Reclaim Your Space Using Zones

Reclaim Your Space Using Zones

Do you ever look around your home or office and see what looks like a giant “blob” of stuff everywhere? Comingled possessions strewn about can be both unsettling and counterproductive: needed items get lost, belongings get accidentally damaged or thrown away, and you feel like you just don’t have your act together. When your environment is stressing you out, you can reclaim your space using zones.

What do I mean by zones? Zones are areas of your home that are used for a specific purpose. A zone can be a one of a variety of locations, such as:

  • A room
  • A corner of a room
  • A worksurface
  • A storage cabinet
  • A shelving unit
  • A rolling cart or caddy
  • A closet
  • A chair

As you can see, a zone doesn’t need to be an entire room. Additionally, a given zone may need to perform multiple functions, such as when a kitchen table is used for breakfast in the morning, then becomes the home office for a few hours, later turning into the homework station, and finally morphing back into a dining zone for dinner.

When looking at your space,there are at least four types of zones to consider:

#1: “Work” Zones

Work Zones are locations where you are productive.

Exactly what you need to produce in your work zone varies considerably depending on what type of work you do. Most people do more than one type of work during the day, so it is normal to have multiple work zones.

When setting up a zone, consider every function you need to perform in each zone and exactly what supplies you need (or want) to get the work done. Take the time to find a place for all of the regularly used items in this zone (“a place for everything”), and then commit to putting things away at least once a day (“everything in its place”). Remember that the supplies may live in the zone itself, in a nearby closet or dresser, or in a cart or caddy that can be brought into the zone when it is time be productive.

If you can’t find space for the things you need, either in the zone itself or in a nearby location, you likely will need to do some decluttering and/or shifting of belongings.

Each work zone will need to have both the necessary structure and supplies that you need to be productive. For instance:

Type of WorkStructureSupplies
Remote work, homework, studying* Desk or table
* Chair
* Proper Lighting
* Outlet/Power Strip
* Chargers
* Printer
* Task/Zoom Lighting
* Earphones/Microphone
* Pens/pencils    
Bill Paying* Desk, table
* Filing cabinet
* Inbox
* Outlet/Power Strip
* Computer & charging cord
* Passwords
* Checkbook
* Bills
* File folders
* Pens
* Stamps
* Recycle & shred bins
Laundry* Washer & Dryer
* Drying rack
* Hamper(s)
* Folding surface
* Laundry soap(s)
* Dryer sheets
* Stain remover
* Bag for delicate/small items
Cooking* Refrigerator & Freezer
* Cooking appliances
* Countertop
* Sink  
* Pantry/food
* Utensils/knives
* Cookware  
Lawn Care* Garage or shed
* Storage racks or hooks for lawn care equipment
* Shelving
* Outdoor power supply
* Lawn mower
* Weed whacker
* Leaf Blower
* Rakes & shovels
* Fertilizers & sprays
* Fuel
Hygiene* Sink
* Shower
* Toilet
* Storage closet, drawers, cabinet
* Outlets
* Soaps, shampoos
* Razors & shaving cream
* Dental care products
* Lotions & skin care products
* TowelsHair care tools
* Contact lenses/glasses
* Makeup

This concept of having structure & supplies is applicable to every space where “work” is done. Take the time to think through all the types of work that you do and consider where you will do each. Even children “work” by playing, so they need storage containers, shelving, and cabinets in which to store their toys, games, puzzles, dolls, etc.

For some of you, this exercise may feel unnecessary… “I can just work wherever…” Nevertheless, I suggest you give it a try. Thinking through the details of each productivity zone greatly increases the quality and ease of our work when it comes time to get things done.

#2 “Storage” Zones

At any given moment, most of our possessions are sitting at rest. Ideally, they are located in predictable, designated locations in which they can be easily found when needed.

Storage zones include, but are not limited to:

  • Closets
  • Dressers
  • Cabinets
  • Bins
  • Boxes
  • Baskets
  • Shelves
  • Trunks
  • Furniture
  • Countertop containers

The most important factor to consider when deciding where items should be stored is how frequently you use them. At one extreme, if you use something every day, it should be stored in a convenient location, like on an eye level shelf or in a handy desk drawer. Alternatively, if you are keeping things “just in case,” they can be stored in places that are quite remote, such as in an attic, in basements, or in the eaves. Most items fall somewhere in between, and warrant storage that can be reached with minimal effort.

Bear in mind that any item you own that has not been assigned a specific resting location is likely to end up being randomly put down, making it hard to find when you want it.

#3 Temporary “Hold” Zones

These are locations in your space into which items are placed for short periods. There are several types of temporary zones.

  • One is a place to “drop” things until you have the time to put them away. For example, a surface near the door to put whatever is in your hands when you walk in the door so you can take off your coat.
  • Another is a location where you put items until you have the time to deal with them. For instance, mail may be sorted into action folders until they can be processed.
  • A staging area (or command center) is a third type of temporary zone, serving as a location where you collect items that you will need when you walk out the door.
  • Lastly, many families like having a “hold” basket or bin on the primary living level for each family member (such as in a mudroom or on the stairs). This is a place to put anything that gets left lying around.

It is important to keep in mind that temporary zones are intended to be just that – temporary! It is critical to set up regular intervals for these locations to be assessed and reset, such as once a day or once a week.

#4 “Relax” Zones

Lastly, it is a good idea to protect some space for fun and relaxation; a “sanctuary” for yourself. This should be a place in the home where you go to get away from the daily pressures. While you may not have the freedom to withdraw completely (e.g., if you have young children who need supervision), you still benefit from making an effort to define a space that feels like “your own.” It could be a chair in the living room, a bedroom, or even a niche in an attic or basement.

