By getting rid of stuff you don’t need, budgeting your income and expenses, there will be many more possibilities to choose from. Living with less and cutting your costs can enable you to take sabbaticals, or mini-retirements as they’re called nowadays, to travel, study or be at home with your kids. With less gadgets and appliances there are less maintenance costs. Not being overwhelmed with clutter can help you to find out what’s important for you in life and to find the root cause of problems, not only the symptoms. Self-discipline is an important skill when it comes to making changes and reaching goals. Resilience is helpful when coping with setbacks, stress and adversity.
Exit the rat race. Improve your health and refresh your skills.
I recently asked my daughter to take a look at the clothes she owns. She likes to go shopping and buy fashionable clothes. I wanted her to realize how much she already has. As I was going through my own clothes I similarly put all of my daughter’s clothes in a pile on the floor. She was surprised how big the pile was. I asked her if she is really using everything. She immediately said no and I asked what she was going to do with the stuff she isn’t using. My daughter divided the space into three areas:
I am currently using this
I will use, but it is not the season for it now (e.g. summer dresses during winter)
Doesn’t fit or I don’t use
The process of organizing her clothes didn’t take much time. I think we had everything done within 30 minutes. I took a black garbage bag where we put the stuff she isn’t using anymore. We put the summer dresses and other off-season clothing in a closet. She wanted to have the clothes she is using now in her own room, but she doesn’t have any kind of closet there. I suggested that she could put the clothes (shirts, pants) on hangers and have a clothes rack in her room. She liked the idea very much and afterwards said it’s easy to look what to wear and put the clothes back on hangers when she’s not using them. I think the clothes rack provides a good overview of all the clothes she owns. I’ve noticed it’s better to have everything in one place rather than having stuff spread all over the apartment in different closets, boxes and drawers. In addition to the clothes rack my daughter has, she uses two drawers where she stores her socks and underwear.
Of course there is a great chance that the clothes will end up dusty if they are stored on a clothes rack and not used for a while. That’s maybe the only downside I can think of. On the positive side the clothes rack doesn’t need any drilling and it can be easily moved from one place to another. Additionally, the clothes are in front of you every day and it’s not possible to “hide and forget them” somewhere in a closet. The clothes rack shouldn’t be too wide, as then it’s collecting much of extra clothing that’s not really being used. I have my own clothes in a wardrobe at the moment, but this was a good insight into a different alternative. And it’s really easy to put the clothes on hangers and back on the rack. As I don’t like to drill and have holes in the walls, the clothes rack is an easy solution, not requiring any extra effort.
Storage Idea for Shoes: An Old Bookcase
I like the idea of trying different alternatives and reusing stuff for other purposes. Shoes are usually a problem and there doesn’t seem to be any proper way of storing them. I have searched for all kinds of alternatives until I came up with an idea: for shoes an old bookcase could be handy. As people are nowadays reading more on the internet, using tablets or phones, more and more bookcases are empty or are only used for decoration. If you don’t own a bookcase, it’s possible buy a used one for a good price. I’m already using a bookcase for shoes, to store a laundry basket and the kids’ toys, and the next time I’m rearranging stuff I will extend this concept to have the shoes neatly stored in one place. One important thing about the bookcase is that the places of the shelves should be possible to adjust depending on the size of the shoes.
Cleaning is easy if it’s possible to vacuum under the bookcase. If the shoes are sandy or dirty you can cover the shelf with some material that’s easy to clean. There are all kinds of bookcases available and even if it’s a small place there is certainly some alternative that will fit and that doesn’t require any drilling or other complicated assembly or tools.
I’m not sure exactly how many pieces of clothing I own, but I don’t find it very interesting as I know it’s not that many. What makes things more challenging with a minimalist or capsule wardrobe is that in my country we have four seasons with large variations in temperature.
Merino wool was the key to reduce the number of clothes I own. It’s possible to wear the clothes made of merino wool for days or weeks and they don’t smell or feel dirty. As I no longer have an office job that would require a certain outfit, like wearing a suit, it made things even simpler. I don’t own any dress just-in-case-of-a-cocktail-party, because I know it’s very unlikely that I would go to any such party in the near future.
