On December 24th 2012, I comitted to a “Leap of Grace.” I was fed up with the clutter, backlog, and overload of the life I was living. I was applying the Lean, Continuous Improvement, Toyota Kata practices I had been learning and teaching for years, but years of starting more things that I could finish took its toll in every closet, process, habit, etc. I have. I was ready for transformation.

At first I had planned to give it a few weeks. Then months. Then a year. I didn't have specific targets. That was part of the experiment. I just knew I wanted to create a life and environment that flows. I also knew that I wanted to follow my own inner guidance and let the goals, methods and focus unfold. This is the tale of that journey. 

Moving Memories

Chairs 300There’s always an emotional component to helping people declutter and organize, especially after loss. I was excited, but also nervous about how Dad would respond to my rearranging his living area. I did my best to be sensitive to him. After all, not only was I messing with his stuff, I was moving and removing many of the traces of Mom. 

I was excited for him to try out his reading chair now that I had put stable tables on both sides. Instead, he sat in another chair and just looked around. Then he stared off in space as if deep in thought. We spend a lot of time in silence together since Mom passed, so I thumbed through a magazine while I waited for him to comment. I started to wonder if my moving so much of Mom’s stuff stirred emotion in him. I didn’t think he needed a rock from each country they had visited on the coffee table (there were a lot of them), but they each hold memories. Had I moved some of Mom’s memories before he was ready? I gave him several more minutes, and then asked, “What are you thinking?”

“I was thinking that our guests this morning wouldn’t recognize the place if they came back. It’s nice.” 

I was glad I asked. Instead of guessing, I learned that he welcomed the change.

Dad knew how much change he was ready for. He noted that there were medicines, clothes and other items of Mom’s in the rest of the apartment that would have to be disposed of bit by bit. “Would you like me to help you with that while I’m here?” I asked. “No,” he told me. “Let’s save that for another visit.”

This is the first man I ever loved and the first man I ever feared. This is the man I strove to prove myself to and the man whose opinion of me I sought to free myself from. This is the man I yearned to share my soul with and would find myself speechless with.

Eventually I did prove myself to him: this man read my books and savored them and learned from them and practiced my methods. Now, this man and I sit comfortably together in silence and speak freely about sensitive issues like moving memories. 

We did it. We made it through one of life’s most stressful events with our hearts wide open. 

Dad got up and walked over to his reading chair. He tried out his new setup. Yes. The changes suited him. 

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Dad and My Masterless Plan

Living RoomLean Manufacturing arranges things according to the point of use and flow. I continually “lean out” my own home so our various processes/activities flow. I wanted to streamline my Dad’s living area now that he lives there alone. With his limited mobility and vision, placement matters a lot. 

“What’s the master plan?” Dad asked me.

Those are words that send chills to an interators’ spine. They imply that one should anticipate every step before beginning a project. Once upon a time, I would respond to words like that by faking it. I have learned to stand up for my one-step-at-a-time iterative process. I told him:

“I’ll start by getting that big table out of here and then see what works. My desire is to give you easy access to the things you need when you’re in your chair. I want you to have stable surfaces to put things on when you sit. I want to get rid of obstructions and to clear a path to the light switch for the overhead lights. If you don’t like anything I do, I’ll put it back for you.”

He was good with that. He left to make his bed and take his meds. 

I had waited until late in my visit to initiate the changes. I had watched how he operated and knew what worked for him and what didn’t. Now that Mom is gone and he lives there alone, it just made sense to set it up for his low-vision convenience. He had expensive magnifying glasses that broke because he dropped them – because he didn’t have a good surface to put them on. He needed a lap desk to work on. He needed to be able to reach the lights. I wanted to make it right for him. 

I was almost complete when Dad returned. I expected some resistance when he saw it. I got nothing but appreciation. I think his words were something like, “Wow.”

And I did it without a master plan.

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He Uses the Tools He Has

Dad-LaundryIn Lean Manufacturing, managers are required to do a lot of observation. Often, they are asked to stand in a single spot and watch a single assembly process for entire days. 

One of the reasons I stayed at my Dad’s assisted living apartment is so I could observe my Dad in action. I wanted to see how he operates and what he might want help with.

Now that Mom is gone, the aides assumed Dad would want them to do the laundry. When I was there before, Dad propped the laundry basket on Mom’s wheelchair handles and pushed. She was his eyes at the laundry as he loaded and operated the machines. 

Now that she’s gone, he still does his own laundry. He can’t carry the basket so he drags it with his cane. He uses the tools he has. Once the machine is loaded, he does ask an aide to start it.

He can’t see much and he can’t hear well. His balance is shaky. But he is at home and he enjoys his sunset days, staying as functional as someone in his situation can be. He makes it work, using the tools he has.

It’s a sweet observation. 

