Eliminating mid-station clutter

As I write this, there is an overflowing laundry basket behind me. I can’t see it. I can’t hear it or (for now, at least) smell it. But I can sense it. I know it’s there. It’s always there, eyeing me with its passive-aggressive glance. “Dave,” it says. “Daaaave! Look at all this laundry.”

No, I’m not going crazy, nor am I having a conversation with the laundry basket. I am, however, aware of what the laundry basket really is: a mid-station.

What is a mid-station?

Think of a train that leaves Boston for New York City but first stops in Hartford, Connecticut. Partway between its departure point and its final destination. That is the mid-station stop. If you wanted to, you could get off the train at Hartford, have some lunch, do some shopping, and then eventually continue to New York City.

The laundry basket is a mid-station stop — holding the dirty clothes before they get to the washing machine. The trouble is, laundry often gets stuck in the basket. Days go by and the pile gets higher and higher. It’s annoying, and this prompted me to find other mid-stations in my home and I found several.

The dish drainer is a classic mid-station. I’ll clean up after a meal, wash the dishes, and put them in the rack. A couple of days later, we’re all using the rack as if it were the cabinet.

We also have a collection of keys, backpacks, and lunch boxes that come in from work and school every day. In this case, the mid-station is the mudroom. The coats and backpacks have hooks and the keys have a small basket, yet these items often languish on the first flat surface inside the door, or on the floor itself.

What can be done about mid-stations?

Adopt new habits. I live with three other people and laundry builds up quickly. After just 72 hours there’s a mountain piled up. The solution that works for us is to do at least one load per day. If we do this, the clothes don’t pile up as much. Doing one load per day, is manageable, and a lot better than spending three or four hours on the weekend getting caught up.

As for the dishes, diligence is the answer here, too. Simply make it a part of the daily routine to empty the drainer and put the dishes, glasses, and utensils, away.

Continually reminding the guilty parties results in getting the coats and backpacks hung up properly in the mud room.

Eliminating mid-stations. I’ve read about people who’ve addressed mid-stations by eliminating them. In other words, laundry won’t pile up in baskets if there are no baskets. Likewise, there’s no “Leaning Tower of Dishes” to admire without a dish drainer to serve as the foundation. This is true but not often practical. When I was a kid, we didn’t have laundry baskets because my parents’ house had a laundry chute. We tossed the dirty clothes through a little door in the wall and they fell downstairs to the laundry room itself. Most homes don’t have laundry chutes these days.

If you can get away with eliminating a mid-station, give it a try. I don’t think I could do it.

The other point I want to make here is delegation. My kids, my wife and I all share chores. Many hands make for short work, as the saying goes.

If you’ve identified any mid-stations in your home, share your solution (or struggle) in the comments below. Let’s see what we can do about this common problem.

10 Comments for “Eliminating mid-station clutter”

  1. posted by Amy V on

    Oh I so needed to see this today! The mid-stations are killing me lately!

  2. posted by SkiptheBS on

    My laundry basket is a century-old soap box. When it’s full, it’s a load; I suspect good ol’ Proctor and Gamble designed it that way.

    This doesn’t just work for singles. It’s possible to set up a receptacle for each member of the household past the age of reason, and assign a wash day to each. I suspect that, with early training, young’uns will do their own.

    When dealing with spoiled brats and spoiled spouses, it will be necessary to buy a bullwhip or go on a multi-day cooking and/or sex strike.

  3. posted by Growing my own on

    I love my laundry chute and the grandkids love putting things down it. Everything old is new again.

  4. posted by Elle on

    My huge mid-station right now is a mound of stuff that I refer to as the “give-away” pile. Of course it is not practical to drive to a donation site every time we identify something to donate, but now the mound has practically taken over our dining room. Maybe the solution is to have a schedule – something along the lines of: First Saturday of every month is donation day, so anyone with something he/she wants to give away brings it to the front hall on Friday night. Or something like that.

