“Society”: you, me, us, all

When we speak of “society” it can seem like something that does not have anything to do with us. We happily use the term society to refer to the number of problems that exist in it, but we are not aware that society is us. Society can only improve if everyone puts in their two-penny worth. Because society means everyone, including you!

For this reason, when the Home Renaissance Foundation affirms that society can collapse without well-managed homes, we observe that nobody is surprised, nobody screams, no one tears their clothes as though bemoaning a great loss. A dysfunctional society is a society that does not advance or grow, and we understand that nobody wants that, but it does not penetrate the heart or thoughts of many because the concept of “society” becomes more remote with the passing of each day.

It may be that another reason why we no longer give value to the idea of “society” is the lack of feeling of belonging. We do not belong to the “society”, we belong to the school football club, the neighbourhood association, the tennis club, the local gym. We feel part of groups or communities where we have a degree of influence, either because we pay a subscription, or because we feel we belong there and that our opinion matters.

And of course, you may say that apart from the taxes we pay in exchange for basic services, why should we feel part of a “society” where our opinion doesn’t appear to matter and authorities never consult us when making decisions? Who asks me what I think before introducing or abolishing laws?  We may feel so far removed from the management and governance of that “society” that we distance ourselves from the idea of society as a whole.

But like everything in life, nothing can be understood or seen in its true perspective if we cannot visualise it in a particular way. And to recover the meaning of “society”, we should take as an example that small and close “society” that we have in our immediate environment, the one in which our opinions matter, where we feel part of, that takes our feelings and opinions into account … namely, the home. Our family is a microcosm of society. And we feel that we belong there because of the unity that exists between members of our home. Each action we take has a consequence, which is normally direct and immediate.

At HRF we examine the home in-depth from many different angles, as a reflecting mirror for society. When households do not function well, the knock-on effect is immediate and direct on society.  We should therefore first and foremost take great care of the home as the microcosm of society.

Spring Clean!

KondoMarieThe web and the wider media are full at the moment of encouragements to declutter our homes, our minds and our lives. Marie Kondo’s new TV series is gaining as great a following as her books. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo now on Netflix shows Marie Kondo “sparking joy” and sharing the KonMari approach to keeping homes and lives under control.  She has some very useful and thoughtful tips on how to tackle the “stuff” that surrounds us and makes coming home more of a groan than a sigh of delight. Underpinning her system and the message of the TV series is that there is a link between tidy well-managed homes and healthier emotional and personal lives.

Some people have reacted to this message by accusing it as being overly-simplistic: “You cannot just tidy away the hurts and pains with the laundry.” Ms Kondo’s message is more nuanced than that though. She has noticed, practised and is now sharing her belief, that putting in the right place the things we can control gives us some “head-space” and time for the trickier things that get in our way.

Nobody is suggesting that a perfect airing cupboard will bring a perfect family life. It is true however that having some order and method in living together can lead to a calmer and less stressful home. If only that there might be more time to talk to your partner, teenager, toddler if less time was spent dealing with their things.

Another part of this trend is seen in the new urge for cleaning our homes. A decade ago we were asked “How Clean is your house?” by that Marigold-wielding dynamic duo Aggie MacKenzie and Kim Woodburn. Now it is 28 year old Sophie Hinchliffe “Mrs Hinch” who has taken social media by storm with her cleaning hacks, most notably running a squeegee over your carpets to see what the hoover missed.

A quick read of her Instagram following suggests that her those who make up “Hinch’s Army” are the same age – young women who are discovering the joys of deep-cleaning their homes and sharing their tips with others. There is also a strong implication that taking control of cleaning has led to better control in other areas of life. Sophie Hinchliffe has made plain in her interviews that she suffers from anxiety and panic attacks and that cleaning and caring for her home and husband have helped her to manage these.

A new broom is sweeping through the old ideas that cleaning and home-management are out-dated drudgeries. The new emphasis is on the pleasure and benefits of paying attention to these areas of our lives. The real message here is that our home environments are vital to our wellbeing. This spring may not see us turning out every cupboard and hoovering the loft, but it should encourage us to see how caring better for our homes translates into caring better for ourselves and our families. Time to spring clean our ideas as well as our homes!

The heroism of a mother’s love

Pilar Jericó, writer and speaker 
*This is an excerpt from her speech for BBVA and EL País broadcast

“Our children are our teachers and they reflect the struggles that we sometimes go through. How can we expect our children to manage difficulties if we don’t know how to do so ourselves? How can we ask our children to speak with affection if we do not know how to treat people affectionately ourselves? Developing inner strength is the first step, for only by learning it ourselves can we awaken that power and grandeur that will inspire our children.

