Does your space feel chaotic? Would you like it to feel more ordered? There are many ways to improve the function and appearance of a space. One key element that can help is the use of “borders.” I know this word can usher in a variety of emotions, especially in the context of nations and politics. However, when it comes to a room, closet, drawer, or shelf, borders can be a huge asset.
So, what do I mean by a border? A border is simply an established boundary between one space and another. Take a moment to look up and scan your space. What borders do you see? Here are a few of mine:
– A rim of black around my computer screen
– Frames around my window and my bulletin board
– Wooden trim between my wall and floor
– A fabric edge around my area rug
– A decorative line around the collar of my sweater
– Frames around the photos on my shelf
– Dividers in my desk drawer
These are examples of physical boundaries or borders. During the recent pandemic, we’ve become accustomed to another kind of “border,” namely the physical distance between ourselves and other people. In many aspects of life, this has been difficult. However, in some locations – for example, a busy restaurant – I’ve actually enjoyed the extra space between tables and diners.
Borders can also provide a transition from one type of space to another, such as the foothills between a mountain range and the valley below, or dunes between a beach and a residential area. In addition to providing functional benefits, these transitional zones help our minds adjust as we move from one situation to another. Wouldn’t it be weird if we crossed the street from a snowy field and were suddenly standing in a tropical rainforest? That would feel abrupt and wrong, and we would find ourselves trying to hastily change our clothes and adapt to the new climate.
This concept of borders and boundaries is very helpful to us when it comes to organizing and planning our space. To be organized, we want our belongings to rest in specific, predictable locations. When our possessions pile up, fall over, slosh into one another, or otherwise mix in with dissimilar items, odds are that they are “overflowing their borders.” Spaces end up feeling crowded and muddled, making it hard to find, process, and enjoy what we have. If you are struggling with a space that isn’t working, you may have insufficient and/or blurry borders.
So, what do borders look like? They appear in a variety of forms, such as:
Physical structures that hold items in place
- Shelf dividers
- Drawer inserts
- Towel bars
- Garden beds
Lines of demarcation that provide visual appeal
- Moldings and millwork
- Cuffs and collars
- Decorative lines/patterns in floors and patios
- Trimmed edges in lawns and gardens
- Mats and frames around photos and artwork
- Curbs around a sidewalk
Structures and lines that have legal implications
- Fences and gates
- Stone walls
- Property lines
Open spaces that facilitate access and enjoyment
- Spaces around furniture
- Blank wall space between pieces of art
The next question to ask is, “How do I add borders to my space?” Well, if the primary goal of a border is to clarify where one thing ends and another begins, it will be necessary to first group like items together. After all, we wouldn’t put a frame through the middle of painting! Rather, we want the borders to go between disparate pieces. Sorting belongings helps us figure out how many boundaries we need to establish, how big/small they need to be, and where they should be placed.
Secondly, we want to establish borders that comfortably fit. A pleasing space is one with enough “wiggle room” for both people and belongings to flow with minimum difficulty. A drawer organizer won’t be effective if there are too many utensils shoved inside. A room full of stacked and labeled boxes may be considered “organized,” but the contents of these boxes may be difficult to access. A living room with too much furniture can be hard to move around in. When we keep too much, we are likely to overflow whatever borders we establish. So, prioritize your space for what matters most, and then remove the rest.
Lastly, establish borders to define where one item or function begins and another ends. For example:
- In a junk drawer, add an organizer to keep the tape from piling on top of the scissors and the pens from mixing in with the paper clips
- In a living room, clear walking paths between furniture
- In a closet, add dividers on a shelf to hold handbags
- In a bathroom, add a makeup organizer to separate brushes from mascara and lip pencils
- In a pantry, add bins and/or turntables for various types of food
- On a desk, use a file sorter for action files
- In a garage, establish zones for different types of items, such as “garden,” “lawn care,” “sporting goods,” and “car care”
- For a teenager’s room, close the door 🙂
To conclude this post, I thought I would share a few images of borders that I found on a recent vacation. Once I started looking, I found them everywhere. Notice how boundaries can define our spaces, maintain order, and add beauty.
What borders do you see in your space? Where might you benefit by adding one?
26 thoughts on “One Key Element to an Ordered Space”
I love talking about boundaries as ways to limit stuff. I see boundaries as a necessary part of getting and staying organized. When a boundary is broken, such as clothes cannot fit into one closet, then it is time to align better with that boundary.
Exactly, Ellen. The boundary provides a natural feedback mechanism for letting us know we are keeping too much!
I’ve never thought about borders and boundaries in this way! I liked your examples at the end with the frames and borders giving enough breathing space between objects. I’m going to take the time today to notice these things in my own surroundings. Thank you!
