5S and the KonMari method

Back in late 2016, I was introduced to Marie Kondo and her methods (called “KonMari”) for home organization. I listened to her book, called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” As her popularity has increased with her new Netflix show, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” I was reminded of the book, and remembered that I had taken some notes.

My wife and I have been on a journey to reduce our living space (from a 3 bedroom house in 2009 to a 400 square foot mobile home in 2016). At the time of this journey, I think I heard about her book on The Minimalists podcast.

As a lean practitioner, I was curious to see the connection between her methods and 5S workplace organization. Here are my notes, based on her book (not so much the show, but there is obviously much similarity).

For those new to 5S, it is a 5 step process for organizing a space (typically done in a work setting, but works the same at home).

The steps are:

  1. Seiri (Sort)
  2. Seiton (Straighten, Set)
  3. Seiso (Shine, Sweep)
  4. Seiketsu (Standardize)
  5. Shitsuke (Sustain)

kaizen event. I also try to do a spaghetti diagram of the major products and services in the area, so I can identify how a new layout could reduce travel distance (and time).

In the KonMari method, she asks the people to decide on an ideal setup of their space that will “spark joy” and make them happier. In the show, she physically sits down on the floor and “speaks” to the living space, to gain inspiration for the organization. I liken this to an ideal state exercise, which is common in most process improvement efforts.

The first 5S stage is called Sort, which is where we remove all the clutter and items that do not belong in the work area. In the KonMari method, there is a structure to which items in the home get reviewed first, whereas in the workplace, we don’t specify particular items or the order of items.

In addition, there is no discussion on the emotional attachment to the item, whether it “sparks joy” or not. We simply ask if it belongs in the immediate work area or not. If not, it needs to be moved further away, or removed completely (donated, sold, returned, recycled, etc).

In the book and on her show, she starts with clothes. She puts all the clothes on the bed, to show the magnitude of the issue. This is a good recommendation, as we often go through area by area, but overlook the size of the problem. The visual size of the stack of clothes helps the person realize they have a problem. I think visualizing the problem is a great exercise that we can add to our program.

After clothes, she recommends going to the kitchen, then garage, then books and papers, then miscellaneous items (like dresses, sentimental items, treasures, heirlooms, photos, etc). Since these are more difficult to decide upon, she leaves them for the end.

To help with the decision making process, she asks if this is an item that fits into their new future, or again what we call the “ideal state.”

She also recommends not showing parents and family what you got rid of, as it will provide more guilt, and they will likely hold on to more things than they want, in order to not hurt the feelings of their family members.

All of this has been part of the “Sort” step. Let’s look at step 2, “Straighten” or “Set in order”

After deciding what items to keep, she teaches them how to place things back in an organized way, including how to fold each item nicely.

The common theme between her method and 5S is “everything has its place, and everything in its place.”

Instead of organizing based on frequency of use, where the most commonly used items should be stored closest to the person, she suggests storing items based on how it can be put away, not by ease of retrieving the item.

To make it easier to see items in a drawer, she suggests folding and storing items vertically when possible, so you can see as many items as possible.

She likes to use small boxes to organize drawers and shelves, not storage containers or dividers.

Both in the show and in the book, the cleaning stage (Step 3, “Sweep”) is not discussed very much. Although in the show, there is evidence of cleaning that has taken place when she returns to the home.

Step 4, “Standardize” is also not mentioned, since most of her work involves a household, not a shared work space where multiple people will need to use the space.

Step 5, “Sustain” isn’t discussed either. The show has not shown any follow-up sessions, to see if people are maintaining what they improved. That will be interesting to see how long the organization lasts without ongoing follow-up.

What if not all the 5 steps are used? Won’t that lead to major problems? That might not be as big of a deal as you might think.

Paul Akers uses the term 3S in his book, 2 Second Lean, and doesn’t focus on the Sort or Sustain steps. He describes how he learned about 3S-ing…

The president and director [of Hoks], Mr. Emoto, shared with us what it was like in the dark days when their company was facing bankruptcy. His decision to build a Lean culture was a last-ditch effort to save the company. Feeling overwhelmed by the 5S’s, he decided to implement just three: sweeping, sorting, and standardizing everything. This man truly had a gift for simplifying things. He understood that if you made things simple, there was a much greater chance of people understanding and implementing the ideas. 5S-ing became 3S-ing.


2 Second Lean, Paul Akers

What are your thoughts? Do you see other differences or similarities with the KonMari method and 5S?

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