My wardrobe consists of this:
I have most of my shirts, jackets and pants on hangers
Contents of Basket No 1: underwear and socks
Contents of Basket No 2: sports outfit, pajamas & random
I haven’t used any specific decluttering method to organize my wardrobe. I have read the KonMari book and I think her ideas are fantastic. But in my situation there is no need to fold the clothes according to the KonMari method – there simply isn’t anything left to fold!
There are many different materials a futon can be made of. Some of the mattresses are thicker, some are thinner. I wouldn’t recommend to buy one before trying it in a shop. If you want to roll up the futon during the day, some materials are easier to roll than others. The futon I have is quite thick and it’s made of cotton and foam. This combination of materials should make it fairly easy to roll up the futon.
If the futon is used directly on the floor without a bed frame and you want to roll it up during daytime, the main thing is to have a futon that is both comfortable but also possible to roll and move to the place where you want to keep it. If you are using the futon in a bed frame it can be difficult to get the futon out of the bed frame alone. The rolling part is not so difficult, but getting a good grip and being able to get it out of the bed frame can be more challenging. Futons are heavy.
The downside of sleeping on a futon directly on the floor is that even if it saves space during the day when it’s rolled up, the futon itself is so big it hardly fits into any normal closet. Even if the floor is vacuumed regularly there will be some dust, which means that the sheets are dustier compared to the situation where the mattress is in a bed frame. It’s not recommended to leave the futon on the floor for a longer period of time as a lack of air circulation can lead to issues with mold. For those who are suffering from hay-fever it could be useful to check what kind of material the tatami is made of when considering to buy one. It the futon doesn’t fit into a closet and must be left somewhere in the room for the day there’s also a chance it’s collecting even more dust. The blankets, sheets and pillows also need to be put somewhere during the day and they take more space than expected. The pillows and blankets should be covered with something to avoid dust.
The futon I now have is the best bed I’ve ever had. I would still like to have the futon placed directly on the floor without a bed frame, but lately I’ve been concerned about the dust. And it’s not easy to “hide” the futon somewhere during the day. It looks like a weird decoration in the living room…
It took about two years to finish the decluttering project. I didn’t use any specific method (e.g. KonMari) and the aim wasn’t to do everything at once. Some items were more difficult than others and that’s why it took time. It wasn’t always easy to decide whether to try to sell something or give it away for free. Some old stuff from the childhood or related to other memories were time-consuming as it wasn’t easy to decide what to do with them, or it took time to let go of things. In sum, I didn’t save much of it, finally I got rid of almost everything. It took some time to get used to the idea, but it was the right decision, thinking about it afterwards. And I like more the Kaizen type of method where you take small steps every day to improve the situation. So in a way the project will never end, because some part of it can always be improved. Of course, to see some quick results, KonMari as a method could be better.
But what next? I have reached a level where I think I now only have the stuff I really need (or there is very little extra of it, yes, some bracelet or kitchen knife that I could still get rid of). The question is what to do with all the empty space? I was trying to find ideas to solve this problem, but there were none to be found. There is much written about efficient decluttering techniques or methods, but what happens when you have reached the point that you are ready and don’t know what to do with the empty space? There is a risk that the empty space is being filled up again with furniture or other stuff. Or is the only solution to move to a smaller apartment and downsizing even more? To buy useless furniture doesn’t seem like a solution. The empty space looks weird. But the good thing about it is that cleaning isn’t time-consuming, or there is hardly any cleaning that needs to be done. I can find everything I need, and with the decluttered wardrobe I have no issues with what to wear. I have changed most of my clothing to clothes made of merino wool that need to be washed very seldom. This means that the wardrobe can consist of less pieces of clothing as it is possible to wear the same pair of socks or the same shirt for several days or weeks.
Before this decluttering project I always thought the only and logical decision was to move to a bigger apartment or house “as the kids are growing and they need more space”. The kids nowadays need less and less stuff as they are only interested in electronic devices. If I meet someone for coffee it is usually in the city center, not at home. Owning a big coffee table and having sofas around it was some idea from the past, but it isn’t necessary nowadays. To be honest I have thought about getting rid of the sofa. Nobody uses the sofa, it is more like a big decoration in the living room.
