Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

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

LEANing My House – The Revelation – Part 1

No, that’s not a typo.  I can’t really talk about cleaning my house.  At best, I’m a work-in-progress with that goal.  But, as an industrial engineer focusing on life at home with little ones, I can take the opportunity to search out ways to use my background to make things run more efficiently, and that’s what Lean Systems are all about.  I haven’t done a very good job of this in the past, but recently a new opportunity has presented itself.

A move.  A chance to start over and try again.

In the last few months, our family decided to move, packed up most of our things, left for vacation for a few weeks, packed some more, and moved to a new house in a new state.  It’s been nearly six years since our last move, and we’ve welcomed three children in that time, so I was not only out-of-practice with moving, but also, there were a lot more considerations this time.

The last time I faced a major down-sizing move was when I left my 2-bedroom loft apartment for an out-of-state move to share an apartment with a friend while we went to graduate school.  I was able to store a lot of the “stuff” that was dear to me but not particularly needed for school at my grandma’s house until I would return.  I was in the apartment for a year, then moved to a house with my new husband.  We moved again after a year and a half, back to my home state, where I could be reunited with those things I’d nearly forgotten about, at least to some extent.  We had a 2-bedroom house for a year, so most of the non-essential items remained boxed up in the basement.

Then, finally, we bought a house.  A five-bedroom house.  A house with enough room for all of my “stuff.”  We inherited furniture.  We bought furniture.  We were given some of my grandmothers’ dishes. (Which I cherish!)  We acquired all the “baby stuff” new parents need.  My parents gave me the things they’d kept for me from when I was young.

And, I, by nature, seem inclined to keep everything.

Over the summer, as we prepared for this move, I tried to pack the non-essential things when I had time.  (Have you packed with young children around?  The long-forgotten toy is suddenly whisked out of the box and cannot be parted with.  Or, I hear, “What’s that?” as little hands reach for a breakable gift from a dear friend.)  As time went on, I found I liked the extra space in the cabinets.  Sure, I missed my muffin tins a few times, but I didn’t have time to be baking much anyway.

When we arrived at our new home, we got the house fully operational fairly quickly – kitchen, bathrooms, beds, dressers were put together within a day or two.  The garage was still packed full of boxes, but I could prepare meals, the girls had some toys to entertain them, and we could sleep comfortably.

…To Be Continued…


OM at Home – Letting Go of the Clutter – Part II

I’ll try to keep this post more brief than the last.  🙂 If you missed yesterday’s post, you can find it here.

I’m on a purging mission at home, trying to figure out what things are most worth keeping and getting rid of the rest.  This task is not easy for me, perhaps because I haven’t been disciplined or motivated enough to do this much before, and I’m a pretty sentimental person.  But, it is getting easier.

In addition to the influences I mentioned in my last post, spending a week in January going through some of my mother-in-law’s possessions as my husband’s family tried to clean out part of her house showed me some reality, too.  Not everyone values the same things, and clutter can be a tremendous burden when left behind.

Some of the questions I’m asking myself are helping me to be more realistic and to actually smile as I send some things to the trash and some to better homes:

  • Could someone else use this more than I am (or than I have in the last year or more)?  (I don’t need those books for singles as much right now.)  I can get pretty excited imagining a friend or stranger benefiting from my things!
  • Would I rather keep this or that, since I only have room for one (applied to books, notebooks, t-shirts, etc. so far)?
  • Would this be a mess for Chad and Clara to go through should something happen to me?
  • Would it be worth it to them to keep or would it be too difficult to decipher in this form (i.e. my boxes of papers to be made into scrapbooks – when time allows…)?
And, the most effective so far (besides the first question listed):
  • Would I notice if this was gone?  (This is a bit difficult when I’m finding old “treasures” for the first time in years and reminiscing, but if I didn’t remember the item was stored in that box, would I really miss it?)

I’m not as good with what may be standard questions like, “Have you used (or worn) it in the last year?”  I’m having more success thinking about “If the Chapman tornado would have taken this away, would I be upset?”

On the OM/business side of this, my “stuff” is inventory.  Inventory is costly to keep.  Businesses quantify these costs as “holding costs,” and these can be as much as 40% of the item’s value annually!  Why do you see end-of-season sales and after-Christmas specials?  A store can only hold so many goods, and what is displayed needs to have the most potential for making higher profits.   In developing inventory models (to figure out how much inventory is appropriate to meet customer needs and keep costs lowest), total costs consider ordering costs (How much does it cost us to acquire the good?), purchasing costs, and holding costs.

So before you take home that “free” item or jump on that “great deal” at the store, consider if it’d be worth paying 20-40% of the item’s value each year to keep it in your house.  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 (free for those who “Like” her Raising Arrows Facebook page) that holding on to our “stuff” is a heart issue that needs  some serious consideration as we seek to become more like Christ.

I’m definitely a work in progress, but I’m off to a great start!  During today’s nap time, I’m going to try to go through the marching band music and drill charts I’ve saved for about 15 years…


Note:  My husband’s encouragement, support, and great patience in this personal process is also a huge key to the success I feel!  Thanks, Chad! 

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Domestic Engineering – Part III – A Sea of Inventory

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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