What’s in Your Wallet? 5 Ways to Clear the Clutter

When I was a kid, my mom’s purse was like one of those magic Mary Poppins bags. Need a Kleenex? A baby wipe? Gum? Scissors? Needle and thread? A copy of your birth certificate and immunization records? No matter what we needed, Mom could usually produce it from the depths of her gigantic purse, which was more like a tote bag.

Naturally, this preparedness for every possibile emergency has made my mom’s purse the object of jokes within the family. She would ask us to go get her purse from another room, and my sister and I would groan loudly as we struggled to drag it down the hall. Carpal tunnel references were popular for awhile, then replaced by claims of back pain and threats to call an injury lawyer. We’ve always said that Mom could protect a small country with only the contents of her purse - I won’t even talk about how much stuff she can fit in a 13-gallon trash bag. (We refer to this talent as organized hoarding.)

A few months ago, Mom told me she’d found a solution for her overcrowded wallet, which I swear to you had rubber bands wrapped around it to prevent all the receipts, envelopes, photos, and other junk from falling out and getting lost in The Purse. She’d ordered one of those “unbreakable” aluminum wallets as seen on TV, and she was so excited about all the pockets that would help her get organized.

That is, until she called me and told me she broke it. Oh yes, the unbreakable wallet lasted less than a week, and not because it was such an inferior product. Mom was totally serious when she said, “I guess I should have ordered two.”

Get Rid of Your Clutter!

Few people carry around as much stuff as my mom, but I’ve seen my share of overstuffed purses, wallets, pockets, and glove boxes, even from people who don’t tend to hold onto much. For some reason, many of us feel compelled to cram 500 items into an object meant to hold 10. After growing up with my mom, my rule of thumb is that if things fall out of it when you open it, you need an intervention.

Here are just a few ways you can take back control of your wallet or purse:

1. Cull the cards. Is it really necessary to carry every credit card, debit card, membership card, and discount card you’ve ever owned? Do you foresee a time when you’ll save a life with that CPR card that expired in 2004? If you don’t use it on at least a weekly basis, leave it at home. Better yet, for things like membership cards, take a picture with your phone in case you ever need to show it while you’re out.

2. Stop holding onto paper receipts. I understand the need to keep records of the things you buy, especially when you purchase something expensive. And I totally get stuffing the receipt into your wallet when you’re trying to get out of the store. But do something with them when you get home! Whether it’s a smartphone app like Shoeboxed or an actual shoebox, there are better ways to keep track of receipts.

3. Return photos to their albums. In the age of smartphones, NO ONE needs that plastic accordion of the kids’ school photos anymore. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I handed someone a physical picture of my son to show them how much he’s grown - why do that when I have hundreds of recent pictures on my phone? Not to mention pics of my niece and nephew, my dogs, my house, and the hilarious cartoons people text me.

4. Carry less cash. Not only does cash take up a lot of room in your wallet, but it’s also dangerous to carry around with you. Unless you’re utilizing the envelope system to budget your money, I wouldn’t recommend carrying more than $50 in cash. A twenty, 2 tens, a five, and 5 ones are more than enough for most people. Obviously there may be times when you need more than that, but how often do you really use cash, anyway?

5. Schedule regular decluttering sessions. If you’re like most people, you’re too busy to keep track of the contents of your wallet or purse at all times. That’s fine; just spend five minutes every week getting reorganized. When you make it a regular part of your week - clearing everything out on Sunday night before work on Monday, for example - you greatly reduce your risk of becoming an “organized hoarder.”

What’s in YOUR Wallet?

Growing up with my mom has turned me into something of a purse and wallet minimalist. I carry only the things I could reasonably need in a given day - keys, wallet, phone, lip gloss, and maybe a small notebook. Okay, and I’ll admit that I ALWAYS have gum and Kleenex.

Right now, my wallet contains the following: two debit cards (one for personal, one for business), one credit card, my driver’s license, my son’s Ident-a-Kid ID, auto and health insurance cards, and $3 in cash. Every time I buy something, I take a picture of the receipt as soon as I get to the car so I can throw the paper receipt away. I may be a little obsessed with clearing out the contents of my purse and wallet on a regular basis, but I know my back and shoulders will thank me someday.

Confession time - what’s in your purse and/or wallet RIGHT THIS MINUTE? No cheating! How do you keep things from getting out of control? Do you know any organized hoarders?


What’s in Your Wallet? 5 Ways to Clear the Clutter44 Comments

  1. Good one!! My wallet is pretty organized, I do a decluttering every now and then when I'm bored. The change pocket part tends to get messy quickly, I hold on to receipts random papers and business cards I mean to contact and whatnot. We were just talking about how much we hate the "What's in your wallet" tagline from Cap One. They have the worst ad agency ever!

  2. I have an "indestructible wallet" but haven't carried it for years. I have an inside pocket of my coat where I currently have about 1$ in change, my debit card, my school ID, my apartment security card, my bus pass and my library card and lip gloss. That's it!

