Clutter can never be organized, or What a concept of Lean has to do with household

In this article I will of course show-off that I still remember some operations management stuff from my MBA. Yet, I promise I’ll share quite some value as well, because a lot of those complicated terms boil down to a very practical and down-to-earth principles, applicable equally good to a factory and to a simple household.

Operations management in its essence is about dealing with complexity. So… let’s simplify our everyday life, shall we?

And let’s look into such concept as Lean. There are several barriers to lean synchronization (if you learn the terms, you will be able to show-off as well! you’re welcome!):

  • failure to eliminate waste in all parts of the operation;
  • failure to harness the contribution of all people within the operation and
  • failure to establish improvement as a continuous activity.

Now, try to operate a household failing on all these counts!

1.To begin with, waste is the source of a lot of trouble, delays and failure to actually get things done. Here I am not talking about an actual waste that you routinely put in your dustbin. I am more talking about junk, clutter, almost broken items stored for the unknown purpose, items that you will definitely never use again but somehow cannot part with.


  • that old vase for just in case you receive too many flowers,
  • your assorted coffee cups you used to have when you were still a student
  • some old jackets, which might still fit or come back in style
  • an old kettle for just in case the new one breaks down

— that’s all just junk and clutter!!!

And de-cluttering is the unavoidable first step in any optimization exercise.

Now, here is the secret to junk-free house:

clutter can never be organized. Full-stop.

Moreover, as we anyway generally tend to accumulate different stuff (and save it for a rainy day), clutter keeps on piling up.

I must admit I am truly fighting with myself on this point. I do have a bunch of stuff that I am pretty convinced I will never ever use any more. But then again – what if I throw it away and the next day I will need it?! You know the feeling, right?

What I routinely do in respect of junk stuff is:

  • see what can be sold or given away and respectively: sell or give away;
  • all those cards, drawings, some documents, in other words – all the two-dimensional stuff – gets digitalized. I take pictures and store them in a nicely organized folder on my external disk drive (which also starts calling for optimization!);
  • for the stuff that I am not sure I will ever use, but for this or that reason cannot force myself to throw away – I put it in a box with a deadline. If after the deadline is reached I still haven’t used it – I throw it away anyway. (Frankly, so far happened only once, yet the deadline is soon approaching for another box!)

Repurposing also works, as long as it is a real new purpose and not just an invented one to substantiate keeping the stuff. The best way is probably not to accumulate stuff in the first place, but it tends to “get through” despite our best effort.

A little side note on ourselves (not on a household):

if “waste” gets accumulated in our thoughts, feelings and habits – that also has a huge impact on everything we do. I talked about ways to get rid of negative thoughts – in  To write or not to write: why it is a good idea to write things down?  and  about negative thoughts and habits in general – in  The Nature of Baobabs: Don’t let them split you in pieces

2. Likewise, contribution of everyone involved in the household is a must. Here I am more thinking about kids of course. In my perception the early involvement of kids in various tasks around household benefits not so much the household as it does kids themselves. It can start as a game and bring them a sense of involvement.

However, aside from this and from very practical skills that they can acquire, in that way kids learn to care, to value the work of others, to contribute. A whole bunch of soft skills that will also be important for them in their future life!

3. Talking about improvement – it really has to be never-ending. The process, the system, the environment – however good it might seem to be – always has some possibilities to further improve.

  • We can save some time if we batch certain similar activities, like for instance paying the household bills all together, instead of doing it separately for each bill.
  • We can improve such mundane thing as doing the laundry by putting several laundry baskets and doing sorting way before the actual washing.
  • We can create a generic grocery basket list in the online shop and just add or remove relevant items, without necessarily going through the whole list.
  • We can create capsule wardrobe for all family members, reducing both the amount of clothes and the time spent in the morning on picking the outfit.

There are numerous ways that can be implemented to further improve certain household “operations”. The same as with any production facility.

Improvement should be an ongoing process and everyday philosophy.

To conclude, whether you have a responsibility over a factory or over a household – optimization is always a good idea, which in the end also saves you quite some time. Hmm, looks like certain business school stuff is actually valuable for everyone…


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