Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lean Principals For Our Tiny Lives

Many, many, years ago….in a land far, far, away…manufacturers in Japan realized the value of doing more with less.  In 1988, an MIT scholar wrote his thesis on the subject and the resulting book launched the domestic “lean” movement we know today.  In a nutshell, Lean Manufacturing is the process of eliminating waste in any process.  The most common wastes, as defined by lean principals, include unnecessary movement (bodily movement) storage (or inventory) and transport (movement of goods).

To put this in more real terms: If you go to Costco and buy a truckload of toilet paper, what have you gained and what have you lost?  You might have saved a lot of money, if you calculate it by the roll, but you also have a lot less cash in your wallet.  (You probably also have one less room in your house to use because it’s full of toilet paper.)  


On the opposite end of the practical scale, you could walk to Dollar Tree to buy one roll at a time.  You would have a lot more cash in your pocket, didn’t expend any gas money, and you’ll need a whole lot less space to store the toilet paper. But you should now be prepared spend a lot of time walking back and forth to the Dollar Tree! 
But, maybe that’s a good thing?

Whether we think about it or not, we all make the cost vs. benefit decisions every day.  Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we throw out a lot of spoiled food because of poor menu planning.

Here’s another example.  Think about your tool shed.  Can you look inside the door and know where your hammer is?  If you have a dedicated “peg” where it hangs, with one look you’ll know if you have it.  If it is buried in the bottom of a tool box, however, you’ll have to expend some time and energy to answer this simple query.

Can you see anything missing?

What does all of this have to do with Tiny Houses?

The Tiny House Movement in the US, while relatively new, is actually just a new application of a very old Japanese manufacturing perspective.  Our society has taught us that “More is Better” and our culture has trained us to actively pursue the latest, biggest, and bestest of everything…even if we cannot afford it.   We are now, painfully, learning that society does not always have our best interests in mind and are now left managing too much debt, space, commuting, and stuff. 

To summarize, we’ve got way too much toilet paper.

And while downsizing is a proven and necessary step towards fitting into a new smaller life, I am here to suggest that also applying lean principals to this process is worth a bit of your time and energy.
Learning exactly how to apply lean principals to your life or workspace can take hours, days, or weeks to learn.  (I once spent 8 weeks, in a classroom, in pursuit of a Lean Certificate from my employer)  But since I assume this is not your consuming passion, like it is mine, I’ll give you the quick-and-dirty-how-to…right here:

When establishing a space for everything in your Tiny House, try answering these few simple questions:

How can you…

1)      Ensure you never bring, into the house, more than what you’ll need for a few days?
Example: Buy a small refrigerator on craigslist vs a large new one.

2)      Store, what you really need, as close to the place where you’ll need it?
Example: Store a small tool kit in the truck of your car vs a tool shed.

3)      Look at your closet, drawer, or cupboard; and know instantly what you need?
Example: Own a kitchen knife block with one slot for each, and own no more knives than will fit.

4)      Quickly remove, or recycle, waste and excess from your day to day life?
Example: Utilize small recycling bins in the kitchen that then “feed” larger ones near the curb.

Downsizing and simplifying really is more about the time we spend thinking about it, rather than the time we spend actually doing it.  If we can’t wrap our brain around it and we don’t know WHAT to do, then we end up not doing anything at all.  We get stuck.

A random picture of a banana helicopter to see if you're paying attention!

Maybe these questions can help you get UN-stuck?

Maybe they can provide you with an intellectual structure to form your plan around?

Maybe discuss them with your family, or roommate(s), or Google?

My answers, to all of the above, are my own.  Yours will be different.  My challenges in pursuit of my mortgage free home are my own.  Yours are equally difficult; I am sure, but are your own.  To clarify things a bit, my goal here is NOT to necessarily give you the answers.  My goal is to ask you the right questions, to make you think, and inspire you to jump start your own progress.

Have I met my goal?

The Tiny House movement is exciting!  I am inspired, daily, by all the creativity that people put into their designs.  While “Lean Principals” are not as fun to talk about as curtains, framing studs (the wood kind) or towing vehicles; I think there is also a real need for these kinds of pragmatic conversations.  Behind all of the media hype, and the Pinterest pages, is a desire for a better world that starts with one tiny conversation at a time.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michelle, Could you explain sponsorship to me? I am running into a lot of the same obstacles. I want to to get the trailer as I feel that would jump start everything. People would say I'm a minimalist, therefore not much to trade or sell. No 401k at this time and less than stellar credit. Just looking for ideas.