Lean at Home Again

I got a nice comment from Mark Graban who posts some cool quality oriented stuff.

I appreciate your efforts to apply Lean principles at home.

A few questions:

To point 3, it takes more electricity to cool an empty refrigerator or freezer. Are you considering energy costs? That’s probably nit picking

To point 5, this only holds true if stores are near by. You wouldn’t drive 15 minutes to Wal-Mart to buy a single can of soda each time. Sometimes inventory is OK if it keeps total cost (including transportation cost) down. The math would work out differently if gas were $5 a gallon.

Leftovers are OK as long as you consume them. The energy cost of roasting two chickens at once might be the same as roasting one.

Just being a pest with my questions… keep us posted on your efforts!


I’m terribly flattered that someone with real understanding about quality would take notice of my trying to adapt quality stuff to my home life. As a result of writing Lean at Home I’ve been able to converse with two experts on quality about using the mindset and practices at home.

First of all, I live 5 minutes drive to Meijer, Walmart, and a pretty good health food store. My commute, while only 20 minutes, makes stopping by the store before coming home, or making a quick trip out practically inconsequential. Plus, I enjoy taking a kid or two shopping with me, so making the occasional trip is almost a win.

Now about electricity in the fridge. By shooting for empty (not acheiving it yet, by any stretch, just shooting) I’ve probably saved $400 a month. So I’m not really excited about spending $400 extra in wasted food and stuff to save $12 in energy. Not that Mark meant that, just saying, I’m the guy on the line here, so I’m sharing…

The way I see it, and I’m open to being wrong about this, is that continuous improvement is about elephant eviction. The people working the lines, writing the code, or cleaning the floors, know what the real problems are, the elephants in the room. I’m that guy on the line. Continuous improvement, as I see it, is about evicting the first elephant, and looking for another. I’ve never worked in an office where there weren’t a few elephants hanging out. You’ve probably seen those huge waste pits known clearly to everyone except management, who perpetuate them. Maybe there are workplaces where the elephants are gone and they are on some truly high plane of organizational maturity. I’ve never seen it myself.

That said, my home has a few elephants in it.

I have 5 kids; 3 have autism. I have to buy a lot of organic food and a ridiculous amount of hard to find supplements, etc. The kids are showing improvement with the nutrition and treatments recommended by their doctor. Yay. It’s expensive.

Elephant 1: I don’t get to overbuy cheap food. I have to overbuy organic. Throwing away a half consumed organic bulk frozen item to make room for new a new organic bulk frozen food item was a constant problem for us. That’s the waste we set out to solve.

Energy isn’t a big problem for us. We have a very efficient heating system, and Indiana cooling is more about humidity control than brute force cooling. It’s just not a big problem.

Elephant 2: The house gets really messy really easy. This is what we are working on right now. Our autism kids are not the classic Oprah autism tv special toy stackers. No. That might be helpful in isolation. While like any red blooded autism kids they can certainly appreciate a package of 12 practice golf balls. White, uniform, all alike, they don’t get lined up end to end at our house. No. Ours persevate on scooping them up and running them over their hands and legs. The uniformity is glorious. But when it’s over, they get left strewn about wherever they were, where they will eventually get broken. Meanwhile someone is breaking into the salt box. And we don’t yet have the mental capacity and focus for a proper family cleanup time. Rats. So we’re having to come up with some systems and just plain less stuff around so we can make the best use of the stuff we have.

Anyway, at home and everywhere I’ve ever worked, it’s been elephants all the way down. So I had to chuckle at the idea of worrying about energy consumption of an empty fridge. But hey, Mark asked the guy doing the work, going to the gemba, if you will, which is the right thing to do. And when you do that, you always learn something actionable.

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One Comment on “Lean at Home Again”

  1. Bryan Says:


    I’m really glad you followed up on Mark’s question. They are good questions to ask. But the answers are always much more enlightening. As a fellow wannabe capitalist and wannabe lean thinker, I wholeheartedly appreciate your economic thinking about the problem.

    All to often, people find all kinds of waste and then create a system that will suboptimize the system. Your solution went well beyond to optimization – it is a radical change – by reversing your thinking model on full fridge vs. empty fridge. The savings are greater overall.

    Since you are a wannabe capitalist – I’d like to ask a question: if everyone had an “empty” fridge as you described it – the supply chain for retail food and agriculture in general would be drastically different, no? I sometimes wonder if those that see the ramifications of radical lean thinking are fearful of what a nation of waste free kitchens would do to the economy in the short term.

    For one, I can imagine that the market conditions would be out of kilter for a short period and some businesses would go belly up, so Lean Kitchens would be blamed for jobloss. There would be other consequences as well. What about existing subsidies for farmers? If we are buying less food, i.e. ONLY what we need, what would that do to the economic/social/political structure that is currently in place?

    I’m afraid the elephants would stampede.

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