Matt Hrivnak

Kaizen: There's always another future state

Bringing 5S home…Organization, The Visual Home/Office, and 5S

How organized are you?  The information covered on the next few pages will change your approach to organization forever by bringing 5S home.  Many shows on cable television are based on this thinking, whether they come out and say it or not.  What I’m talking about is the organizational standards created by Toyota, and now used throughout many companies.  In fact, when most companies begin their Lean journey, they start with this:  5S.

5S is the acronym for this organizational program because there are five steps and each begins with the letter “S”.  The Japanese terms for these are:

  • Seiri – tidiness
  • Seiton – orderliness
  • Seiso – cleanliness
  • Seiketsu – standardization (standards)
  • Shitsuke – sustaining of practices


When translated into English, they are commonly shown as:  Sort, Set-In-Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.  Let’s start bringing 5S home.



Just as it sounds, you need to pick and choose what you want to keep and what you can get rid of.  The main point is that you want to separate the needed items from the unneeded ones.  I know I could have used words other than “needed” and “unneeded” but that is the main point of this – keep only what you need!


In manufacturing, a good rule of thumb is the 48 Hour Rule:  if you don’t need to use it in the next 48 hours, get rid of it, or put it back in its place.  In bringing 5S home, this rule works well when organizing a kitchen, garage, or workshop, but you can expand the time frame depending on your particular project.  Some people say a month, others 6 months, and some even say years.  At any rate, the main thing is:  if you don’t need it now, and you don’t need it soon, statistics say that you probably don’t need it at all.


A second good motto to follow is:  When in doubt, throw it out!  SORT is the hardest step for anyone that is a pack rat.  People in my family, I won’t say who, have a very hard time getting rid of things.  They, like many others, believe that they have something that is salvageable and that someday it will be worth a lot of money.  However, for the majority of the items out there, that is not true.  Of course, every once in a long while you’ll find a 1909 baseball card worth $500,000 or maybe even an original copy of the Constitution in the back of an old frame, but chances are, it’s worth little to nothing.


To make SORT a little fun and perhaps, even a little fulfilling, try some of these ideas:


1)      The classic yard/garage sale.  This is a great idea because once people see that no one wants to hand over cash for their junk, they are more apt to let go of it.  Also, an added bonus is that anything that sells:  gets the item out of your hands AND gives you some extra spending money!

2)      Another version of the yard sale is the online auction.  Join any of the major auction sites and list as many products as you want.  If it sells, then good, you get money and you get rid of it.  It not, then you know it’s time to throw it away – move on.  The only downside is that you will have to pay a small insertion fee up front on most of the sites.


I like this option the best, because it really allows you to see that if no one in a world of 6,000,000,000+ people wants to buy your stuff, who else is going to be willing to buy it?  Get rid of it!

3)      Give as much of it to charity as you can.  The Salvation Army and Good Will Stores always have need for old clothes and household goods.  Just make sure they are in good condition.  They will also accept children’s clothes and toys.  The best benefit of this option is that you can claim your donations when you file your taxes for the year in which the items were donated.  When you bring items to the donation site, ask one of the employees there for a donation claim form.  You fill it out there and they keep a cop and give you one for tax filing.  They will also give you a guide that it to be used for estimating the value that you should claim based on the items donated, the total number of items and the overall condition of each item.

4)      The last creative idea for sorting when bringing 5S home – if you have children – get them involved.  They love to help out, and the lesson of letting go will really grow with them as they get older.  A lot of American children have way too many toys as it is.  So, an idea here is, explain to them that some children have no toys at all and that they should give a few of their extras to those less fortunate.  This will be rewarding, not only for you, but also for your children, as they will learn to share.  And all this will contribute towards ridding your house of clutter.


One more thing about SORT – Don’t forget to recycle anything that can be re-used!



Now that you’ve sorted out everything that you no longer need, it’s time for SET IN ORDER.  This step is really the first step towards bringing 5S home.  It covers a broad range of areas, but the message is still the same:  arrange items in a set manner so that they are easily accessible, returnable, and at the same time, out of the way.  One term that makes it easy to remember is:  A place for everything and everything in its place.

The basic premise is that by arranging things in a logical and accessible manner, you will be more efficient in your actions, and over time, more apt to keep order because it will be evident when something is missing or out of place.  Uses for this stretch from a desk in an office to a workshop in the garage to the refrigerator, and even to things like a bathroom or laundry closet.  So, now that we’ve only retained what we actually need, let’s arrange it.


