Writer Barbara Toner has just released a book entitled What To Do About Everything, which offers tips on how to organise every aspect of your domestic life, from managing your budget to getting a divorce and even making a citizen’s arrest. That sounds like prime Lifehacker material, so we had a chat with Barbara Toner, starting with the obvious question: if you’re writing about everything, how on earth do you plan for that?
“It took one step after the other for a very long time,” she explained. “The book began years and years ago when I wrote a guide for working mothers when I first had a baby. Years and years later, my agent said ‘why don’t you revisit it?’ But what was more interesting to me was what had happened to households. The working ethic had totally turned household management on their head. We’re juggling and not managing.”
The process of putting the book together took two years. “The writing and the research was full on. In the original pitch, there was stuff that I just couldn’t include, because you couldn’t skimp on it. You had to give it due attention. This is the information you need to either do it yourself, or to know enough to get someone else to do it.”
Books on organising your domestic life are nothing new in the publishing world, but that doesn’t mean the older classics provided a lot of useful information for an up-to-date volume. “It covers everything that I felt was critical for household management now. It’s got nothing to do with what household management was like in the 1950s,” Toner said.
That said, old-fashioned attitudes towards budget management might be useful. “What we have lost sight of is frugality. We tend to live beyond our means. We’re constantly running behind, but there’s no shame in saying ‘How can you save money?’ If you can knock $2000 off you supermarket bill every year, that can go into a saving account or onto your credit card debt, but it gives you more options.”
“There are certain basic things with money that always apply. You should have a budget, and you shouldn’t spend everything you earn. You can’t eat out if you haven’t got the money. We’re so used to having luxuries that our parents in fact didn’t have. It is all totally possible, but what’s lacking is the inclination and the will. We fail to notice when a situation becomes critical. Clamouring out of the hole isn’t the best way to deal with life. Avoiding the hole is much better.”
Toner freely admits that she hasn’t taken up all the suggestions in the book herself. “I’ve changed some things. I do now know best practice, but You can’t expect everybody to do everything. But some things cause stress, and by knowing best practice, you will reduce stress.”
And while there’s lots of specific advice in the book, Toner said that the realisation that you could become more efficient in key areas was her biggest revelation. “The three areas you need to consider are time management, money management and food management, It was the big picture that struck me as being a bit of an eye opener. We tend not to be big-picture thinkers in terms of our lives.”
Another obvious question: has technology made us better or worse at being organised and efficient? “I think it’s a help , but the trouble is, if you’ve got an issue, you Google everything. The information is so random and you wade through all this dross which is extremely time consuming. Unless you’re a good sound researcher you can come away more confused than ever. And because you think there is an answer at your fingertips, you tend not to pursue it properly
“I couldn’t have written this book unless I’d had email and access to the Internet, but we spend a lot of time on the computer just faffing around. It’s a matter of self-discipline.”
And a final question: can you actually make a citizen’s arrest? The answer is yes, and the details are in the book, but it’s not something you want to take on lightly. “You’ve got to be very sure that the crime would stand up for trial in a court of law.”