17. Back in Berlin!

24 Oct

I’m staying at Eva’s place – anyone remember her bathroom? I do.

So last night we went to help the Syrian refugees by sorting clothing donations and I have to say, I’ve never felt so qualified for a job as I did yesterday. If there exists one task my years of jigsaw puzzle training has prepared me for, this was it.

The basic problem is this: how do you sort thousands of articles of children’s clothing? It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Not unlike the pre-assembly task of sorting puzzle pieces, one has to bin like items together. But where a high-quality Ravensburger puzzle has rigid, well-defined parameters (like shape and colour) clothing is much more dynamic. Here are the different categories we came up with:

  • Kids’ / non-kids’ items (we had one bin where we would put adult clothes that survived the pre-sort)
  • Winter jackets / snow pants
  • Hats / gloves
  • Socks / things that go on your legs that cover ones feet (stockings, onesies)
  • Baby clothing
  • Sweaters
  • Summer clothing
  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Pants
  • Dresses

Then we had to sort each bin by size. European clothing labels have a number (in centimetres) that is supposed to indicate some dimension of the wearer but some labels were missing and clothing can change size (with drying and stretching).

Notice the vastly different arm lengths for these same size sweaters.

Notice the vastly different arm lengths for these same size sweaters.

The fastest way we came up with was to eyeball the size by laying them out on the table and just piling the different sized articles on top of each other. We also used the information on tags (when possible).


Once this sorting phase was done we had to fold each piece and put them on the shelf organized by item type and size / age.

Existing inventory.

Existing inventory.

The whole thing went pretty well. By quitting time we had gotten through about 80% of the boxes we were assigned. I also came up with some ideas for future generations to help speed up the process.

1. With some masking tape and a Sharpie, we could have labeled each pile by size. With several people doing the sorting (and no labels) there was some confusion as to which articles belonged in which pile.

2. If a given task is performed by a single individual, it’s possible to run multiple tasks in parallel.

3. The sorting does not have to be perfect and a Small / Medium / Large approach would probably be sufficient. Like any retail clothing operation, once the customers have at the merchandise everything is going to get mixed up anyway.

After three hours of sorting through donated baby clothing I notice that some of the articles were completely impractical. Have you seen how fast babies grow? I find it ridiculous that we dress up our infants in the same types of clothing we would put on a full-sized adult human – I’m talking about pants and shirts and socks. If a baby can’t walk, why do they need to wear shoes?

Are all babies this disproportioned or is this thing just poorly made?

And what the hell is this? Are all babies this disproportioned or is this thing just poorly made?

Walking home last night I was thinking that someone seriously needs to invent a sort of generic sack that we can can carry our children around in for the first few years of their life. And then today when I arrived at my babysitting job, I discovered that the Germans had already invented one.

It's called a Schlafsack and it is awesome.

It’s called a Schlafsack and it is awesome.


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