There are a few key ways of organizing to use here:


  • Common use items (i.e., items used together)
  • Arrange by Frequency of Use (i.e., storing items that are used most of the time in an easily accessible space)
  • Arrange by Sequence of Use (i.e., storing items in the same sequence as they are used)
  • Bulk area that an object occupies


The first one is pretty self explanatory; arrange items that are commonly used together.  In most cases, this is already done.  Looking at a house on a macro level, this would be the different areas of the house and what they contain.  In the garage or shed, people generally keep tools for upkeep and improvements.  This is the same for the kitchen and the bathrooms.  On a micro level, you would look at only one of those areas, like the garage.  Here you sort it into subgroups; like tools for yardwork and tools for housework.  That is why grouping commonly used items is usually the first way we arrange things.


Another way is to arrange items by frequency of use.  The more you use something, the easier you should be able to retrieve and return it.  Just as that sounds, you want to store things so that they are more accessible than other not-so-frequently-used items.  Some good examples of this:  In a bathroom, you use hand soap every time you visit, but you only use the shower/toilet cleanser once a week, so you’d store the hand soap on the sink and the cleanser in a closet or cabinet somewhere within the bathroom.  Working in your garage, you use your hammer and screwdrivers for 80% of your jobs and your jigsaw for only 20%.  Same deal here, you’d store your hammer and screwdrivers easily within reach, while the jigsaw would lie tucked neatly away in its own home until you need it.


Does this sound like common sense?  Well, it is, but too many times people forget the power of organization.  Okay, back to the organizing.


The next way to store is by sequence of use.  This may sound like storing things that are commonly used together, but it’s not quite the same thing.  This takes it all one step further.  While it’s true that most of these items are used together, the sequence they are used in is the driving force in their storage.  A basic example from manufacturing that I can use to describe this would be working on a hamburger assembly line that makes burgers with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup.  So, if the work goes from left to right, you’d store these items in this sequence, left to right:  bottom half of the bun, hamburger patty, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and finally, the top bun.  That example may seem a little hokey, but it gets my point across.  Again, there are so many different cases in which you can apply this method.


Finally, another way to store things is by the bulk area an object occupies.  The bigger something is, the harder it will be to store in one of the previous methods.  For anything like this, simply create a home for it and store it there.  Common examples are lawn mowers, laundry baskets, kitchen appliances, large mixing bowls, etc.


Now, we’ve learned how to store in order, let’s learn how to give everything its own home.  Some common methods for creating “homes” include:


  • Labeling
  • Outlining
  • Color Coding


When bringing 5S home, I really take labeling to the extreme.  Every where that I have worked, I was required to “5S” my desk.  Because of this, I had labels everywhere!  And because of that, I was able to stay organized.  If you look at my desk you’d see labels that said, “stapler”, “calculator”, “notepad”, etc.  Now, when I tell people this, they generally give me a weird look and don’t understand why anyone would do this.  And many other people in the office often felt this way as well – until they started working at their newly “5S’d” desk.  That doubt quickly turns around, and many can’t go home at night until they find their missing stapler.


Let’s get started, here are some tips for Labeling:


  • Use a label maker – it is much neater than hand writing and provides labels that are easy to remove
  • If possible, put a label on the item itself and also on the spot that it occupies.  If it is missing, you will know instantly and if someone else finds it, they will know where to return it.


A second way of creating “homes” for objects is thru the use of outlining or shadow boarding.  This is primarily affective in areas that you can use paint or permanent marker.  A good, real world example includes the use of lines to create parking spaces.  An at home use is generally done in a home workshop (but can also be done with utensils and items in the kitchen).  This would be your typical shadow board.  Basically, tools are hung on a pegboard or wall and then either outlined or the shape of the object is painted on the board.  So, if you remove the hammer, you’d see either an outline of a hammer or a silhouette of one.  If it is missing, it will be very evident.


Another good way to practice SET-IN-ORDER is color coding.  You can use color coding throughout your house, office, tool shed, etc.  Some people consider this part of the 4th S (Standardize), but it really fits in well for both steps.  Color coding really gets things organized because it is one of the only ways to make something visually distinguishable, which again is that Visual Factory aspect of Lean.


Some people think that I’m crazy when I suggest color coding certain things, but we grow up surrounded by colors telling what’s what.  For example, stop lights, green means go, red means stop, and yellow means slow down except for in New England where it means speed up, no matter how far from the intersection you happen to be.  Red is usually a sign of a problem or warning.  At any diner in the U.S., decaf coffee is poured from the orange rimmed pot, while regular coffee comes out of the black (sometimes brown) rimmed one.  And my favorite example, casino checks/chips.  Throughout the gaming industry, casinos generally use the following color code:  $1 chips are white (or blue), $5 chips are red, $25 are green, $100 chips are black, $500 chips are purple, and $1,000 chips are orange.  Then they add more colors on the edges to help indicate how many are stacked together.  With these edge spots, they can also look down from any camera in the casino to see if someone was paid too much or not enough, and in some cases, they use these spots to prevent cheating and quickly identify losses due to cheating.  From the examples I’ve just shown, color coding has a reach, far beyond manufacturing facilities.


