The Towel Census: A Methodology for Identifying Orphaned Objects in Your Home

by mingyuan 1 min read22nd Dec 20197 comments


Background: I live at Event Horizon, a rationalist house that for much of its history housed so many short-to-medium-term guests that many people thought of it as a rationalist hostel. We've developed a number of useful systems over the years, and while I don't have reason to believe our methods are entirely novel, I've still always thought it would be nice to share them. I'll be doing so in bite-sized posts like this over the coming months.

In this first post, I introduce a simple and versatile tool: the Towel Census. 

Because we had so many guests using our house towels, and because there were too many of us to keep track of, about once a month we would end up in a state where all the towels were hanging up in the bathroom, dirty, and no one was sure which ones were in use. To solve this, we invented the Towel Census. The steps are simple:

  1. Someone goes around and puts a piece of blue tape on every towel in the house.
  2. The towel census is announced in Slack (which is our central channel for house communications), and a deadline for removing the tape is given (usually 48 or 72 hours out).
  3. Residents remove tape from towels that they are currently using. If out of town, residents can ask via Slack for their tape to be removed.
  4. When the deadline is up, the censor gathers all the towels that still have tape on them, washes them, and puts them away with the guest towels.

On average, we'd do a towel census every two months, and find 10-15 unclaimed towels each time. 

The same process can be used to identify other unclaimed items, such as shoes, jackets, toiletries, and food in the fridge that no one wants anymore.

Variant: Instead of putting tape on every item, just move all of the items, and have people put back the ones that belong to them. This can be better than tape in some cases, e.g. for toiletries since they’re small and likely to get wet. 

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any questions or confusions :)