The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. – Hans Hofman
So look around your office, your factory, your home. What do you see? What’s on your desk and shelves? Do you really need all of that… stuff? Is there a purpose to each item? Does it need to be available and present in your space now, or can it be put out of sight for a few weeks… months… forever? How much time is consumed, and stress created, by looking for the appropriate tool, book, or utensil? Does your kitchen really need three beat up measuring cups of the same size? How much does it cost to maintain and clean the unnecessary? What does the space, additional complexity, and distraction cost?
A core tool in Lean is 5S, taken from five Japanese terms that roughly translate to:
- Sort: Review each item, ensure it has a purpose, remove what isn’t needed.
- Straighten: Find a defined location for what remains, preferably as close to where it will be used as possible.
- Shine: Clean and polish the new decluttered area.
- Standardize: Create a checklist or other method to ensure the area doesn’t revert back to how it was.
- Sustain: Create the habit, routine, or daily activity to keep the area clean and neat – and to audit that it has stayed that way.
Remove what isn’t needed, find a defined home for what remains, clean, turn the activity into a habit, and find a way to ensure it continues. Can your factory floor have just the tools that are needed, in just the right place, always returned to that place? How about your kitchen?
In the best restaurant kitchens, and the best factory floors, you will often find shadow boards where every required tool is hung on a wall with the outline of the utensil tool behind it. Everyone knows where to go to get the tool, there are no extra tools that need to be sorted through to find the right one, and it’s visually obvious when the tool is missing.
Decluttering also has a Zen component. Find one room, or even one shelf, and evaluate each object. Challenge it. Why is it there, and what is its purpose? What would happen if it wasn’t there? If it has a reason and has real value, then find and define a home for it. The clean, neat environment will help give you the focus and strength to tackle the challenges that remain.
It can become obsessive, so be sure the effort adds value and aligns with your Principles. Does marking the location of your phone on your desk truly add value?
And soon you will realize that simplifying and decluttering doesn’t just apply to physical stuff…