Friday, February 24, 2012

The Key to the Mint

Photo courtesy Flickr

When re-engineering was a bright idea, the rule of 80/20 spread across the land. It states that twenty percent of the work force does eighty percent of the production. 80/20 is less heartless and equally valid applied to things, and I’ve tuned my inventory 80/20 to very good effect.

Eighty and twenty seem to be valid proportions applied to other criteria as well. One of the big search engines encourages its staff to invest twenty percent of its time in adventuresome self-generated projects. I tried this after I discovered the practice, and it brings Friday to life.

At home, I find that filling only eighty percent of the storage space makes cupboards and drawers fast and flexible to use. It’s soothing to know that if a semi-annual shipment arrives from the Great Big Discount Warehouse, we won’t end up sleeping on piles of produce in the hall like crew members on the first day of a submarine deployment.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stacks on Trays

Photo courtesy Flickr

At the moment, I’m mushing blindly toward some kind of maintenance summit. A number of small make and mend projects have accumulated close to the television, the only sane place to do such work. The TV’s in the 1890 version of a rec room, called the family parlor. It’s just off the pass pantry, a staging area between the living/dining area of the parlor and the noise and smells of the production kitchen.

The pass pantry has counter space on three sides of a small room, and it’s ideal for staging projects, or meals, for that matter. I have a dozen cafeteria-sized melamine trays that I picked up at the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Store. They’re the second set of a dozen trays I’ve bought-the first set were basketry and wore out. Every household should have at least a dozen identical trays. They’re critical for getting work done and for casual meal service. Commercial aluminum baking sheets or half sheets are chilly, effective, and recyclable.

The pantry seems to have been designed to support trays. Back in the day, the housekeeping staff was canny about setting up for the next meal while cleaning up after the current one. It was standard practice to set the breakfast table after the dinner dishes were washed. I often do the same, but set trays rather than trotting back and forth setting the table.

Each pesky maintenance chore sits on its own tray, so I don’t have to make basic decisions about the work flow more than once. They’re ordered in casual priority and fortunately, some tasks are flat enough that I can pile one on another. There’s a Japanese design principle that says to make room in the work flow so that when you get something done, there’s a place to put it. That’s the best and most effective argument for setting an interior to rights that I know.

A beloved uncle was a career Marine who worked with electronics. One day when he was back in the US, I happened to glance at his tool kit, recognizing almost nothing. Uncle James said the most important tool in the kit was the hammer  he used to demolish gear that was too far gone to be worth repairing but sound enough to generate hope.

What really counts in maintenance is turn around time. The tray system makes it impossible to hide the work. Keeping the Shamrock rolling tool chest in a corner of the kitchen has cut half an hour off the prep and clean-up time of each piece of work.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Photo courtesy Flickr

I retired the ironing board to a hook by the basement stairs. With luck, it will grow dusty as it approaches genuine antique status. The kitchen cart is maple, a wood so solid it requires metal-working bits for fabrication. I don’t hesitate to iron the occasional table cloth directly on the cart, padding the top with a fresh bath towel.

Over the week-end I got to the Christmas tablecloth, which happened to have just the right colors for Mardi Gras. On an ironing table, I can finish a cloth in a three-minute song or during a commercial break. The cloth then rests on a warm radiator for a while to finish drying.

This post is dedicated to Mary W., who in 1975 explained that her ironing basket was labelled “Goodwill”.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Back to Basics

Photo courtesy Flickr

Housekeeping guru Don Aslett has it right when he maintains that September is the best time for major cleaning. That’s when the kids are back in school and the windows are closed. However, a Seattle winter is so dog-goned gray and dim that it’s hard to see even major chunks of things on the floor. When the sun finally comes out early in February, the back-lighting through a window can turn an apparently respectable room into a snow globe of dust motes.

The other day I realized that the brightwork and the woodwork are long overdue for care. A wise elementary school principal once commented that neglect easily becomes abuse. The fine details in the interior are at a tipping point. Any longer and the surfaces will begin to pit.

Saturday morning, I drank too much coffee and set to work. Window spray seems to have been reformulated to greater efficiency. I rediscovered the obvious: simply cleaning the highlights around the sink makes the whole space look brighter. Reflective surfaces should be able to reflect.

Mardi Gras is here, and the festival’s a good reason to burnish the highlights at home. Light’s a nutrient. The small effort it takes to foster the subtle reflections that zing around a quiet interior is more than repaid with a sense of well-being. In the Middle Ages, comfort was understood to be that which left one feeling courageous. Housekeeping can hardly be an end in itself, but it’s an irreplaceable means to an important destination.

In his Story Like the Wind, South African writer Laurens van der Post describes a scene in which two young couples shelter in a cave. The !kung girl grooms the dirt floor of a rock shelter with great care. Van der Post’s appreciation of the process is the best narrative of cleaning that I have read. The in-house archaeologist assures me that keeping sharp things off the floor is the essence of housekeeping.

Long ago I decided that nothing under my roof would deteriorate on my watch. That decision generated drastic reductions in inventory and a radical revision in the garden. It took long years for the changes to manifest themselves. Now we experience the house as we did when we first moved in: as a satisfying and elegant structure that needs only basic furnishings to support an easy, comfortable, and efficient daily life. In effect, the building is not much different from the townhouses that have become popular in the neighborhood.

-30- More after the jump.