The 5S methodology is an important part of the Toyota Production System, recommending how to organize and maintain a workplace to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness. 5S stands for five Japanese words starting with the letter s – seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.
If we translate them into English, we also get five words starting with the same letter:
- Set in order
The sort part states that you should remove all the waste and unnecessary items from the workplace, eliminate every obstacle, reduce anything that could disturb the workflow, prevent accumulation of items, remove all the things that aren’t in use, and monitor on a regular basis that these recommendations are met.
The sort part also includes eliminating all the unused machinery, unnecessary tools, paper documents, and even instructions and rules. The main purpose of the first stage, the first s, is to sort valuable things from all the clutter and to get rid of the former all the way to the last paper clip that isn’t planned on being used.
The idea of seiri is very simple: don’t have anything that doesn’t belong in the workplace.
The set in order part recommends to arrange all the items in a way that they are easily found and put to use, and to make sure that all the tools and items are as close as possible to the workers so that they don’t waste their time grabbing them.
The set in order part also instructs to maintain maximum safety in the workplace, all with the goal of making the workflow as smooth as possible and keeping people safe.
With the second phase, you want to achieve that everything valuable in the workplace has its place and is always in place. Setting things in order can often be achieved with visualization of where items have their place and other similar Kanban principles.
The shine part of the 5S system directs to regularly clean the workspace, prevent any deterioration of equipment and to keep the workplace pleasant to work in. Any deviations in the workplace must be easily recognizable in seconds so they can be set in order.
The goal of the shine part is to make all the tools, equipment and items in the workplace look like new or nearly new. By following the shine principle, you simply have to always keep your place clean and tidy.
The standardize part talks about how to standardize all the possible best practices to maintain high standards in the workplace for all the tasks, and to constantly maintain everything in order. Everything should always be in its proper place and there should be a standard process for everything.
The highly set standards that must be always followed make sure that the outputs have high quality built in and that the output is achieved as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The last part, sustain, also has many great recommendations for keeping things in order in the long term, for example to establish a culture of people getting things done without being told to do so, to do no harm and to provide regular trainings.
We can also add to the sustain part to demand a high level of discipline, and of course to perform regular audits. Sustain is all about building a remarkable culture and maintaining order and discipline in the workplace.
There are many hidden gems in using and applying the 5S methodology in personal life, and that is exactly what this blog post is all about.
Using the 5S methodology in personal life
An organized and tidy home (and workplace desk, of course) was always a sign of an organized and tidy mind and soul. I’m not talking about any extreme, like weekly testing with white gloves if there is any dust in the corners, but a very messy place is always a sign of a messy mind or an emotionally chaotic person.
I was one of them. When my life was out of order, my environment was out of order. My room looked like a tornado hit it, my relationships were toxic and abusive, my working desk was full of paper stacks and magazines, and my computer files and folders were a complete mess. If you tried hard, you were probably able to find an old slice of pizza somewhere among all the clutter.
When I decided to make some changes to my life, it was more than obvious. The more organized I was becoming as a person, the more organized my environment was. At one point I even went into a too big minimalistic extreme and tried to have as few items as possible, but that somehow helped me find the right balance.
And if you are a strong advocate of creative chaos, I think that works for those rare people who have really good access to the diffuse way of thinking, and many others only take creative chaos as an excuse for being unorganized or even lazy.
If you ever decide to organize yourself and your environment better, I think that applying the 5S methodology is a great way to achieve that goal. It’s holistic, practical and works perfectly in complex production and other business environments, as proven over and over again. So there is no reason not to use the same principles in personal life.
Let’s look at a few ideas.
The first stage of organizing and tidying up your life is the hardest one – getting rid of all the clutter and waste and only keeping things that are valuable in your life.
There are many reasons why people keep clutter in their homes and offices, from the “maybe I will need it someday” mindset to unhealthy emotional attachment to things. Well, you don’t want to have an unhealthy relationship, neither with people nor with items.
