Tag Archives: lists

Life is too short not to have a Filing System

How can people live without at least one small filing cabinet in their houses?  How do they access the mountains of paperwork which drop through our letterboxes, into children’s bookbags, handed to you on the doorstep by frightening, burly men …. oh sorry, forget that last bit.  But you get my point.

At any given time, I have a pile of papers on my desk that are waiting to be dealt with by return letter, the filling in of forms, the production of other documents, ‘phone calls at the very least and almost always requiring the handing over of shining piles of cash.

The only way of keeping on top of this lot is to have an accurate, well organised filing cabinet which is regularly scanned and weeded for superfluous and out of date papers.  I have a large filing cabinet that has been travelling with me for the last 20 years.

The top drawer is devoted to The Wartime Housewife (and who isn’t?), the second drawer is for major household categories that require money to change hands eg utilities, car, schools, bank, tax etc, important documents such as medical cards, passports, birth certificates, and instruction leaflets with their receipts and guarantees.  The third drawer is predominantly recreational – Scouts, vet, English Heritage and that sort of thing.

When the car needs insurance or an MOT, I go the Car File and take out the envelope marked ‘Car Docs’ which contains MOT, Insurance policy and the log book.  Today the Inland Revenue needed a copy of a document from several years ago and I was able to go straight to my drawer and retrieve it while the chap was on the ‘phone.

The thing about accurate filing is that it saves so much time.  Having systems for dealing with incoming mail and tasks means that you have infinitely more chance of keeping on top of things and significantly less tasks of letting something critical slip through the net.

I have an In-Tray next to my desk where papers go for sorting.  I then have three magazine holders on the other side of my desk marked ‘Things to be Done Imminently’, ‘School & Scouts Letters and Forms’ and ‘Things to be Kept at Hand’.  The things in the first two holders will also appear on my (typed) Things To Do List which is pinned to my noticeboard and, when completed, the documents are either filed or thrown away.

I also have plastic folders for ongoing issues (in the To Be Kept at Hand), such as the car accident I had last year and every time I make contact with the insurers, I add a note to the file with the details so that I have an accurate record of every step.

The other things I do which I find endlessly useful, is I keep a sheet on the computer which has a list of all my regular income and expenditure on a monthly basis and every time something changes, it is updated and a printout stored in the file.   This not only helps me to keep a tight rein on my finances but I am frequently asked for this information and I save so much time by having the data at my fingertips.

My only problem is that I do have a box of filing which came with me from the old house, but it is only small and if something isn’t in the file, it will be in the box.

Without these systems I would probably be in jail.  I have poor short term memory and too many demands and variables in my daily life.  My brain is, by nature, chaotic and I impose these structures in order to function. Before I realised the value of systems, I lived in chaos and was constantly fire-fighting.  Life is just too short.

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Filed under Household Hints, Life in general, Slider

Pack up your troubles: Advice on packing when you’re moving house

As you probably know, I am in the process of moving house.  I don’t have another house to go to as yet (pause for silent, anguished wailing), but the packing-up must start regardless.  I have moved house many times in recent years and it is a miserable, soul destroying business.  I am a person who has a lot of ‘stuff’.  I also have over three and a half thousand books; some of which are particularly dear to me – I even keep them hidden behind a decorative cloth in case the sun fades the spines.  I certainly don’t trust anyone else to pack them – they may not have clean hands. Or be pure of spirit. 

I digress.  My purpose in writing this article is to offer advice about packing.  I am the best packer in the known universe and my house moves have resulted in very few breakages, (those that have happened have been the result of other people’s carelessness) and the unpacking has been as swift and painless as it is possible to be.

PROFESSIONAL REMOVERS:

  • If you can possibly afford to pay professional removers, DO IT.  Why torture yourself? 
  • If you can move at the weekend, you stand more chance of getting a discount from a local firm of removers, as most house buyers move during the week due to the exchanging of contracts. You can also do deals where you do the packing and they do the moving.
  • Make sure they are properly insured and that you understand the terms of the insurance.  Some companies insist that you have to report damages within a certain period of time.  If you are unlikely to unpack some boxes for some considerable time, (eg if you are decorating or undergoing extensions or renovations) negotiate with your remover for an extension of that clause. 
  • Have a good chat with them so that they understand exactly what you want them to do.

If you can’t afford removers then the packing and logistics are down to you.  Plan it like a military operation and you’ll spare yourself a lot of anguish.