I don’t like to pay for extra space I don’t need. Maybe the decluttering will result in further downsizing.
When I was looking for information about futon mattresses I found websites where people were telling they sleep on the floor (without a mattress) and that they feel it’s better for the back, blood circulation and has various other positive health effects. Some people claimed that they never feel tired in the morning when sleeping on the floor. There were some debates about the pros and cons of sleeping on the floor. The disadvantages usually had to do with dust and that it can be cold to sleep on the floor. Interviews had been conducted with specialists in the area, but they didn’t seem to come to any conclusion. Some said it is individual, others were talking about the flexibility of the mattress that is giving support and enables the right position of the spine. One of the most common arguments why one should sleep on the floor was that our ancestors did it (and they didn’t experience as much back pain as we do nowadays?). Others were arguing that our ancestors were in fact sleeping on dirt floors which can be structured into comfortable forms and that is why it differs from sleeping on a hardwood floor, which was not considered good for the health.
In sum, neither did these experts nor writers seem to come to a conclusion if there are positive health effects when sleeping on the floor. Some said yes, some said no. In my opinion it’s another thing that is individual – not the same solution fits everyone. Sleeping on the floor is cheap and “the bed” can easily be moved to another room if needed. It saves space and doesn’t require a bed frame. Who loves putting together a bed frame? When you move to your new home it will probably not fit into your new house. First you try to assemble it but then notice it will not fit. Try to sell the old bed frame (if someone is still willing to pay for it, otherwise try to get rid of it elsewhere) and buy a new (expensive) one. It looks comfortable with the blankets and cushions, but is it maybe too comfortable – I don’t want to get up in the morning! There are certainly many more aspects that could be discussed, but now to the practical stuff: because many people recommended to start sleeping on the floor I decided to give it a try. I have been sleeping on a futon mattress on the floor (without a bed frame) for a few years and I thought the change will not be significant. Well, I was wrong. Here is my report:
The first night the hardwood floor felt too hard as a surface to be sleeping on. It didn’t take me much time to realize this. Lying down on a carpet wasn’t helpful either. So I decided to take a thin yoga mat and put it on the carpet. I wasn’t able to fall asleep. I remembered what I had read, people said the first few nights can be difficult when your body is trying to adjust to the new surface. After midnight I was still awake and took a blanket and put it on top of the carpet and the yoga mat. So now I was trying to sleep on a carpet plus a yoga mat plus a blanket. At some point I fell asleep. However I wasn’t able to count how many times I woke up that night. My hips were aching. I tried to put as much of the blanket as possible under my hips, but the surface was still too hard. I was very tired the next morning. I would be pretty sure there were no benefits of sleeping on the floor.
When I tried this for the second night I was already sure I will need the carpet, yoga mat and the blanket I had been using the previous night. And an extra blanket… But I wasn’t able to get any sleep. At some point I have probably managed to fall asleep but I was immediately awake again. Was I doing something wrong? My hips were aching again. This was far from the experiences of the other people “I’m never feeling tired in the morning”. What? I was exhausted. But I wasn’t going to give up.
The third night started with the same settings: carpet, yoga mat and blankets. I was trying to be positive about sleeping on the floor and thinking about the potential health benefits. But there just didn’t seem to be any benefits for me. Maybe I fell asleep at some point but woke up I don’t know how many times during the night because my body was aching.
“Change can take time”, I was trying to convince myself. And same stuff again the fourth night: carpet, yoga mat, blankets. Nothing had changed. My body was aching again, especially my hips. After midnight I gave up and moved to the sofa. I was so tired and my body was aching and aching.
Now it’s been some time since this project. I decided to give it another try. Just one more night. No sleep and an aching body again. Maybe more of this later, not now.
To make New Year’s promises is a common tradition. But are we fooling ourselves by making promises we will not keep? Why would a promise at the beginning of a year lead to results if we have not been able to achieve results already during the previous years? I think many people tend to forget that in order for something to happen, i.e. change to be made, you have to change your routines and start doing things differently. Many people I have talked to dream of a clean and decluttered house as well as a better financial situation. But when it comes to making changes to the current situation, it becomes evident that there will be no change. It is just talk and some nice words. Or “I just can’t do it at this particular moment”.