Here are a few ideas for sorting out your home environment:
- Throw away, sell or give away everything you haven’t used in the past three months
- Get rid of all the things you don’t like but are keeping for emotional reasons (souvenirs etc.)
- Downsize all the things that you can’t afford and are costing you a lot of money
- Organize your home environment in a way that you can easily get things done (cooking etc.)
- Prevent accumulation of clutter by having fewer shelves, wardrobes etc.
- Simplify your lifestyle and become a minimalist
Set in order
After you get rid of all the clutter, the next step is to put what you have in order. The idea behind putting things in order is to have your daily life be as smooth as possible. You don’t want to search for things, constantly move them from one place to another or lose energy in any other similar way.
Your mental bandwidth and self-discipline are a weak muscle so you want your environment to help you preserve their strength for other, more important decisions.
Here are a few ideas how to set things in your home environment in order:
- Keep as many items as possible in the same place, especially keys and things that you use daily (that works perfectly for your brain).
- You want to have things that you often use at the reach of your hand. The more frequently you use an item, the closer to the working space (kitchen counter, desk etc.) it should be.
- You want to organize your home in a way as to not encourage clutter accumulation. On the other hand, you should organize valuable things by using boxes and other organizing expedients. You can also help yourself by visualizing where a place for certain things is.
- Keep items that encourage a healthy lifestyle, like fruits, veggies, exercise equipment, family board games etc. in visible and easily reachable places, and things like junk food, TV remote control, video games etc. as far away as possible (or don’t have them at home at all). It’s called playing with transaction costs to encourage good habits.
Shine is about a very simple principle and an important fact of properly managing resources. You can extend the longevity of things you own with regular maintenance.
It’s better to own fewer things and maintain them properly, than to own thousands of items you forget about or don’t have the time to maintain. Make sure that everything you own looks like new or almost new.
Here are a few examples:
- Take machinery and devices to a regular maintenance expert according to schedule
- Regularly clean things and make sure they shine bright (computer screens, the whole house etc.)
- Protect the items you own with cases, folios, protection plastic etc.
- Respect everything you own and treat it very carefully
- When things get broken, fix them immediately
- When you are cleaning, pay attention to the items and throw away everything you don’t need
The idea of standardizing your home life is to set some healthy and beneficial routines that simplify your life and make it a lot easier. There aren’t many things you can standardize if you don’t want to make your life completely dull, but we can still find a few very useful ones:
- Define small home processes that you always do (throw things away immediately, etc.).
- Standardize your weekly grocery shopping plan
- Standardize your meals
- Standardize a few outfits you wear for different occasions
- Standardize when you do home chores
- Define what is the minimum quality of the things you own and the relationships you have
- In everything you do, follow the highest standards possible
Last but not least, the final letter s – sustain. Taking care of your environment is not a one-time action, but a constant process. You have to constantly improve the system of how you organize things and you have to constantly follow it.
With 5S, you set the standards and the process, then you have to commit to them and stay disciplined.
- Automatically do things without procrastinating
- Make sure that other people in your environment meet commitments and that they do things without being told what to do by establishing the right culture
- Do regular cleanings (weekly house cleaning, major quarterly cleaning etc.)
- Stay disciplined and your environment will proudly shine by being tidy up and organized
Well, it’s time to put the 5S methodology into practice. Sorting items (throwing away what you don’t need, if you will) is by far the hardest part.
It’s so emotionally hard to throw away the first thing that you don’t need, but when you finally do it you see how good it feels to free yourself from the clutter handcuffs. And then the real cleaning of your home, mind and soul can begin.
Once you manage to properly sort items (get rid of all the clutter), set things in order, make them shine and standardize processes, then sustaining order becomes very easy; because you only own those items that really matter and are valuable to you.
Once you experience how good it feels to operate in a clean and tidy environment, following the 5S methodology becomes an important part of your life strategy and daily routine. Try seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke, and you’ll be surprised by how good it feels!