Pesky Household Problems

by Lynne Cavanaugh

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Marriage to an engineer in a manufacturing facility has taught me many things. Terms such as quality control, design of experiment, process and system control and revision to the mean are part of his everyday, workday world. Simply from exposure, the concept of testing, evaluating, modifying and then establishing a more efficient, cost effective method of achieving results is one that has "rubbed off" on this household. Surprisingly, satisfying results have been achieved for some of life's little frustrations by using these quality engineering methods. Amazingly enough, when we can successfully resolve the little aggravations, life's more bothersome challenges feel less daunting, as well.

Once upon a time, this "chief laundry technician" was frustrated that teenagers (and tweens) would leave the bathroom following a leisurely shower with several towels used once and tossed in (or near) the hamper for washing. One towel may have been used for drying, another for wrapping a freshly shampooed head and a third for standing on with wet feet. (We're not talking coal mining here. These towels were used on clean bodies!) Complaints of aggravation and annoyance were falling on deaf ears.

Upon research, it became clear that since the "shower-ees" were never certain which towel was the one he/she had used previously, he/she would simply toss the towels in the hamper and get a clean one. A new system needed to be devised. The purchase of an over-the-door hanger rack with hooks was the first step in finding a solution. Step two was for each person to choose a towel color and a hook as their own. The multiple towel use issue was addressed by designating cotton bath mats for floor use only. These mats would be draped over the shower edge after each shower to dry. It took a bit of persistence to establish this new routine, but the end result was well worth the effort. Several loads of laundry are avoided each week, the bathroom is neater and the "chief laundry technician" much calmer.

Another pesky issue sprouted when moving to a new house in a rural area without a garbage disposal. Although, as a frugal family, we produce little food waste, just vegetable scrapings, banana peels, chicken bones and the like. Still, we did not want our trash to attract either insects or mice. The "chief cook and bottle washer" had tried wrapping food waste in yesterday's newspaper and folding the resulting bundle into the trash, but it was still wet and messy. While emptying the last of the coffee can for the morning coffee, inspiration struck! Looking at the can with fresh eyes, the "chief cook" saw a lid for containing odor and that a hamburger or hotdog plastic bag would fit inside and fold neatly over the edge. "Worth a try," she thought of her eureka moment. Thus, after experimentation, an effective method was developed. Garbage can be collected for up to a week, the lid contains odor and, with a bread bag twisty tie sealing the full bag, the odor and wetness is contained within the trash bag.

A third issue addressed using "quality engineering" principles was the school lunch program. Most days, our students were content with their bag lunches from home, but on other days, they were disappointed to miss the school hot lunch. Additionally, the "chief lunch packer" was never certain that the right quantity of food had been packed for each student. A two-pronged solution was devised for this situation. First, the school lunch menu was posted in the kitchen and each student was responsible for putting his/her initials on the days that they wanted hot lunch. Secondly, after eating a home-packed lunch, each student was to put any food wrappers as well as any uneaten food back into the lunch sack to be returned home. That way, the "lunch packer" could immediately adjust quantities if only a half sandwich had been eaten, or if dessert had been devoured but nothing else. If an apple was untouched, it would be far better to chill it overnight and re-pack it for Mom or Dad the next day, rather than have it dumped in the lunchroom trash can. A word of warning is in order here. Be very careful not to criticize what your student has or has not eaten if you want honest information and if you want uneaten food returned for another lunch.

None of these issues were major, but still they were wasting energy and/or money. It is amazing how satisfying it can be to find a successful solution for these minor issues and to free our minds and our time schedules for more important things, such as tossing a baseball with a child or enjoying an early morning cup of coffee while watching the sun rise!

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