Make my home a factory for living
October 29, 2013 9:55 PM   Subscribe

I figure, at this point, somebody has done exhaustive operations research on pretty much all of my daily chores. Assuming I don't care about hominess or aesthetics, what does industry have to teach me about getting through all the little maintenance work of life with less time, effort, and attention?

Some examples I've already implemented, to give an idea what I'm looking for:

- prepping 1/3 size food pans full of a few ingredients on Sunday and cooking the same things over and over in various combinations all week long.

- consumables like toothpaste and laundry detergent in a kanban-inspired system of one in use, one in storage, and an index card which I put in the pocket of my pants to remind myself to buy more.

- prepacked kits for common tasks, e.g., laundry money in a bag tied to the laundry detergent, dance shoes in a bag with a towel and my nametag

- stacks of identical attached-lid containers in my closet instead of random things from the Container Store, food service pans instead of big Tupperware, two sizes of stainless steel mixing bowls instead of regular china service

I'm interested in both processes and equipment.
posted by d. z. wang to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 127 users marked this as a favorite
Get rid of everything. Don't maintain things you don't need. You don't need very much. Move to a tiny apartment with no yard. Get rid of any furniture with fabric on it (it's harder to clean) or carpet. Downsize, downsize, downsize.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:25 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Home Comforts has a lot on how to maintain a home properly, with explanations of why along with how. This is not precisely what you asked, but I think you'll get a lot of it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:28 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

The name of the game here is going to be The Right Tools For The Job.

I just spent some time working in a coffee shop, after many years of trying to optimize my own morning coffee ritual.

Here's how we optimized our pour-over coffee station, compared to what I had been doing at home:

- Set up a station with all the things you need to accomplish the task. In this case, pour-over drip coffee. So the hot water, beans, grinder, filters, etc. were all within arms reach of the pour-over apparatus. We even had a special long-handled spoon as part of the station, to stir the grounds as necessary. Discovering that the spoon was gone or dirty when you needed it was the WORST.

- Don't forget ALL parts of a process. For coffee, for example, this included dosing. We dosed out a cup of pour over coffee beans as side work, in individual containers. So instead of a bin of coffee, we had a dozen tiny containers of coffee, pre-measured, ready to go. If this isn't feasible (which it may not be, if you only drink one cup per day), you'll want a good digital scale as part of your station. The correct mug type for serving pour-overs was within arm's reach, and we kept a stash of go-cups and paper sleeves in the station, too.

- As many things as possible prepared in advance. In addition to pre-measured servings of coffee beans, we also pre-creased the filters so that they'd sit better in the pour-over cone, and kept everything clean and finished and ready for the next batch. You don't want to have to clean up yesterday's coffee before you can have today's cup.

- If it can't be prepared in advance, look into technology that can speed things up. We had an industrial-capacity urn for hot water, but for home use a good electric kettle is almost as good. Our grinder could grind a cup's worth of beans in under ten seconds.

- Make cleanup easy. Cleaning up after a pour-over took five seconds or less because the trash can was also in reach of the pour-over station, and there was always a cloth for wiping up spills. We also kept a paintbrush next to the grinder for sweeping away coffee dust.

With this setup, I could make a perfect cup of pour-over coffee (from hearing the customer's order to serving and cleanup) in under four minutes. And it takes three minutes to actually steep the coffee. At home, with my current setup, it takes twice as long, simply because there are so many more steps (measure coffee, figure out what I did with the filters, find a spoon to stir, wash a dirty mug, etc).
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

My mother used to divide the bags of sugar and flour into pre-measured 1 and 2 cup containers so she always was ready for that. She also used to make large batches of food and freeze the excess in either family sized portions or individual ones.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:40 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Similar to some of your other prep ideas: when I was working out 5 days a week at a crack of dawn bootcamp and simply COULD NOT function at that time in any decision-making way I'd parcel out one set of workout clothes (yoga pants, socks, sports bra, tshirt) into large size ziplocks right out of the laundry. Then I'd just grab one set each morning and be ready to go in a few seconds without chasing around for a pair of socks at 5:30 am. I bet that could work for a TON of things.
posted by marylynn at 10:49 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

