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We have steeled ourselves for weeks to use Thanksgiving week to buckle down and survive the tedium and emotional onslaught of going through our lives in the form of our personal property inventory. Much to our surprise, today a satisfying day.

Mounds and mounds of paperwork define our desks. I have no idea what is on yours. Actually, on mine is a smaller mound of paperwork and a pile of it stuck in a drawer so looks less bad. When we were younger, we had a much older friend who has since passed on Betty, who said the most effective method of cleaning was for every piece of furniture to have a drawer. To clean, you open the drawer and scoop the stuff in. Viola! Clean and you never lose anything. She explained that you did have to come around every few years and dig to the bottom and see what was there but if enough time had passed it would be interesting.

That was how our day was. Everything has been so impermanent since the fire that we are just starting to find out way though the piles and piles of papers and receipts and documents and condolences and all those things that for the first month lived in several boxes in the far corner of our hotel room and now in the corner of this temporary home office.

When we started the day we intended to keep typing things into the Excel spreadsheet the Insurance company gave us. However, to catalog you have to have information. We both found ourselves digging for things. Without discussing it, both of us went on a desk-cleaning expedition. The thing I found most often in my excavation was junk paperwork. I also found 3 small pads, two kinds of Velcro, a warranty for my porter cable sander, 5 USB drives, two dog treats (which Sophie ate) a package of instant oatmeal (which I did not eat) and a tape measure.  I have two drawers that I can scoop stuff into now. Go Betty.

In his effort to reduce the piles of paper on his desk, my spouse faithfully entered receipt after receipt into Quicken. He keeps meticulous records to the benefit of the entire family. He scans the receipts these days. After a while I heard an exasperated groan of relief. He discovered that he had scanned a whole stack of receipts upside down and it was not an error in the program that kept them from being sorted correctly. Problem solved. Expedition on track again.

I was down a couple of levels deep in my excavation. My financial job for the family is long term planning. Together we set our annual budgets. My spouse records the cash inflow and outgo and I do the planning and forecasting. Together we do a pretty good job. Kudos to both of us, I discovered today, that we have our family budgets, their end-of-year reconciliation and the taxes paid for each year from 1999 to November 2012.

While trying to round information for my delayed mid-year reports, I said to my spouse, “That money went into the federal retirement account and we will never find it since all the paperwork burned….Wait. [rummage in drawer, pop up with file] I did bring it.” I discovered that in addition to our passports which were the target of my grabbing when we were evacuating, I had grabbed from the same drawer all of the files on our investment accounts. Nice save. Good drawer cleaning, Betty.

Having been so successful with my Betty-style drawer expedition, I extended my house cleaning to include those 20 phone calls that are backed up for the 10 things you keep meaning to call about.

One of the calls was in regard to our work insurance and retirement. I bravely started by calling our human resources department. That led to calling the toll free number to our employer’s state-wide office. They heard one sentence and nicely said I needed to talk to the people at the State’s group insurance office. I called them and they gave me some information and very nicely said I needed to call the state retirement fund office. I called them and they said we were needed the ORP. By then my head was spinning and I had no hope of figuring out what an ORP was. Turns out it is the State’s “Optional Retirement Plan,” to which I knew we belonged but did not know we were to be checking with on this topic. ” Now I knew who to call, I thought. I logged onto the website for our 501K and got the phone number for customer service. I called. I got an automated phone tree. I listened for two rounds. I hit 0 and was instantly rewarded with being told that the next operator would be with me as soon and that my wait was approximately one minute. After a good long conversation with a helpful and truly funny man, I had learned many things. All good news.

When I was recording the information about our investment accounts, I entered all of the information from our losses from the fire. I had to go back and check the math several times. It just did not seem right. There was too much money. I had removed the deficit line for the now-paid mortgage but things still looked odd.

I finally realized that our home equity was sitting in a checking account waiting to become our home. I always include a conservative estimate of our home equity in our balance sheets but now it was in liquid rather than non-liquid assets I was put back on my heels a bit. No one tells you that it is OK to live with your house in a checkbook and your worldly goods on a spread sheet.

No one told us but we have learned. Digging to the bottom of the drawer of our lives Betty style, we search through the papers on our desk and the stockpiled electronic words, numbers and images and we find our lives. It is not that we live in that paperwork but we find evidence of us. We find information that tells us about us. Looking for things for our inventory, we look at photos like the one I posted yesterday of our Thanksgiving table set with family and collected antiques and we reminisce.

We think about the times we had that related to the items we are cataloging. We think of the dinners we ate off of those plates and the people who shared our meal. We laugh at the 50-year old stains that were on the tablecloth still speculating which of the four generations who had the tablecloth put that gravy blob on it. We giggled together about how our little white grocery store butter plates we bought for 25¢ look so grand in the photo. Together, from the photos we reconstruct our lives.

We learn to live them with our worldly goods as words on an inventory and as memories that cannot be used to set the Thanksgiving table but are memories that we can bring to the Thanksgiving table. We feel sorry for the pieces of history in our care that because of our fire are no longer on this earth. But mostly we feel blessed to have had those things in our lives for the time they were there. We are glad that this week of Thanksgiving is teaching us thankfulness out of the ashes of our fire.

three book shelves with antique items

These shelves were one of the main locations of our collections of American Indian and Alaska Native items. There were also collections of things from the Southern Appalachian culture. All of the things we collected were every-day items or were made for commercial trade.