Light Thomas EdisonOne personal history that I read and that has impressed me most is the biography of Thomas Alva Edison. Edison was born in 1847 in Ohio but at the age of 7 he moved with his whole family to the very cold State of Michigan. He was the youngest of 7 children. He started to attend school but lasted just 12 weeks, after returning home with a note from the school that he was warned only his mother was allowed to read. So Thomas handed it straight to his mother without knowing what the note contained. Mrs Edison read it and began to cry. Thomas was worried saying, “what’s wrong, Mum, what’s wrong?” She recovered herself and replied: “Do you know what the letter says? That you are a genius, a genius! They can’t teach you any more at school so from now on I am your teacher.” From the age of 11, with his mother as his guide, Thomas devoured literature, reading a great number of books. By the age of 12, he was absorbed in conducting experiments and little by little the great inventor began to emerge. When he was 24, Edison’s mother died. While he and his siblings were going through their mother’s belongings, Edison stumbled across the school note that he had given her as a small child. When he opened it, remembering what his mother had told him at the time, Thomas cried because the letter did not contain his mother’s words but said: “Thomas is mentally impaired, he is not permitted to return to school.”

That is the magnificence and heroism of a mother’s love – the courage we possess as parents to see beyond the external to the greatness within our children. That is the path we have to follow in education. We must wake up and be aware of our shortcomings and our vulnerability, and through it, we will learn to forgive ourselves and to live life with more sensitivity. In this way, we will awaken the hidden depths in ourselves and in them. The path of education consists in educating the heart to awaken such splendour.”

Warm up and beat the winter blues

By Susan Peatfield

Surveys show that the first weeks of January are a “down time” for many people. By this, they mean that they often feel lower in spirits and more “sluggish” at this time of year. Some of this is to do with the sadness of taking down the Christmas decorations, saying good bye to family and friends who have spent the festive season with us, and, of course, counting the cost of Christmas in our bank balances and round our waistlines.

hopeAnother theory is that people greet New Year’s Day full of hope and resolutions, all of which often fall by the wayside before January is out. Suggestions for beating the post-Christmas blues vary from extreme exercise regimes to sunlamps and vitamin D supplements. The suggestions that are in this article address the things you can do to warm up not just your own winter days but those of your home and the people you share it with.

Let’s start literally with the temperature of your home. Feeling cold at home is not a good feeling, but unless you have small children or elderly family members then your house does not have to be uniformly heated in order to feel warm and welcoming. The recommended central heating setting is 18℃ (a bit lower and more economical than the 20℃ of most homes). Think about the times though when a bit of a “boost” would be welcome. Perhaps when people come in from work or school or when you are all relaxing in the sitting room. Don’t forget the natural winter warmers of cosy jumpers and hot drinks as well as adjusting the heating controls.

Another benefit of keeping one area of the house warmer than the others is that it becomes the hub of home life. The appeal of the kitchen becomes much stronger to everyone when the supper is cooking and the oven is raising both the temperature and our spirits as we prepare for a shared meal.

The food of the winter months reflects the time when we were dependent on what was still growing and what had been safely stored away. Eating seasonally is a great way to enjoy the best of the food available. Although we can buy tomatoes and raspberries all year round, they will only be worth eating in their seasons. Instead, take comfort and enjoyment in rich root vegetable casseroles, fruit pies and crumbles and salads of spinach, goats’ cheese and walnuts. If you do not have a slow-cooker, maybe this is the year to buy and try one.

One exception to seasonality is to keep buying (and eating) oranges. They are in our shops all year round because different varieties reach us at different times and from different lands. Notice when the Christmas satsumas give way to the marmalade-makers Sevilles, and then through blood and navel oranges to tangerines and mandarins. These are the perfect taste of sunshine in winter.

If you planted hyacinths and narcissi in bowls indoors last autumn then by now they are in flower and scenting your home with the promise of spring. If you did not do this, then look in the supermarkets now for little pots of “tête-a-tête” daffodils with their leaves just spearing the surface, they will soon brighten up a winter window-sill or shelf.

light and walk The hours of daylight are precious at this time of year so make sure that every day you see some of them. Not from a train or car window, but on a short walk down the street or local park, or just round your garden. Dressed warmly you can enjoy the special light of this time of year and gain encouragement that in winter the natural world is storing up its energy ready to burst forth into new life – and so should we!

Happy digital-free Christmas!

