How To Control Your Life

[formerly How To Organise Your Life]

Part 12

This is a stair basket.

A stair basket is made (and rather well made in this case) to sit on the stairs - actually the stairs in an average Western home. The reason it was conceived/invented was to made an everyday household routine easier - perhaps safer? - and definitely more elegant.

The routine in question is that people put household items which need to be taken upstairs on one of the bottom steps of the home’s stairs, in the (often vain) hope that the next person to go upstairs will take the item up with them. The rather sad reality is that it’s often just the one person who takes things upstairs, most frequently the person who put the item on the stairs in the first place, and often that person is moving at some speed because they’re probably responsible for most of the work in the house. So they tend to fly past the item or items waiting on the stairs, only being reminded as they catch sight of them out of the corner of their eye as they pass. This person then reaches back, downwards rather precariously, and grabs the things awaiting transport to a higher plane. Not infrequently this results in that same person precipitating themself downstairs and, if they don’t manage to grab the handrail usefully, a dash to A&E.

Legend has it that it was the Shakers who invented the stair basket, but who knows? Certainly stair baskets have been around for a long time, fell slightly into desuetude and then made a commercial comeback in more recent times. Perhaps someone (instead of helping round the house) watched their mother struggling to gather everything up at the bottom of the stairs before flying up them, and then grabbed the nearest envelope and reinvented the wheel, er, stair basket. Anyway, it was a Good Idea.

There’s a company called Lakeland (formerly Lakeland Plastics) which started life in a garage (as do all the best companies of course) selling plastic bags for people to use when they were freezing home-cooked food. You’ve probably heard of this company - it’s big in the UK. Like Tupperware, this family-owned company started with a simple, everyday item which people needed but couldn’t find and buy easily, and expanded. The idea behind the expansion was to make people’s lives in the home easier by providing all the little tools, gadgets and accessories they can’t find anywhere else, not just plastic bags and boxes. Both companies listened to their customers and Lakeland, particularly, started to bring back household items which had virtually or actually disappeared but were mourned because they had been useful (carpet beaters, conical measuring jugs and possers, to name a few - oh, and stair baskets). Was this strategy successful? Not half, as they say in the vernacular.

The thing is, despite our impressive and fast-forward trip from cave to dugout and hovel, stone and brick purpose-built, to Ideal-Home-futuristic and ecohome, the way we live our lives in the home has a strong thread - we’re still doing the same sorts of things. Sure, we now tend to watch screens rather than fires and the goats, pigs and sheep have been banished to the supermarket shelves, but the differences are largely superficial. People do the same sorts of things: they prepare food, wash, sleep, interact with each other, and make the house a home, adding comforts, enhancements and embellishments. The home is the very heart of life: the place to which we return, the place where we can be ourselves, the place where the people and the things which are ‘ours’ reside.

So making life in the home as easy, as smooth-running and as functioning as possible isn’t trivial.

If the home works, the people in it work. They work together, they have unstressed time for each other, they can relax together and enjoy each other. (This goes for pets, too, of course.) If you can make the home work, you can make life work.

So, how can you make life in the home work? How can you get control of your home so that it is a place of peace and welcome and all the things we associate with ‘home’? Sadly, the answer is that you have to put some actual work in. The Victorian home, which tends to appear on the greetings cards with some frequency and is rather enshrined in our communal psyche as the ideal, had one of the largest domestic staffs ever behind the scenes. Just think of all those draperies and no washing machines; all those carpets and rugs without vacuum cleaners; those large, several-course meals without fridges or freezers - it needs sal volatile, a cold compress and a lie-down with the bed curtains drawn just to contemplate it.

So, if you’re going to achieve anything like the ‘ideal home’ without a staff ranging from scullery maid to butler then you need to tackle the thing in an inspired and sensible manner - just as you would a professional job. Sit down with it. What tasks do you need to achieve in the house? What level of cleanliness and tidiness do you want (and can everyone live with)? What level of clutter - if any - is acceptable to you, and to everyone else? And how can it all be achieved in the least possible time, and with the least effort, and without disrupting the daily flow of your life in the home?

You see - it’s a project like any other. It has goals, objectives, targets, etc. and so on just the same as any job you might be called on to tackle at work. Of course it does, why would it be different? The only difference is in importance: getting the home right is one of the most important things you will ever do.

You need to tackle the job in just the same way as you would any other management project. Maybe you’re not management level at work? Well here’s a prime opportunity to learn. If you never intend to be management in your work life, then learning how will help you to understand and empathise with other people when they talk about problems managing in the workplace. It will certainly help to understand the wider world - of which the home is a microcosm.

Sit down and look at the whole project. What do you need to get done in the home, always and repeatedly? How much of it should you do yourself, and how much can be delegated (and, in the case of children, how are you going to pay/reward them)? Note here that the problem of people not pulling their weight should also be tackled as it would in the workplace (well, the properly-run and successful workplace at least): carrots and sticks. It’s worth it: children (and others) who are made to pull their weight in the home are the most successful outside the home. What tasks need to be scheduled? And what tools do you need to achieve the job?

Ah, tools: isn’t it strange that people will choose household equipment (vacuum cleaners and kitchen utensils for example) on the basis of things like colour and how well they look on the worktop rather than how useful they actually are? Not, of course, to mention how often and lavishly they’re advertised. Feather dusters - one of the most useful and time-saving household tools - are more often seen at fancy dress parties, in men’s magazines and in the hands of strippergrams than they are in the domestic cleaning cupboard.

A friend of mine (let’s call her Sally) bought me a measuring spoon with a slider which enables the same spoon to be used to measure different amounts by increasing or decreasing the size of the spoon cavity by pushing the slider forwards or backwards. It’s a rather useful thing and is well made and obviously wasn’t particularly cheap, but she dismissed her present with “Because I know you like gadgets”. By ‘gadget’ she meant a novelty item, something rather amusing - but essentially trivial and worthless in the scheme of things. But ‘gadget’ has another meaning: a small tool with a particular function. Something which is made to achieve one function in the best possible way. Something small but useful, something for which there is already a purpose and a need when it was created. An artefact even, in the future when the civilisation which created and used it has long ago vanished.

Like a stair basket, perhaps?

Twitter: @MaryonJeane

Part 1- http://tinyurl.com/k8e4jv6
Part 2 - http://tinyurl.com/k2qtplb
Part 3 - http://tinyurl.com/lndykl3
Part 4 - http://tinyurl.com/ohdgs7t
Part 5 - http://tinyurl.com/lqlbc29
Part 6 - http://tinyurl.com/lgt8w8k
Part 7 - http://tinyurl.com/knhk9tg
Part 8 - http://tinyurl.com/ps8gun4
Part 9 - http://tinyurl.com/msu6xgx
Part 10 - http://tinyurl.com/oyxcq43
Part 11 - http://tinyurl.com/ne2wblv
Part 13 - http://tinyurl.com/pybd8o4

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