How To Control Your Life

Part 94

What the above have in common is that they are all ways of organising, taking control of, the home.

Your home is the heart of your life - it’s quite literally ‘where you live’. If your home doesn’t function well, you don’t function well. You can’t be out there in the wider world taming the dragons and driving all before you if you can never find your sword in the morning.

So, over the centuries and generations we’ve striven in an interesting variety of ways to sort out our life in the home. And it’s become increasingly more complicated. Caves, mud huts and igloos were probably a devil of a lot easier to organise and control, if only because they had fewer things inside them and were historically lived in during simpler times. Now we have people in the home on wildly varying schedules, a lot of red tape and a huge mass of ‘stuff’, just for starters. Homes are connected with each other by more than proximity (power grids, communal fences and even house walls, for example). No mud hut had a postcode (zip code) - and look what that entails.

In Victorian and Edwardian times (and of course at certain income levels) the lady of the house sat at her desk every morning and thought about the day, the week, the month ahead. She planned meals, and visits, and entertainments, and holidays, and everything to do with running the home that wasn’t the province of the servants. How much planning she did depended on how many servants she had. A full household of servants meant that she was effectively a senior manager; a basic household (perhaps only a ‘maid of all work’ at worst) meant that she had to plan everything, from the cleaning rota and laundry rotation to what to buy in or what outside help to hire for entertaining. This was all part of her life’s work, one of the things for which she was trained from a very early age.

Have you visited a well-restored or maintained Elizabethan manor house and marvelled at the household implements? Been impressed by the obvious organisation, the number of people employed, which went into the running of a household? And these households, although larger than our own, were far simpler.

Now, though, we rarely have formal training for running the home. There isn’t even a definite designation of who runs the household (the lady of the house, the butler, the housekeeper or whoever). Worse still, there often isn’t really anyone ‘free’ to run the home as everyone in it is either working or studying all day outside it - and often a fair distance away from it.

Even worse still, certainly in the UK, definitely since the Second World War and increasingly since the Industrial Revolution, there has been a ‘servant problem’ - in that there aren’t any.

So the smallest hitch in the household becomes a major problem.

If a light stops working you don’t ring the bell for the maid or butler, tell them there’s a problem, and expect that it will be either fixed within the next couple of hours and that you will be kept informed of what’s happening and provided with alternative lighting in the meantime. Now you have to go and find out which light tripped which switch in the fuse box. (Grab a torch; perhaps find a stepladder, check the fuse box; reset the switch; check which light hasn’t come back on; check the bulb (“Do we have another bulb for this?” “What is it?” “Don’t know, I can’t read it, it’s too faint”…); replace the bulb; if no joy, check the fuse (“Do we have another fuse for this?”…) - I don’t need to go on, do I?) Then, if it isn’t the bulb, or the fuse, the next thing is to find an electrician.

“Can you ring the electrician?”

“We don’t have an electrician.”

“What about that guy who fitted the porch light?”

“He disappeared. I think he went back to Poland or something.”

“Well do you have the number of the electrician who did the lights for the PTA do at Easter?”

“No, you had that - you asked him for his card. You put it in your wallet. Didn’t you put it in the phone book?”

“No - I thought I gave it to you when we got home. Before I took the babysitter home.”

“No you didn’t. And it’s not in the book because I checked when Sue was asking about an electrician for her conservatory.”

And that’s just one light out. And the modern house is a very complicated place.

Three quarters of an hour out of a precious evening, just because a light went out.

It’s worse when you’re not actually in the home all day. Perhaps you have a cleaner, or a child minder who comes to the house (in your dreams…), or at least a neighbour who is willing to come round, open the door for an electrician, plumber, decorator, meter reader or any other of the myriad people who need access to your home while you’re out? If not, arranging one-off visits by such operatives can be a logistical nightmare. If you’re not careful, you can find a week or more of your precious holiday days used up simply by waiting in for these people.

Perhaps instead it was the freezer that suddenly stopped working. Where is the instruction booklet (or, these days, tome) for the thing? When did you buy it? How long is the guarantee? Did you pay for any sort of service contract or replacement deal when you bought it? Where did you buy it from? Do they have a helpline?

Or maybe you’re at home one evening and the telephone rings and it’s an old schoolfriend. She and her partner are over in the UK and she really would like to catch up - can she and her partner come and visit? That’s great news. Now to planning the visit. What do they eat (or, these days, what don’t they eat)? What happened last time they visited, where did you take them and what did they enjoy or not? Red wine or white? Allergies to your soap?

A household is one of the most complicated entities to run.

If you are involved with a project in the workplace, even if it’s vast (hosting the Olympics, installing a new transport infrastructure in a city, constructing a bridge across a major river), your part in that project will be defined and finite. Obviously there will be disruptions, unexpected obstacles, conflict and so on. But it’s a project: it has a defined beginning, middle and end. You’re not alone, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people involved. There is diffused responsibility. And you’ve been trained for the job.

