What is muda? & What Can it Teach Us About Waste Reduction in the Home

Efficiency in the home is often related to cleanliness, orderliness and a stress-free environment. As consumers, we have the tendency to buy things we need and use, as well as things we think we need, and later find to be worthless. And along enters muda - a Japanese word, meaning futility; uselessness; wastefulness. There are 7 wastes associated with muda:
  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over-processing
  • Over-production
  • Defects

But before we discuss each waste individually, let us find out what waste really is. Waste is anything and everything that we do not need or want, and waste can also be things that do not add value to our home or life. Waste is the pile of junk mail, as much as it is the expired food still sitting in the fridge. Unwanted on one side, over-purchased on the other. When our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, we see it first hand, the meal that goes to waste.

Transportation – in manufacturing it takes a great deal of energy to move products, at the same time they run the risk of being broken with every move from workstation to warehouse, as well as within facilities. Transportation adds little to no value to the product or item. When shopping for much needed household items, try to combine trips for maximum efficiency and don’t automatically drive hours out of your way to buy something on sale, when you can find the same item for a few dollars more, locally.

Inventory – raw material, works in progress and finished items all fall in this category. Inventory needs to be stored, so as it takes up space, it needs to constantly be sorted and organized. In the home, if you have a large stash of tools, crafting supplies or a closet full of things you never use, then you have a large inventory of stuff, perhaps some of it could be decluttered and sold?

Motion – any movement of man or machine can be wasteful. Excessive walking back and forth, upstairs and down, wandering from room to room searching for “misplaced” items is displaced energy and in other words, wasted energy. If however, we are intuitive enough to strategically place items in our home, where they belong, then our energy will be spared. When everything we own has its place, then there will never be a need to recklessly rummage around when we need to find our car keys in a hurry.

Waiting – the time we spend waiting for a reply, or a delivery, or a mechanic to fix an appliance, adds up quickly, yet it is part of the process that we cannot avoid. The waste of waiting may disrupt our daily life, yet if we are multi-focused, we can be doing something meaningful while we are waiting for things to happen. Speed on the other hand is just as dangerous, as decisions made too quickly often end with more conflict.

Over-processing – time and money is lost when we use a tool or specialized equipment that is not right for the job. Just as we spend extra money on convenient products when longer-lasting simple ones will do, we need to weigh in the environmental cost of single-use items that may incur more waste than usefulness.

Over-production – considered by many as the worst muda, it is the making of too much at the wrong time. Users’ needs change over time, so just because a certain amount of goods can be produced every day, it does not mean that a certain amount can be sold. In the home, one of the most wasteful areas of over-production is the kitchen. If food waste occurs, try changing your shopping habits, eat leftovers and compost what you cannot eat.

Defects – can sometimes double the cost of a single product, so when you shop for something anew, make sure that it works as soon as you get it home. From a business perspective, waste reduction is an effective way to increase profitability. It is also a good way to trim production costs, while respecting the environment at the same time, harvesting only as many resources as needed. From a homeowner’s standpoint, waste reduction is a smart approach to save money. One way to accomplish this is by purchasing only what is needed and can be used within a certain amount of time.

Once we determine exactly what is being wasted in our homes, we can make necessary, and often simple changes, to correct the inefficient energy flows: In order to save on our electricity bill we can switch to higher efficiency light bulbs or invest in a better heating, cooling or hot water system.

If consuming less energy is our goal, then we can air-dry our clothes, instead of using a clothes dryer. We can also use a low-flow shower head to save water. We can make our own eco-friendly cleaners to avoid purchasing harmful chemicals that become toxic waste.

We can focus on buying quality items, rather than replacing cheaper ones at a faster rate. We can use lids on pots and pans to reduce cooking time, unplug devices when they are not being used and learn to recycle whatever we can. While there may never be such as zero-waste, there will always be creative ways to lessen the amount we throw away. When we learn to reduce waste in the home, we will invite more time and positive energy back into our lives.