    •  @vanessapage A coat?!?! Where do you live again? It's been summer weather here - I had to turn on the air conditioner!
      What do you use to carry your stuff when it gets warmer? #nosy

      •  @Andrea Whitmer I live in Montreal and we only have about two months where it's really warm enough to not have a coat (if it's not raining, of course). When I don't have my coat with me I usually just tuck my cards into my wallet and I don't need lip gloss during the summer.
        If I'm bringing my lunch I'll usually carry a purse of some sorts just because my lunch bag doesn't have handles (the bag is empty except for my lunch)

  3. Oh no… my wallet is tiny but it is bulging with stuff right now. Funny thing is I have 2 coin purse type things too and also another bigger wallet, but I took the big wallet out of my purse and my shoulder feels so much better.
    I have way too many cards like Panera Bread, Boudin, Vons, Rite Aid, library card, etc. Also my debit card, 2 Chase credit cards, Citibank card (which I should take out cuz I don't use it anymore), cash, coins, and also gift cards and stamp cards. I really need to clean out my wallet - oh also driver's license and my expired driver's license hahaha!
    I'm going to clean out my wallet and my purse right now…thanks for reminding me. Btw, my mom always carries the kitchen sink too. I don't know how her shoulders have survived the pain.

    •  @fromshoppingtosaving I'm firmly convinced that the osteoporosis that runs on my mom's side of the family is from all the heavy purses the women carry around. Hope you got it cleaned out - your system sounds a little out of control!

  4. I've got, three discount cards, a western union card, my health insurance card, a debit card, my driver's license, $30 in cash, one receipt, one bank slip, two ticket stubs from a concert I went to, the contact card for my insurance lady and a picture of P.
    It may sound like a lot but my wallet is really organized, I even have card slots left over and it isn't bulging or anything, it's just really awesome. I could take out the western union card and maybe a couple of the discount cards but then I wouldn't feel like I need my wallet anymore, the reason I got it was for organization and to keep my cards. Add to that it was a gift from P.

  5. Good tips.. I have been known to keep far too many cards in my wallet.. but have gotten better about it in recent years.

    I sm curious, Andrea, will stores accept a call phone photo of your receipt when attempting to make a return?

    • @seedebtrun They usually want a printed receipt so they can mark the item as returned - if I'm returning something, I just print the receipt. I've never had a problem getting stores to accept the copy.

  6. I've always had a pretty minimalist wallet, but a large part of that comes from the fact that I need to sit on it most of the day, and if it's too chunky then I slant to one side. :)   I carry two credit cards, a debit card, and a few misc card for other things, plus some cash and ID, and that's about it.

    • @CultOfMoney The idea for this post came from my mom, but also from seeing a guy pull out this six-inch thick wallet at a restaurant. I still haven't figured out how he managed to sit down with that thing in his back pocket!

  7. wallet: less than $1 in change, 2 debit cards, 1 credit card, starbucks gift card, drivers license and my work ID (which also doubles as my library card). Then I have soooo many membership cards: 2 grocery stores, a drug store, Anthropologie, Sephora, a lingerie store and an airmiles card =
    In addition to that I always keep a few personal business cards to hand out as needed, bandaids, kleenex, those clearasil oil blotting papers (godsend) and shoe cushions for blisters.
    Purse: the wallet with all of the above + a moleskin notebook and my favourite pen, my cellphone, headphones, home & work keys, usually my laptop, and a gazillion bobby pins and hair elastics. Sometimes I even sneak in a pair of small flats, a light sweater, and a travel mug (to be used with the starbucks card in the wallet, obvs)
    Oh god, I'm carrying to much aren't I?

  8. Yeah, wow. Organized hoarder here. (Stands up)
    My wallet is stuffed with so much crap from like 17 years ago it's not even funny. Maybe I'll get inspired and cut up all the out-of-commision cards tomorrow. Maybe. :)

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  10. I use a little coin purse with my key card, student card, Tesco Clubcard, and a little bit of cash… I'm pretty low maintenance :)

    •  @BrokeElizabeth Sounds about like me! I used to carry a lot more stuff, but I realized that the more I take with me, the more I could lose if my purse was stolen. So I try to keep that in mind when I leave the house.

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  12. my mother-in-law bought my husband and I these for stocking stuffers - they fell apart in seconds hahaha.
    I have clutter, so I've always been good about keeping my wallet stocked with essentials only. Of course, a few years ago the essentials included 4 credit cards with very large balances.

  13. I purposefully carry a tiny purse and a tiny wallet.  I'm a big pack rat (well  a recovering one) and if I carry a big purse it will get messy very fast.  I now keep everything organzied by going in every weekend (deadline is Sunday) and carry only essentials. I preffer the key ring versions of any cards (book club card, library card, etc) to minimize my wallet more.  I keep my wallet, tissues, keys, pens, chapstick and clip on sunglasses in my purse on a regular basis. 

    •  @bogofdebt That's a good point re: the keychain cards. I prefer those to the wallet ones anyway. I tend to carry a decent-sized purse but nothing too large; otherwise I end up with way more stuff than I need!

  14. Great post Andrea! I, too, suffer from the myriad receipts, cards, and bobby pins at the bottom of my purse. A lot of these tips could work for our cars, too. I've seen so many cars that look even more overcrowded than the driver's purse - and most of it is junk! I refuse to get one of those enormous designer (well, knock-off) purses because I know I will just fill it to the brim and be weighed down.

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