December 2006
June 2006
Some great ideas in both threads.
posted by JujuB at 11:43 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Buy several identical shirts, pairs of socks, underwear- in dark colors. You will save time on washing because you can throw everything in at the same time, and in the mornings when you get dressed you won't have to pick out what to wear.
posted by misspony at 12:41 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Outsource cleaning tasks; clean as you go.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:44 AM on October 30, 2013

In assembly lines and other industrial processes, one of the big things is making sure the right tools and things you use most are in easy reach. So, for example, keeping your dishes and utensils within arm's reach of where you cook will save you some time. Likewise, if you use the blender every morning, there's not a whole lot of sense in taking it down and putting it underneath the cabinet then taking it out and putting it back together every single morning. When you put things away, put them in exactly the same place. My keys and my wallet go on top of the bookcase by my desk. They always go there. I never spend time looking for my keys or wallet because that's where they live and if they are not there, I go find them and put them there.

Don't be afraid of pre-measured/prepackaged/whatever. One of the places I worked had a little cafe with a dishwasher, for example. We could have tried to figure out a standard hit of detergent and then worried about it fluctuating between workers and oh no, you didn't use enough or you used too much and oh no we're out. Or we could've just bought those packets of pre-measured detergent and tossed them in, then ordered more when that started to get low. We did the second one and saved everyone the hassle.

Simplify and standardize your "lines." Rather than 15 different kinds of sock, have white athletic and black dress socks. Pick a color or two for your sheets and linens and you've just simplified laundry day. My gym, for example, offers towel service and only has light blue towels. When they do laundry, they pick up a bin and dump it in the washer and that's it. Along those lines, pick widely versatile clothes in a few colors in fabrics that can take whatever your usual washing routine is. A fancy silk shirt may be very nice but may also be handwash only or maybe this can go in the dryer but this one can't or uuugh. Standardize, standardize, standardize.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:48 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consolidate routine tasks. (I pre-weigh my coffee beans, for instance. I can't do anything about the process time, but the setup takes 60 seconds or less per pot.)

Use things that work. (I love Barkeeper's Friend (oxalic acid) for kitchen cleaning. I used to spend 10x the time cleaning up stuff like debris in pots and pans. Whatever the chemisty is, it appears benign and effective. Ditto 409, etc. I use those little dishwashing packets that make my former glass polishing obsolete. )

For maximum effectiveness, do not attempt to achieve maximum economy. I change my vacuum filters more often than necessary, but always get a decent effect.

Bulk purchase. it's another form of consolidating tasks.

Workplace arrangement is critical if you want to be safe and efficient. it takes time to organize a setup, but some attention to detail pays off. I process left to right with attention to the sequence and anticipated next steps.

Avoid repeated trips. Consolidate transport of tools used in a given area. Do not be afraid to use everything, then put it away.

Change limiting assets. For instance, I have a hose connection adapter on my kitchen sink for the few times I need an interior garden hose. (It happens.)

Learn the limits. (I measured my heat output on my gas stove/pot combo. Developed a rule of thumb... 5 minutes to boil a quart of water from tap temperature, easily scaled up or down. )

Game the system. I have dish storage close to my dishwasher. I open the dishwasher at the end of the heating cycle to evaporate pools of water on the bottoms of cups, etc. I basically take advantage of any energy I can find in that regard.

Where I am living, it's important to limit energy use to point of occupancy, so I do not heat the entire house if I need to work in one room.