MOVING YOURSELF

STEP 1:  Assess your possessions

  • Look around your house and make notes about the type of things you have, books, glass and china, pictures, DVDs & CDs, plants, toys, soft things, electricals, kitchen equipment, collections etc.
  • Ask your friends to start saving their newspapers for wrapping.  Bubble wrap is great but newspapers are cheap and recyclable.  Have both.
  • Ask your supermarkets for their used, flattened boxes.  Also ask them for banana boxes which are incredible strong and have lids.  Keep going every few days as they use an astonishing amount of them.  Banana boxes are perfect for books or heavy things are they’re not too big.  Crisp boxes are also a very useful size.
  • Buy a stock of sellotape, parcel tape, different colour marker pens and paper for labelling.
  • Buy some large binbags for transporting soft things and smaller ones for rubbish as you will inevitably get rid of some stuff as you go along.
  • Buy a medium sized notebook just for moving.  You can keep lists, notes, packing lists, lists of helpers, details of who you have to inform about your house move and when you’ve done it.

STEP 2:  Start Packing

  • Start well in advance with the things you do not need on a daily basis.
  • If anyone offers to help, take them up on it – a job can be found for absolutely anyone, even if it’s only keeping everyone fed and watered.
  • Put a layer of crumpled newspaper on the bottom of the box to reduce impact when packing fragile things.
  • Work on one area at a time so that items will come out of the box in a logical order.  For example, start in the Sitting Room and pack your ornaments, well wrapped in newspaper.
  • Clean or dust items thoroughly before packing – you don’t want to start in a new house with dirty stuff.
  • Put  the heavier things at the bottom.
  • LABEL THE BOXES.  This is so important.  You don’t have to list every item, but write on the label “Dining Room: Glass and China from Dresser” or “Sitting Room: Family photos & vases from Mantelpiece”.  This will make finding things and deciding in what order to unpack ten times easier.  Put a label on two sides of the box – Never on the top as the label will not be seen in a stack.  May seem obvious, but you’d be amazed what people do!  I do labels on the PC as it also provides an accessible record of what you’ve packed. 
  • If you need to spread a collection of things over several boxes, eg. a dinner service, add at the end of the label Box 1 of 2, Box 2 of 2 etc , this way it’s easier to establish if something’s missing.
  • Finish the box with a layer of crumpled newspaper to protect from impact damage.
  • Tape the box up firmly and stack it with the label showing.
  • Make sure that a box with basic kitchen equipment is moved into the kitchen early on, including a kettle, milk, tea/coffee, biscuits, a saucepan, mugs, a few plates etc to keep you going on the day
  • Put a set of bed linen, inc the favourite toy, for everyone into clearly labelled bin bags
  • Make sure that wash things and medicines are put into clearly labelled and secure bags to stay wherever you are sleeping. Include an alarm clock.
  • If anything is going to have to be stored in a garage or loft for a while, pop a couple of dessicant sachets or mothballs in the boxes or bags, just to be on the safe side.  A drop of peppermint on the cardboard of a box helps to deter mice.

STEP 3:   The Actual Move

  • If you can get a friend to take your young children for a few hours, do it. There will be plenty of time for them to get involved later.
  • If at all possible, try to have someone supervising at both ends, to direct the people actually moving the boxes.
  • Where appropriate, mark the boxes in red or a different colour to show which room they are destined for.  This will save time later.
  • Put labels on the doors of the rooms of the house you’re moving to.  Your helpers won’t know which is The Sitting Room etc or particular people’s bedrooms.
  • Ensure you have plenty of tea breaks. Moving is exhausting and you will easily get dehydrated and low in energy and spirits if you’re not sensible.  This is an ideal job for the older or not so strong helpers. Also have a radio or CD player going with light, cheerful music. 
  • Try to get as much cleaning done before the move as you can.  If you are cleaning the house you’re moving out of yourself, try to move boxes from one room at a time and have someone on final cleaning detail as each room empties.  This is an ideal job for clumsy people who can’t be trusted with boxes.
  • Make sure that the beds get in as early as possible and that you have put bed linen into marked bin liners so that beds can be made up quickly for your first night. Or sleeping bags.
  • Don’t attempt to empty the contents of drawers from chests – take the drawers out and move them as they are, taping some paper or plastic over them if necessary.
  • Have some spare lightbulbs to hand.  Some scummy people even take those with them when they move.  Also, have a first aid kit to hand; I know from bitter experience that injuries happen during house moves.
  • Buy some microwaveable meals or be prepared to get a takeaway for your first night. Cooking is not an option!
  • Leave a folder in the house for the new incumbents with information about how things like the boiler work.  In rented places it’s a nice courtesy and good karma.

