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Before I started writing this column, I sat for a few minutes contemplating my desk. My desk is not traditional. Instead of using a piece of furniture with a top, several drawers, and a knee hole, I’m sitting at a long table with folding legs, the kind one uses at church or school bake sales, yard sales, or as supplementary seating at large family dinners.
The absence of drawers means that everything one would keep in them has to be out in the open, even files. I do have a file cabinet but it’s in my bedroom and is used as storage for everything I’ve written, up to the past few years. Material from five years ago to the present is kept in cardboard boxes under the desk.
This may sound a bit harum scarum, but it’s not. The method is my own form of madness, and is surprisingly efficient. If you were strong enough to pull the boxes out and open them, you would discover material separated by year, all neatly stapled together. Columns, monthly invoices for every check written and bank statements are all there in neat piles. It’s really a cool way to keep track of my life, if I ever need to find a receipt from everything from my relations with utility companies and the world of medicine.
While this takes care of the past, the present sits on the desktop. That mountain of paperwork is kept in remarkably neat order – well, more efficient than neat. My bookkeeping has no resemblance to any system in use in business, but it works for me.
I have a dread of banking errors. For years I assiduously avoided bank statements, never looking at them after removal from mailing envelopes. I just trusted in a guardian angel to keep track of my checkbook. My angel must have a special degree in care of the hopeless home mathematicians, since I’ve been overdrawn less than five times in my long career. Part of this is due to avoiding subtraction as much as possible. If I write a check for an amount with less than fifty cents either before or after the nearest dollar, I just move it up so that I’m only involved in subtracting zeroes and fives. Of course, this means that my balances are always inaccurate, but the mistake is in my favor. The subsequent cents amounts add up after a few years.
In a stenographic notebook I keep a monthly account of every check I write, to whom it’s written, and the date and check number. The fairly recent automatic phone teller is the best thing to happen to banking in years. It is now possible to keep track of every transaction on a daily basis.
Inevitably, computers have reared their ugly heads and gotten into the act, making everything unnecessarily complicated. If your check is handled electronically, you have to be sure to find it in its proper place.
While I really appreciate having the debit card and ATM machines, it means having to be doubly careful in entering their usage into my system. The automated teller has the usual multi-buttons to use in any inquiry regarding one’s account. Among many others, are buttons for access to the last ten checks you wrote, the last 10 bank machine and debit card transactions, and yet another for those checks you wrote, which were electronically processed. It’s up to me to make sure everything is entered on check stubs and subtracted from my account. So far, so very good.
In addition to the steno book record, I keep transactions, by the month, in a big, blue notebook, and all vouchers, again by the month, in a special folder with monthly packets.
This procedure was developed to avoid big mistakes. I know it involves several “ledgers,” all of which have to sit on the top of the desk, taking up space and adding to the clutter, but compared to everything else I have at hand, the effect is minimal.
As often as I tidy up my desk place, the results are always the same. Within a week or two, it’s a disaster area. This was always true wherever I worked, so I have to admit – I can only function in chaos.
I have envisioned myself sitting here armed with a large, green garbage bag. Taking a deep breath like a deep-sea diver, I would plunge into the dark abyss of desk litter.
As I look around, however, I can’t see much I would be able to toss into the bag. I do have two, large antique kerosene lanterns I thought would be useful in an electricity outage. The problem has been that, even with new wicks and oil, I never can manage to get them to work properly. They can definitely go.
There are wicker baskets, filled to the brim, two antique letter holders, modern Lucite paper holders, card file box, and all sorts of clever holders for pens, rubber bands, and paper clips, not to leave out four feet of file folders. So far I’ve only mentioned about a third of the items and I haven’t seen anything else to throw away.
I think I’ll just pat myself on the back for my financial acumen and not think about the rest.
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