In industry, color coding is usually used to distinguish one production line’s tools and materials from another.  Here each area, line or cell will be given its own color.  Tools, jigs and dies will be the same color as they area it is used in.  So, if another area loses a tool, it can be found and easily identified by any other area.  This also comes in handy when workers tend to take each others tools.  No one wants to be working in an area with red machinery and tools, and be using a yellow wrench.  Anyone can see from a distance that this tool does not belong to them and that they have obviously gone against policy and stolen someone else’s tool.  This same concept can be really affective if applied in a home.


For anyone that has multiple children, you’ll find this particularly useful for bringing 5S home.  Assign children a certain color that they use to identify themselves – but be sure that you let them pick it!  (If you have more than one child that wants the same color, ask them to give a second choice that can be used as a minor color.  E.g., John and Jim both want yellow.  John also likes grey, while Jim like black.  So, here you could give John yellow with a grey stripe, and Jim can be yellow with a black stripe).


I know you might be thinking that this seems crazy, but for younger children it really helps them identify their own things and take care of them, while at the same time they learn to respect the belongings of others.  Common things to try this with:  tooth brushes, lunch boxes, toys, tools, clothes, etc.  Remember, most children like the fact that they have their own color and that they picked it, so many see this as a game rather than a way of keeping them organized.


Aside from children, color coding works well for most household areas.  Some items are already color coded when you get them, like salt and pepper shakers that you use in the kitchen.  Here are some basic ideas to get you oriented with color coding:


  • For chemicals, like cleaners – use bright colored stickers such as red or green to indicate very harmful ones from lighter, safer chemicals.  You can also use a simple color sticker to represent any products with bleach or ammonia.  Make chemicals that react strongly together have two different labels, and create a small reference chart to remind everyone to not, for example, mix the red and green ones.
  • Stickers in the kitchen can tell you about the seasoning or taste of something.  I like to use this on wine bottles.  If you think about salsa containers – they have green for Mild, yellow for Medium, and red for Hot.  Well, I do the same thing for wine that I store in my house.  After opening and tasting the first bottle of a case, I am able to put a sticker on the back of the bottle that depending on the color, reminds me that this has a “smooth, mellow” taste or a “spicy, dry” finish, etc.
  • Create a schedule for sticker colors to use in the fridge and cupboards.  I like to put 8 different stickers on the items in my refrigerator and cupboards.  Items in the cupboard get a date within that sticker as well.  Each sticker is a different color and represents a different week over two months.  I do this so that when I go to use something in the refrigerator, I know whether it is good or bad.  I have a tendency to leave things around and they go bad.  When I started doing this, I was able to not play the guessing game and keep my refrigerator only filled with items that are still edible.  You can put a date on the sticker if that helps you too, but the main thing is still that it enables you to identify the good items vs. the bad items.


More and more companies are using color coding outside of their plants as well.  Most notably, within the past few years, Target has recreated the prescription pill bottle.  I’ve always said that they “5S’d” it, since they looked at it from a customer standpoint, took out the waste and put in more value added features.  They improved the human factor side of the product and most customers responded favorably.  Each family member is given a color, so that each bottle is distinguishable by sight, they’ve made the font bigger, more organized and detailed, but still readable, drug facts and warnings.  They’ve succeeded in aiding in bringing 5S home for anyone that receives prescriptions from Target.


Another good use of color is from the computer and consumer electronics industry.  All of the components that connect to the back of the computer are color coded so that the peripheral connector matches the connector on the computer.  Some people said it was brilliant.  I just say it’s simple, common sense.



The 3rd “S” in bringing 5S home is really something simple:  SHINE.  All this means is to clean up and make things sparkle or shine.  This is sometimes referred to as Spick and Span as well.  The point is the same, however, once we have SORTed and SET-IN-ORDER, it’s time to clean up what’s left.  During SHINE, there are three main goals:


1)      Getting the area or workplace clean

2)      Maintaining its appearance

3)      Installing and using preventive measures to keep it that way


Here are some common practices to help achieve this:


  • Painting
  • Lighting
  • Removing clutter
  • Dust collection
  • Minimizing leaks and spills
  • Conducting routing maintenance (i.e., preventive maintenance)
  • Use of root cause analysis


There are many more that I could list, but you get the point:  CLEAN UP!


