Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

Domestic Engineering – Part III – A Sea of Inventory

on December 6, 2011

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Give the task to a busy person, and you can be sure it will be done?”  Have you found yourself in the midst of too much clutter (either physical or schedule-related)?  Do you have a tendency to procrastinate? 

First, let me admit that I’m naturally a clutter bug, a procrastinator, a bit lazy at times, and, well, I have a host of other issues to work on.  So, this is not a tried-and-true approach to how to improve your life.  It’s simply what I’m learning as I look at homemaking through the lens of operations management and engineering.  And, I think this illustration of a “Sea of Inventory” helps show why we often see the tendencies described in the questions above. 

These pictures are from my slides I created for my class to help illustrate this concept of inventory causing problems.  I tell my students that I can’t draw, and I’m even worse with a mouse for electronic pictures, so try to imagine these are people in the boat, not some kind of mutant sea turtles.  🙂

The water (extra inventory) hides the dangerous rocks (problems) below the surface.

The water (inventory) is deep.  The passengers have no idea that there are rocks below the surface that could wreck their happy voyage.  They are naive to the problems.   But, inventory is expensive, and the production problems cannot be solved if they are not first discovered.  If we lower the inventory levels, we may see this:


As the inventory level is lowered, the problems (rocks) are exposed and can be solved and managed.

As the inventory level falls, those problems are exposed!  While this may initially concern us, this is really the opportunity we need to reexamine how we do things so we can make improvements.

Once the problems are solved (large rocks are removed), we can lower the inventory levels (water level) even more and still have smooth sailing!

 So, in case I’ve lost you, let me explain how this is applicable in my home.   When I had some company over last month, I found myself much more attentive to kitchen chores (mainly dishes), primarily because I had to.  We have a set of 12 plates and bowls.  More than enough for a single gal or a couple, or even a couple with a small child.  We have excess inventory such that we can go a couple of days at least without having to run the dishwasher.  With four extra people in the house for a weekend, that wasn’t so much the case.  Inventory didn’t increase (I didn’t buy more dishes.), but demand did, lowering the inventory cushion (also called safety stock, if you’re interested).  I didn’t procrastinate like I usually do, and it revealed some of the problems with my current process (such as putting off washing the dishes). 
Another instance is surfacing with laundry demand increasing a bit at our house.  Again, less “cushion” of inventory, and I’m seeing the problems with the, in my case, lack of a system.  (So, the answer is not necessarily to buy more socks when the drawer is empty as I did in college…)
I see that this also applies to time.   One example relates to giving the task to the busy person.  If you don’t have a lot of “slack” time (meaning much of your time is scheduled), you likely develop better time management skills by solving the problems that arise (those big rocks) when your free time is diminished.  Also, if we have a “sea” of extra time, we can lose our focus on intentional living that keeps us focused on working on what’s most important to us.   
We can, however, also look at that busy schedule as “excess inventory,” being more activity than we need and hiding the problems of not prioritizing, of possibly avoiding problems and inefficiencies, and of trekking through life too quickly to really even think about where we’re going.
We need to be strategic.  Intentional.  And, then we need to live in a way that helps us work toward meeting those strategic goals.  This is something I’ll be working on in the coming months! 
I need to decrease our inventories of “stuff,” both to make room as our family grows and to find the problems that have developed without notice in my years of being single and developing this excess.  Problems such as my optimism in getting those scrapbooks compiled (I’m only about 13 years behind.) with no plan of attack, my attachment to gifts for the sake of them being gifts, my attachment to my high school chemistry notes and other probably unnecessary items that I think I will someday need and use…  The list is long.
My friend Amy at Raising Arrows recently posted on this being often a season of overindulgence and how learning to instead be hungry is a greater blessing.  I pray this season of advent and celebration of Christmas would be a time that we reevaluate our schedules, our lives, our “needs,” and most of all, our hearts that we might discover the sin that is easy to leave covered by the excesses in our lives and make changes, for His glory. 
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One response to “Domestic Engineering – Part III – A Sea of Inventory

  1. […]  Also, consider that excess inventory hides problems within systems (See my post regarding A Sea of Inventory.), and clutter can decrease efficiency and productivity.  I also agree with Amy’s e-book […]

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