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The “ESP” Update

It’s the simple things. For Bob, the motto “Space for Grace” provided a powerful focus that has literally transformed life. Now he has added the term “restoration” to guide his priorities.

Some of my Community Members benefit from other reminders about what to prioritize. We share the “ESP Report.” The priorities are eating, sleeping and pooping. Once those basic priorities are taken care of, we can move on to other things. Sometimes I can be relentless – refusing to talk about relationships, communication and other things until that foundation is internalized.

One CM added “staying warm” to her ESP Report.

Often, adding complexity before the most important concerns are addressed causes the basics to get lost.

What are your priorities? How do you keep the focus?

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When We Serve Systems that Were Meant to Serve Us

The Calculus of Clothing 550


I loved all the comments I received on yesterday’s post. I want to mention one in particular. Carolyn wrote about how she feels free from having to take care of so many clothes.

My comment to her was: 

“Carolyn, I love the reference to being free from having to take care of so many clothes. I totally get that – even though on one level it doesn’t make sense in that it’s not like kids who need to be fed everyday whether you engage with them or not. For me, the clothes stopped serving me and I found myself serving them. That’s changing.”

Somewhere in between Jeremy and his girlfriend Sara in the above cartoon is the perfect balance where clothes serve us instead of us serving them. That balance is different for each of us. 

And just like everything in life, a functional closet does require care and maintenance. It becomes dysfunctional when we find ourselves serving it at the expense of balance. 

Clothes are a tool. So are planning systems, appliances, food, jobs… you name it. When you stop dressing for life and start living to dress, when you stop working to live, and start living to work, when you stop eating to live and start living to eat, you’ve got an addiction going on. 

It’s possible to abstain completely from alcohol and recreational drugs. There are other forms of “substance abuse” that we need in life – in balance. That takes attentiveness.

The phrase: 

  • Does this still serve me, or am I serving it?

Can help restore balance. 

It’s a freeing phrase. 

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The Eyes of Grace Leave Room for Good Grief

consignmentclothingI took about 60 clothing items to Kristin at my local consignment store yesterday. I was stunned and pleased when she took everything I offered her. In an instant, I was much closer to my goal of having a manageable wardrobe, which is part of my Lean2Life goal of having a manageable life. It felt like an act of grace.

I got what I wanted. My closet has “Space for Grace.” It flows, and it is a delight to use now. So why would I get sad? 

Even when we get what we want, it’s natural to grieve what we don’t have anymore. I had each clothing item for a reason, and I had a relationship with each one. It’s legitimate to feel some pinch at giving up anything, even if you decided it doesn’t work for you anymore. Conscious grieving is not a problem.

What is a problem is when you think you shouldn’t be sad, and you block your need to grieve a bit. Repressed, or unconscious emotions are the ones that get you. 

I felt the grace of Kristin’s taking everything, along side my healthy “Good Grief” about parting with my clothing “friends.” 

I got what I wanted, yet I needed to grieve a little. Grieving is also natural when we don’t get what we want – even if we see the perfection of the situation through the Eyes of Grace. Say you didn’t get the job you wanted (or you did get it, but it didn’t pan out as you had hoped.) Or you got outbid on your dream house right before your offer was to be accepted. Most of my community members handle those disappointments well. They see life through the Eyes of Grace and embrace the opportunity for something better to show up. 

But it’s still okay to grieve. In fact, Good Grief can clear the way to moving on. Sometimes positive people struggle and think there is something wrong with them if they feel sad for a bit. There’s not.

In related news, my shopping cart is up for renewal this week. I’m not getting the orders I used to and I decided to close my bookstore down. It’s the end of an era. I’m okay with letting go of that part of my life. I’m embracing this new reality; but I still run into pockets of sadness. I see this transition through the Eyes if Grace, and that grace leaves room for some very Good Grief. 


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Addicted to Teaching

teach listen group 400“You should teach what you’re learning with your sabbatical to others,” my friend told me.

My friend is a respected leader. She teaches all the time. It’s a habit for her. I replied: 

  • I might end up doing that, but for now, I’m doing this for me. I am very careful about keeping the process pure. If I make it what I’m doing for others, it could taint the discovery process for me. I need to see my own world through my own eyes and drop my habit of turning everything into a teaching point.

It’s tough for me to explain how transformational backing away from the teacherly role has been. And how seductive the desire to teach can be.

It’s tough for me to not get caught in wanting to teach my friend what a difference it makes to break the habit of always being the teacher. 

I shared my observations and sat back and let her teach me. I’m learning a lot these days.



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The Power of Pull Beats the Pressure of Push

Inbox Update

Pull beats push any time. Attraction beats coercion. I’m experiencing that at continuously deeper levels as my Lean2Life Reorganizational Journey continues.