Having spent one helluva lot of time in factories, it's second nature to me to do this sort of thing. Last advice is to marry/couple with someone who has spent one helluva lot of time in factories. (Or a farm.)
posted by FauxScot at 2:31 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

If you wanted to get all scientific about this, you could put on a pedometer and measure the number of steps you take -- literal steps, not figuratively as in a procedure -- back and forth across the room or from room to room and ask yourself whether you could significantly reduce those steps. How many miles are you running around just doing household chores?

Things need to be arranged in logical order and in logical areas. Things you need every day have to be easy to access. Things you need rarely need to be stored way the hell out of the way or dumped. If you're always tripping over or going around rarely needed things, or always running around to get things you need every day, you need to reorganize. This applies to what's in your kitchen drawers and cupboards, what's in your closets and dressers, and what's in any other storage area of your house.

Obvious observations:
1. If the materials you need to complete a task are stored in room A but you need to carry out the task in room B every day, maybe you need to move the things to room B or move the task to room A. Or, instead of separate rooms, are things unnecessarily on opposite ends of the kitchen instead of right next to each other? If you rearranged things, how many steps would that save you every morning for the rest of eternity?
2. If a daily task includes prep and cleanup time, maybe you can cut back on all that prep and cleanup time by carrying out this task less frequently but on a larger scale. For example, you could make a big pot of food, dole it out into a number of plastic containers, freeze it, and take them out one at a time for microwaving at work. How many minutes of preparing food and cleaning up afterward would that save you every morning for the rest of eternity?
3. It's a home, not a museum of stupid purchases. Don't be afraid to dump unused things. You shouldn't have a drawer full of obsolete and broken gadgets. You shouldn't have a rack full of shoes you never wear. You shouldn't keep clothes you will never realistically fit into again.
posted by pracowity at 3:23 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

You would probably be interested in reading
  • Buy a Nest thermostat.
  • Make calendar events that remind you to do semi-annual tasks, like changing the air filter, getting your car's oil change, replacing the water filter in your fridge, etc.
  • See if once a month freezer cooking is for you.
  • Consider getting a crockpot or self timing rice cooker.
  • Hard flooring surfaces are easier to clean.
  • Having less stuff, smaller homes, makes things easier to clean
  • Forget about folding stuff like undies and socks. Put drawer dividers and dump in the clean ones.
  • Forget about putting things away, generally. Keep what you use, out where you can use it easily. It'll look terrible, but assuming it doesn't get out of control, theres no real need to put a book back on the shelf if you'll be reading it on the couch. Or put your toiletries in the medicine cabinet if you're going to brush your teeth again in 12 hours, etc. Have things out or, if need be, in baskets without lids so you can grab them easily.
  • Pre-sort your laundry as you take it off. Have 2 or 3 different baskets. When a basket gets full, wash it.
  • Get a grocery delivery service. Figure out a menu that you can eat for a week, then automatically re-order it every week.
  • Depending on how much you want to spend, get a pick-up laundry service, cleaning service, meal delivery service.
  • Forget about watching TV. It will suck away hours of your day.
Do keep in mind that you are basically asking about exchanging money for time. You might be interested in reading this article, Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed. Its basic premise is that when you spend the majority of your time working, you're willing to spend money to get back time. And that money comes from spending time working. And you don't have enough time because you're working. It's a rock and a hard place. Not that the article offers any solutions (other than a 30hr work week, which is basically a fantasy), but do realize that its an arms race between you, work, money and time.
posted by fontophilic at 5:54 AM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

I keep a pair of cheap screwdrivers (flat and phillips) in my kitchen utensil drawer, which has basically ended the situation where I have an annoying loose knob somewhere in the house but keep forgetting to go get the tool box and find the screwdriver and it annoys me for weeks.

I also keep a teeny-tiny phillips-head screwdriver in my kids' play area, since battery compartments on children's toys have to have screws now, and they're usually SUPER TINY and you need a special tiny screwdriver. (The best place to get these, incidentally, is in battery packages around Christmastime when Duracell includes them as a "buy 30 batteries, get a cute little screwdriver!")

