An Experiment In Minimizing

This weekend, my wife and I stopped by an Italian-Ice-and-frozen-custard* shop to indulge in a tasty frozen treat while we were out running errands. Despite the seeming pleasantness one would expect from such a diversion, it did not improve my mood. Quite the opposite. The principal reason that a trip for fancy ice cream on a hot summer day did not elevate my mood happened before I placed my order. You see, I could not find the merchant’s punch card for buy-ten-get-the-eleventh-frozen-treat free.

507px-Kundenkarten[1]The reason for this was I had six other merchants’ punch cards, and the following pieces of plastic and/or important cardstock paper, mixed in with a potpourri of business cards, my own and other people’s’, an eyeglass-cleaning microfiber cloth, unchecked lottery tickets, lint, and $13.00 in currency. After what felt like five minutes of fumbling around in my wallet, I set the thing down on the countertop and took out every card in the wallet, flipping through the stack while mobs of children and parents noisily milled about around me.

My wife urged me to just leave it alone, but I had become a man obsessed. And after another five minutes of flipping through the cards while small children asked things like “Mommy, what is that strange man doing? He looks mad,” and their parents answered “Just leave him alone, dear, he’ll go away soon enough,” while they passed my mortified wife, who thought she’d already experienced every way I could possibly embarrass her in public already only to be proven wrong that afternoon, in line for their custard.

In the end, my struggles did not avail. I failed to find this particular piece of cardstock and therefore purchased the frozen treat without getting credit towards the eleventh free treat. Flustered, I did not even order what I actually wanted and the poor kid behind the counter did what I said and not what I wanted, and so the poor kid served me up a strange concoction of flavors that did not even seem appealing. (Chocolate custard and kiwi ice, if you must know.) I became so bitter as a result of this that I nearly bit the kid’s head off and later did not even enjoy the treat because I felt like I had caused myself to get ripped off by losing this stupid piece of paper that might have otherwise represented “earning” two-tenths of a free ice cream. Quite aware of the utter financial insignificance of this, I then grew ashamed of myself.

Once back at home, I took out all the cards from my wallet. I realized that I have either a piece of plastic or a piece of paper from what must surely be every goddamn merchant in Southern California stuffed in it, and as a result my wallet is literally an inch and a half thicker than it would have been if I just used it to carry money. Rarely used credit cards, infrqeuently used customer loyalty cards, twice-a-year used identifications and membership cards, irregularly used freebie punch cards. I can’t carry my wallet in my back pocket at all because sitting on something so bulky on only one of my ass cheeks would cause sciatica before lunchtime. It’s ridiculous.

And if it takes the pleasure out of eating ice cream, then clearly it’s gone too far.

I’ve tried using apps on my cell phone in the past. This didn’t work because the laser scanners at the stores bounce off the screen on my cell phone without reading the bar codes, and the cell phone cannot generate a magnetized strip for the card reader to read. And most clerks seem to lack an understanding of how to manually punch in the account numbers, if their registers are even equipped to do so in the first place.

IMG_0249[1]Here’s the experiment I’m going to undertake. I’ve got a wrist-wallet designed for sports use. I’ve used it to good advantage in travel situations before. Now, I’m going to make it an everyday thing. I’ve loaded it up with four and only four cards, cards that I use frequently or simply must have: my driver’s license in case I’m challenged for photo identification, my Costco card for when I buy gas, my debit card for everyday purchases, and my AAA card in case something goes wrong with my automobile.

Nothing else.

Every other card will stay stored off-site in a big-ass bundle of plastic and cardstock cards tied together with a rubber band. I’ll figure out where I want to keep this thing later — in my briefcase, in my desk, at home on my dresser, but not on me. No wallet in any pocket at all.

No cash, as a rule. I rarely buy things with cash anyway. When I indulge in my irrational habit of buying a lotto ticket, I’ll have to make a special plan to have a dollar bill in my pocket for that purpose. Logically, I know that this means I’ll forget and not be able to buy lottery tickets, diminishing my already astronomically miniscule chances of winning the jackpot by just that much more, so, dammit.

If I need one of the other cards, then I’d better plan for it in advance, so I can add it to the wrist-wallet before heading out away from my library of infrequently used, space-consuming cards. For instance, when I go to court, I’ll load the wrist wallet with my bar card; when I go downtown, I’ll have my Metro card in there; if it’s time to fix something around the house, I’ll be sure to add in the My Lowe’s card.

