Taming the paper monster...

What were you taught about organizing your paper work? What systems did you see as you grew up? Did those have any influence on your current paperwork organizing style?

My father taught me never to lose a piece of paper. At home we had rows and rows of box files in which he meticulously punched and put in each piece of paper that came his way. When I passed high school, he bought me a few box files too. I still have a couple of those with me - the rest I combed out of my system.

Now me, I am a nut for organization thingamajigs. Along with productivity planning, I love trying out new styles of organizing everything - so much so that I think in one of my previous births I must have been an office secretary who passed away before she could perfect her innovative filing system - perhaps somebody like Miss Lemon who was always fiddling with Poirot's case files.

Since this is one of my pet obsessions, I have studied the organizing traits of people around me. I have told you about my father's style - the only drawback with his system is retrieval. He just files away paper after paper in no order without categorizing by year or anything - so it's a real headache as I found out again two weeks ago when my Mom needed emergency care and Dad set me to search for their medical insurance papers. I gave up after two minutes - rushed to my home and retrieved my copy of their medical insurance (which reminds me, I have to get it back!)

Other styles of organization that I have come across:
  1. Sweep it under: One of my relatives stores every bit of paper that comes her way - under her mattress.  The only problem - again - is retrieval, not to mention the chance of losing a few each time she makes up her bed. She once confessed to me that whenever she was required to find a piece of paper she usually had a bout of irritable bowel syndrome!
  2. The Omnidiary: Several people just thrust their paperwork into a diary. I have seen several who use this method. The diary could be from their parent's times - ancient and discolored and absolutely bulging with multicolored paper bits thrusting out willynilly. Again retrieval and risk of loss each time the diary is opened are problems. 
  3. The Holdall Shelf: This could be an open shelf or a compartment in the clothes cupboard. Several of my generation favor this style. They just thrust in the piece of paper and then forget about it until it is required.
  4. The Box: Now this was DH's style before he married and got me to look after his papers :). Since he moved abroad and back frequently, each time he went out of India, he sent all his belongings to his Mom in suitcases. Within three months of our marriage, I had to get his fourth PF passbook since the previous three had gone AWOL. Once I went through his boxes back in Kerala, I found all three previous passbooks. That is when I decided that I should be the paperwork keeper for our little family.
  5. The Entertainment Center: Since the TV table has now grown into shelves, many use this piece of furniture to hold their paper. I have found everything from cable service receipts to property deeds on this in various homes.
After seeing all this, I decided to make a filing system of my own - when I found that my Dad's system just didn't answer my family's needs or my requirement of easy retrieval. My system consists of three types of files.
  1. An accordion file with monthly tabs: This is where I put in all the things that come my way at first. I just thrust them into the concerned monthly compartment as soon as I can. I corral all the receipts etc. into my table's drawer that houses this accordion file and then whenever I get a chance, I just look at the date and file away accordingly. By June, the accordion file will start to bulge. So I take a plastic folder and label it with the year and put away as much paper in it as I am sure will not be required for that year. I leave things like medical bills etc in their monthly slot. In December, I do another purge of the accordion file, move everything that is not required any further to the plastic folder for that year and keep the accordion file ready for the new year.
  2. Plastic folder for the year: As mentioned in the previous section, this holds all the receipts etc. for that year. The previous year's folder lives in a handy shelf, the others get shunted to a top shelf, which can be called the Karthi archives :).
  3. A box of folders: Now this is the MAIN part of my filing system. I found an old zippered briefcase (you know, the kind you get for free from jewelers and textile shops?) and found the biggest velcro-tabbed plastic folders I could find. I labelled each with a category:
  • Automotive: Anything to do with our vehicles - manuals, insurance original documents, copies of ownership etc. go in this folder
  • Certificates: Currently this folder holds my old youth festival certificates and DH's certificates from work.
  • Guarantees and Warranties: Manuals and warranties of all our household appliances. 
  • Financial: Every bank thingy, pension papers and insurance policies.
  • House and property: LPG papers, all property and tax receipts, copies of mortgage, property deeds etc.
  • Identification papers: Passports, Birth Certificates,Voters' id, Aadhar, DL originals, PAN cards: all live in small zippered pouches. How many kinds of identification do we need????
  • Medical: Latest complete checkup reports, latest prescriptions, medical insurance papers (including parents'!)
  • Miscellaneous: For those pesky papers that simply refuse to be categorized.
  • Nikhil
  • Nidhin : For whatever the kids need to keep from school, annual progress reports etc.
  • Photostat copies: Whenever we need copies of docs, we usually take more than required. So now when I need copies of any doc, I first check this folder.
Other than this, I also use a bank strong box to keep some docs (a list of which I keep) and I make specific folders from time to time for anything that needs the collating of several documents. So these days whenever DH asks for a document or calls in a panic to say that the property tax for last year has not been paid, I calmly go to my file box and give him the required assurance. But the man is incorrigible. Last year, I had completed the collation of medical bills and filled the xls to be given to his company's accountants. He called me and asked me to keep the original bills ready for him so that he could take them to the office the next day. I searched and searched at Karthi till I was almost crying. I called back and said I couldn't make out WHERE they had got to. He called back a while later to tell me sheepishly that they were already in his computer bag where I HAD PUT IT A WEEK AGO. 

So much for being organized!!!

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