Ask Unclutterer: Reducing wallet size

Reader K submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Even though I keep my wallet tidy, it is always packed with debit cards, credit cards, ID, insurance cards (dental, health, vision), auto insurance, business cards etc. I’ve consolidated loyalty cards into my iPhone, but do you have other tips like consolidating insurance cards? Is it okay to put all the insurance ID/phone # etc on one homemade card and get it laminated?

I’m glad to read that you have consolidated your loyalty cards. It is such an easy task and saves a good amount of space in your wallet and/or on your keychain. For other readers, if you have a smart phone, all you need to do to put your loyalty cards on your phone is use a digital camera with better than 2 megapixels and a micro focus to take closeup pictures of the bar codes on your cards. Then, transfer the pictures to your smartphone and store them in a folder in your photos titled “loyalty cards.” Barcode scanners should be able to read the barcode image and the number also can be manually typed into a keypad if the scanner doesn’t work.

In theory, keeping all of your insurance information on a single card should be enough for your medical provider. However, every doctor I’ve ever visited wants the physical card so they can photocopy it and check the name printed on the card against a photo ID. The reason they photocopy the card and check the name is to help prevent against insurance fraud (someone, not you, using your card to cover their care). Seeing as someone determined to commit fraud could easily make a fake card with their name on it, I’m not sure how valuable this process of checking identity really is. Regardless, it’s what the medical providers currently do to show their due diligence.

I get around the big wallet problem by only carrying the bare minimum cards on me when I am just running around town — driver’s license, debit card, and my primary health insurance card. I’ll only take other cards with me if I know I’m going to the specific place that requires that card. In fact, my entire wallet is nothing more than a business card case. My method isn’t for everyone, though, especially people who live in remote locations where accidentally forgetting a card could be an hour trip home from the doctor’s office to retrieve the card. In these situations, I’d recommend a credit card holder that could be locked in the car’s glove box.

Thank you, K, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Please check the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.

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44 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Reducing wallet size”

  1. posted by John M on

    There is an iPhone app called Cardstar, probably available on other operating systems as well, that stores all your loyalty card information. The app generates the barcode to be scanned at the store. I can even use it at our library. Works great, but best of all it is free.

  2. posted by Ash on

    I was just talking about this yesterday. I normally tell the cashier that I left my card at home, or I give them my home phone number so I don’t have to carry and cards with me.

    I HATE having a crowded wallet – I usually go through and clean out everything at least once a week. I also throw away receipts once the charge has shown up in my account properly.

  3. posted by Jason on

    I use the Nationwide Insurance app on my iPhone which has a digital copy of my car insurance card. However, not all jurisdictions will accept a digital copy as proof-of-insurance. Mine will, but check with your local police departments.

  4. posted by Joe on

    I keep photos of my health insurance card front and back in Evernote and then when asked for it I show the photo and offer to email a copy to the office (while standing there at the intake desk). I’ve only had one office be displeased with this and most have been happy to take it that way. I do try to remember to bring it to appointments but this solution has been very useful for emergencies (of which I’ve had a few!)

    I do the same with auto insurance (though I keep physical copies in the glovebox). I’ve not had the opportunity to test whether an officer would look at my phone for the dreaded “license, registration, and insurance” request but I keep them there anyway.

    Evernote to the rescue again- it’s so simple to keep copies of all sorts of wallet-thickening items there and be able to email/export them to whomever requires them.

  5. posted by Marcelle on

    Try the fly lady wallet available at . I love it! Sometimes I just take it out of my purse and just leave the purse at home, it will fit in your back pocket if you don’t stuff it too full, lol.

  6. posted by Lee on

    I wouldn’t keep credit cards in a wallet stored in the car’s glove box. Our cars have been burglarized and stolen (once along with the keys) – I’m happy that the credit cards weren’t in the glove box. I carry 1 credit card and use it all of the time, unless I know I’ll be shopping at a particular store and want to use their card.

    We keep our automobile registration and information and our insurance card in the manual in the car. A note of warning – if your car is stolen while you are away from home and your garage door opener is in the car, the thief knows your address, that you are away from home, and can get into your garage and house, if your garage is attached. Even though it was bulkier, I liked the key fob opener much better.

  7. posted by Tim Stringer on

    Another vote for CardStar, which is available for most mobile platforms, including iOS, Android and BlackBerry. I wrote an in-depth review of the iPhone version if you want to learn more:

    I also store sensitive information (e.g. passport number and bank account details) in 1Password. There’s a mobile version available for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android which sync up with desktop applications for Mac and Windows. The Mac and iOS versions are available on the App Store.