Buy too many chargers for your laptop/phone/tablet/etc. Keep one in each place you normally use or charge it. Much less aggravation than constantly moving chargers around.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:47 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't need to carry the whole huge laundry soap jug each time you go to wash. You can refill a smaller container that you have premeasured. Also, use less soap than the directions say, and if you're still using dryer sheets, stop.

For food, I am in love with reditainer (brand) on amazon. They are apparently just like restaurant to go containers. Use these for your leftovers. Or cook a huge batch of foods all at once on Sunday and then freeze the cooked results in meal sized containers. Then throughout the first week or two you can keep cooking as usual and in a few weeks you'll be able to just rotate through a variety of Sunday items. If cooking a huge batch on Sunday doesn't work for you, cook double on weeknights. Chili, lasagne, chicken with vegetables and rice, soup, etc. Use masking tape to label things in the freezer with the contents and date.

If you like oatmeal for breakfast, consider making it in the fridge overnight. This is just one blog post about how one person does it. Me, I just eyeball it. But either way, you don't have to think about it in the morning.

If you are constantly flipping past a garment in your closet thinking "nope" and actively not wearing it, get rid of it or at least store it someplace where you don't have to touch it all the time. This goes for kitchen utensils. If you own a whisk but only use it once a year for the New Year's Day brunch to make Hollandaise...stop rummaging past it in the kitchen drawer/utensil cup. Separate your summer and winter clothes, at least to separate sides of the closet. Every few months or so, give yourself a quick fashion show of what fits and what doesn't. If you find yourself putting on a garment and it doesn't fit, doesn't look right, or is in disrepair, make it go away.

Bathroom: use a squegee on your shower walls to get the water and minerals off them. Your plastic shower liner can go in the washing machine with some vinegar before it looks gross to prolong it's life. If you use the same cleaning products in kitchen and bathroom, keep a set in each room. For me this is Simple Green, a gallon of vinegar, and some liquid soap, which is cheaper than most other cleaning supplies. People are often tempted to delay cleaning the bathroom, but I promise, a quick wipe down every few days or once a week is much faster than a huge scrubbing once a month.

It sounds like your habitat is not fucked, but check out the blog unfuck your habitat. Specifically pay attention to any "invisible corners" you might have.

Search your kitchen cabinets. You will find something like a can of water chestnuts, a box of gravy mix that's expired, and in the freezer there's a box of popsicles from the last time you had a sore throat. Make them go away too. Stop falling prey to the urge to have your cupboards be full to bursting. Get rid of duplicate spices, unless you really do use a lot of something. Keep a list on your phone of what spices you have, so that if you find a recipe between home and the grocery store you don't have to wonder if you need more cloves. Saves you time at the store, and money, and space. Now on your phone list, put today's date at the top, and next time you use each spice, put a little mark next to it. Set a "spice check" reminder on your calendar. Whatever hasn't gotten checked off in 6 months needs to be chucked out. Because it's probably not fresh and it's definitely taking up real estate. Having less stuff up there makes it easier to find the one you want. I promise. From now on, write the date you opened a spice on the top of the jar lid. Pitch it after (a time your comfortable with) instead of just wondering how long it's been up there.

Go for a half hour walk every day. It just might save you loads of time and aggravation at doctor appointments down the road.

Buy things on sale. If your boots die this winter, try to get next year's pair this spring, when they're discounted because who is buying boots for summer? Ditto bathing suits bought at end of season. This also saves you from realizing you need new boots (or bathing suit) and having to rush your guts out trying to find a pair, any pair, at any cost, before some event. Speaking of bathing suits, for ladies, my sister gave me awesome advice. She buys black bathing suit tops and bottoms on sale. You don't have to buy the whole suit and they always match each other well enough. So if you lose a bottom, you don't lose the whole suit, and you probably have another one or two in that drawer.

