Christa is sitting in the hallway in front of the dryer, her lap covered in clothing.  She’s at that Mommy Zombie phase.  The rest of us are staying downstairs.  Despite best efforts, a purple crayon made it into this load of laundry.

Here’s the gag:  We don’t usually check the laundry for foreign objects (there’s just too much to check) but this time we did.  Christa caught a few crayons as the clothes were coming out of the washing machine so she shook out every single article of clothing to make sure and avoid any waxy stowaway in the dryer.

My first suggestion, of course:  “We need better systems.  We should check every pocket and fold before they go in the washing machine.  Get the kids to help.”

That didn’t go over very well.  For one thing, we do at least one load of laundry every day.  Washed, dried, folded and (usually) put away.  That’s a lot.  Imagine checking every pocket, every tiny little kid pocket in five sizes.  Sometimes  events overtake the daily laundry hours.  Sometimes a kid discovers the towers of neatly folded garments before they make it into their drawers and closets.  Sometimes, well, sometimes crayons happen.

I remember the first time I read the E-Myth.  Michael Gerber describes a systematic approach to business.  Instead of one person working as hard as they can to carry a business on their shoulders like Atlas, he proposes inventing repeatable systems that will run the business for you.  With those systems in place (and a clear way to fix or improve them), the workers follow their manual for most situations instead of re-inventing the process as they go.  You can employ hard workers with minimal experience because the expertise lives in the systems.

Doesn’t that sound like it could benefit the household?  Instead of firing up your creative problem solving skills for every task and chore, establish repeatable habits and rituals.  You don’t need a PhD in Home Economics to perform this job, just follow the systems.  You don’t even need an elementary school education — involve your preschoolers in this process!

When things go wrong, those purple crayon moments, the blame does not rest on a person but on the system.  Sure, the systems depend on people performing their jobs well — following all the steps — but even if someone does not or cannot follow the system, the system can always improve:  More clear, more simple, timed better.  That way no one gets bogged down blaming each other for failing.

Instead of disasters crushing our souls, they show us which system needs fixing (not which person).  The more disasters, the better.  Fail early, fail often.

Running a home is no small task.  Just to get the kids fed and clothed and distracted (then repeat) takes up the whole day.  Top it all off with a husband who comes home (or stays home) with his Systems Engineering background to tell you all about how your systems failed you.  I guess it’s not much comfort that he’s blaming your systems instead of you.

Sometimes a crayon just sneaks in.

(Today’s episode brought to you by the following systems:  The laundry system, the laundry-pocket-checking subsytem, the baked-in-crayon recovery system, the human resources system (mini-persons division) and the spouse support system.)

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