Part 3: Organizing Chaos – Paperwork & Books

Part 3: Organizing Chaos – Paperwork & Books

Welcome to the third part of this series. I used to see Papa organizing his paperwork properly. He kept record of all aspects of his life: work, career, family, house, contracts and bills. He maintained his diary and wrote very neatly. He used organization softwares to keep his data sorted and maintained backup of it periodically. Although we had domestic help all our lives, he didn’t let anyone clean his cupboards as he himself liked keeping them in proper shape. He has been my role model in so many ways.

20140608_165815e Book shelf in our study room in Islamabad 

Last year when I moved back with my family, we suddenly ran short of rooms in the house. Mama came up with an ingenious idea. She decided to convert the basement store and veranda into a bedroom, dressing room, closet and bathroom for me. I intend to write a post on how it was made some time soon. Since, the store had to be emptied, I took up the responsibility to screen all Papa’s paperwork that was lying in some boxes in the store and I was amazed. I have never seen a more methodical and organized person in my life. I am really very proud to be his daughter. Now I know where I got my organizing genes from. Luckily I did learn a thing or two from him.

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  Papa’s handwritten rough notes in his official diaries
I have been in charge of managing all paperwork, files, budgets, expenses and records of the house in the last five years. I believe it is vital to keep documents in order as it saves time and money which are the two biggest blessings from Allah.

Every house has crucial paperwork like:

House Rent/Mortgage/Possession Form Passport Driving License
National Insurance Card National Identity card Insurance (life,travel,mobile,contents)
Online/Telephone Banking Detail ATM/Debit/Credit card Work/Company Contract
Bank Statements & Pay slips Car & Marriage Certificate Education Degree

Most of these documents are so critical that they cannot be duplicated in case they are misplaced or stolen. Ideally the originals of such documents should be placed either in a locker away from the house or in a lockable place. Only their photocopies should be conveniently accessible to you. If in case they are kept at home, they should be in plastic folders to minimize the chances of damage and to protect them from dust and moisture. One should also keep a proper record of documents like health center certificates (or hospital registration cards), contract forms (mobile, TV & laptop), receipts (of paid bills and important/recent purchases), CVs, government documents (used for elections) and sports membership forms. I feel that we should have a file or folder for each subject and its contents should be labeled on the top.


Labeled folders inside a shelf in my apartment in London

A really close Finnish friend of mine, Inka was once over at my place for a slumber party. When I was getting up to make her tea. She told me that she will help herself in my kitchen as every thing is labeled and that she won’t have any trouble looking for anything. Literally sugar, teabags and green teabags were also labeled in there. On a humorous note, she also commented that if a robber comes to your apartment, he won’t have any trouble looking for things. I laughed and replied: “At least I won’t have to worry about him making a mess at my place”.


My plastic folders for unpunched documents

This is for all you girls out there. Know that it is illegal for any one else to keep your passport, visa, bank cards or personal IDs even for a short time. No matter how much we trust them, we should never risk taking a chance regarding these important documents. No one should be given the slightest opportunity to deprive you of your basic rights. A lot of terrible things happen in this world to people only because they got hold of the other persons passport and IDs. Unfortunately, in most cases, just when you least expect it, it’s one’s spouse. Don’t let yourself be a victim. Belonging to a country like Pakistan, it is very common for people to indulge in such a crime, as they know they won’t get caught.  So here, it is even more important to remain in control, always.

In my life, I have witnessed close relations committing this crime twice within a year soon after Papa left us. This world is a cruel place, and who wouldn’t mind a little hanky panky specially when they know they will get away with it. In such cases, our fault is that we are the weaker ones. We need to gain more command so no one is given a chance. Another extremely important tip that I have learned the hard way is to always have a scanned copy (or a picture) of your important documents (like passport, visas, debit cards, driving license and your online banking details) uploaded on an online portal like Dropbox or SkyDrive. The password of your personal online space should only be known to you. In case you lose them or someone steals them, you will a copy with you where ever you are. If you are not prepared, the consequences can be devastating. By being organized this way, you will not be secretive but rather you will be a secure woman who is in control of herself. 

In order to organize paperwork, I use A4 sized punch folders with hard cover & soft cover, poppet folders (plastic folders with a button to close them on one side), zipper pencil cases for receipts and cards,  marker and stencils. I normally use stencils to make labels for folders as they are easy to make. I have been eyeing a fancy label maker for myself but I thought I should leave some things for the wish list also.