    Lastly, Evernote is a great place to store those random bits of information which might tend to clutter up your wallet. Every mobile platform under the sun is supported. You can also access and update your information from any modern web browser as well as through their Mac and Windows applications.

    I hope this helps…

  8. posted by Georgie on

    Wow, what I wouldn’t give to be able to consolidate my loyalty cards onto my smartphone! I don’t know if it’s an Australian thing, but almost all of my loyalty cards require swiping rather than having a barcode to scan. I could probably use that idea for the family’s library cards though (my 3 kids each have their own, for two different groups of libraries).

  9. posted by ninakk on

    I second Georgie’s comment; never heard of this option as all places want the swipe here, too. Will look into it to see whether I could work around it in at least a few cases, though. Great post, thanks.

  10. posted by Steve Pikham on

    Once you slim down the wallet you might find that your wallet itself adds a lot of bulk.

    I love these wallets, made of tyvek and quite thin, light and stylish:

  11. posted by jodi on

    I have an android phone and I don’t see CardStar and there were “no matches in the android market.” I tried Card Star (added a space) and had nothing relevant to loyalty cards show up.

    I honestly don’t have many loyalty cards because I don’t shop that much in general, and most places I shop don’t have them, but I was curious about the program because it would reduce the clutter of keeping the cards in my house!

    And I love the idea of scanning/emailing insurance cards! All the physician offices we use are paperless anyway; I imagine they would gladly accept it. Great idea!

  12. posted by Jen on

    i recently went on vacation for a few days and carried with me a small pared-down size wallet instead of my regular one – it was just a little larger than a business card holder. It had room for my license, maybe 3 other cards (credit/atm, insurance, etc), and some cash. Carrying change in it was a little bit cumbersome but maybe I would learn to accept it collecting at the bottom of my bag after a while. I found it very freeing and was mildly disappointed to return to my regular wallet when we got home. And my normal wallet is pretty organized and really not cluttered – but it does have several cards in it that are necessary. I may have to rethink my definition of “necessary” because I really did enjoy that mini-wallet!

  13. posted by Stephen on

    Best advice ever is to change out your wallet for a business card holder. Staples or Office Max has a huge selection. They are really cheap, come in a lot of choices (including leather), and run much smaller and tighter than typical wallets. I’ve been using one for almost two years now and love it. I found one that has two internal pockets and one on the front. The front pocket holds my work badge so I can easily swipe it to get in and out. The two inside pockets hold my ID, debit/credit cards, medical cards, and a couple of other cards that are necessary. Roughly the same footprint as my smartphone.

  14. posted by Mark Cancellieri on

    I have been using an All-Ett, which is billed as “The World’s Thinnest Wallet.” I don’t know if it is, but it has to be pretty damned close. I have a nylon one, and it is surprisingly durable.

    I only carry 3 real cards in my wallet: 1 credit card, 1 debit card (Visa Checkcard), and my driver’s license.

    I took my health insurance and dental insurance cards and photocopied them, and then I cut them so that they were card-sized. I carry my paper copies in my wallet and leave the actual card at home. The paper version is obviously extremely thin.

    I also photocopied my AAA card, cut it down to size, and put it in my wallet.

    The result is that my wallet is unbelievably thin.

  15. posted by Jodi on

    I never carry my AAA card. I wrote the number for emergency roadside assistance on my sun visor (under the warnings that are already printed). They can look up our account by name. I don’t think I even have the physical AAA card in my house.

  16. posted by Kia on

    I use CardStar as well, for my phone with most places can scan the card on my phone and i have the starbucks mobile app to pay for drinks. I still keep all my loyalty cards on a separate ring in my truck coin section. I’ve only been to one location that can’t scan my iPhone, even the library can scan my phone

    My wallet has been a business card case i got from Levenger 4 years ago. It has insurance card, driver’s license, 2 credit cards, and and 1 check folded up. Yes there are places that will take a check instead of a credit card here. I find it interesting that my wallet is smaller than my cell phone.

  17. posted by chacha1 on

    I have a metal, tightly-closing business card holder for my insurance cards, AAA card, and my credit card. Most of the time it never leaves the zip bag at the bottom of my quotidien handbag.

    My actual wallet is from Levenger (a discontinued style) and holds three loyalty cards, my debit card, my driver’s license, my check register (to record debit card transactions), a notecard, and folding money.

    I don’t carry change; receipts are emptied out daily. It’s not the tiniest possible wallet but I like it and it suits me.

