What is Inventory Waste?

Inventory, Clothes Hangers. This image is CC0!

We all possess things, some more, some less. The typical mindset today is that possession equals wealth. Having more things, having bigger things, having more expensive things, having cooler things is what makes you a wealthy person.

This mirrors our distant past as hunters and gatherers. It can be a burden. In Lean Self thinking, possession is inventory and inventory is waste.

Inventory is the sum of all items you possess.

First of all, you should not take “possession” in the strict sense of the word. Things that are not your own but which you keep are inventory, too. Furthermore, immaterial things you have under your control are inventory. Before I discuss some examples in detail, here is a list of typical inventory items:

  • A house or apartment where you live, rented or your own
  • Furniture: Cupboard, wardrobe (maybe a walk in wardrobe)
  • Everything else in the house: kitchenware, clothes, TV set, food, books
  • Kitsch on open surfaces (or in the cupboard)
  • Letters and e-mail, either unread, read, or archived
  • Items on your to-do list
  • Means of transportation: car, bicycle

And so on. Have a look at letters first. Do you have a pile of new and unread letters lying around in your apartment? Do you open letters, read them and then put them in a drawer, without acting upon them? Now assume one of those letters is an invoice.

Chances are, you do not pay invoices directly after opening. One of those may be even about a big sum you need to pay later, because your bank account currently is drained. So far, besides inventory waste, nothing bad has happened. As soon as you put an open letter into a drawer, you create waiting waste. Maybe this is not that big an issue.

Some weeks pass. A new letter arrives from the sender of the invoice. You do not open it because you know that it is a reminder. However, instead of even opening, you put it unread into the same drawer, creating more inventory waste and waiting waste. Alas, you still do not pay.

The third letter arrives. This time it is a second reminder, also requiring you to spend a surcharge of some percent for late payment. That’s the damage.

Look at the waiting waste to find the right way to deal with letters, since most of them are just new items for your to-do list.

My second example is from my personal experience: When I moved in with my wife years ago, we had a joint book collection of about 250 feet combined thickness, spine to spine. Our yearly buying rate might be something like two or three feet of books. One of our rooms alone was full with my books, plus books everywhere else.

When our son was born, we had to empty the library room to find space for him. (Not a bad reason to look for space 🙂 ) So we rented storage for a large part of our books. We never touched the books in that storage.

When, for some unrelated reasons, the storage was not available any more, we finally did the right thing: we sold about ten large boxes full of books, using an internet service, and threw books away no one wanted. Guess what: still more boxes around us to be really comfortable.

Summing up the damage:

  • storage room in the house
  • rental fees for external storage
  • furniture for the books
  • transportation waste (moving the books to the storage space)

One important thing to learn from this example:

Inventory waste begets more inventory waste.

I started to buy e-books some time ago; this is much better.

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