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How a product manager motivates her family to organize
Alternate title: the agony of living with a product manager
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This week’s system is all about how I use my professional skills as product manager to get my family excited to (or at least willing to) organize. At the end is a link to a podcast that forever changed my relationship with clutter.
How a household manages their shoes determines a lot — how often you have to clean your floors, your ability to leave the house on time, how much yelling the mom does (or is that just my house?). I have small kids, so finding shoes, putting on shoes, taking off shoes, running upstairs to get forgotten socks, etc, consumes a lot of our time.
This is a post about shoes, but it’s also about galvanizing household support for making new systems.
If shoes aren’t a huge struggle for you, use our shoe adventure as a proxy for some persistent household struggle you face.
Our 120 year old Victorian entryway is lovely, but has no obvious place to put shoes. I created a drawer-based solution for all of our non-shoes items which you can read about here.
To get my household’s shoe situation in order, I evoked my professional skills as product manager, built over 15 years working in tech and finance. Product Management is a difficult job to describe, but in a nutshell you:
Make sure the team is working on the highest-impact projects
Ensure the project gets well and meets the stated goals
Keep your team aligned and happy
You guys, it’s not that different from running a household. The tech bros may not see it, but having cajoled both software engineers and toddlers to stay on task while ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated, I am telling you it’s eerily similar.
In product management you spend a lot of time getting input from stakeholders, ensuring your team is motivated, and getting everyone on the same page (so many alignment meetings!). You do lots of the work up front to build support, helping ensure execution goes smoothly.
At home, it’s the same.
Your team will generally be the people you live with, whether that’s your family or roommates or even yourself. Everyone in your home needs to help run the systems. Having one person solely responsible for keeping the house in order is not fun and can lead to resentment.
Your team also generally is your stakeholders, since the people you live with have the most to gain or lose with the success of your project. That means you can get faster alignment — a win!
Here are some approaches to help get everyone onboard with implementing a new organizing system, like entryway shoes:
Start with a small project. Shoes are a good place to start, but it could be something else. The goal is to increase your team’s confidence that this method will lead to satisfying results for all. Then expand to other areas of your home.
Ensure everyone agrees with the problem statement. Not everyone is bothered by the same things you are, so it can help to point out instances where X problem is unsafe (“look how easy it’d be for us to trip over these shoes in the hallway”) or blocking others (“we are about to have guests over, but where will they put their shoes?”).
Solicit your team’s perspectives. Ask what their challenges and problems are (“It hurts my back to bend over to pick up shoes, so I need to store them on the floor somewhere”).
Agree what success looks like. Agree what it looks like when the system fails, and set the expectation up front that iteration may be necessary. Also, acknowledge that sustainability is part of a good solution — if the house is neat but everyone is griping about what a pain the system is, you haven’t succeeded yet.
Agree what each person will contribute. (“I will put my shoes in this designated spot as soon as I take them off each day.”)
Here’s how it went for our family: my husband, my 6 year old son, and 18 month old daughter (who, to be fair, is mostly just along for the ride).
In our house, as we covered, the entry way is small. We have a funky closet-esque space which would need to hold all our shoes, plus jackets and school backpacks.
We all agreed we don’t want to trip over shoes, and we want to be able to find our own shoes easily. But what I learned when we discussed this as a family is that everyone wants to operate slightly differently:
My husband wants to be able to toss his shoes into a receptacle, and doesn’t mind having to dig through a pile to find shoes to wear.
I hate the idea of digging through a pile of shoes, so I want my shoes nicely arranged on shelves. I don’t mind bending over to pick them up and put them on the shelves.
My 6 year old son is unable to find his shoes if he can’t immediately see them, so his shoes need to be in plain sight. He doesn’t mind picking them up and putting them away when he takes them off. He is often in a rush though, so he won’t place them neatly on a small shelf.
We went through a few iterations before landing on our final solution. I’d watch and see if shoes started piling up in weird places, and if they did, we came back together to figure out what we needed to tweak in our system.
Our final (for now) solution is three shoe zones:
The small closet floor is dedicated to my husband’s shoes. The rest of us know this is basically a blackhole, so any shoes we put in his area will be very hard to find.
I have an upright bamboo shoe rack for my perfectly organized shoes.
My son has a shallow tray where his shoes go, and there’s a healthy margin of error so perfection isn’t needed. The toddler’s shoes go there as well.
It’s not gorgeous, but it works well for us. I added motion-sensing rechargeable lights in the closet so we could see what we’re doing in there, which I highly recommend for any dark space. (Motion-sensing, rechargeable, and magnetic are three of my favorite traits in any product, and these have all three!)
How does your household deal with shoes? Does a pile by the door work for you? Or have you engineered something more complex?
I have been trying to consume more organizing content out in the world as research, and finally found a podcast I really like. This episode is about “The REAL Cost of Your Clutter.” I tend to focus on the financial cost in terms of space in your home, but this is all about the emotions, frustrations, and dynamics that result from clutter. It’s a quick listen at half an hour and an essential listen if you struggle to get rid of things (which I think we all do).