  18. posted by Office space Montreal on

    Small wallet is a good idea

  19. posted by The Other Jen on

    Technically, I have 3 wallets: My everyday wallet (not too big, as I don’t have a lot of loyalty cards, just a few ‘regulars’), my ‘lunch run’ wallet which stays in a drawer at work, and has two stamped loyalty cards in it, one for tea at the company cafeteria, the other for my favorite sushi place, I can put a a few dollars in there if I’m picking up lunch, and a US wallet for traveling in the US: US money, US bank card, US loyalty cards and international health insurance card live here. My Car stuff (driver’s license, ownership papers, insurance) are in a separate holder (which does NOT stay in the car.) Additional documentation (passport, firearms papers, Iaido membership if I transporting a sword across international borders) are added as needed.

  20. posted by Pamela on

    With a business card holder, where do you put your money?? I’m a Dave Ramsey girl so I use cash…. lol I need a solution that has room for actual money.

  21. posted by Noah on

    I use the Keyring app on iPhone for my loyalty cards. I’m pretty sure they also have an Android version.

    When I’m running around I use a mini binder clip and just take my debit card, AmEx, drivers license, and insurance card. I don’t usually carry much cash, but if I do I just fold it around the cards and use the binder clip to keep it all together.

    I guess I’m lucky though, my dental and medical insurance use the same card.

  22. posted by Tim on

    I actually stopped carrying a wallet altogether a couple of years ago. I use Cardstar for my membership cards as has already been mentioned. I also use an iPhone case from CaseMate that holds 2 or 3 cared on your phone. In my case that means my drivers license and debit card. All my insurance info, etc. is in the phone as well in electronic form.

  23. posted by MessyMom on

    I keep all of my very few credit cards, my insurance cards, and my ID cards in a wallet that also holds my checkbook and has a pocket for cash. I keep it in my purse but if I don’t want to carry my whole purse all I have to do is take the wallet out. Loyalty, library, and other cards that I don’t use frequently and that don’t have all my info on them stay in a second wallet in my car so that I don’t have to worry about remembering to switch them to my main wallet if I’m heading to a particular store. If I get in the store and don’t have the right card, all I have to do is walk back out to my car.

  24. posted by organizingwithe on

    I’m with you – my wallet is a credit card case with a bit of space to hold folded bills. No purse either – if it doesn’t fit into my pocket, it doesn’t go! Rarely take a phone – I’m of the opinion that if I’m not with you, I can’t help you. Anyone else anti cell phone?

  25. posted by PracticeMakesProgress on

    A few years ago I bought a small (approx. 3.75″ x 5.50″) zippered cloth case at the Art Institute of Chicago Museum Store, and it has successfully served as my wallet ever since. It looks like a miniature Turkish rug and has a small cord loop attached at one corner, making it convenient to loop over my finger and freeing up both hands, unlike conventional wallets or purses. It even fits nicely into the pocket of my jeans for total freedom. I’ve received numerous compliments on my small wallet from friends and clerks, but more importantly, I love it.

    In it I generally carry: paper money, folded in half; small amount of loose change; driver’s license; 2 credit/debit/ATM cards; auto and health insurance cards and personal ‘calling’ cards. There’s plenty of room to add receipts, any cards I may collect during my day, and even a small purse pen.

  26. posted by Calen on

    I wonder if there is a way to have ONE loyalty card and just add stores to it. That would be very convenient! Right now, most stores are able to look up your loyalty card info if you give your phone number.

  27. posted by mike crosby on

    Lots of good comments. You people are really into uncluttering. I like that.

    I know we all are concerned about lack of privacy/big brother issues, but I think the time will come where we’ll be using our phone to open/start our cars, get us into Costco and whatever else we need to do.

    I like the evernote idea by Joe, comment #4

  28. posted by Greg on

    I too hate a fat wallet. I buy the standard men’s wallet and cut out the center credit card holder and carry just it. 1 Amex/Costco card, 1 Visa/debit, Driver’s license, insurance card. The space inside is just perfect for a couple a bills or receipts. Whole wallet is about 1/4 inch thick!

  29. posted by Kathy on

    I can not live with out the microfiber wallets from

    Small and light weight with a zipper closure. There is even a smaller junior version. Fits in my small purse or front pants pocket.

    My husband loves that it is small and fits in his front pocket so that he is not sitting on a bulky wallet.

    Holds insurance, prescription, drivers license, 3 credit cards, 6 store/gas/reward cards and folded bills. Change on side in small zippered pocket.

    I have had mine for 5 years now and it still looks new. Husband is on 2nd one.

  30. posted by Iain Perkin on

    First the smallest functional wallet I could find at the time:
    It only holds plastic drivers license and insurance slip in one slot, credit card + debit + coffee card + health card in the second slot and finally a few folded bills in the last slot. It works as the Provincial Health Care Card is all I need unless I travel and the smallest Canadian bill is the $5 as the $1 & $2 are coins. Lastly leaving at the cards I needed the car to use (I could only drive to realistically get to the store) in the car.

