Never have an attic

We are selling our house, and I realized this evening that having an attic is about the worst thing you can have in a house. Sure, everyone wants storage space, the reality is, after ten years, it isn’t really storage. It’s clutter. It turns out over time you just put more and more and more stuff up in the attic that you should’ve gotten rid of. It gets there because you think either ‘oh, I might need this later’ or ‘this has value, I can’t just throw it away!’

Both things might seem true, but the reality is, ten years on, neither is true for us. I haven’t the energy to sell all this stuff, even at a yard sale, so I’m willing to give it away. It might have value to someone else, but to me it has so little value that I will give it to anyone who will take it. And, in turn, I realize that if I’m willing to give it away that I never was going to need it again. The attic is just a holding area for stuff that is headed either to the garbage or to someone else who can find value. If someone else can find value in these items, then I should have happily given them away 5 or 10 years ago, when I first put them up there.

The only difference is, instead of getting rid of it in a timely manner, I’ve made my own life difficult by delaying the choice to discard it. If you want to achieve a clean workspace, you’ve got to get rid of things when you no longer need them, not just store them away on the off chance you’ll need them again.

As an aside, I did want one thing from up in the attic some time ago, but of course I couldn’t find it because there was so much other ‘valuable’ stuff up there. Clutter makes life difficult not just getting rid of it, but also obscuring what is of value. In my next house, I’m going for less storage space, thus forcing myself to make those decisions right away.

Why 5S matters at 3:00AM

At 3:00AM a recent morning ago, my son woke up with a diaper that needed to be changed.  As go most nighttime childcare events between my wife and me, whoever says “you do it” first wins.  And, in this case, it was my wife that noticed his fussing and, half asleep, mumbled “your turn.”

Reluctantly, I rolled out of bed, staggered down the hallway and made my way to my son.  One thing that has forever irked my wife is that I can usually do all of this, crawl back into bed, fall back asleep, and by 7:00AM not even remember it happened.  But not this night.

I carried my son to the changing table and there were clothes all over it!  I’m half asleep, so I grab handfuls of neatly folded clothes and throw them on the floor.  My son, now full awake, is crying loudly and I’m hoping it won’t wake up my daughter. 

Next, the diaper?  Where’s the diapers?  Usually there’s a neat pile of them right there, but not this time.  I see them in a box, just out of reach.  I can’t both make sure my son doesn’t roll off the table and grab a diaper, so I have to pick him back up.

With a new diaper in hand, I undo the existing diaper to expose the disaster within.  I reach for a wipe, and… the container is empty!!!  I toss the empty container on the floor, cursing under my breath.  There’s another container, with a measly two wipes remaining in it under the empty one.  I’m sure my son got a less than stellar cleaning that night.

Were it mid-day when I had to do this, I’d probably not even remembered to write this down for you, but at 3:00AM, what could be a quick diaper change turned into a memorable ordeal.  5S matters because you shouldn’t have to think about these things.

One, sort out what you don’t need.  What were clothes doing on the changing table anyway?  We don’t dress our son there, and so using it as a temporary holding space for clean clothes resulted in the purpose of the workstation being ruined.  A changing table needs:  diapers, wipes, a garbage can, maybe a rash cream, that’s about it.

Two, straighten.  Things should have a place.  The diapers usually did have a place.  The wipes usually did have a place.  But in this case those places weren’t rendered sacred.  There were clothes where those things should have been, and the things I needed were somewhere else.

Three, sweep.  Clean up.  Empty packages of wipes should be thrown away.

Four, standardize.  We don’t have multiple changing stations, but if we did, they should all be the same.  That way, no matter which one I go to, I’d know where the diapers and wipes were.

Fifth, sustain.  Keep it that way.  Particularly at 3AM is not the time to find out that what once was a nice clean changing station is now a mess.

Now, you won’t be doing whatever job you do at 3AM, but there are going to be times when there are other things on your mind than the activity at hand.  Little distractions surround us, particularly in software development.  The last thing you want to do is lose flow while you hunt around for something which you should know exactly where it is.  5S matters at 3AM, but it matters every other hour of the day as well.

What is 5s about?

The other day, while reading my RSS feed, I came across this entry on 5S.  Though many of us know what 5S is and how we do it day-to-day, this is a great, brief article that reminds us why we’re down on our kness scrubbing the floor in the first place.

In software, applying 5S to the code allows us to identify new code that is out of order – abnormal to our expectations for being well commented and easy to maintain.  Applying 5S to our development boxes makes it apparent that a well-intentioned developer might have brought in an untested library to solve some problem – a library that might be good but also might be a never-ending headache for us in the future.