Lean Living – Applying Lean Manufacturing Principles to your Home and your Life

You may have heard of Lean Manufacturing and Lean Design – how about Lean Living? The same principles from the factory floor can be applied right in you very own home. Whether it’s the laundry, taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, or handling the mail, you can improve the efficiency of your household by applying Lean principles as if your home were a factory.

Let’s study the laundry process as an example. First, dirty clothes are removed and stored in a buffer (hamper, floor, bedpost, closet). Then, dirty clothes are sorted (usually) into lights and darks or whites and colors. These sorted  piles act as buffers but are eventually transferred to the laundry station and washing and drying. These clothes are sometimes stored in the washing machine or dryer for extended periods of time so these are also used as another buffer or storage location for ‘inventory’. The clothes then folded at the dryer before being transferred back to another holding station in the form of a closet or dresser. Sometimes, the clothes are transferred to a separate folding station in front of the TV or to a bed if there is a lot of folding required. From the start of this process to the end, the clothes have been stored in up to 4 different buffers (closet, hamper, dryer, folding station) and handled as many times.

To improve the efficiency in the laundry process, there are several improvements that can be made.

  1. Eliminate the sorting process by having separate hampers for lights and darks.
  2. If you do an all-in-one laundry load, use your washer as a hamper and eliminate that storage step completely. Place dirty laundry directly into the washing machine.
  3. Fold clothes directly from the dryer and transfer immediately to closets or dressers
  4. For maximum efficiency, wear clothes directly from the dryer and eliminate the folding and storage steps entirely.

Many of the above principles can also be applied to dish washing. Instead of using the cupboard, sink, drying rack, and dishwasher as potential storage and subsequent handling/transferring locations, simple eliminate all of the above for your most frequently used items.  When you need a dish, take it from the dishwasher.  When you are finished with a dish, place it back in the dishwasher.  This eliminates the extra process steps of placing dirty dishes in the sink, for later later transfer to the dishwasher and back to a cupboard.

By now, you’re probably imagining many other applications for Lean Living around your home.  Just a few include:

Garbage – eliminate as many waste baskets as you can in the home.  The more waste baskets, the more garage you will generate and the more time you will spend sorting and getting rid of it. 

Mail – open it and action it immediately to avoid generating mail storage piles that will later need to be sorted and filed. In general, try to touch mail only once. The more times you have to handle a piece of mail, the less efficient your home will be. If you get a bill in the mail, you should open it, pay it, and file it immediately. Otherwise, you may put it in a pile, forget about it, find it later, wonder if it’s paid, pay it late, put it back in a pile, and finally sort it and file it.

Some think that Lean Living is just a sophisticated form of the bachelor lifestyle and you may be right!