Less clutter more time

Never say I don’t practise what I preach. Life took over and blogging took a back seat at the end of 2014. However this didn’t progress the campaign for a shorter working week anywhere except my own life, so I am back on the blog.

It’s one of those ultimate paradoxes – there’s no escaping the fact that kickstarting a debate and setting up a campaign require many hours of hard work. It’s a bit like the years when I administered subscriptions for Ethical Consumer magazine, at the same time as the magazine was urging its subscribers both to subscribe by direct debit and to change bank account for ethical reasons. Many hours of paradoxical extra work required.

But then, a shorter working week is about being more active, not less – it’s just the type of activity that is different. Anyway, I digress.

Today an article by Tim Harford, the FT’s ‘undercover economist’, caught my eye – Why more and more means less. It’s very new-year appropriate – it is all about the benefits of decluttering. He cites lots of reasons why this is a good idea:

  • Storage is expensive, as is a bigger house
  • You might be keeping stuff solely because you can’t think of a reason to throw it out (the ‘status quo bias’); instead, he advises, you should only keep things if you know a good reason to do so. As William Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
  • Stuff has diminishing returns. “The first pair of trousers is essential; the second is enormously useful. It is not at all clear why anyone would want a 10th or 11th pair.”
  • Too much stuff carries not only the costs of storage but also the opportunity cost of not appreciating what you have because it’s stuck at the bottom of a crate.

I love all these. I would add a few more.

  • Less stuff means fewer costs which means the potential for shorter working hours.
  • If you spend less time looking for things stuck at the bottom of a crate you can spend more time on the activities you really want to do.
  • Less stuff means fewer carbon emissions.

Win win win win win win win.

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How to get a school governed

School governors are in the news, and Michael Gove is off his head to dismiss us (especially with his urging of governors to stop singing kum-bi-yah so much. What was that about? Mr Gove, I can assure you I have not sung that particular song a single time since I left primary school myself.)

Being a school governor is a necessary check and balance to ensure accountability in schools, and a role that carries real responsibility. In the last year, I have overseen the transition of my kids’ primary school to co-operative status, and appointed a new headteacher.

Being a governor is rewarding. It is the kind of involvement in the local community that knits communities together, and allows different groups of people to contribute and get to know each other. It is surely the very kind of community involvement the government used to be so keen to promote. Remember the ‘big society’, anyone? And it is also the clearest example of user participation and involvement in public services, something successive governments have intermittently thought crucial to society. They are right.

But it is time consuming. To be an effective governor, you have to get to know what is happening in the school and create ongoing, trusting relationships with the staff, with other governors and with parents. Obvious really – you can’t be effectively involved in leading an organisation unless you know it and its people. You need to visit during the school day, to see the school in action, and to help with management tasks like interviewing for new staff or tribunals. And to have a real positive impact, you have to get involved in projects taking the school forward, which might involve anything from raising standards in literacy lessons to getting a new sports hall built to ensuring admissions policies comply with the law to improving the school dinners. A wide range of skills and experience are needed on a governing body!

How people are supposed to do this on top of working five days a week is beyond me. Yet, many of the people who do work five days a week have exactly the skills that schools are crying out for, and many of these would love to use these skills in their local community – but can’t, because they don’t have time.

A shorter working week would make it all possible.