It was funny how many borders I started seeing once I was looking for them! They truly are all over, and they always make a positive impression. Something to think about, right?
I love your images, Seana. Borders are so important when organizing space. Just as you have indicated, they help you transition between things, areas, concepts and so much more. They also give things room to breathe. I know things don’t actually breathe but when they have space, you don’t risk breaking something when you reach into a shelf or cabinet to take something out. Plus, it’s easier!
That’s such a good point about not risking breaking something. When items are too close together, it is so easy to knock them out of place and end up with damage. Sometimes the damage is to me, e.g. when a kitchen drawer is too cramped and I end up poking myself when reaching for a utensil. Breathing room just makes life easier.
I love that you used the word “borders!” I have lots of borders in my home and office. It allows me to distinguish the areas for different purposes. When that area gets disorganized, I only have to organize that area. It is more manageable and can be done quickly.
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I love that point, Sabrina! Having those borders keeps the disorganization from “bleeding” into another space. Sort of like an imaginary wall that keeps things from getting too out of control. Terrific point!
I love your take on creating distinct spaces and areas using “borders.” Something I use regularly in offices, bathrooms, kitchens are trays to group certain items together. For example, on my desk, I have one tray that neatly houses some desk supplies (stapler, pencil sharpener, calculator, pens, paper clips, etc.) Another tray holds a display of favorite family photos. A tray below my computer screen holds my miniatures and fidgets. Without these boundaries, the items would easily float and get in the way of my desk surface. But contained in within their “borders,” they are both functional and decorative.
Aww, I would love to see a photo of your collection of miniatures and fidgets! What a neat system for surrounding yourself with what you need and love, while preserving your workspace. Terrific!
Great post, and I especially enjoy the “photo essay!” I don’t think I need more borders in my space but you may have inspired a future photo project for me!
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I guess this is the old, “A picture says a thousand words.” I look forward to a photo of YOUR result!
What a great post!! So many things with borders and boundaries that are all around us that we don’t even notice. Coming from someone that does a lot of back end website design and creating graphics, I even love white space as a border! You wouldn’t even think about it or notice it necessarily, but the importance of white space makes things so much easier to look at, read and/or digest. 🙂
I love this comment. You are so right, Laura. We need white space to give our eyes the chance to transition from on thing to another. Helps to have some “white space” in the calendar too, right?
I laughed out loud regarding closing the door to a teenager’s room, as I was about to suggest the TV trope of teenagers (or Oscar and Felix) creating a border with painter’s tape or bright yellow Caution or crime scene tape!
You’ve done a stellar job explaining how to delineate borders, which in turn specifies zones. Without these concepts, everything in time and space will become jumbled.
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I can totally picture the painter’s tape around a teenager’s room LOL! It’s been fun to become aware of all the borders around me since writing this. They are EVERYWHERE!
Picture Frames, drawer dividers, file cabinets, window frames . Everywhere I look. They do create a sense of organization and order.
Once you start looking for them, they do seem to be everywhere. A good indication of how important they are!
I like to suggest borders to clients, but I call them limits. When the “container” is full that is their clue to clean out the space, because they’ve reached their limit.
I think most Professional Organizers can relate to this idea of borders or limits. They really can be so helpful, right?
Great tips! Yes, using “borders” in the form of shelves, drawers, drawer dividers, cubbies, etc, works for any space and just about any person. Nice insight!
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Even a bit of open space can make a nice border, so a win/win for all!
One of the secrets of ordering a space in nature is that all matter is contained within it. This has the implication that everything in an ordered space — regardless of scale or form, is interconnected and in the same place.
The universe itself, our bodies, and ourselves. Each thing we experience, perceive or conceive is also part of this interconnected order. In some cases that thing’ is much more complicated and multi-layered than the human body. It takes a lot of insight, awareness and practice before one comes close to achieving full wholeness as well as being able to recognize any patterns or “truths” within, a feat called spiritual awakening. Most people are simply too caught up in their own minds or egoistic projections, that they cannot see what really is around them — but of course they can always hear or sense the information you put out into this world. Those who reach the point of realizing our true interconnectivity find themselves naturally in a very subtle version of consciousness that does not require many of the complex tools and experiences of life — such as yoga and meditation (and I’ll share my reflections on those in another post). So although this post…
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I’ve never considered borders and boundaries in this way before! Your examples at the end with the frames and borders providing enough breathing space between objects were particularly appealing to me. Today, I’m going to take the time to notice these things in my own environment. Thank you very much!
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Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you find some ways to incorporate breathing room and boundaries in your space!
You are very right – having neat and tidy borders really does make a difference. Things looks so much more orderly and neat 🙂
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