By Rosemary Roscoe

I must admit that I was a little sceptical at first of the techniques advocated by decluttering guru Marie Kondo for reorganising the wardrobe  – but her methods really do work!  Instead of rummaging through a chest of drawers playing lucky dip as to what you pull out, she recommends folding underwear and tops lengthways and then arranging them into neat little packages in the drawer. That way, with everything, positioned side by side rather than in layers, you can see what’s inside a drawer at a glance – so simple yet effective!  Marie Kondo’s “joyfully decluttering” techniques and many more useful tips for managing a ‘smart home’, especially in the run-up to Christmas, are featured on a daily basis on our Instagram Account.

Robot AILooking ahead to the New Year is HRF’s much anticipated Experts’ Meeting in February entitled ‘The Home in a digital age’. The main focus will be on how new technologies can aid rather than replace people and relationships within the home. How much influence, for example, should smart devices be allowed to have on children? Could robotic voices one day replace those of parents, starting innocuously with instructions such as ‘wake up it’s time to get ready for school” but ending up controlling the way children think and behave? It’s a ‘Brave New World’ scenario that could easily come about with the increasing tendancy to converse with computerized voices such as ‘Siri’ on mobile phones.

I know one savvy couple who are clued-up about managing technology well in their home. They limit their children’s use of the internet using the ‘Screen Time’ app with parental controls.  Once the time is up, for example for social media, you receive a notification that you’ve reached the limit and can choose to be reminded to get off the app in 15 minutes, or ignore the limit for the whole day. However parents can take control by adjusting the amount of time and shutting down a child’s access to the internet once their allowance is used up. The threat of having their allowance curtailed is enough to keep their children concentrating on their homework instead of being distracted by their devices  – and  good habits are encouraged by setting them tasks to complete and rewarding with additional screen time. Dad has also set up the internet in their home so that if anyone attempts (unsuccessfully) to go on a blocked site, he is alerted to the fact on his computer!  What is noticeable is how happy and outgoing their children are, chatting openly instead of switching off from family life during the holidays and disappearing to another room for hours to watch something on their tablet. After all Christmas is about spending time with family and friends.

A very happy and peaceful Christmas!

Letting in the Light of Christmas

by Susan Peatfield

We are now firmly on the countdown to Christmas. Whether we are expecting a houseful for the holidays, or just have to organize ourselves, this is a busy and expectant time.

Many of us will treasure happy memories of childhood Christmases. The excitement of decorating the tree; the joyful anticipation on Christmas Eve of opening our eyes next morning to see the presents waiting for us; the sound of Christmas songs and carols; the delicious seasonal tastes and smells of spices and good things to eat and drink:  the lights in shops and streets; the flickering candles of Advent and the warm glow of our homes in the cold of winter.

Christmas itself lights up this season of the year. As the year gets older and darker towards the solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, our earliest ancestors protected themselves against the darkness by lighting fires and feasting and celebrating the hope for the sun’s return.

Our traditions draw on these older ones – the yule log and hot spiced drinks date from earlier times. The true meaning of Christmas though is sometimes only glimpsed today, in amongst all the tinsel and noise.

Recapturing some of our childhood wonder is one of the gifts of Christmas. This is not nostalgia but a reawakening – opening our eyes again – to all the season holds. And, again, it is in our homes that we can capture the glow.

A beautiful tradition of Advent is to make a wreath of fragrant evergreens – pine, ivy, holly and wintersweet – around five candles. Four candles represent the four Sundays in Advent, and week by week first one candle, then two, three, four and then on Christmas Eve the fifth and final candle is lit. Lighting our journey to Christmas. Although these are a centerpiece of churches in Advent they are very appropriate and meaningful decorations for our homes too.

Another way of letting this light shine is to have a special place for the Christmas story in your home. It can be a lovely activity, if you have young children, for them to arrange the figures of the Holy Family. Remember that the figure of the Baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until midnight on Christmas Eve. It might be that this is the “privilege” of the youngest child – in which case they can do it before they go to bed. It can also be very powerful for everyone to gather at the crib on Christmas morning and to see the Baby Jesus there.

Keep the light of Christmas shining through the celebrations by taking a few minutes each day to light a small candle by the crib and to be warmed and nourished by all that this wonderful season brings to us.

Happy Christmas!

Marking the Changing Seasons

By Susan Peatfield

The way life can be these days, rushing from work, to school, to home – sitting on buses, trains and in traffic – it is easy to miss the changing of the seasons.

AutumnTrue, we might notice the rain and the cold, but the real differences that mark the moving forward of the year all too often pass us by. Ask yourself this: when was the last time I really looked at the trees on my way to work or on the school run? When did I last look at the flowers growing – or not – in my garden or in the local park? Do I know which of the vegetables in my supermarket belong to this time of the year?

