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 Work||Structure||Supplies|
|Remote work, homework, studying||* Desk or table|
* Proper Lighting
* Outlet/Power Strip
* Task/Zoom Lighting
|Bill Paying||* Desk, table|
* Filing cabinet
* Outlet/Power Strip
|* Computer & charging cord|
* File folders
* Recycle & shred bins
|Laundry||* Washer & Dryer|
* Drying rack
* Folding surface
|* Laundry soap(s)|
* Dryer sheets
* Stain remover
* Bag for delicate/small items
|Cooking||* Refrigerator & Freezer|
* Cooking appliances
|* Pantry/food |
|Lawn Care||* Garage or shed|
* Storage racks or hooks for lawn care equipment
* Outdoor power supply
|* Lawn mower|
* Weed whacker
* Leaf Blower
* Rakes & shovels
* Fertilizers & sprays
|Hygiene||* Sink |
* Storage closet, drawers, cabinet
|* Soaps, shampoos|
* Razors & shaving cream
* Dental care products
* Lotions & skin care products
* TowelsHair care tools
* Contact lenses/glasses
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:
- 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?