A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

by Dan


It has been a number of years since I was introduced to the concept of “5S”, which was introduced to my workplace as part of a “Lean” intervention. I won’t go into the detail of the latter right now, but the relevant information is that 5S led to many skips worth of stuff being removed from our offices, and what was left was made to be very orderly and purposeful.

The phrase “a place for eveything and everything in its place” sums up the point of 5S – it is about only having the things you need, where you need them. If I asked you to tell me where your birth certificate, sunglasses, or spare batteries were, would you be able to direct me straight to them?

5S was devised in Japan in the manufacturing industry. “Just in Time” manufacturing, that made Toyota world leaders, was dependant on it. The S’s in 5S are Japanese words, but helpfully they have been translated into and English set of S’s. Together, they form a simple methodology to get your stuff in order and to keep it in order. And it works! It is worth targeting a small area to start with – a desk, a room, a garage or a loft, as this will keep it manageable. The steps are:

1. Sort (seiri)
Go through all your things and discard what you don’t need, and only keep what is essential to you in that place.

2. Straighten (seiton)
This is “a place for everything and everything in its place”. Each retained item should have its own “home” so you can put your hands on it at exactly the moment you want it.

3. Shine (seiso)
Clean, polish, tidy. This is a regular stage in the process to keep everything in its place, nice and clean and well maintained.

4. Standardise (seiketsu)
This is probably more relevant in the workplace where you can write the above into your procedures and manuals. Ensuring all colleagues know the right place for everything and help to keep it maintained. If someone wants to change the items or the places then there should be collective agreement, and the procedures updated. At home this can still be relevant. I’ll bet there are things in your house that you like to have in a certain place, but your housemates like somewhere else, or just leave all over the place. Endless aggravation ensues as things move back and forth. Worth a conversation to agree possibly?!

5. Sustain (shitsuke)
You’ve gone to all of the effort of the above – keep it that way! Regular cleaning, tidying and checking that the items and locations are still relevant as life changes.

For many people, stage 1 is the hardest. Throwing stuff away can be really difficult. You might need it one day, you’ll miss it if its gone etc etc. Helpfully, 5S has another technique to aid that process. It’s called “Red Tagging”. Taking the workplace as an example, what you would to is put a sticker or tag (yep – a red one!) onto any items that you aren’t sure if you’ll need. They’re not obviously essential, but not easy to throw away either. Once that’s done, you collect them all up and place them somewhere out of sight e.g. a storeroom. You then set a time limit and, if you haven’t gone looking for it within that timeframe, it all gets discarded as a job lot. For many people, that safety valve is just what they need to be really aggressive about their decluttering.

If you give it a go and have any successes I’d love to hear!