STEP 4:  Settling In

  • Be realistic.  Only unpack the things you need immediately at first. If you’re planning to stay in the new house for a while, it’s worth taking the time to think about where things go.
  • Label the kitchen cupboards with their contents – just a Post It note – or the kitchen will be a bewildering place.
  • If you have decided to store some things in the loft, an outbuilding or a friend’s house, make a note of what has gone where. This saves time when you’re looking for things.
  • Introduce yourself to the neighbours, if appropriate.  Not only is it courteous and friendly, they can be a great help if you’ve moved to a new area.

Let me know if I’ve missed anything and I’ll add it in.
I’ve tried to put spaces in between the bullet points but it just won’t let me – I hope it’s not too hard to read.

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Presents: incorporating the courteous and judicious use of lists

Presents 1 - 30.07.09 There was a programme on the excellent Radio 4 this morning, in which the presenter discussed the ethics of the growing trend for making lists of the presents one wants for birthdays and Christmas.  I immediately pricked up my ears, as my family have done this for years.  The reason that we started is because we all live apart, we all have very different tastes and, most importantly, we don’t want to waste our money on fripperies that may have no use.  Some of the best presents the Wartime Housewife has ever had have been a glorious set of chisels (in their own box with little covers for the blades) and a cordless screwdriver, but I know that, on receipt of such a gift, many of my female friends would have been on the ‘phone to the family solicitor within the half hour. 

In times of austerity, however, the courteous use of a list is invaluable both to the giver and the recipient.  It is so hard to know what will be useful and appreciated and whilst one should be grateful for any gift, it’s sometimes hard to put on a delighted expression in the face of some ill-conceived monstrosity.   I was once given this handbag …. let’s just say a drag queen in Hackney was delighted to find it on ebay and we’ll say no more about it

Small electrical appliances, such as hand mixers, toasters, kettles etc frequently only last a year or two these days and on a restricted budget, an unexpected £15 or £20 can be hard to find, but the items are very hard to do without.  Books, CD’s and DVD’s bring so much pleasure to our lives and  are undoubtedly a treat but people who don’t live with you are highly unlikely to know what you do or don’t have, or even what your taste might be.  Following the Wartime Housewife’s creed that we should always attempt to repair before we replace, even simple tools can be expensive to buy and there are some lovely basic tool kits for men and women which would make super gifts, whose benefits would last for years.  Cosmetics and cleansing products are a regular expense and always seem to run out at once.  If there is a particular brand of lipstick for example, that you like and can’t quite justify buying for yourself, again it is a gift that could last a whole year. 

If your family and close friends are not in the habit of list writing and you feel it would be beneficial, I would suggest approaching it like this.  As a birthday or Christmas approaches simply tell people that, as we are all having to pull our horns in, you would like to make sure that any gift you buy for them is what they truly need and would be helpful or a treat.  Maybe suggest a rough budget at Christmas time and stick to it.  Christmas in particular can be such an appalling orgy of consumption that I feel it would be rather nice to change the focus from profligate gift giving to a more thoughtful celebration of what we truly have.  The key here is courtesy.  Never present someone with a list unless it has first been discussed or requested.  Keep the list to a reasonable length – too many items are overwhelming and frankly a little greedy – and don’t include anything that is hideously expensive unless it is appropriate to do so.

The other big consideration is whether you give everyone the same list; if you do this, you need to make sure that everyone is communicating with each other in order to avoid getting three sets of chisels or four copies of ‘The Best of the Andrews Sisters’ CD (the modern e-mail system is so handy for this).  One major benefit of the list is the potential for ‘Joint Presents’ and this is particularly useful for children whose accoutrements get ever more expensive.  For my birthday this year I asked my sister and mother to club together and buy me a year’s membership of English Heritage.  This has given me and the boys a whole year of free entertainment which will have the knock-on effect that we will do far more fun and educational things together on a regular basis.  The National Trust also offers excellent value.  My other sister paid for me to have my hair done at my favourite salon which was a lovely treat and gave me tremendous boost.

Do not be afraid of The List.  Simply approach it with courtesy and sensitivity and it will result in less consumption, more appreciation of what you have and significantly more space in the cupboard under the stairs.

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Christmas