  5. posted by Marion Whittemore on

    To Elle – I may have a solution to your donations problem. I have a large plastic bin in the back of my car where all my donated items go. When the box gets full, I take it our local facility. No donated items are allowed to stay in the house. As soon as an item is deemed “too small” (or whatever ), it goes in the plastic box in the back of my car.

  6. posted by Hannah on

    Good article. Especially if you live in a small space, cluttered up “Mid-stations” can really drag a space down. On the other hand, I’ve found that when horizontal surfaces are almost completely free of “stuff”, it can lift the energy and vibe of a home tremendously. I have eliminated dish drainers, because even when empty, they still clutter up the countertop. Instead I lay down a towel for the pans to dry on. Then I quickly put them away the next morning before work. I enter my house through my kitchen, so coming home to a clutter-free space (even if it’s the only one) it really lifts my spirits. Since we can’t do it all, try focusing at least on eliminating mid-stations and clutter in the entry room of your home. 🙂

  7. posted by EAC on

    I learned “mid-stations” as “staging areas” – places where work-in-progress is put while waiting for the next step in the process. In his book _Lean Library Management_ John Huber says something to the effect of, “Staging areas are an implicit admission by management that waste [waiting time is 1 of the 8 wastes in Lean] is being built into a process.” The goal in Lean is that work moves from each step process to the next without stopping.

    So, one answer for the example of dish washing is to have a second person dry and put away while the first person washes. No mid-station/staging area needed. (Not, I have to admit, that that’s what happens in my house.)

    In the case of laundry, particularly if your washer is located near the bathroom, dirty laundry could be deposited directly into the washer and a load run daily. (Again, not what happens in my house. But if I ever get to design my own home, the laundry will be near the bathrooms/bedrooms, not between the kitchen and garage!)

    You’re right that whatever solution you implement, it takes discipline to maintain it. The 5th S in 5S (sustain) is the hardest!

  8. posted by TV James on

    I love the mid-stations – it allows things to be broken into manageable chunks.

    Two baskets in the house collect dirty laundry. Every night, I take them out to the laundry room (attached to the detached garage) and sort into the light, dark and red baskets. The laundry in the dryer comes out into a clean basket, the laundry in the washing machine goes in the dryer, the fullest dirty basket goes in the washing machine. The clean laundry comes into the house and is sorted into each person’s clean laundry basket. The laundry eventually gets folded and a clean basket emptied.

    It’s a system of discrete waypoints, each, a manageable separate component. Anything more streamlined ends up being the wrong prioritization of our time.

    So.. is it cluttered? Or is it well organized? I guess it depends on your point of view.

  9. posted by Sarh on

    I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I got completely sidetracked (sorry, again) by your train analogy. You really can’t take the train from Boston to New York and stop in Hartford along the way. The rails run along the CT shore. It would be nice…

    Okay, refocus. The dish drain is classic. Like you said, it gets filled and then used like a cupboard. Of course, a lot of the time it gets added to until it becomes this precarious Leaning Tower of Pisa. I am trying to train myself to empty it each morning while I am waiting for my tea water to boil. Then it is ready for any dishes that need to be washed that morning after breakfast or for any plastics that haven’t dried in the dishwasher. (We have a dish drain so that we don’t actually have to get a dishtowel out and dry things, after all.) I am trying to make productive use of these small bits of time where I am waiting for something or someone.

    As for laundry, I am trying to bring my dirty clothes straight down to the washer after I take a shower. It works great. The clothes are all at the washer when I am ready to run a load. The problem is getting everyone else in the house to do the same thing. Right now, I just grab my husband’s stuff with my own. My boys prefer to use their dirty clothes as an area rug in their bedrooms.

  10. posted by Katie on

    This is a good idea, but there’s no way I’m going to the laundromat every day. These ideas are a lot tougher to follow when you’re a single gal living with roommates.

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