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The fire has changed us. We are both fastidious and sometimes downright irritating about our need for things to be just so.

I realized once again that the fire changed me today when I gave a friend a Christmas present with a little tissue paper I got out of a packing box sloppily taped around. It was not just crooked like a little kid has done it, there was not eve enough paper to go around it even if I took the time to wrap it properly. I did get a bow on it, I took one off of a present someone gave us and taped it to his. In the past I would have gone to my neatly organized closet and gather the wrapping container with paper, ribbon and tags. I would have hunted all over the house for some tape and then I would have wrapped the present as if it were done by a professional. The leap from that using tissue paper from a packing box is a very large one.

It was a very good friend and I thought, “This is what I have, it will do and he will understand. He has been there with us every step of the way since the fire.” He did understand but I also saw that furtive glance at me to make sure I had not sprouted two more heads.

My spouse had a relationship with business, not wrapping paper. He is a horizontal filer. Not as bad as some but he does tend toward the side of filling every available horizontal space with something. About once a year I try to help corral his filing system. When his camera bags and brief cases and books and boxes start creeping across the office floor like kudzu, I take another pass at helping him fine the space he needs. It is not so much that he is a bad filer, in fact he is very good. It is about the enormous amount of stuff that passes by his desk.

My spouse is the receipt man. Every receipt that comes into the house all the way back to 1999 has been cataloged and neatly filed. The cataloging and filing the receipts gets back up which to me seems absolutely normal. What is not normal is his superhuman ability to keep our all of those receipts organized and so complete. When you combine that huge task with all its attendant papers with teaching university with all its attendant papers with running a small business with all its attendant papers you have a lot of papers attending.

Being the organization queen in our house, it is my job to make sure that house is organized and runs smoothly. I got him a large lateral file cabinet. I found cool little sorting shelves, we appropriated an old record stand, we had plastic sliding drawers of three sizes. Then I gave him my big file cabinet since he needed it for our stuff. We added some nice wire storage shelves. He was packed into a very neatly organized office that had shrunk to the size of a cubby because he was hemmed in by our family documents, student papers  and by his reference documents for his antiques business.

A couple of years ago I asked if he thought maybe a scanner would help. I could see the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. I felt awful suggesting it. I could tell the paper was important. Reverse engines, backwards full steam.

I watched the paper struggle go on for a couple of more years. During those years it became easier to think about having electronic records for IRS audits should one come along. I kept reading about the receipt scanners they advertise in airplane magazines. They looked so nifty. I finally took the step to investigate the options for a receipt scanner. There are two categories. Those that are easier to scan and harder to file and those that are harder to scan and easier to file. I went back and forth. I finally decided on the one that I had seen advertized in the airplane magazines. Chalk one up to Madison Avenue advertising. I looked at the regular sized scanner and then suddenly had the thought that if we were trying to dig him out of a crowded desk the portable one that was shaped like an over-sized Sharpie was the ideal option.

Before it came I offered him a glass of his favorite libation and said in such a rush it was like one big word, “Don’t get mad. I ordered one of those receipt scanners. If you hate it, we can send it back. It did not cost that much and I thought it might help…” My voice petered out and I was afraid to look at him when I had so wantonly tread on his territory.

Turns out that the scanner helped. When we were unpacking from the evacuation of the fire and looking with curiosity to see what made it in the bottom of briefcases and backpacks, I pulled the scanner out of his briefcase. I said, “Wow! Look. It is the scanner. Did you have it in your briefcase?” Turns out he put it in his briefcase before we left. I was so amazed. My beloved still wanted to make sure all of our receipts were handled. And, he was using the thing I got for him which made me feel very good.

We gave it out all on those receipts for the first couple of months after the fire. We saved receipts with the promise of getting them scanned. We were going to make it a family night. We were going to pop popcorn and scan receipts. What we did not understand about the fire was that things move very quickly and that every time we turned around we needed to buy something else. We were flooded with receipts. We finally got a pretty big clear plastic garbage bag and all of the receipts for a couple of months are in that bag.

After a bit of a internal strugle, we decided to leave there receipts in the bag and just move on. We have electronic records on most of what we spent since we buy stuff on a debit-like card that gives us electronic records. The records can be sorted by merchant, date, category of purchase, amount, etc. We are using that for now. If anyone wants more we can sit down on the floor, tip out our trash bag of receipts and find whatever it is someone wants.

It took a lot of courage and personal fortitude on my spouses part to let that bag of receipts just sit there. We have all of our financial records, budgets, reconciled, investment accounts and taxes from 1999. We have had gaps. We have had years when we did not do a final reconciliation, we have had years when the investment accounts were not organized as well as they could be but we have never, ever had years when there were a couple of months of receipts in a trash bag.

The fire changed us. Things are important and how we use those things is important but what is important is different. Usually people say adversity teaching then what is important in life. We think it has taught us what is unimportant in life.

spread sheet showing annual budget, tabs for FY99-00 to FY 2013

This is a sample of the budget page we use. We match this to the receipts my spouse keeps. We also track the percent we spend in taxes, savings, charity and what we live on. We always count it good year when we save or give away more than we live on or pay in taxes!