With a household, just about anything can happen. The goalposts move so much they can be mistaken for players. It’s - informal.

And meanwhile you have to deal with the outer world. The world of red tape, where if you don’t pay this and that, or inform someone in authority of that fact or this, there’ll be hell to pay.

When you’re part of a major project in the workplace, you approach it methodically. You gather the information you need and you let others have the information they need. You work with everyone else on the project. You keep them informed, and they keep you informed (well yes, I know, there’s always at least one…). Only if people have the information they need can any project work.

And, if it all falls apart, it’s not your fault. Well, at least not only your fault. And, if the bridge is a month or a year late, it’s not the end of the world.

In the home, it’s different - and yet we don’t approach running the home in the same way. It’s all a bit haphazard. We rush round looking for things, time after time. We don’t have the information we need to hand. We simply can’t remember what agreements we’ve entered into. Often we don’t even know the basics about the infrastructure of our homes.

This is not good.

Yet nearly every home has access to a computer. So you could have access to a household database.

A database is not Access, it’s not even Evernote, it’s a collection of data. Data is information. It’s everything you’ve ever known about your household, the people who visit it, and its relation to the outside world. It’s not just what you know, it’s what everyone in the home knows. If someone mentioned to your partner in the pub that Fred has a son who is doing an apprenticeship as an electrician, that information should be in your household database. Even if Fred’s son can’t fix your light, he’s working in a firm with a whole load of other people who can. When you bought that fridge freezer, where did you put the paperwork which came with it (including the extended guarantee)? If you put it in a folder or a filing cabinet, well and good - but this is 2016. Computers appeared in the home in the 1980s - and computers can find data one hell of a lot faster than we humans can. And you’re probably carrying a computer around with you - as in you have one with you at work which is where you’re likely to be when you have ten minutes to spare to telephone someone to come and mend the fridge freezer. A digital database can be right there with you, but you’re not going to lug your paper filing system, however beautifully maintained, with you to work each day are you?

Even if you just put all your household data into a wordprocessing program, it’s better than a paper-based system and it’s one devil of a lot better than nothing. If the first three hundred pages are about something other than your fridge freezer, the computer will be able to find ‘fridge freezer’ on page 301 in a couple of seconds or less. And there will be all the documents, scanned in, relating to the purchase of your fridge freezer. Oh look - you paid for an extended guarantee and there’s a freephone number; job done. And your neighbour Jenny said that she could arrange for her niece to let someone in and wait in the house if you ever needed it, for pocket money as she’s saving up for driving lessons: type “Jenny” and “niece” and there’s her number on page 163.

You don’t even have to put anything in order. You don’t have to learn a complex database like Microsoft’s Access and set up a complicated structure with lots of fields and dependencies and whatever else. Just find a database program you like the look of and bung all your data into it. You’ll need a scanner, but they’re incredibly cheap now (or you may even have one already as part of your printer). Make sure it’s a database you can carry with you - so if you carry your phone everywhere but not your laptop, then choose a database which goes on your phone. And back up your database (you can’t do that with a paper filing system).

Not only will you have your data to hand, wherever you are, in any situation or emergency, but having everything with you will give you a tremendous feeling of control over your life.

And, actually, it will give you control over your life.

Twitter: Maryon Jeane

Part 1 —
Part 2 —
Part 3 — 
Part 4 —
Part 5 —
Part 6 —
Part 7 — 
Part 8 —
Part 9 — 
Part 10 —
Part 11 —
Part 12 —
Part 13 —
Part 14 —
Part 15 —
Part 16 —
Part 17 —
Part 18 —
Part 19 —
Part 20 —
Part 21 —
Part 22 —
Part 23 —
Part 24 —
Part 25 —
Part 26 —
Part 27 —
Part 28 —
Part 29 —
Part 30 — 
Part 31 —
Part 32 —
Part 33 —
Part 34 —
Part 35 —
Part 36 —
Part 37 —
Part 38 —
Part 39 —
Part 40 —
Part 41 —
Part 42 —
Part 43 —
Part 44 —
Part 45 —
Part 46 — 
Part 47 —
Part 48 —
Part 49 —
Part 50 —
Part 51 —
Part 52 —
Part 53 —
Part 54 —
Part 55 —
Part 56 —
Part 57 —
Part 58 —
Part 59 —
Part 60 —
Part 61 —
Part 62 —
Part 63 —
Part 64 — 
Part 65 —
 Part 66 —
 Part 67 —
 Part 68 —
 Part 69 —
 Part 70 —
 Part 71 —
 Part 72 —
 Part 73 —
 Part 74 —
 Part 75 —
 Part 76 —
 Part 77 —
 Part 78 —
 Part 79 —
 Part 80 —
 Part 81 —
 Part 82 —
 Part 83 —
 Part 85 —
 Part 86 —
 Part 87 —
 Part 88 —
 Part 89 —
 Part 90 —
 Part 91 —
 Part 92 —
 Part 93 —

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