So I think the first New Year’s promise should be to give a thought to one’s willingness to change things if results should be achieved. Am I ready to go to the gym twice a week from now on? Is it just what I think should be done and my conscience is clear if I list it as a New Year’s resolution? There is a very small chance that hoping and dreaming will change anything. Action needs to be taken for things to change. Think of a company’s strategy. What action must be taken when striving to achieve the objectives? The daily routines of the staff must involve activities that are helpful in achieving the goals. If you make promises about goals and targets, what do you do daily in order to achieve them? Example: My goal is to have a clean and tidy home every day. If the daily routines don’t include cleaning and tidying up after every meal, not leaving clothes on the floor and the sofa, this goal will never be possible to achieve. Then once again before Christmas and before birthday parties there is a feeling of panic and a huge cleaning project ahead. Nothing has changed. The start is usually the most difficult part. When you have done it enough times it becomes a routine and it is a lot easier.
So don’t promise yourself things that will never happen. The only result of that will be disappointment and a feeling of failure. Promise things you will in fact do and start working on them immediately! It is very rewarding to see the results!
Some time ago I read an article about a Japanese guy who lived in an extremely minimalist apartment. He hardly owned any furniture or kitchen appliances. His wardrobe didn’t contain many pieces of clothing. At this point I was thinking yes, one could sleep on a mattress and only own one chair – but, did this guy do laundry every day because he only owned two or three pairs of socks? The article didn’t say if he had a washing machine (I doubt he did). Or maybe he just didn’t care if his feet smelled…?
Some months later I realized it is in fact possible to own only two pairs of socks, not doing laundry every, or every other day, and the socks don’t smell. I was buying new socks and decided to give merino socks a try. I have lately changed most of my shirts to merino wool shirts, as they don’t smell and they need to be washed very seldom. I used to change socks every day (because of the sweat/smell, as well as shirts), but now I wear the same pair of socks for a week, or sometimes even for two weeks! They neither smell nor feel ugly. If I apply this tactic to the rest of my wardrobe I think my wardrobe becomes as minimalist as the one of this Japanese guy! How many clothes does one really need? At the same time I save money by using less electricity and water as I’m not using the washing machine as often as it used to. I also need less detergent, as there is not much laundry to do. But I still own more forks, knives and spoons than this guy. And furniture. Maybe there is some logic behind this that I have not yet understood.
For decades, organizations have used different methodologies for process improvement in order to reduce costs and to enhance customer satisfaction. If these methodologies can be used across different business areas and industries, they can most certainly be applied for private purposes as well. Imagine the processes of an office: filling out Excel sheets, updating customer data into the IT system, sending invoices, entering debits and credits in the accounting system. We have similar routines in our daily lives. We have breakfast, cook dinner, vacuum the house, shop for groceries, do laundry – there is a long list of tasks to keep the daily routines running. I wonder how many people have ever thought, or written on a piece of paper, what these tasks include and what possibilities there are to make them work more efficiently. Or are some of the tasks only routines we once started and thought they are mandatory in some way, but in fact we could get rid of the whole task and nothing would happen? How often do we revise our routines? How can we get out-of-the-box type of ideas when trying to improve what we do?
The thesis topic for my MSc Technology studies is about Lean in a healthcare environment. In the research articles I have read there is much discussion about whether or not Lean can be used in other industries than the manufacturing business, and if is it useful in a public service, provided by the government. Lean originates from the car manufacturing business of Toyota in Japan. By reading about Lean’s history it becomes evident that it is all about trying out new ways of solving problems (hands-on method, not sitting in an office in front of a computer), and by trial and error finding out the best and most efficient ways to work. The key thing is that it must be done on a continuous basis. If a problem appears somewhere it should not be corrected tomorrow or next week. The idea is to have an error-free production and whenever a problem appears it is fixed immediately and not let go forward to the next process because then most likely nobody will fix the issue and the problems keep appearing and the customers will get defect products, which they will make a complaint about and the company will get a bad reputation. In addition, it is costly to fix the problems afterwards. The method also emphasizes the importance of doing only things that matter, at the right time and the right place, being organized and persistent, and listening to other people’s opinions, i.e. seeing things from different perspectives. If the work environment is clean and organized and the work is done as the process description says, the potential issues, risks and problems are easier to find.
