Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 11 Value of System In Life

Most of you are going out from Tuskegee sooner or later to exert your influence in the home life of our people. You are going to have influence in homes of your own; you are going to have influence in the homes of your mothers and fathers, or in the homes of your relatives. You are going to exert an influence for good or for evil in the homes wher-ever you may go. Now the question how to bring about the greatest amount of happiness in these homes is one that should concern every student here. I say this because I want you to realize that each one of you is to go out from here to exert an influence. You are to exercise this influence in the communities where you go; and if you fail to exercise it for the good of other individuals, you have failed to accomplish the purpose for which this institution exists.

In the first place you want to exert your influence in those directions that will bring about the best results; among these, it is important that the people have presented to them the highest forms of home life.

Very often I find it true-and especially the more I travel about among our people-that many persons have the idea that they cannot have comfortable homes unless they have a great amount of money. Now some of the happiest and most comfortable homes I have ever been in have been homes where the people have but little money; in fact, they might well be called poor people. But in these homes there was a certain degree of order and convenience which made you feel as comfortable as if you were in the homes of people of great wealth.

I want to speak plainly. In the first place there must be promptness in connection with everything in the life of the home. Take the matter of the meals, for instance. It is impossible for a home to be properly conducted unless there is a certain time for each meal, and promptness must be insisted on. In some homes the breakfast may be eaten at six o'clock one morning, at eight o'clock the next morning, and, perhaps, at nine o'clock the morning after that. Dinner may be served at twelve, one, or two o'clock, and supper may be eaten at five, six or seven; and even then one-half the members of the family are absent when the meal is served. There is useless waste of time and energy in this, and an unnec-essary amount of worry. It saves time, and it saves a great amount of worry, to have it understood that there is to be a certain time for each meal, and that all the members of the family are to be present at that time. In this way the family will get rid of a great deal of annoyance, and precious time will be saved to be used in reading or in some other useful occupation.

Then as to the matter of system, no matter how cheap your homes are, no matter how poverty-stricken you may be in regard to money, it is possible for each home to have its affairs properly systematized. I wonder how many housekeepers can go into their homes on the darkest night there is, and put their hands on the box of matches without diffi-culty. That is one way to test a good housekeeper. If she cannot do this, then there is a waste of time. It saves time and it saves worry, too, if you have a certain place in which the matches are to be kept, and if you teach all the members of the family that the matches are always to be kept in that place. Oftentimes you find the match box on the table, or on a shelf in the corner of the room, or perhaps on the floor; sometimes here, sometimes there.

In many homes five or ten minutes are wasted every day just on account of the negligence of the housekeeper or the wife in this little matter.

Then as to the matter of the dish cloth, you should have a place for your dish cloth, and put it there every day. The persons who do not have a place for an article are the persons who are found looking in-doors and out-of-doors for it, from five to ten minutes every time that article is needed. They will be saying, "Johnnie," or "Jennie, where is it? Where did you put it the last time you had it?" and all that kind of thing.

The same thing is true of the broom. In the first place, in the home where there is system, you do not find the broom left standing on the wrong end. I hope all of you know which the right end of the broom is in this respect. You do not find the broom on the wrong end, and you always find that there is a certain place for it, and that it is kept there. When things are out of place and you have to hunt for them, you are spending not only time, but you are spending strength that should be used in some more profitable way. There should be a place for the coat and the cloak, for the hat, and, in fact, a place for everything in the house.

The people who have a place for everything are the people who will find time to read, and who will have time for recreation. You wonder sometimes how the people in New England can afford to have so much time for reading books and newspapers, and still have sufficient money to send as much as they do here to this institute to be used in our educa-tion. These people find time to keep themselves thus intelligent, and to keep themselves in touch with all that takes place in the world, because everything is so well systematized about their homes that they save the time which you and I spend in worrying about something which we should know all about.

I have very rarely gone into a boarding house kept by our people and found the lamp in its proper place. When you go into such a house it is too apt to be the case that the people there will have to look for the lamp; then, when they have found it, it is not filled; somebody forgot to put the oil in it in the morning; then they have to go and hunt up a wick, and then they must get a chimney. Then, when they get all these things, they must hunt for the matches to light the lamp. I wonder how many girls there are here now who can go into a room and arrange it properly for an individual to sleep in-that is, provide the proper number of towels, the soap and matches, and have everything that should be provided for the comfort of the person who is to use the room, put in the room and put in its proper place. I should be afraid to test some of you. You mush learn to be able to do such things before you leave here, in order that you may be of some use to yourself and to others. If you are not able to do this, you will be a disappointment to us.