The Appeal of Closed Cabinets and Doors


    Relatively short post here, hopefully will prompt discussion and comments.

    People are typically very fond of their closed off storage spaces in workplaces (ranging from factories, to offices, to hospitals). Keeping things in drawers and behind cabinet doors is the norm and people often put up a fight when you suggest 5S and visual management practices of organizing things and keeping them exposed and visible.

    Let's put aside special cases such as chemicals that have to be kept in closed cabinets for safety purposes.

    My question: is this tendency “nature” or “nuture”?

    Nature: Is this somehow ingrained in our DNA to want “visual cleanliness” OR

    Nurture: We are taught (at home or in the workplace) that stuff should be hidden behind doors.

    I'm not asking how to get people past that or how to deal people's resistance to open storage, but you can also comment on that.

    Final thought: Properly organized and “5S-ed” supplies should not “look messy” even with the doors off of cabinets.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Weird timing on this Mark. I just put my oldest (4) to bed. She is becoming her mom’s girl as she is a neat freak. Her room is normally spotless before bed. Same with her closet. Funny thing though… one of the last things she says to me many nights is, “Daddy, can you close my closet door?” It’s as if things are just not right until the door is shut. We didn’t teach this, she just has it in her.

    2. I think a little of both. It’s a natural human instinct to want order, and we’re told by our parents and taught by our teachers to put things away (in drawers & closets, or in desks or lockers). Those who don’t get some kind of punishment for non-compliance: at home we’re grounded, or lose some kind of privilege, and at school we get sent to detention or get a bad report card (which was always worse for me – at least detention was only one day, the report card is there forever!)

      After 18 years of conditioning it’s only natural that we take this habit into the workplace.

    3. Ron I immediately thought of my 4 year old as well. He wants the door closed because as long as he remembers it’s always been that way. He likes the consistency. We’ve always kept it closed.

      Not sure if it’s DNA for cleanliness but I’m much calmer after my 4 year old picks up. Closed shelfs look cleaner than open bins for toys as well.

    4. Several years ago my wife and I removed the doors from our closet with the intent of replacing them, but we haven’t found what she wants. In the meantime, I have come to appreciate the extra light in the wee hours and the fact that it forces us (okay me) to be neater about how items are stored.

    5. I was teaching yesterday and the class got into a discussion about 5S and the impacts. Everyone agreed that the desktops and workstations were better, but we all have drawers or file drawers or locations for all of the “stuff” we have to get through each day or we don’t feel like filing yet. We all admitted that this is probably a sign of our inability to make the decision required to file or toss the “stuff,” but it was interesting that a group of people who make hundreds of decisions each day to drive parts of three major companies, all have the same issue of operating without “stuff.”


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