Autumn is, as the poet says, the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. It is also a time of golden leaves and a rich harvest of good things to eat, drink and enjoy. But, blink and you miss it as we now find ourselves hurtling towards preparations for Christmas. One way to slow down the pace and to take stock of our surroundings is to bring some of the changes outside inside – into our homes.

Perhaps you have a memory as a child of a “Nature Table” at school? Or maybe you remember bringing home horse chestnuts “conkers” and pinecones from walks in the park? If these things gave you pleasure then, it is very likely they still have the power to bring you pleasure now. More than pleasure, in fact, more a real connection with the beauties of the natural world.

Look around your home for a suitable “space”. It might be a shelf, or a small table, or even a ledge by your front door. All it needs to be is where you will SEE it – and it not to get on your nerves! (Not where it will get in the way or get knocked over.)

autumn 2A small piece of fabric or paper in a season-appropriate shade could mark out the space chosen. The display depends on you – what you find and what you like. A typical autumn display might contain: brown, red and gold leaves from a range of trees; acorns, conkers and pinecones; a miniature pumpkin or squash, a small jar of asters-“Michaelmas Daisies” – or chrysanthemums; a bunch of grapes or some rosy apples. In other words, anything that brings the season’s glow into your home – and life.

Men who sometimes work from home ‘are the happiest’

If you consider that day nurseries in the UK can charge £70 a day per child it’s hardly surprising that unpaid carework and household chores are estimated to be worth a staggering £1 trillion – more than the whole of the manufacturing and retail industries put together.
And who takes responsibility for all that unpaid work? No surprises to learn that according to ONS figures for 2014, women carried out 26 hours of unpaid work on average per week compared to 16 hours by men. And many women would probably dispute the male average figure of 16 hours!

The home has undergone substantial change in recent years with both couples having to be wage earners in order to afford to get on the property ladder. The traditional role of the woman devoted entirely to running the home while the man works full time,  gave way to women working part or full time and frustratingly trying to juggle the demands of work both inside and outside the home.
People often have to commute long distances to their workplaces, work long hours and couples are rarely able to relax together in the evenings.  Many are anxious and feeling overstretched and their children are equally anxious if they not able to spend enough time altogether as a family. When the family is struggling, relatives and elderly neighbours living alone get overlooked and loneliness creeps into their lives.
Hence the wellbeing of the whole of society is dependant on the state and happiness of the home.
But a ‘third way’ is now gaining ground – shared responsibility or the rapidly growing demographic of the stay-at-home Dad. No longer reproached by wives for their absenteeism from the home, men who are able to redesign their work schedule to take a more prominent role at home are reporting increased levels of contentment and engagement within the family, especially when they take on equal parenting roles. A recent US study claims that Dads who wash the dishes raise more aspirational daughters.
“As a man, there is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that you are at least contributing toward the physical care of your family. The best case scenario is being able to do that while at the same time spending time with them at home,” commented one blogger who has “done the entire range” – worked in an office 100% of the time, worked from home 100% of the time, and now works part time in the office, part time at home. “Dads who work from home, at least some of the time are the happiest,” he says.
While it’s generally accepted for women to rearrange their hours at work to balance home responsibilities, there’s still a bias against men doing the same.
But as the demands of an aging population add to the number of hours couples need to devote to caring for their extended families, perhaps companies will find they must provide a more flexible work schedule for both men and women if they are to retain their trusted employees.

The home is also a “business”

By Antonio Argandoña

On 10 October the Home Renaissance Foundation held a meeting at IESE Business School, Barcelona, Spain, to launch the book The Home: Multidisciplinary Reflections, which was published last March. Instead of the standard presentation of the contents of the book, this session consisted of a brief presentation and a round table discussion on the part of academics, publicity agents, professionals and parents, talking about the home as a business. The following is a brief summary of my opening presentation.

Book HRF

A business is an organisation, and the home is also an organisation, i.e. a group of people working together for some common goals that will benefit all of them, though probably for different reasons. This definition contains five key elements:

