Battery farming

This is one of those petty things that makes my life function better, disproportionate to the apparent tininess of the thing. I guess it’s a hack, though it seems too small to call it that. Anyway, it came to mind because of the usual festive arrival of thousands of electronic toys, all requiring batteries of different kinds. We used to have a drawer full of batteries in various states, rechargeable and disposable, new and old, and they all got muddled up and we could never tell which was which except by putting them into a toy and seeing whether they worked.

Last year I got a battery tester for a couple of pounds on the internet – a simple little meter. You press a battery into it, and a needle swings round to “good” or “low”, or doesn’t move at all if the battery is out of power. Then I collected a few shallow boxes to line the drawer – you could use anything, but cardboard is good because you can write on it. I’ve found that I can have the best organisational system in the world, but if it isn’t clearly labelled then nobody else will use it (and I admit I might also forget the system…). You could use egg box lids, or children’s shoe boxes, whatever fits nearly in the drawer. Then I spent a quiet fifteen minutes testing all the batteries and sorting them out into different types: new disposable, rechargeables ready to use, rechargeables needing to be charged, disposables finished with and ready to go in the recycling next time we go somewhere with a box for old batteries. Having sorted them all out, I then showed the older children how to test and change batteries, and put the old ones for charging or recycling.

Like I say, it seems like such a small thing, and such a simple idea. But it really has made it easier to find what I need instead of scrabbling around for the right batteries (and occasionally taking them out of the TV remote because I can’t find new ones), and has also helped the children take over a task that I was previously doing for them, which is always a good thing.

I can’t leave the topic without passing on a festive tip I was given a few years back. On a safety training day at work, a fireman was encouraging us all to change the batteries in any battery-operated smoke alarms at least once a year. His tip for how to remember to do this: just before Christmas, remove the old batteries and replace with brand new ones, then use the old ones in any noisy electronic toys your children get for Christmas. You get an annual prompt to change the smoke alarm batteries, and the objectionable toys run out of go much sooner (thogh if you’ve accidentally taught your children to change the batteries themselves, this is a less cunning plan).

And never give a child a gift with “batteries not included”, please – for the sake of the parents. At the very least, find out what it needs and sellotape the appropriate batteries to the packaging. Or reconsider the gift and swap it for something that doesn’t need batteries…

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