Favorite pair of everyday shoes? If you can afford to, buy an extra pair (especially if they go on sale!). Speaking of shoes, don't wear the same pair every day. Rotate through them so they have time to really dry out and don't stink like grossness. Because when your shoes are done, you'll have to replace them and desperation to buy shoes can be costly, to your wallet, and in terms of time finding a good fit.
posted by bilabial at 8:40 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the mornings if you want to save some time, brush your teeth in the shower while the conditioner is working. Or eat breakfast in the bath while same.

Store winter gloves & hat inside the pockets of your winter coat.

That thing about packing the right number of pillowcases with sheet and duvet cover inside the last matching pillowcase and storing it that way out of the laundry is genius, I've just started and it is SUPER.

Also, store spare duvet & pillows inside actually ready in their new clean cases & covers out of the laundry inside vacuum bags so when you get an unexpected guest you can just throw them on the air bed/couch.
posted by symphonicknot at 9:26 AM on October 30, 2013

Automate bill paying as much as possible (but still check your statement each month).

You can arrange on Amazon(and other places) to ship consumables at semi regular intervals, if you know you got through a tube of say toothpaste every six weeks you can arrange autoshipping.

Keep more than one of things you use in multiple places so I keep 3 pairs of scissors at different locations in my house. As an example, keep cleaning products where you use them so if you use the same cleaner in each bathroom keep one bottle of each in each bathroom it is easier to clean if you don't have to hike to the other end of the house for the cleaner.
posted by wwax at 9:38 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a bill-payers desk and I put, say, bills to be paid in one bin, credit card receipts in another, charity requests in a third -- then you can write a couple of dates on your calendar to hit those sections and process as needed. (I also picked a few charities to support with larger donations, rather than a bunch with smaller, and asked all the rest to stop writing me, which took a ton of mail out of my flow.)

Make pasta sauce and then spoon into ice cube trays (pop out into a larger freezer container later) -- easy to make pasta and then throw in a couple of cubes. A lot of foods can be handled this way, or you can, say, make a ton of chili over the weekend and freeze serving-size portions.

Put storage as close to use as possible -- this is the theory of the front-hall closet for coats, but a hook can do the job too. Umbrellas in a bucket by the door. Small hall table that can hold outgoing mail, paused drycleaning tickets, keys; maybe a hook for backpack or briefcase, charger for gizmos. Storage bench could have mittens and hats or other off-season outerwear. Wall-hung bin in LR can hold magazines as soon as they come in; another could be by bed or toilet or wherever else you read. Store cheap reading glasses in those places too, if needed. Coffee filters near coffee maker (or get a gold filter to simplify further).

Not automation, but helps in other ways: small memo board on fridge to record any leftovers that go in (date, servings) so they can be eaten before they disappear into the Fridge Death Spiral.
posted by acm at 10:07 AM on October 30, 2013

Your key words for this are:




You want to prepare as many things in advance as possible, and you want to automate as many processes as possible. Ideally, you have multiple automated processes occuring simultaneously while you are doing prep work, and ideally the majority of that prep work can be applied to further automated processes. A simple example of this is sorting the laundry while there's a load in, or chopping vegetables to put in the slow cooker for dinner while the slow cooker is preparing lunch. And of course, the more things you can do in advance, and the further in advance you can do them without sacrificing quality, the more efficient your operations will be. So if you have multiple bins for laundry and sort it directly into the bins as it is dirtied, then you can be doing something else while the laundry's washing.

The study of making household tasks effective, easy and efficient is Home Economics. Lots of people- Home Economists- dedicated their careers to answering the question you've posed here. Home economics videos from the 40's, 50's and 60's are instructive, although they are quaint and much of the tech is outdated, (and many of the videos are promotions for products), the principles are still valuable. Here's an example
posted by windykites at 10:50 AM on October 30, 2013

Scientific Management works well for me. Essentially that means being as efficient as possible, e.g. put your dishes as close to the sink / dishwasher as possible. Grab 2,3,4 at a time. When you are cleaning, as soon as you put something in its place, pick up the closest thing that is out of place and on the way to put that thing in its place, grab what you can along the way. Combine this with dexterity and speed, and you can out clean / organize / cook anyone.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:59 PM on October 30, 2013

Two dishwashers: instead of putting clean dishes away, just leave them in the dishwasher, and start filling the other one with dirty dishes. Alternate. Saves cabinet space, too.