Mostly, I’m just going to not use this stuff that I only use once a month or so anyway. Haven’t figured out what I’ll do with my business cards. I don’t want to carry around a business card holder because that’s just one more thing for me to carry around and account for and perhaps lose. I’ll solve that problem another day.

When a merchant in the future asks me to carry around a piece of paper or plastic in my wallet so I can get 10% off my tenth purchase, said merchant will be politely told that no, I prefer to pay more, and would have preferred it even better if they’d have simply built the discount into their already-low daily prices.

 

* “Frozen custard” in California is not the same thing you get in the midwest, one of my few actual gripes about life here in the Golden State. Someone in Sacramento thinks that preparing food with raw eggs carries an unacceptably high risk of food-borne illness, so the amount of egg in the cream-and-egg mix is little different from what you get in regular ice cream. A pity: the frozen custard I’ve had in Wisconsin blows the doors off of regular ice cream and I know of no one who has ever become sick from it, other than a tummyache or a headache from eating too much of it, too fast.

Image credit: wikimedia commons. Original picture seems to be by a German photographer — from which I take a quantum of solace, as obviously, my problem transcends national boundaries.

Burt LikkoBurt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California and the managing editor of Ordinary Times. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.

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19 thoughts on “An Experiment In Minimizing

    • Someone should make a humorous episode of a dark comedy series about this very issue. It has potential.

      Good for you. I bought a thin travel wallet for a trip years ago and just never went back to my old one. I think i have 6 cards and my license. I could skip a couple of the cards by my wallet is light enough that i run with it so it isn’t any issue. Less is More.

      My wife went through the “OMG is can’t find things in this purse” deal while we were getting pita’s yesterday. Of course she eventually found what she was looking for after going through several hundred items first. I calmly ate my pita while she searched. Gotta stay calm and focus.

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    • Possibly meaningful endorsement(s): After I decided that I really liked the thin wallet, I bought a second one and tucked it away in a drawer because I didn’t want to be disappointed at some point in the future to find that the company had gone out of business. Recently, my wife decided she was jealous of the thinness of my wallet and demanded that I give the backup to her (and she carries her wallet in a purse, not a pocket). I now have a new backup hidden away.

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  1. About a year or so ago I realized my George Costanza sized wallet wasn’t really working for me. I ended up switching to a non-folding ID wallet. It has enough room for my license and a couple cards and not much else. The store loyalty programs I use let you enter a phone number in lieu of scanning a card (I don’t even bother with the keychain variety). Once I got myself out of the “I might need this someday” hoarder mentality I found I didn’t really miss the old, bulky wallet.

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  2. Personally, I have capitulated on the idea of having my phone, keys, and wallet every be slim enough to comfortably fit in all my pants, even the slim-fitting ones – I wear a purse (I could call it a “wallet belt” or “waist satchel” but let’s be real, it’s a purse) from these folks (apparently their Etsy page is on hold, or I’d link there.

    I’m really liking it, actually – not only do my pants, IMO & more importantly that of my wife, look better on me, I don’t find myself leaving the house and then running back to get something out of my other pants. It even has enough room I can even carry a few extra things of somewhat less frequent use – a pocket knife, a lighter, maybe a phone charge cable.

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    • Yeah, I often envy my wife her purse and the ability to carry it around within the boundaries of social acceptability. A male friend has an idea that is at once silly and thought-provoking: a bandolier. Work with us for a minute here. You make it out of nylon, with the clip in front as an anti-theft mechanism, and different pockets of various sizes, closable with velcro. We’re thinking five pockets: a pocket for cash, a pocket for the various plastic cards, a pocket for spare change, a pocket for keys, a pocket for the phone. No need for a weapons holster; this is just for carrying stuff around.

      Strap it around the non-dominant shoulder (your left shoulder, if you’re right-handed) and the opposite hip, and the pockets would be easy to access with the dominant hand. If you like, you can thread it through a shirt so the back strap runs underneath the back of the shirt.

      I like the idea of being able to carry around all my stuff like that. And it might feel a little silly, but if lots of men wore them, it would feel less so. Not sure how it would work with formalwear like a suit — you’d look a little bit like a Latin American dictator, with a sash running diagonally across your chest over a dress shirt and tie but underneath a sport coat.

      But a bandolier of pockets like this wouldn’t have solved the problem I had this weekend: too many fishing customer loyalty cards.

