The Rubber Band Wallet
A friend recently suggested that I write a blog post about my wallet. Seemed like a good idea to me. When you look around at the literature on the internet about how to improve blog traffic, one of the suggestions that often comes up is to teach something that readers can use. And since The Row Boat is, by and large, self-indulgent reflection on deathless questions, the chance to write about something actually useful is not to be passed up. It’s a way of giving back to my readers—a dribble of self-help in exchange for all your thought and patience.
The extent of my wallet that doesn’t constitute its contents is very small: a rubber band. Until recently I actually used the hair-things that I was in the habit of stealing from my then-girlfriend—basically a rubber band wrapped in a coil of stretchy thread. The advantage of the hair-thing was the ease with which it could roll on and off the wallet’s contents. But when I lost the hair-thing, as well as the girlfriend from whom to steal a replacement, I was forced to choose from the stash of rubber bands under my desk, still hardly diminished since I bought them during the first week of college. To my surprise, the clingly quality of a thick, uncovered rubber band has grown on me. Those so inclined might try both and decide which they prefer.
I came upon this species of wallet—which I have yet to see in any other incarnation than mine—out of necessity. It was a year or two ago, and I was traveling somewhere (don’t recall where) that made me concerned about pickpocketing sufficiently to want to have my valuables in the front, rather than back, pocket. A stolen hair-thing was handy (my hair was then long enough to warrant it), so I thought to wrap it, two times around, about the contents of my wallet. It immediately amazed me how much slimmer the package became without the clumsy leather folds that previously contained it. Once it comfortably settled into my front-left pocket, I was thrilled to discover also how much more comfortable sitting down had become now that one buttock no longer had a big wad of stuff between it and the seat. I was sold and never went back.
To paint a clearer picture of the practicalities of my method, let me take you on a tour of my particular arrangement. It is by no means the only option; in fact, I would love to hear from readers about other arrangements they find useful.
- On top, the pending department. Receipts to file and the back of a business card for short notes-to-self.
- Then the MVPs, MetroCard and credit card.
- Small bills, <$20, folded in thirds
- Two barrier cards: bank card and driver’s license. Ones that’ll never both be used at the same time so as not to combine the sections they separate.
- $20 bills, folded in thirds. So if you happen to have a stack of twenties, you don’t have to flash them when reaching for a single.
- The rest. Business cards, library cards, RFIDs of all kinds, stamps, etc.
- A back card, preferably robust and not scratchable. Whatever goes here takes a lot of punishment.
- The rubber band is wrapped around on the long side, tight and secure.
Now that’s a pretty static arrangement. Another approach is to do what in computer programming is called a stack. The rule is very simple: whenever you put something back in the wallet, put it on top. Quite naturally, and with minimum effort, the things you most commonly use end up closer to the top and thus more accessible.
Over time, I’ve found that my wallet behaves, in computer programming terms, more like an array—a data structure for which the cost of retrieval is equal at every location, so long as things remain where they’re supposed to go. Hence the more static structure detailed above. Plus, I’ve grown quite attached to separating big and small bills, a policy that could be threatened by the stack system.
I try to keep a stack system running in “the rest” area, while keeping the other areas staticly organized.
There you have it. A practical how-to session from Row Boat University. Not only did we cover a handy way to save pocket space, but a bit of computer science too! Isn’t it nice to do something practical for a change?
tags: algorithms, economy, technology