After cleaning your separated items, it’s now time to STANDARDIZE everything.  STANDARDIZE can be done in a variety of ways, which will include some of the SET-IN-ORDER process like color coding and visual identification practices.  In industry, STANDARDIZE is used to make the 1st 3 S’s “unbreakable” by installing a system of standards that is to be followed by everyone within the organization.  This is where roles and responsibilities are handed out and training occurs to get everyone used to the 5S vocabulary.  Also, a lot of emphasis is put towards the use of visual factory techniques – color coding, checklists, and labeling that reinforce a “copy as you see it” approach.  In bringing 5S home or to a home-office, the same techniques and approach work well.


Here are some strategies to get to standardization when bringing 5S home:


  • Use 5WHYs and 1 HOW – Keep asking WHY until you get to the root cause and then ask HOW to fix it.  Some very basic examples:


  • WHY are you spending half your day mopping the floor?
    • Answer:  Because oil is always leaking from the machine.
  • WHY is oil leaking from the machine?
    • Answer:  The secondary gasket isn’t strong enough to hold the oil.
  • WHY isn’t it strong enough?
    • Answer:  The primary gasket is missing.
  • WHY hasn’t it been replaced?
    • Answer:  The maintenance department can’t get the screw off.
  • WHY can’t they get the screw off?
    • Answer:  They don’t have the right tool.
  • HOW:  I will have them order the proper tool, and replace it.



  • WHY have I gained 20 pounds in the past year?
    • Answer:  Because I eat too many bad foods.
  • WHY do I eat at bad foods when I shouldn’t?
    • Answer:  Because I don’t have time to prepare and eat well.
  • WHY don’t I have time?
    • Answer:  I get up late every morning and need to rush.
  • WHY do I get up so late every morning?
    • Answer:  I don’t get to sleep until the early morning.
  • WHY don’t I get to sleep until then.
    • Answer:  I stay up watching late night television.
  • HOW:  Ignore (or record) late night television and go to sleep.



  • Suspension of toys, tools, allowance, etc. – when people forget or ignore the 1st 3 S’s that you’ve installed, punish them this way so that over time, the system is reinforced and eventually sustained.  Bringing 5S home, like parenting, requires a lot of attention and shared respect to be successful.
  • Incorporate Poka-yokes (this is talked about in depth in another section) – means “error-proofing”  – some examples:  locks on chemical cabinets, used of baby or puppy gates, putting things out of reach, etc.
  • Eliminate as many variations as possible, examples:
    • Tool unification – use only Phillips head screws and screwdrivers on all home projects
    • Tool substitution – wing nuts instead of wrench turned bolts
    • Method substitution – eliminate the bolts and use clamps (many areas where this can apply – especially workshops or the kitchen)


Of the 5S’s, SUSTAIN is by far the hardest to fully accomplish, especially when bringing 5S home; partly because it is a never ending process of ongoing improvement, but mostly because it requires constant monitoring of the first 4S’s.  In manufacturing, it is relatively simple because you can reward or punish certain people or work areas, while in bringing 5S home it may involve only you, which in turn, requires much more self discipline and control.  Regardless of the troubles, here’s how you keep it going:


·         If you have children or others that are living or working in a 5S’d environment (e.g., your newly cleaned/organized kitchen), let them know beforehand that they will be required to keep it neat and orderly.  If you were able to STANDARDIZE well, then they will already have good tools to use in order to SUSTAIN.

  • Perform audits.  This lets anyone involved know where they stand and what needs to be improved.  Auditing yourself can be tough, but it does provide you with how well you’ve been able to keep it up.
  • Take pictures of the area at its cleanest point and then put them in the area.  This has the effect of putting a “fat” picture of yourself on the refrigerator when you want to discourage yourself from eating.
  • Use checklists – daily, weekly, whatever is most suitable for you.
  • Assign yourself and others involved tasks to be completed on a scheduled basis.  Reprimand when they have not been completed and give acknowledgement once completed.
  • Do as much as you can to keep it going – signs, pictures, reminders, notes, etc.  Make the awareness remain at a very high level of visibility.

Bringing 5S home is truly a powerful first step in mastering The Lean Lifestyle and one that sets the table for the rest of your improvements.  When I’ve been asked by people what were the top 5 things I did that really helped me learn more about lean, apply it more everyday and help me in furthering it in the businesses I work with, here are my top 5:  Bringing 5S home, Bringing 5S home, Bringing 5S home, Bringing 5S home, and Bringing 5S home!

Bringing 5S home…Organization, The Visual Home/Office, and 5S

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