Our routines make up most of our life. We remember the big moments and trips, but most of our time is spent on routine things. From work and relationships to diet and chores. These become the invisible but main parts of our life. We must remember to zoom out and question these aspects of our life.
For me, I was looking at something I do often but hate - laundry. Yes, this is an odd post but I’ll explain at the end.
It’s rare to have laundry in-unit in NYC. So I go weeks between trips to the laundromat and then do 50 pounds of laundry at once. This takes hours and requires me to do multiple ten-minute round trips to the laundromat. In NYC, to do wash-and-fold would come to be a few hundred dollars a month. It’s a decent way to buy back time but it still takes a while and your clothes aren’t well handled.
My thought was that this could definitely be improved. What if I applied the dishwashing technique to laundry. We wash dishes every day or two, what if I wash my clothes every day or two?
So I set out to try and solve this problem. Would I buy a mini washer for my apartment? Not enough space, it's pricey, and likely not allowed. What about a handheld electric washer? The motor breaks easily and it doesn’t clean clothes well.
Then it hit me. What if I could parallelize the clothes cleaning process with what I already do. Bingo.
I found a self-contained washboard that’s used for camping. You put in a few pieces of clothes, some soap, a little hot water, and scrub. My idea was I’d do this while I shower. Every day or two I’d take that day’s clothes and wash them with this method.
I was already using hot water. I could scrub with my feet while I shower. Then once I’m done, rinse out that day's clothes and leave them to hang. Even drying is parallelized. I'd hang most of my clothes so once air dried they're ready to use. I wouldn't have to waste time folding.
This would save time, money, and be better for the environment. Let’s see what happened:
I went to REI and picked up the scrubber from above. They have a great return policy so I knew if this failed, there was no downside.
Here are some pics of the process.
Long story short, it was a huge fail. First is that any time I went to take a shower, I had no desire to do laundry. When I finally did do it, it took a while to get everything ready to wash. Then while showering it was quite annoying to spend the time scrubbing. The clothes are also not washed that well. Also, in no way is this made for washing sheets or anything large.
Then the worst part: drying. Ringing out the clothes takes way too long when you have a few pieces. And once that’s done you have to always have clothes hanging around the apartment.
Across the board, it was a huge huge fail. But, it was actually a huge success.
Why was it a success?
I took time to take a step back. Question a routine I had. Then come up with a novel method to make the routine “better”. Followed by running a free experiment to try it.
The act of questioning one’s routines and looking to optimize them is huge. Even if this only succeeds 20% of the time the impact can be huge. A routine can add up to months or years over a lifetime. Minor improvement compound.
Looking at one's life and saying “can this be done better” is what human ingenuity is all about. And the best part? If we all do this once in a while we all win. Great ideas now spread virally. The effort multiplies across your whole life and maybe across many others.
“Smart-stupid” experiments don’t always land. But when they do the impact can be huge. It’s essential we relentlessly question our ways and run experiments to make upgrades.