your debit card and the cash just gets folded up next and in the front pocket.

  • Tero

    gravatarJun 27, 2008
    11:18 am

    I made my credit card wallet out of two businesscard holders: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whz/2600576610/ It can hold 4 cards on each side.

    That has served me well for past 2 years. My only regret is that I didnt buy more of those businesscard holders as I got them with less than $2.

  • Goomba

    gravatarJul 8, 2008
    1:44 pm

    I don’t use a wallet. Just a nice slim card holder and a money clip..

  • Erin

    gravatarJul 24, 2008
    6:27 pm

    I bought the Original world’s thinnest wallet by ALL-ETT Billfolds and it is by far the best wallet I have ever owned. I kept hearing about this company on NPR so I decided to give it a try. I will be a customer for life.

  • Thomas

    gravatarOct 16, 2008
    4:44 am

    I use the free plastic business card holder that comes with an order of business cards. It is cheap looking and not durable at all, but it’s free and it works.http://www.sz-wholesale.com/uploadFiles/upimg2/Business-Card-Case-8462.jpg

  • Randy S

    gravatarOct 22, 2008
    8:34 am

    While in the Cayman Islands, my girlfriend got me a MontBlanc Meisterstuck black leather billfold with six credit card slots–its broken-in super nice–the leather and quality is outstanding. I just clean it out at the first sign of bulking up–and it always gets compliments, while projecting a very professional image when giving my card to business associates. It’s over two years old, and the leather is soft and it has achieved a nice patina, but I know it will last even longer–and I’m rough on my wallets (always in my back pocket), but this one is definitely a keeper!

  • gary

    gravatarDec 24, 2008
    5:17 pm

    hey chanpory, assuming the wallet you use is “The card holder” that you use as an example, what kind of wallet do you use?

  • Frank Castle

    gravatarMay 22, 2009
    4:05 pm

    I use this to hold about 10 cards/ids

    http://all-ett.com/productdetails.asp?prodID=14

    It is smaller than the other listed options, and made of rip-stop nylon.

  • Gonzalo Boada

    gravatarJun 1, 2009
    9:01 pm

    Good ideas, thanks. I recently bought a card holder, but it wasn’t what I really needed. I found an excelent billfold wallet with enough space for my cards among my home staffs! how lucky. Just bad spent my money on the expensive high quality leather card holder.

  • Gonzalo Boada

    gravatarJun 1, 2009
    9:22 pm

    Me again hehe… I have a question, would it be a good idea to have an address and/or phone number in case of losing the wallet?

  • Abs

    gravatarJul 7, 2009
    9:50 am

    Please let me know where I can buy the “Dior Homme” wallette

  • Bryan

    gravatarDec 1, 2009
    8:48 pm

    anyone have an opinoin on the Billykirk card case or the MAKR wallet? Thanks

  • Bucka

    gravatarDec 2, 2009
    11:12 am

    Of course the tips only work for U.S. citizens, we Europe still use coins instead of pissing of the queue at a checkout because we need to sign the receipt of the credit card transaction.

  • a person

    gravatarJan 26, 2010
    1:56 pm

    With ATM recepits, you’re better off shredding them, so nobody can steal the account numbers.

  • Steve

    gravatarJun 20, 2010
    10:07 pm

    This was quite possibly the most ridiculous blog I have ever read. My wallet constantly persists in a George Costanza state, so I’d like real solutions. Most of the “ideas” require you to be a psychic in order to have a functioning life.

    Sorry but Parkinson’s Law does not apply. No one wants to maximize what they carry so a bigger wallet is not going to cause someone to think “Gosh! Look at all this space! Now I can carry an emergency tube of toothpaste in my wallet!”

    The wallets you suggested are ridiculous for real-world situations. Maybe it works for the latte-sipping crowd, but for real people these would only be useful for 1-day events where you’d believe your wallet would stand a good chance of getting lost.

    Leave my photos at home? First of all, I haven’t kept photos in my wallet for nearly 15 years. Second, if this blog wants to be helpful (while stating the obvious on photos) then why not recommend putting the photos onto your phone? The Flickr comment is useless because it cannot be used as a substitute for what wallet photos are used for.

    Review my wallet regularly? Obviously people don’t do this because it’s a difficult habit to create, not because they never thought of it as you seem to imply.

    Stop using cash? Oh that’s a great idea, until I come across the inevitable transaction situation where cash is mandantory. I guess I can turn around and drive home in those situations and pick up some cash.

    Use only one credit card? So what if I like the financial benefits of using my Discover Card for the cashback, and my Mastercard for the places where they don’t take Discover? What about my business credit cards? Should I just buy everything business and personal on my personal Mastercard so I can get away with only 1 card?

    Put my rewards cards onto a carabiner? Great, I can see it now: I’m in the store with a pile of things and my card is out in the truck. I already do keep those things out in the truck and most of the time I do not have them with me when I shop: remember that “psychic” thing I said earlier? A more useful suggestion would be to see if you can use the benefits of the card by giving the cashier your phone number, or by using that reward card app on the Iphone.

    You said “These proliferate because it feels special to be a member of anything” – I hope you were kidding and not anything close to being so superficial that you’d actually think a rewards card that is handed out to ANYONE would make you feel special. Are you the kind of person who hands out those bogus participation trophies to kids for accomplishing nothing?

  • Lillie

    gravatarJun 26, 2010
    2:49 pm

    The difficulty with it is that it does not develop a clearly expressed thesis.

  • jetpower

    gravatarJun 27, 2010
    10:49 am

    Back again; I’m posting this time, tired from searching, and weary from re-reading vendors’ false claims regarding their “world’s slimmest wallet.”

    Mine is the world’s thinnest wallet. It’s been in my front pocket for years and years.

    It is two pieces of thin leather. One folds out, the other is folded over and stitched to form the pocket. The pocket is stitched to one half of the piece that unfolds, which itself acts as the cover.

    It is nearly unnoticeable.

    My license slides out from the pocket. Cards sit behind the pocket, with bills that unfold when I open the billfold.

    I need a new one. No one sells one. So I’ll have this one restitched. And it will last as long as I do.

    Silly vendors.

  • Bianca Kosbab

    gravatarAug 17, 2010
    7:08 am

    Is it Unamerican for US Based companies like Sprint to outsource North American Jobs to India? I think it is.. Thoughts?