One way to make this space feel relaxing is to keep it reliably appealing. Try to minimize unnecessary distractions here. Also, communicate to others in your space that this is not the place for them to leave their belongings strewn about. Consider adding touches that you love (e.g., artwork, a soft throw, favorite photos, a TV turned to ESPN, etc.). Ideally, this is a location where you can turn down the volume on daily demands and do whatever helps you to relax. Do what you can to keep this space in order by reminding yourself how much you enjoy walking into this calming atmosphere. Give yourself the gift of keeping it just as you like it.

Since all family members need a soft place to fall, see if you can find a way for each member of the home to have a relax zone of his/her own. We all have different definitions of “tidy,” so let each person have some control here. Children may want to leave stuffed animals on their bed. Teenagers may want to leave their clothes on the floor. Some adults prefer having their belongings “out” where they can see them, while others are more comfortable when possessions are tucked away out of sight. Of course, younger children will need guidelines, but these things can be negotiated in a way that is age appropriate.

*     *     *

If your space feels overwhelming, keep these four functional zones in mind. As you sort through belongings, ask yourself if you use them for work, if they need to be assigned a storage location, if they can be placed in a temporary zone to be dealt with later, or if you’d like them to be on hand for fun & relaxation.

Knowing how we use things is often the first step in figuring out where to put them.   Do you have zones in your space for various functions?

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24 thoughts on “Reclaim Your Space Using Zones”

  1. This zone concept has me thinking! I love how you have categorized the areas that are used by all families. Thinking about the “hold” zones, I think of these as transition zones. These are places where things intentionally come and go on a routine basis. Creating more of these in specific places in the home make life easier!

    1. Denying the fact that we have items we are unlikely to “put away” in the moment does not benefit us. Designing systems that work means being realistic about how we live, right? Transition zones is another great way to think about these spaces!

    1. A good chart always helps me remember things!

      Being aware of the differing functions our spaces serve helps us get organized. Having structure is critical. Even organizers struggle to be organized without it!

  2. I love how you organize and describe the four zones! It encompasses everything we do in our homes. I often think of rooms as containers. In thinking through with clients what they want in that container, we identify the things they want to do in that space. As you described, spaces can have multiple uses, which is why, as you suggested, creating multiple zones within a room makes so much sense.

    1. Ooooh, I love that idea of thinking of rooms as containers. That is so relatable. I find that I talk over and over with clients about where they want to perform various functions. This is critical in helping set up convenient storage.:)

  3. Oh this is so cool. And sometimes places become “zones” and they shouldn’t be and we don’t want them to be.. but kids. Like the kitchen counter is somehow the “unload everything you’ve come into the house with” zone, when really, those should go into separate zones, like the entry way, rolling carts, closets, etc. This is excellent food for thought.
    Tamara recently posted…Pumpkin Hand Pie Recipe For HalloweenMy Profile

    1. Family members of all shapes and sizes seem to love dumping items onto the kitchen counter. I see it in almost every home. The problem, of course, is that the kitchen counter should be a work zone, not a temporary hold zone. At least not all of it. It’s a constant battle to get things back where they belong, but it is a battle well worth winning!

  4. What a fabulous way of approaching things. Although I think in terms of zones when organizing with clients, unless we’ve created a special-purpose zone for reading, practicing instruments, or doing yoga, I’m not sure I’ve ever considered an overall zone for relaxing. (And I certainly have never set up a dedicated non-bed space for myself.) In my own space, almost everything is either for work or storage; “temporary” is truly temporary, as I can’t settle unless the groceries are put away or the luggage is unpacked. (My command center is very localized.) Thanks for applying a fresh coat of perspective on this topic!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…A New VIP: A Form You Didn’t Know You NeededMy Profile

    1. I think the more people you have sharing a space, the more ardently you need to protect your relax zone! So often I see Mom’s desk or chair covered with other people’s stuff. Leaving stuff out drives me crazy, so I get things “home” pretty quickly as well. However, there are times when I’m in the middle of something and I just need a place for items to rest temporarily. In those moments, I’m happy to have a place with boundaries in which stuff can rest.

  5. Love this! I am all about zones. Your chart showing structure and supplies for different areas of work is very helpful and clear.
    And thinking about the temporary hold zones – with the holidays coming up I set aside my guest bedroom as a temporary staging zone for holiday decorations. I bring everything down from the attic and work from the guest room until I have finished decorating – then I re-stash the empty boxes or unused items until I am ready to bring down the decorations.
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…The Best Motivator for Getting OrganizedMy Profile

    1. That’s a great idea, Jonda! The holidays can become something of a part-time job for awhile, right? How smart to have a space to hold everything you need, so it doesn’t end up all over the house.

    1. You are my “soul sisters” on charts, Hazel! I know I use Temporary “Hold” Zones, so it would be silly of me not to talk these through with clients!

  6. That structure/supplies table is a fabulous resource. I love how creating zones is enriching not just once you have the zones, but as you create them as well! Taking the time to deliberately decide where your things go, and which things can go altogether, is a fabulous mental exercise.

    1. I agree, Katherine. It feels so good to have things where you’ve thoughtfully located them, instead of scattered about or stored in place that isn’t really working.

  7. So true. I am oretty good about this but there are a few areas in need of improvement. I could also “tidy up” a few areas that are accumulating items that don’t belong there. Thanks for the suggestions.

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