Thursday, October 14, 2010

Make It Go Awaay Week: Traffic Indoors


Photo courtesy Flickr

I doubt that many lit majors in recovery had the chance I stumbled across last summer. I met the lab assistant who tried to teach me biology and was able to offer him pity and thanks for his efforts. My erstwhile mentor introduced me to the slime mold. I love animals, and it was a revelation to meet one that was a little piece of gunk.

While I was fruitlessly trying back in the day to comprehend the difference between mitosis and myosis, I split to visit an aunt who lived in Liberty Heights in San Francisco. From her living room, I looked out over the city at night and realized that the reversible flow supporting the life processes of a slime mold is identical to the traffic patterns of commuters.

In my youth, knowledgeable housekeepers were aware of the importance of room layouts for supporting comfortable and efficient home life. It’s been a long time since I heard anyone comment on a “floor plan”. In the interval I’ve had twenty-four opportunities to command domestic space no matter how inadequate the facility seemed to be.

Put aside rigid notions of how a room is “supposed” to be used and limitations disappear. Sir Terence Conran discusses re-working assumptions about space in his first House Book. Watch out for terminology: it shackles thinking. Labeling rooms with numbers or letters, calling them “chambers” or something like “the northeast room on the second floor” makes it easy to puzzle out how best to use the space.

There is no final answer to how to use a defined space. Life and households change too often and too quickly to be lazy-minded about a facility. The market is all too ready to supply pat, and expensive, answers to housekeeping problems. Take some time to think for yourself, and you’ll save thousands of dollars and expand your range of choices.

Unless it’s made of stone or noble metal, dormant inventory rots. Those little piles of paper, shed clothing, and backpacks are gangrene-in-waiting. They also signify the vitality of the household, tracing the movements of the people who live there. Work with them, and chores become invisible.

Place a container under each mess. I use sixteen-quart dairy crates from thrift stores. The container doesn’t have to be full. Sometimes I have only an envelope in a crate, because the convenience of a consistent storage format outweighs the apparently absurd load in one. Label each container with its destination and the person responsible for it. Use a bold marker. I apply shipping tags, super-sticky notes, or blank business cards secured with mounting tape. Writing directions means having to make a decision only once.

Each person handles his own stuff. Period. Each thing in the house has a home position. It’s best if the home position is at or close to the place where the thing is used first.

In a previous incarnation, I was an apprentice traffic engineer. Last week, I had a blindingly obvious revelation about home inventory: the traffic control signs that dot the streets of this semi-dense neighborhood apply to things as well as vehicles. Two hour parking, no parking, loading zone are as good a shorthand for getting things moving through the household as anything I’ve heard or read on home management. They’re also free of gender bias.

A domicile circulates like a slime mold as laundry flows from clean to dirty and back again, and it behaves like a gut when new things are acquired and discarded. Whichever process is involved, the system is healthiest and happiest when it’s reasonably dynamic.

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