Sunday Times: Do we ever need to leave the house again?

Organic food, dry-cleaning, pedicures … there’s an app for everything

Today, I had a boxing lesson, bought some vinyl, had a manicure and checked out a new Italian restaurant. I accomplished all this without leaving the house.

It is impossible to imagine now, but there was once a time when, if you needed something, you had to go out. People used to walk to the shops; they used to speak to shopkeepers; they schlepped along high streets, handing over actual cash for things they then had to lug home. This was in the dark ages before Google was a verb.

Now we expect high-street offerings delivered direct to our door. Amazon is so keen to cater to our laziness, it is planning drone deliveries so Game of Thrones DVDs can be air-dropped onto our laps. Meanwhile, the explosion of the gig economy — which will be worth about £50bn globally and £2bn in the UK by 2020, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers — and the proliferation of apps have conspired to offer us not just products, but services, at home and on demand. If an Englishwoman’s home used to be her castle, now it can be her gym, Michelin-starred restaurant and beauty salon.

I begin to wonder: would it be possible to live for, say, a week without ever leaving the house? The basics I need for a self-enforced house arrest are Netflix and food. I order a box from Abel & Cole, the organic delivery company, filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, and organic “essentials”. I open a bottle of rosé, settle down in front of the television to watch the American crime series Narcos, and wonder what to do next.

Since I won’t be venturing out to shop, I sign up for some membership services. There is a hipster trend for regular selection-box subscriptions. I join Cocoa Runners, a tasting club that promises “the world’s best craft chocolate delivered straight through your letterbox each month”. I also sign up for Birchbox, which sends beauty boxes monthly, and Cohorted, which provides make-up boxes.

Next, I subscribe to The Willoughby Book Club and Vinyl Me Please. Both of these establish your taste, then the former posts books and the latter records, all tailored to your preferences. Smugly, I sit back and wonder why I would ever leave home again.

Deliveries have been streamlined by technology, but home services really come into their own when apps and the gig economy collide. Once, if you wanted someone to provide a service, you had to flick through Yellow Pages and ring them up. Now I book and pay for services with a few flicks on my phone.

Using an app called Hassle. I find a cleaner who has been accredited, rated and reviewed by former clients, she arrives with supplies, then sets about making my flat sparkle while I lounge around eating organic biscuits.

Task Rabbit bills itself as an “outsourcing” site for household errands. It offers someone for almost any job you need. I find a handyman to put up some pictures that have been lying on the floor since I moved in. Then, using an app called Handy, I book an odd-job man, who arrives with his own paints and brushes to freshen up my windows. In one afternoon, I accomplish more from my sofa than I have in months.

For weeks, I’ve been staring at the smashed face of my iPhone, contemplating a trip to the Apple Store to get it fixed. Now that I’m confined to the house, I’m forced to get creative. I find a company called Repairly, which sends a courier to collect my phone, then, an hour later, brings it back fixed.

My house arrest also makes it impossible to get to a dry-cleaner, but the ZipJet app caters to that. In two clicks, a guy is ringing my bell and whipping my shirts away with a promise to return them, laundered, the next day.

My best find, however, is an app called Pickle, which allows users to post any job. I put up two, “Can anyone fix my vintage record player?” and “Can someone go to Homebase?”. Within minutes, two people have replied. Soon a boy turns up to collect the record player, pledging to bring it back in a week’s time. Meanwhile, I have a helper whizzing around Homebase, choosing cheese plants for me and sending photographs as she goes to make sure I like them.

Home services breed a strange mix of apathy and action. The more I discover I can get other people to do, the more I want done, but the less I can be bothered to do myself. Even by the standards of someone who regularly works in their pyjamas, I become apathetic. Why should I shop? Why should I clean? Or get out of bed? Why should I cook from my Abel & Cole box when I can get all my food delivered?

I was a student the last time I expected meals delivered to my bed. Back then, the options were limited: Indian, Chinese or pizza. Now, thanks to UberEats and Deliveroo, the fare of every local restaurant can be delivered. It is like having Jamie Oliver on room service. Soon I am waking up to fresh pastry baskets and chia-seed coconut yoghurts delivered by Gail’s bakery.



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