    I’ve compared with friends and wallet is thinner than just the stack of plastic they carry.

  31. posted by Anne D on

    A word of warning – our HMO requires both the actual insurance card, because they swipe it (or at some offices, run it through an old-fashioned credit-card impression machine) and a photo ID, everywhere, every time.

    All these small wallets are intriguing, although I still need one that can hold cash, change and a spare car key, all three of my library cards along with the credit card, the debit card, driver’s license, my husband’s business card with emergency phone numbers on the back, the auto club card, etc etc…

  32. posted by dragonslayer on

    I don’t carry a wallet at all. I carry a drivers license and credit card at all times. Sometimes the grocery store loyalty card and bus card make the trip, but at most that’s 4 cards in my pocket. You don’t need a wallet for that. All other cards are in a pouch in my briefcase. They rarely get used. Money is just folded in my pocket.

    Getting rid of a wallet solved the back problems I was having a decade ago. I haven’t gone back since.

  33. posted by Linda on

    Like Pamela I’m a Dave Ramsey fan. I keep folded paper money in my pocket – any coins I get in change go into a coin area in the car or into my husband’s pocket if he’s along.

    The cards I carry fit into a leather mini-calculator case.

    I shop for clothes with front pockets. When I wear something dressy that doesn’t have pockets I either carry a small purse or put $$/cards into my husband’s pocket.

    I love the no-purse freedom :-}

  34. posted by Kat on

    Like Linda & Pamela, I’m a Dave Ramsey fan which means no credit cards. I use his cash envelope wallet system. Keeps cash organized, space for just a few debit or rewards cards (I learned on this thread that they are called “loyalty” cards), and it’s great. Statistics show you spend less $$ when using cash vs plastic.

  35. posted by MixinItaly on

    @ Pamela
    I, too, carry all my cards in a small credit card case.
    However, I carry my money (small bills and change) in a brightly colored change purse. That way, when I have to pay in a store, I find the change purse easily.
    I keep the big bills and credit cards in the case. I carry just a few loyalty cards. If I don’t have the card with me and I’m in the store, well I shouldn’t be shopping! And when I go on vacation, I empty out almost all the loyalty cards, as they won’t work in other countries. I start my trip super light!!

  36. posted by James E. Robinson, III on

    This MOGA card holder has been great for me:

    Credit card, ATM card, insurance card, ID card, Drivers license and some cash in mine.

  37. posted by Kerri on

    I sewed myself a supercute wallet, and love it to pieces! It’s just made of cotton, and barely adds any bulk to the cards I put in it. I don’t like separating my cards myself, because when they do get separated I end up losing them or not having them when I need them.

  38. posted by Elizabeth M Gatti on

    I found this on a website. Called
    It is the size of a credit card and holds 6 Loyalty numbers on it. I only need one card instead of 6.

    I love it!!

  39. posted by Anita on

    I have 2 wallets: my regular, everyday wallet, and a very slim wallet that only fits a few things.

    My regular wallet is roomy without being bulky, and fits all my cards (including all ID and loyalty cards), cash, bus tickets, dry cleaning tickets, business cards and any important receipts. I clean it out regularly, so it never gets bulky or overcrowded. I’m also mindful of what loyalty cards I choose to get, and which ones I need to carry with me vs. which stores just need my phone number or name to access my account, and only carry what I need. I think bulk happens when you’re trying to cram too much for the wallet’s capacity; instead, why not get a wallet that fits all your stuff comfortably?

    My tiny wallet is for when I’m going out and don’t want to bring all my stuff with me. It usually just contains cash, ID, and one credit card.

  40. posted by gypsy packer on

    Secured photo apps, available at iTunes, are useful for various forms of photo ID and any papers which can be scanned. These all use a password or passcode.
    I use a wallet case with my iPod Touch, which has 2 card slots and a small bill slot. The Touch has a note app, grocery list app, CardBank, price comparison apps, calculator/calendar/night light, map utility, mirror app, etc.
    Bye-bye wallet.

  41. posted by bryan on

    I would also photocopy the front and back of the contents of your wallet just in case you lose it or misplace it in addition to keeping it light

  42. posted by organizingwithe on

    What more do you need then a bit of cash, one credit card, your drivers license & health insurance card? Oh – don’t forget the inspiring quote!

  43. posted by Amy G. on

    I love my Queenbee Creations wallet – it’s easy to see what you have and it stays nice and flat in the purse!

  44. posted by Sherry on

    I had the same problem, so I made the app MyMiniWallet a free app for the iphone. It solves multiple problems… it saves a picture of your gift cards, membership cards, receipts, and coupons in a very easy to use manner. plus it’s pin protected and allows the user to share with friends and family!

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