Disclaimer: I have never tried this strategy because my wife thinks it is ridiculous, but it is my dream.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:06 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I applied some skills acquired doing inventory control at work and now all of our household consumables are set up in Amazon's "subscribe and save" program. This includes toilet paper, toothpaste, saline (for contacts), deodorant, laundry and dishwasher detergent, tampons/pads, paper towels, wet and dry cat food, etc - about 20 products in all. Each item is set up with it's own quantity and delivery frequency (based on rate of use and number of uses per unit), then staggered so we always have at least 6 items per delivery to earn 15% off the entire order. I get an email a week before each order ships so I can double-check quantities and adjust if necessary, then about 10 days later all the boring shopping for the month shows up on the doorstep. With the free shipping it's cheaper than buying local (as much as 50% for some of the bulk items), it saves me a couple hours of driving per month and not only do we not run out of every-day items anymore, I was able to build in some buffer in case the supply chain is interrupted.
posted by bizwank at 10:54 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

On the preparation tip: one of the most amazing things we did in our last major re-organizing was to create an everyday-tools kit. We have a hammer, a couple of screwdrivers, scissors, pliers, etc. (stuff you always need) in a little plastic bin that sits on our utility shelves. This way, we don't have to get out the big toolbox. This has been a HUGE improvement.
posted by nosila at 8:28 AM on November 2, 2013

qxntpqbbbqxl: "Two dishwashers: instead of putting clean dishes away, just leave them in the dishwasher, and start filling the other one with dirty dishes. Alternate. Saves cabinet space, too.

Disclaimer: I have never tried this strategy because my wife thinks it is ridiculous, but it is my dream.

I have some friends that purchased a house that had two dishwashers (kosher family) and they did this fairly regularly, but more out of laziness than as an efficiency strategy.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:51 PM on November 2, 2013

Regarding putting dates on containers of frozen food, I've switched from using the "frozen on" date to putting the "eat by" date. It reduces decision making--no more calculating how old each package is--and encourages me to eat whatever is due to expire soon. Oh and I use masking tape and a Sharpie (which live in the drawer with the freezer bags) on containers that will be reused.
posted by carmicha at 5:47 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about this more, after being diagnosed with something that could make it hard for me to move around at some point in my life.

Things I plan on doing in my hypothetical hyper-accessible house (which are all really ergonomics and should be good for general efficiency for the able bodied):

- Having a dressing room, in which is the washer and dryer next to the laundry basket. Also right next to that, a section of hanging space for those "worn once" clothes that are not quite dirty yet.

- Having all the furniture away from the walls and with legs, so cleaning around/under it does not require moving anything. Mounting bedside cabinets to the wall for the same reason. Having a lot of wall lights to reduce the amount of floor standing lights.

- Not having all those pointless bits of house that you have to clean and you use once a year or not at all. In my case: hall, landing, dining room, spare bedroom.

- Having whatever is the most easy to clean surface on the floor everywhere.

- Having the oven and dishwasher at optimum loading height to avoid bending.

- Minimising bits of architecture that need dusting, like radiators and skirting boards and architrave.

- Having a wet room to minimise bathroom clamberings.

Things I already do out of a desire for ergonomics:

- Store the kitchen knives on a magnetic wall thing next to where I chop

- Store the tea/coffee stuff and mugs all together above the kettle, at the edge of the kitchen where guests can find them to make their own.

- Store the drinks all together next to the glasses

- Store the pans right next to the stove

- Not having a massive kitchen where you have to hike around while cooking.
posted by emilyw at 6:02 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

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