The fundamental idea behind Lean is to produce exactly what the customer wants, at the lowest possible price, and producing no waste. So in short, do things that create value and get rid of waste! Sounds easy, but when you try to apply this philosophy in a new environment the definitions of “value-creating” and “waste” are not always clear. There are different Lean tools that can be helpful when defining what to do and what to avoid. Value stream analysis is a map that documents the parts of a process. By analyzing this step-by-step the parts of the stream that bring value and the parts that should be considered as waste can be identified. Much emphasis is put on PDCA or Deming’s circle, which consists of Plan, Do, Check and Act. This means that whenever problems are solved and changes are made, the first step is to plan what needs to be changed. Then the plan is carried out, usually first as a small-scale project, to see if it’s working as planned. The third step, check, is where the outcome is analysed and there is a discussion about what has been learned about the case. The last step is to act, which means to decide if the way that was tested will be the way of working from now on, or does it need some kind of modifications or testing in another environment before it can be applied. If needed, the PDCA then starts from the beginning again. In my opinion this is a good reminder: whatever you want to be good at or when you find a situation that needs improvement, action needs to be taken in order to make changes, but don’t expect miracles to happen overnight. Testing, trial & error, and patience are needed.
Muda is the Japanese word for waste. It is an activity that creates no value. For example if you work in an office and your desk is a mess and every time you need to find a document it takes you fifteen minutes to find it. The time that you use for finding the document is muda, waste, not a value-creating activity. If you work as a nurse in a hospital and need to measure the blood pressure of the patients, but the device is stored far away from the patients and you as a nurse must walk to the place where it is stored many times every day, this extra walking is considered as waste, because it is inefficient and doesn’t create any value for the patient. The solution is to analyse which the best place, near the patient, where the device can be stored.
JIT, or Just-In-Time, means that only the products that are needed at this particular time are ordered, stored or bought. It is very costly to have items stored in warehouses if they can be quickly delivered whenever they are needed. There is also a risk that there are changes on the market and the stuff that is stored in the warehouse cannot be used or sold.
5S is an abbreviation of Seiri (Sort), Seiton (Straighten, Set), Seisto (Shine, Sweep), Seiketsu (Standardize) and Shitsuke (Sustain). What this means is that take the stuff that you have at your desk at work, items in a warehouse or toys in the child’s room and start doing the 5S’s to clean the place and keep it organized. First you sort what you need and put them orderly to the place where they belong. Then wash, scrub, mop, rinse, polish or whatever needs to be done for the place to look clean. The purpose of standardization is that everyone who takes these items knows where to put them back or what to do with them. Sustaining means that this is not a one-time event that is done on the day someone came up with it, but it happens today and every time in the future.
Last but not least, remember Kaizen. The Japanese word Kaizen is usually translated as “continuous improvement”. Any change that eliminates waste and creates value counts, however small that action taken is. Kaizen strives for perfectionism and zero mistakes. Kaizen is part of the daily work. By taking small continuous Kaizen steps processes are improved over time.
So can you benefit from all this at home and in you private life? Yes, our daily lives consist of processes and they can be improved (and hence money and time can be saved). It’s rewarding to find better and smarter solutions. Let’s look at the process of cleaning the house. Is cleaning taking too much time? Is it a frustrating activity? Well, cleaning is value-creating as it (for probably most of us) feels more comfortable to live in a clean home than in the middle of a chaos covered with dust. Is it possible to identify steps that can be categorized as “waste” in the cleaning process at home? 5S is useful when decluttering and deciding which items to keep and what kind of storage system is needed for them. Let’s take a look and try to find out the root causes of the problem.
