Sunday, August 23, 2009

Swallowed Alive by the Paper Tiger

[not from one of my kids: it's PreK_Paper_Tiger01 by TheArtGuy on Flikr]

This weekend my paper problem bit me in the -cough- posterior.

This may not resonate with many of you. It is my understanding that most adults in this world, particularly the adults who aspire to be productive members of society, do responsible things like filing away monthly statements, putting their car registration in the glove box the day it arrives, and getting a safe deposit box for critical documents like car titles, birth certificates, and Social Security cards.

I want to be a grown up. Really I do. But I haven't quite gotten the paper management part of that down. Instead, I have this complex system of grocery bags, shopping bags, and cardboard boxes that contain all manner of things. Receipts? check. Instruction manuals? check. Tax records? Check. What? You're looking for the charger for the new camera? Oh yeah, I've got it here in this basket.

The boxes/bags/baskets correlate roughly to seasons, or more specifically, domestic events to which we've invited people. This box is from when we cleaned up for Cecilie's birthday party, that basket is from when we cleaned up before Annika's baptism, oh yeah, and that big bag is from Christmas and when Annika was so sick.

Wait, don't touch that bag, that's papers I've already sorted and they're not urgent, they're just, you know, things that we want to keep for some reason or other.

Right, yes, I know that box is labeled 'Critical Papers.' But that's just instruction manuals for the kitchen appliances and a tool that I wasn't sure if we'd need to keep..... Oh really? You found Lars' birth certificate in there? See? It IS critical papers!

I think I should get points for at least not throwing things out. Except: of the last 18 months of insurance coverage, I could only prove I'd been covered for the six months between August 08 and February 09. I could only prove I'd owned the Explorer for the last 12 months, despite the fact that we bought it in October 03. But luckily I had an old registration card that proved my father owned the car before me. That was really helpful. Turns out that even my 'clearing out' efforts are sporadic enough to screw up any semblance of system we might have going on.

This weekend, I've had to track down insurance papers, birth certificates, old report cards, yearly tax statements, and the kids' social security cards. Believe it or not, I've managed to pin down most of it, or been able to prey upon the kindness of customer service agents to re-print certain documents.

But This. Is. Just. Ridiculous. Anyone got tips for helping me grow up?


Amanda said...

We have a bigass 5-drawer locking file cabinet that holds ALL. And there is a system, oh yes: as stuff accumulates, it gets stuck in the "Stuff to be Filed" file which hangs in the front of the top drawer.

When that folder is full to bursting (about every 6 months), I break down and separate everything in it into piles on the floor and then cram it all into the appropriate files in the various drawers. "Cram" being the appropriate word.

Then, when I finally get sick of digging through 25 random bits of paper in the "Amanda's Car" file every time I need to locate my Vehicle Registration certificate, I break down and actually organize each individual file, one at a time. This last monumental feat used to happen about once a year. Haven't done it since well before Scarlett was born, and no window of opportunity is presenting itself on the horizon, so who knows if it'll ever occur again. One more example of my former life as an organized woman bites the dust.

As for the shopping bag filing system, I am so with you on that one. These bags are dubbed "Crap to Deal With" in my world. Just cleaned out two such bags on Sunday which had been sitting by my bed for well over two years. The good news is that if you leave that stuff for long enough, it gets so out of date that actually you don't have to "deal with" it at all! Oh, the joy of just throwing out so much clutter that used to be somehow necessary...although I did find Scarlett's original Child Trust Fund voucher in there...the one we "lost," so had to apply for a replacement. Oops.

kirsten said...

oh Amanda. That sounds SO familiar! Esp. the part about everything being so out of date that it becomes tossable, even though it was incredibly important once upon a time.

hezro said...

I have three large baskets on the edge of my desk that are continually full of junk. I manage to sort through them - sort of - every few months and I kid you not, within a day they are filled up again. When I say I sort through them, basically that just means I chuck all the stuff that is now tossable, and everything else stays put.

Those three baskets are one of the banes of my existence. Because otherwise I'm fairly organized...but those baskets are always here...lurking in the shadows...remind me that I'm a total "organized fraud". *sigh*

L-A said...

You need one of those accordian file box things (now available in pretty patterns). I love mine - although I must admit I tend to accumulate papers on my desk ... and table ... and kitchen island ... and bedroom floor ... for months at a time before transfering them into the appropriate compartment in the box. Still, just owning one makes me feel organized. Sometimes, that's enough ;-)

Harold of Scaggsville said...

I have had the best intentions, but you have described our own situation to a tee. I do think I have one of the best tools to help out and if used is awesome. I did a search and was happy to see they still make them since I got mine 15 years ago.

The HomeFile system. Whatever you use to put things away, file cabinet, storage box, desk drawer, HomeFile is a well thought-out set of indexed filing cards that tells you where to put all personal file items where you can quickly find them again and not worry about it. You do have to find the energy to put them there originally and actually go through the mail right when it arrives. That's the hard part.

Corinne said...

A few things that have worked for me:

1. I have a plastic accordion file for all my warranty and instruction manuals. I file the papers alphabetically by manufacturer, e.g. the TV manual is under P because it's Philips Magnavox. When I get rid of the item (donate or trash) I can easily find the warranty/manual and trash it as well.
2. I use a small accordion file for my receipts, separated bimonthly. Debit and credit purchases, bank receipts and big-ticket item cash purchases go in here.
3. I have one file folder in my file cabinet named Legal Documents. My passport, divorce paperwork, name change papers, and other stuff goes in here. I even have a few items in sheet protectors so they don't get beat up.
4. My aunt has given me many file folders over the years, so I have an extensive stash of them. As soon as I have at least 3 pieces of related materials I need to keep, I pull out a folder, label it, and file the papers.

I have often read that in order to get on top of clutter you have to deal with paper as soon as it comes into your home. If it's trash, get it out. If it needs filing, file it.

If I lived in MD I'd come over and help you set up a system. That's because I am a dork for this sort of thing. Any excuse to buy and use office supplies...

Amanda said...

Upon returning to my above overly-detailed response with a degree of mortification, I take great comfort in the fact that a few other commenters are at least AS disturbingly obsessive about this mundane aspect of life, and equally as disturbingly enthusiastic about sharing said obsession. I may be a psycho, but at least I'm not alone.

kirsten said...

You are never alone Amanda. There is always someone out there in the world just as nutty as you. Usually, me.

Amanda said...

I take that as a compliment.

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