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Published: Saturday, 6/21/2008

Card-carrying society puts a strain on wallets

BY LAMONT JONES
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
An overloaded wallet can be a pain. An overloaded wallet can be a pain.
PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE Enlarge

Is your wallet stuffed to the max? Blame it on cardmania. An aggravated sciatic nerve sent Alex Matthews to his doctor more than a decade ago.

His back pain, it turned out, was caused by prolonged periods of sitting off-balance on a stuffed wallet.

He downsized his wallet s contents, and the pain disappeared. Then, about two years ago, he stopped carrying wallets altogether because they kept tearing from strain. Now he keeps some cards at home, others in his car and the most essential few in his pockets.

When I take out all these cards and people ask me why don t I get a wallet, I just laugh, said Mr. Matthews, 47, of Homewood.

Other men have similar stories the American Chiropractic Association reports increasing complaints and many women have their own tales of wallet woe.

There s no article of clothing or fashion accessory as stressed as the wallet. Shoes take a beating and hosiery wears out quickly, but the day-in-day-out testing of the wallet puts it in a class by itself.

Most people own only one wallet, and it usually strains at the seams.

Blame it on cardmania. A generation ago, folks carried around little more than a driver s license, a medical card, and one or two credit cards. We ve become a card-carrying society, and we re running out of places to put them all.

Wallets are crammed with driver s licenses and employee identifications, insurance and club-membership cards, frequent-shopping cards, video rental, voter s ID and gift cards in addition to the normal array of debit and credit cards. Together, they re forcing owners to find other places to stow stuff such as family photos, coupons and business cards.

Many women carry wallets as large as a small clutch purse, often overfilling the many slots, compartments, and photo sleeves. Some use two wallets; others rely on the wristlets that have become popular in recent years to hold only the cards they may need for a given outing.

The situation is somewhat different for men, who tend to transport fewer cards as much out of force as necessity. Men s wallets have shown no significant increase in their modest sizes over the years, so inadequate space is an issue.

But there s also an aesthetic concern with a related health issue. The back-pocket bulge resulting from a stuffed wallet isn t merely unsightly and uncomfortable. Chronic sitting on it can cause pain in the butt, back, neck and leg, as well as problems for the entire musculoskeletal system.

Some guys relieve wallet pressure by leaving seldom-used cards at home, stashing others in their car, using a money clip or slipping the wallet in a front pocket.

Several companies have responded by making roomy but ultra-thin wallets, such as The Big Skinny (bigskinny.net) and the ALL-ETT (nobulges.com). For guys seeking permanent hip-pocket relief, luxury accessories brand Coach makes a sleek rectangular breast-pocket alternative.

While cardmania seems to grow as people get older perhaps no one carries more cards than a wife and mother it s an issue for young adults, too.

Cara Repasky, 19, has amassed 22 cards within the past five years and bought a new wallet a few months ago to hold them all.

It s pink and yellow and very big, very long, said the University of Pittsburgh sophomore, a summer intern at PNC Bank. I think there s more variety for women than for men, especially big-size wallets.

Some merchants are helping to ease wallet stress.

Melanie and Rich Westerfield, for example, keep frequent-buyer reward cards on file for customers at Aldo Coffee Co. The independent Mt. Lebanon shop owners began doing so as a way of learning customers names but soon realized that a direct benefit to customers was having to keep track of one fewer card.

It s worked well, said Mrs. Westerfield. Being one that was carrying a stack of cards in my wallet, I know how it affects you when you know you have this card somewhere and you can t find it, and you feel like you re giving something away.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. LaMont Jones is fashion editor of the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: ljones@post-gazette.com.



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