Is cleaning time-consuming because the space being cleaned is simply so huge? Or do you need to move each piece of furniture in order to get the vacuuming properly done? Or is decluttering actually taking more time than the cleaning (vacuuming) itself? Try to tackle one of the problems first. Come up with ideas of how to improve the situation. Can you have a clutter-free home and see if it improves the situation? Can you get rid of some of the furniture, especially those that have a negative effect on the weekly cleaning and are not really mandatory for any function in the house? Make small changes, one by one, and analyse if the change was helpful or not. If it was – good, if not, try something else. Remember to try to find the root causes, i.e. the real issues that are causing the problems, not just the symptoms. Try out different alternatives until you find a method that works! It’s seldom that the solution is found immediately, it takes some trial-and-error to test different methods. It’s as simple as that!
Nowadays I spend less than 30 minutes a week on cleaning my home. I accomplished this by having only the necessary pieces of furniture, a decluttered table and counter tops and just four rugs that are easy to vacuum. The furniture are either easy to move when necessary or can easily be vacuumed under. When there’s enough space to move around with the vacuum cleaner, it’s more motivating to get the cleaning done. The advantage of living in a small apartment is that the space to be cleaned is small and less time-consuming. It takes 10-15 minutes to vacuum the apartment, another 10-15 minutes to clean the toilet and 5-10 minutes can be used for any miscellaneous cleaning.
Remember to think from different perspectives when applying Kaizen. If your problem is that you don’t know where to put your stuff and you are thinking about your options – is the right decision for you: (a) to buy a new cabinet where you can put your stuff, or (b) to get rid of the stuff and save the money that you planned to spend on a new storage system? Sometimes the optimal solution is not the most obvious one. When my oven broke my immediate reaction was to buy a new one, just because it seems that an oven is a standard device that is installed in every home, and because everyone seems to have one. But I decided not to buy a new oven and see if I was able to manage without one. Now I haven’t had a functioning oven for over a year and I haven’t really missed it. Once again I was confirmed that habits are steering us more than we think. The oven was creating very little or no value at all. And I must admit that cleaning an oven is something I hate. Got rid of that problem as well! It’s a reminder to ask oneself how much we are surrounded by habits (and how much bad habits are steering us) and social pressure and how much in what we do have anything to do with our real needs and facts.
References and Further Reading:
Brandao de Souza, L. (2009). Trends and approaches in lean healthcare. Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 121-139.
D’Andreamatteo, A., Ianni, L., Lega, F. & Sargiacomo, M. (2015). Lean in healthcare: A comprehensive review. Health Policy, No. 119, pp. 1197-1209.
Drotz, E. & Poksinska, B. (2014). Lean in healthcare from employees’ perspectives. Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 177-195.
Larsson, L. (2008). Lean Administration. Konsten att införa och praktisera Lean i administrativa stödprocesser. Sweden, Malmö: Liber AB. 166 p.
Liker, J.K. (2009). The Toyota Way. Lean för världsklass. Malmö: Liber AB. 374 p.
McIntosch, B., Sheppy, B. & Cohen, I. (2014). Illusion or delusion – Lean management in the health sector. International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 27, No. 6, pp. 482-492.
Stone, K.B. (2012). Four decades of lean: a systematic literature review. International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 112-132.
Sugimori, Y., Kusunoki, K., Cho, F. & Uchikawa, S. (1977). Toyota production system and Kanban system Materialization of just-in-time and respect-for-human system. The International Journal of Production Research, Vol. 15, No. 6, pp. 553-564.
Children usually want a lot of things. One request every year before school starts is to buy a new backpack. Every year? A new one? What’s wrong with the old one? Nothing’s wrong with the old backpack, but “everyone” seems to be buying a new one, so I want one too.
No. If there’s nothing wrong with the old backpack, the kid isn’t getting a new one. My kids have already been using the same backpacks for about five years now. The Fjällräven backpacks we bought cost about 100 euros each and they are made of durable material and are thus long-lasting. These can still be used for many more years and there will be no money spent on new backpacks, just because it’s the latest fashion to buy a certain type of backpack.
The same backpack can be used in the evenings or during the weekends for other purposes. It doesn’t require much effort to empty the backpack and put the books and pencils on a desk or shelf and use the same backpack to pack a swimsuit and towel or clothes and a toothbrush if the kid is having a sleepover at a friend’s house. By using the same backpack for different purposes it’s possible to save space, not having the closets filled with all kinds of backpacks and bags for school, hobbies, work and travel.