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      • I’ve got a side-pack (backpack with one arm-strap that goes over the shoulders) that’s essentially unisex and extremely handy for carrying around a small amount of stuff (wallet, keys, iPad, water bottle, a book). Check out your local outdoors stores, see if they have anything. It’s very casual, so no good for upscale events, but good for everyday. (Or maybe most days are a formal/semiformal event when you’re a lawyer?)

        While we’re envying the opposite gender, I say guys are lucky to have pants with actual decent-sized pockets in them. About half my pants have tiny pockets, no pockets, or most annoying of all, fake pockets.

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        • Don’t get me started on pants. Well, too late—let me tell you, things have fallen a long way from my glory days of pants-buying. My habit of carrying change in my right front pocket means that every pair of work- and suit-pants I own have a discolored patch on the thigh. I hardly walk around all a-jingle with coins, but it amazes me how quickly my pants start falling apart. The Gap is the worst offender—the pockets just blow out eventually, resulting in a slapstick cascade of coins pouring out of my pants leg. This has happened repeatedly. Other suit-pants actually start to tear over the pocket.

          My mother-in-law gave me a gorgeous leather change purse from Italy, so I have everything I need to solve this problem, but my will to change a personal habit is no match for my commitment to inertia.

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  3. I am a long-time big believer in the minimalist wallet. Mostly because at one point years ago it had gotten so huge that it made sitting uncomfortable, but also because, like you, I often couldn’t find whatever I was looking for in it.

    It’s one of the things I appreciate about the way Starbucks and other stores has those kind of points systems tied to apps in my phones.

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  4. 11 years ago I met a woman who made fun of my wallet. I asked what I should get, and she selected something almost exactly like this: http://smile.amazon.com/As-Seen-TV-Storus-Double/dp/B001RMO3NK/ref=sr_1_32

    I’ve used it ever since, and it’s awesome. It stores five credit cards and two band-aids. I keep the card I actually use in front, so I can produce it without even taking the wallet out of my pocket. And it looks the same as the day I bought it.

    It did take me a while to pare down the cards I use, but I did manage it.

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  5. I’ve never seen the need to carry all those do hickeys. I only have a few and I only carry them when I need to. I know women at work that have almost an entire key ring with those things on them. Sheesh.

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  6. I’ll ask the off-point question that’s bugging me: couldn’t they have put two stamps on a new card, then combined later? There’s one specific place where I probably have 8 different cards with one or two stamps, though I always forget to bring them back in.

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  7. My father is a big proponent of money clips, with your cash folded around your cards. I think I could get behind this idea. One thing about carrying a wallet is that if you work at a desk, you’re liable to be sitting with one buttcheek an inch higher than the other, which can’t be good for your back.

    I hate how much stuff I seemingly have to carry around in various pockets—phone, wallet, train-pass case, wi-fi doohickey, keys. I’m tempted to empty my pockets in order to sit comfortably, but I don’t think people want to share a dinner table with my lumpy wallet, and if I put it anywhere else I’ll inevitably leave it there or have it stolen. I have, weirdly, only one key, which paradoxically needs to be on a weighty keychain or I won’t know whether it’s in my pocket. I guess I have other problems, as well.

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  8. A while back my doctor ordered me (due to back issues) to get rid of my wallet and get a front pocket wallet, or money clip. It forced me to get rid of all the stuff you are talking about, has a clip for cash, a couple pockets for cards and a main one for business cards. I don’t use any punch cards, nor do I carry any of the club type cards. If they can’t type in the number, I don’t want to go back there (Its Norcal, so they seem to be able to punch in.)

    I also tend to be a cash person, and I find that it helps a lot.

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    • I was thinking I wanted the kiwi ice to be swirled in to the vanilla custard, like they do. Only the kid heard “swirl” and gave me the vanilla-chocolate swirl of both custards. Because that’s what I said, because I was all flustered from not finding the punch card and distracted by the chaos of small children milling about and frustrated because my wife’s order seemed to take the kid a long time to fill.

      Besides, he’s sixteen. Sixteen year old boys eat all sorts of gross stuff. And not all sixteen year old boys possess the confidence and presence of mind to ask, “Really? That’s what you want?” when the order would sound strange to an adult with sufficient self confidence to inquire before acting.

      We got it cleared up. And by “we” I mean my wife and the manager.

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