What Your Dad’s Garage Can Teach You About 5S

When I was growing up, my family’s garage also served as my dad’s workshop. He kept all of his tools in there, along with his workbench. If something needed to be fixed, that’s where he would take care of it. These days, there are man caves, she sheds, and all sorts of other places designated for grown-ups to escape their kids. However, for many men of an older generation, the garage was their home inside their home.

Looking back, I realize that my dad’s garage workshop area was also my first glimpse into what 5S is all about and why it works when done consistently.

S is for SORT

If my dad needed a nail to hang a picture, he knew that the small brass nails were in the blue bin, while the larger roofing nails were in the grey bin. You would never find a random washer or screw in those bins, because he had sorted out what he needed (in this case nails) from the unneeded (i.e., anything not a nail).


When he went looking for the hammer to use with the nail, all he had to do was look at his pegboard hanging on the wall to locate it. All of his tools were located on the peg board – even the rakes and shovels were hung on the wall. If it was stored in the garage, he had found a place for it. He also kept just the minimum amount of tools and never kept duplicates.


The tools on the peg board were all outlined. This meant that, even before we could read, my siblings and I could put the hacksaw back in its correct home without anyone knowing we’d used it. Of course, we never could use it, because part of my father’s system was that no one should touch his tools without his permission. He worked in the garage every Saturday morning, so he could inspect his work area regularly for signs of disturbance from kid-sized hands.


My dad didn’t keep more tools than he needed, but if he did decide to add something, he always followed the same process of outlining it onto the pegboard or making a home for it on his shelves. He always put his new projects on the left side of the work space, while the finished projects were on the right. Because he’d standardized his workspace, we knew exactly where to put the broken clock that was accidentally sawed in half by some unknown person.

S is for SUSTAIN

Once he’d set up his garage workshop the way he wanted, my father spent time on making sure it stayed the way that worked best for him. He regularly audited the area for rogue toys or candy wrappers left behind and maintained the tools to make sure they were in their best working condition. Dad also upgraded his tools if a newer, better version came along; he changed out his handwritten labels to ones made by an electronic label maker sometime in the ‘90s. Continuously improving that space always kept it the neatest area in the whole house.

Since I joined Milliken, my dad’s garage workshop makes much more sense. The disciplined yet simple steps he took maintaining it resulted in hours of productive time working on his projects. He didn’t have to spend hours looking for parts and tools or clearing off a space so he could work. If 5S could do that for a small suburban garage, imagine the efficiencies it can create when implemented in a large plant.

Now, I wonder if he would let me borrow that hacksaw…

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