Back in high school and college, I worked a couple of food service jobs where I learned some valuable lessons in keeping workspaces tidy. Even in the middle of the lunch rush, I learned to stay clean and organized.
Here are some lessons from the commercial kitchen that apply to the workshop as well:
1. When switching from one task to another, always pause to clean up after the first task. In the kitchen, you always sanitize your counter top between tasks. So when I go from sawing to planing, I always stop to sweep up the sawdust on the floor. When I finish drilling holes, the bits go back in their boxes and the chips get swept up. If I do a little cleaning between each task, the mess doesn’t build up.
2. Keep cleaning tools nearby at all times. A commercial kitchen should have a washcloth in a sanitizing solution always at hand. In the workshop, I’m more likely to sweep the chips off my bench when the hand broom is at arm’s reach. If I have to walk into another room to get the broom, then it won’t happen. And keep trash receptacles nearby, too. The closer your trash can is, the easier it is to fill it.
3. Make storage convenient. In the commercial kitchen, dishes and utensils must be stored where they will not accumulate dirt or dust, and they are stored near where they are most used. Pots and pans are near the stove, while washcloths and dish soap are near the sinks. In my workshop, saws and drills are on either side of the workbench, and chisels are stored in a rack in my tool chest. Except for seldom-used tools, each tool is no more than three paces away from where it is most frequently used. If storage is inconvenient, it needs to be made convenient. Otherwise, I won’t use it.
4. Never leave the workspace until it’s tidy. In the commercial kitchen, you always put away foodstuffs, do the dishes, and clean the countertops and floors before leaving for the night. In the workshop, I mentally budget in 30 minutes for clean-up at the end of each work session. Tools get resharpened and put away, and dust and shavings get swept up.
Organization is not a skill or an event, but a habit. Consistently pausing to clean and organize builds the habit of organization, just like doing the dishes every night after supper builds the habit of dishwashing. If I maintain my organizing habits most of the time, I don’t get buried in a mess when I just don’t have the energy to clean every last shaving off my bench or scrub those last couple of crusty pots and pans at the end of the night.