  1. The people. In a business everyone is usually, though not always, there because they want to be. Participation in the home is not always voluntary: small children, for instance, cannot decide whether or not to remain at home. What matters is that in a business and a home alike, everyone counts: the family members, those who help from within it and from outside, relations and neighbours… all of them are shareholders, directors, employees, suppliers and clients.
  2. In a business each person has his or her own reasons for being there. The employees, for example, may wish to be paid, learn, improve their career, have a good time, make friends, etc. The same is true of a family, but here it is very important that all of them are at least to some extent prepared to do things for one another.
  3. Shared objectives. In a business, the central aim is the actual existence of the business, because everyone obtains from it what they need: clients receive goods or services, the employees receive pay, training and a career, the owners receive profit. The home is an organisation with multiple purposes: reproduction, nutrition, training, care, physical and psychological security, acquisition of an identity; plus restaurant, school, hospital, playground… a place to live, develop skills and talents, grow in knowledge, capacity, build attitudes, values, and virtues… and also learn to “replicate” the organisation, i.e. form another home in due course.
  4. Intentional participation, because, in the words of a colleague of mine, “the necessary and sufficient condition for an organisation to exist in reality is that there is a set of people who are motivated to belong to that organisation, with all that their membership implies. The organisation should aim to maintain and strengthen their motivation, without which the organisation would disintegrate.” When one member starts to think that he or she would rather be somewhere else, the home begins to break up.
  5. Coordination and direction are also needed. In the context of the home this is not necessarily hierarchical, or necessarily democratic: it probably changes over time. What matters is that everyone feels involved in this coordination, each according to his or her possibilities. The baby’s involvement consists of crying, laughing, eating and dirtying its nappies, because all of that is what motivates the rest to take on their respective responsibilities.

To sum up: a home is an organisation that one is always (or almost always) part of, sometimes without explicitly deciding to be. It is a community of persons each with their own reasons for being there, but above all, with an interest in the home’s fulfilling its function and continuing to exist; and it can be replicated in new places, albeit with changes. The key of a home lies in its members’ readiness to work together with others, including people from outside, to make it a place of training in knowledge, abilities, attitudes, dispositions, values and virtues, in regard to different family members at different times. And meanwhile the home offers services to its members, which are an opportunity to live together and fulfil that particular function. The home is an excuse for living together. For that to happen, everyone needs to be prepared to do everything when the time comes: each is necessary, and each member has to find his or her role at each moment. I explained this with a phrase of my own: in the home, each member has to be ready to iron an egg or fry a shirt.

Calls for a ‘digital detox’ in the home

There’s no denying that the internet is immensely useful – connecting young people with their friends and with just a few clicks, a world of information comes to our screens. But as most of us have discovered, it comes at a price – it’s hugely addictive!

We all know people who just seem unable to look away from their devices and see so many youngsters today absorbed by their phones as they walk along the street. Their eyes become glazed and it takes a lot to peel them away from tablets, laptops or smartphones. Technology is controlling us rather than the other way round. The only way to keep it in check is a digital detox at least once a week where everyone puts away their devices and speaks to each other, before we risk turning into social recluses. And where does most training begin? Naturally, in the home – it’s where our core values are nurtured and reach fruition.  It calls for a day a week when the family sit down together and chat or go out for a walk come rain or shine, when we challenge ourselves to achieve something rather than retire to the comfort of the smartphone when the forecast doesn’t look too bright.

According to Dr Tim Elmore, Founder of ‘Growing Leaders’, an organisation dedicated to mentoring young people to become the leaders of tomorrow, parents need to stop mollycoddling their children. They have to teach youngsters to possess true “grit” if they are to survive the digital era of instant communication, where everything happens at the click of a switch and people can feel overwhelmed by the demands being made of them. Dr Elmore, whose two children both suffered severe bouts of anxiety as they were growing up even though they came from a “healthy” home, states in his book ‘Stressed Out’ that today’s adolescents are “overcommitted”, “overexposed” and “overprotected.”

“Parents have often nurtured them, coddled them, and done a much better job protecting than preparing their kids for the world that awaits them as adults. We’ve prepared the path for the child instead of the child for the path. It would be easy to assume this is only true for adolescents from very busy and affluent areas….. but it’s happening everywhere,” says Dr Elmore.

“One could argue we should be the happiest, most well-adjusted people in history with more technology, more conveniences, more stress-saving devices available than ever. Sadly we seem to be more depressed than previous generations. Times in the past were simpler and we expected to get less done during the days, we attempted less during any given day. All of the clutter and expectations are catching up on us. There are lots of things screaming at us to stimulate us –so when we are experiencing periods that are not stimulating we can feel down,” he said.

He recommends that the quickest steps children can take to maintain happy lives is to have “margin” in their days. “Those who are emotionally healthy are those who create margin in their calendar,” he says. “They schedule portions of their day to create space. They remove noise and clutter during those portions of the time. They experience solitude, quietness, simplicity. They take control of their day instead of remaining at the mercy of the busyness going on.”

According to neuroscientists, it’s when we’re bored that we can be most creative. So let’s all ‘unplug’ periodically, show more empathy and use our imagination to greater effect!