You put a dirty plate in, you take a clean plate out. And you repeat it all around.

I love help in the kitchen and around the house. My mother-in-law, party friends, cleaning lady – everyone is welcome to help empty the dishwasher or put the leftovers in the refrigerator. However, I become surprisingly distressed when people fail to see the simple grouping of items, thus violating this minimal organizational effort that took years for me to come up with. My inner feng shui is screaming when I see wooden spatulas mixed up with dish scrubbing brushes, butter knives mixed up with dessert forks. We all played a game in kindergarten – “Which object does not belong?” Please, play it in my kitchen.


But what if, in addition to being ungrateful, I am actually the one to blame for the non-intuitive or inconvenient grouping of my kitchen shelving items? Are dessert forks more similar to dessert spoons than to the main meal forks? Shall we group by shape similarity or by function? How can you optimize your kitchen so that anyone can find anything and minimal effort will be spent on miscellaneous organizational tasks such as finding serving utensils, cleaning the table, and emptying and filling the dishwasher?

Interestingly, it took a working couple with a dozen kids to come up with a way of making this kind of efficiency a science. A time and motion study was devoted to reducing the number of motions in a task in order to increase its productivity. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth even creatively named a unit of this effort as a “therblig” - inversion of their last name with 'th” as one letter. By observing a bricklayer's job, they reduced the number of motions for laying one brick from 15 to 8, increasing productivity and decreasing fatigue – just what we need in the kitchen.

A friend of mine who made her career in being organized from the start has actually organized her kitchen with minimal therbligs in mind: sugar and teaspoons are right next to the coffee machine; scissors, stamps and markers await mail near the entrance. All unneeded movements are eliminated. She also labeled every single bin of the dishwasher and all the house shelves with the name of the item that should be stored there. The house looks like it came directly from the movie “Memento” where the main character lost all his short term memory and had to write everything he was constantly relearning on his body and the walls of his room so he would know it when he needed it. Not everyone digs this approach. Owners have to withstand plenty of jokes from visitors and occasional mischief (guests marked my friend's shoes with right foot/left foot stickers). But things do stay in order in her house, and after helping myself to a cup of coffee I realized that an intuitive and efficient arrangement makes everyone feel at home.

Try it at home:
See if you can organize your house with minimal therbligs in mind. Fast and intuitive. For you and your guests. Can guests staying overnight find clean towels and make tea or coffee in the morning? How many steps does it take you to change wet sheet in the middle of the night? Are you shelving plastic dishes low enough for your kids to serve themselves? Encourage participation and simplify your life.


Read more stories by The Math Mom about hip math of home ownership: How Patrick Dempsey and HDTV may be responsible for obesity or Color Dilemma.

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