Life is really busy especially with strenuous working hours or with kids. Understandably, one can’t possibly put sorting on priority at all times. As you can see in the above picture, I have made a poppet folder named ‘Current’ where I just dump everything important as soon as I receive it for about two weeks. Then on a weekend while I have the liberty to watch TV, I punch all these and put them in their correct folders. It doesn’t take much time as the system is already in place. One can always ask the better half or kids to do this duty as they should also be responsible for some of the house chores especially if you work. The trick is never to let any lose sheets of paper hang around. That’s how important documents get lost.  

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Just make sure that only important documents are kept in the house. Whenever you receive letters by post, evaluate them straight away and anything that you will not need in future, needs to be shredded there and then (ads, useless brochures and envelopes). Within each file, you can sub-categorize and have a separator with each section. Just a little example of my Recipe Book. It has separators for Starters, Breakfast, Sauces, Snacks, Beverages, Vegetarian Dishes, Meat Dishes, Rice Dishes and Desserts. This is so I can easily find the Recipe I want to make, with in seconds. I prefer punched file as a recipe book so I can print out recipes and add photocopied pages rather than having to write every single recipe in a notebook.

Born in a family that is crazy about books, I have literally grown up with them. I make fun of Mama that whenever I fall asleep in her bed, I invariably land on top of a pile of books while I’m turning around at night. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night as I take out a hard-cover book poking me under my back. She always falls asleep while reading books. She has been a writer ever since I can remember and when we are having our usual conversations in the lounge, she suddenly gets up and says “Oh! I’ve got just the right book for you”. Last year when I was going through a hard patch, she got me a full sequence of books to lift up my spirits and get me back on track. She is able to find just the book at the right time for every occasion as she has them sorted topic wise.

A few of Mama’s books

There has been a transformation in recent years by the introduction of e-book readers in the market. A 4 GB Kindle can store up to 3500 books. An 8 GB one can hold up to 8000 books depending on the size of the books. A Kindle weighs approximately 7.3 oz (206 g) to 10.2 oz (290 g) depending on the version. One of the latest versions has the dimensions 6.5” H, 4.5” W, 0.34” D. This shows that an average Kindle is lighter and smaller in dimension than most books that are available in the market.  It has actually changed the whole idea of book reading. Now one can easily effortlessly carry 8000 books in their purse anywhere anytime.

For all those who worry about how expensive it is. It doesn’t cost that much. There is a lot of competition in the market and one can try other recommended brands if Kindle sounds too much to afford. Also, tons of free e-books are available on the internet so you do not need to buy each book. Some of my friends argue that they love the whole idea of a traditional book and wouldn’t change that for anything. I really don’t agree with that. In my opinion, we should give technology a chance and let us explore what it has to offer. More than a decade ago, so many people were completely against mobile phones and now it has surely won their hearts over as they all seem to be holding one dearly. I think my Kindle gives me all the convenience I could ever imagine. In fact, I never used to read books much as I used to be out and about, so keeping a book in my hang bag meant I had to be holding all that weight all day long. E-book readers have changed all that now. Now I’m sometimes addicted to my Kindle. I can easily Highlight, Bookmark, Share, or Save passages I like without looking for pens. I don’t have to be confused about what a word means as it has a built in dictionary and I can easily search for a particular location or word in the books. Imagine all the shelf space that you would save up in your house if you started using e-books.

If you also have a lot of books in your house, its important to have them properly displayed. During my weekend job at ‘Ryman’ in Windsor, I learned how to organize books and stationary, quickly yet efficiently.  Following are just a few tricks to make your self feel, and your book shelves look good with in minutes:

Organize them either by topic or by author
Now we need to make them all face one direction. I prefer them facing downward
The tallest book goes on extreme left and the shortest one on the right
Adjust all the books in the middle in the order of decreasing height
Bring all the books right in the front, in line with the edge of the shelf

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My grandmothers collection

A lot of people that I know do not like to go into the details and say that as long as books are in a bookshelf, and CDs are in a CD rack, it really doesn’t matter. Well I wouldn’t agree with that as I am pretty particular about such details in my house. I believe that our aesthetic sense should reflect in our decor.  If we beautify our surroundings, we will feel happier and we would have the clarity of mind needed to to cope with bigger issues in life.

This concludes Part 2. I hope it helps. Handbag and wallet will be coming up next. Comments are most welcome. Hope you enjoy the rest of the day.

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