One of the best Lean moves I have made was setting Outlook to send emails to spam until I whitelist them. I check spam regularly, and set up rules for my subscriptions and newsletters to go to my “subscriptions” folder. I clear the rest of my non-spam to go to my Inbox.

How’s that working for me? GREAT!!! Better than I imagined! Why did I wait so long to do this?! It is so much easier to move a few non-spams from my junk folder than to delete all the spam I was getting from my inbox. 

The Lean reason this works so well is that my inbox now only has what I have pulled into it. The emails that have been pushed on to me are in a separate folder for my review when I choose to look.  

I started this process with an empty inbox and only invite what I want in there. I am the master of my inbox now, not the other way around. 

Starting with Empty

My friend Wendy emptied out her bedroom for painting. She had a great time resetting her room from scratch – starting with an empty room. 

The Liberty of Having the House to Myself

So this weekend, I had the liberty of having the house to myself. That meant I could be as loud, messy, goofy – you name it – as I wanted. I stayed home and dedicated the weekend to sorting myself and a main closet.

I started the closet sorting item by item. I got a little traction, but quickly realized I needed to take everything out. When I made the decision to sort that way, I felt my energy and enthusiasm increase, despite the fact that it was a very big job.

Within an hour, half the house looked like a bomb had exploded – but the target closet was bare.

I did make one trip to the store to buy modular storage drawers. Enroute, I wondered if what I really needed was another closet rod for a new level of hanging items. Bob had often suggested that I could have one installed if I wanted, but I was concerned about investing in something I might not like.

An Experiment

As I drove to the store, I noticed the clothes bar in the back of the car and wondered if I could experiment with that. I hung it from the upper rod with twine. I hung a few things on it. Then I hung a few more. I liked it. A lot. As I got deeper into the process, I expanded the clothes bar. Later, I expanded it a little more. I found what seems to be the perfect width. 

The modular storage containers went back to the store, but the trip wasn’t a waste. I found what I needed in my own backseat. 

Would I have added the bar if I hadn’t made the trip? I don’t know.

I do know that the power of pull beats the pressure of push any day. 

Bob and I both know that the more free we feel from external push, the more pull we find – and the less patience we have with push in our lives. It’s a liberating thing – and it works. 

PS – You know the divider line I have at the bottom of my posts? That’s in my images. I have to open three folders to get to it. Just now, I put a copy of it in the folder my web content manager opens to. A quick improvement to save myself a few steps. That’s Lean!


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The Magic Communication Circle

Ohno Circle 2The magic manufacturing circle
Lean Manufacturing guru Taiichi Ohno used to draw a circle on shop floors and instruct managers to stand in it for hours. Ohno would return to check on what the manager had learned through observation. If a manager answered, “No problems here,” he was required to spend more hours in that circle until he saw patterns and wastes.

The magic kitchen circle
Recently, Bob and I sat on the kitchen floor playing with our cat (who is flourishing). In the process of cat play, I viewed the kitchen through a unique perspective; I noticed many things that I wanted to change.

The magic communication circle
When I work with people on their communication skills, I give them a unique vantage point to observe their communication habits and intercommunication dynamics. Few have the patience or willingness to simply observe. Most want to take action before they have grasped what scientists call the current condition.

This is one big barrier to effective communication skill. We are so action-oriented that we won’t take the time to deeply observe. It’s like wanting to pick fruit before it’s ripe.

Stand back today and imagine you’re “standing in a magic communication circle” observing your communication. If possible, refrain from taking action until you have significant new observations. 

Do you dare? Do you have the patience and willingness? If you do, your communication improvement efforts will be far more targeted and effective. 

Just like my kitchen improvements are thanks to a simple romp with a sweet, vibrant kitty.


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PowerPhrase: What Do You Want to… (Sort)?

healthy-fridge 400“I feel called again to sort and organize and create a deeper level of flow in my home, but I wasn’t able to get moving on it today,” I told Angela.

How would you respond if a friend made that comment to you?

Angela’s response was perfect for me. She asked:

  • What do you want to sort?


Why was that perfect?

Because it focused my desire. It led me to be more concrete in my intention. Speaking about what the next level of my sorting would include helped me sort my thoughts about sorting. In the course of the conversation, I became aware of where some of my blocks are. (I can’t sort cabinet “A” until I clear space in cabinet “B.” That kind of thing.)

Angela’s comment was empowered by her genuine interest. We both became enlivened talking about sorting the produce in the fridge. She sent me pictures of how she stores her produce. My pictures for her will come later once I put my ideas in place.

Angela could have spoken encouraging words and said things like, “You go girl!” That would have been fine. This was even better. Our conversation put me right inside the process while giving me pictures of what the end result could look like. Our conversation put fun back into the process.

Most of us can benefit by asking more questions… like…

  • What do you want to (sort) (do) (accomplish) (know)?

I got some good sorting done today. Thanks, Angela!



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