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25 June 2013

Working in your home - your system

Although during the previous 30 years we'd kept chickens, stockpiled, paid off debt, cooked from scratch, knitted and sewn, I felt all those things were just single activities that were useful in their own right, certainly, but not part of a useful or recognisable system. One day, soon after I came back to my home full time, I was thinking about how homemaking tasks related to the backyard and it all fell into place. It was all connected, I just didn't have a name for what I was hoping to do. The backyard provided fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs for the kitchen, the stockpile supplemented the backyard produce and the meat, fish and chicken I bought. Cooking from scratch improved our health. All of it impacted on our budget. It was the same for the laundry - making my own cleaners not only gave me better quality at a lower price, if I bought the raw materials in the form of borax, washing soda, soap, vinegar, bicarb, citric acid and salt, I could home produce all my cleaners within my system and leave the commercial cleaners in the supermarket. If I worked on it, I could see myself buying less and producing more of what we needed at home. I hadn't heard of the term 'simple living' then. Soon it would change me, change my life and make me happier than I could imagine.

I started to think about applying a permaculture-related concept to my home, where instead of focusing on each separate element in the home and backyard, I worked to strengthen the relationship between all my tasks so my system would be greater than the sum of its parts. It seemed clear to me that if permaculture could work so well outside in the backyard, then the design principles could also be applied in the home and to housework as well. I looked around on the internet for guidance but to my surprise no one else was writing about this. There were many websites about food production using permaculture principles, there were articles about permaculture and Waldolf and homeschooling, breastfeeding, dying with dignity and other seemingly unrelated elements of home life, but nothing about how to organise a home into zones and how the principles of permaculture also worked inside the home.

These are the commonly accepted permaculture principles:
  • Observe and interact.
  • Catch and store energy.
  • Obtain a yield.
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.
  • Use and value renewable resources and services.
  • Produce no waste.
  • Design from patterns to details.
  • Integrate rather than segregate.
  • Use small and slow solutions.
  • Use and value diversity.
  • Use edges and value the marginal.
  • Creatively use and respond to change.
If I divided my home according to the zone concept in permaculture. The goal then would be to apply the above principles to every zone to create a warm and productive home where every family member thrived.

Permaculture zones in an urban home
Zone 0
The house. Here babies are conceived and cuddled, toddlers turn into school children, then teenagers. The home is where families grow into strong units.
Zone 1
This is the zone were the most action happens and for me, that's the kitchen. Included in this zone are the freezer, pantry, stockpile cupboard and kitchen table.
Zone 2
This zone requires a little less attention but still it's busy. This is the laundry where we wash clothes, make cleaners, make and store soap and keep the ingredients for all our cleaners.
Zone 3
This is the living and relaxation area of our home - the lounge room, front and back verandahs.
Zone 4
This is our maintenance zone. It's is sewing and work room and the linen cupboard. In here I mend, sew, store fabrics, yarns, sewing machine, knitting needles, buttons and sewing tools.
Zone 4
Takes in the garage, the garden shed and Hanno's big shed. These areas are where we store broken furniture, bits and pieces waiting to be fixed, tools, hay and backyard equipment.
Zone 5 
Budgeting zone. Although this is not an actual place and doesn't require daily monitoring, it's an important part of the system because it relates to every zone.

* Information about permaculture from

Over the years I've checked every now and then to see if anyone is using zones and permaculture principles in their homes but have haven't found it yet. If you know of such a site, please let me know.

It seems to me that applying permaculture principles to our homes would work well and I guess my home is run using permaculture principles and traditional old methods, but more in the way of my grandmother's home rather than my mother's. I use routines, plans, lists and a diary to help me organise my day-to-day tasks. I try to work mindfully, I respect my surrounding environment and support my community. I'm not going to say that my simple system of working here is permaculture but I do use the principles of permaculture in my daily work. 

How would you describe your style of working in your home?


  1. Very very very interesting, Rhonda. I used to be more anxious on my days off, thinking of all I needed to accomplish. Now, just recently, I am taking a different approach. In the mornings, I do something pleasant like sewing clothes, baking or whatever I want to do - never goofing off, though - and it's in the afternoon that I do more of the cleaning jobs. Things seem to flow more smoothly. I'm not a morning person, although now that it's hot out and with so much light in summer, I am starting to get up quite early before it gets awful, and I'm enjoying that, too. Basically, I'm doing what I feel like, and it works because I'm not lazy; I'm not looking to waste time or anything. But I don't feel rushed. Your zone idea is so interesting!

  2. Ho Rhonda uses the idea of zones in the home and arranges her cleaning routines around them. Quite a few blogging friends have felt her methods turned around their battle with cleaning and organising although I haven't tried her methods. Lily. xxx

  3. I enjoy your blog and find it encouraging to know that "home making" is shown as a respected occupation. You remind us that is is OK to work hard at home and that is deserves respect. Angela at

  4. Ooh, I love this! Such an interesting connection, and something I'll be thinking more about. Would love to hear more specifics about how you apply the principles to each of your zones....

  5. You know what I really LOVE about your blog? You are just regular people. Ok, I know that sounds funny, but I love to read your blog because I can relate to it. I have quite a few blogs that I love to go look at, most of them home related, but a lot of them have these incredibly huge beautiful NEW homes, probably all several thousand square feet, with swimming pools, manicured lawns, etc. I can't relate to that. I live very simply, my house is barely over 1000 square feet, little 1970's ranch, and the rooms are small. I have a small garden out back that I putter in, I knit, sew, crochet, scrapbook, etc. I don't have huge amounts of money to make my house magazine perfect or ready. It is what it is. Thank you for being you.

  6. Rhonda,
    This post spoke to me so strongly. For years I have struggled with how to 'simplify.' For me, simplifying is a state of mind and living an authentic life. It has always troubled me to see "rules" for how one should or shouldn't live this life. Everyone has their own level of what constitutes "simple living." Thank you for taking the position that each person has to create their own authentic life -- to reflect their values and goals.

  7. Oh I love this idea, and its so simple and sensible !
    Babs xx

  8. This is so interesting, Rhonda. I have heard the word 'permaculture' mentioned from time to time but I have never really known what it meant or much about it. I am trying to carve out a simpler life here in our very urban setting (outskirts of London, England) and the idea of following the permaculture principles and zones you have listed within our home is quite inspiring. You have given me a lot of food for thought, thank you.

  9. I seldom comment (sorry!) but am so impressed by this idea of permaculture zones in the home that I just had to. This has given me so much food for thought and I'd be very interested to read anything more you have to say on the subject. (I work at home, doing one-to-one remedial work with children, so a lot of my physical spaces have to do double duty,as well as being welcoming and child-proof... And the house is pretty small too.)

  10. Applying permaculture principles to the work and daily living within your home makes so much sense. I had never thought of it in those terms but I guess that is what I tend to do. However, some weeks I feel as though I barely make my way through Zones 1 and 2!!

    I work full-time and the thing that has made the biggest difference for me is decluttering,streamlining and simplifying both the 'stuff' and the processes. This means that I can focus my energies on Zones 1 and 2 and everything else can tick over quite happily with minimal input from me.

    Many people are astounded at how I 'find the time' (their words) to cook from scratch, maintain a productive garden and prepare and store what we grow. It is more about choosing how I will use the available time.

    Thank you for your ideas around the permaculture principles for your home. It is something I will consider more in the future.

  11. What an interesting concept! I've never thought about my home in terms of the zones, only my garden. But if I look at my home in these terms, the zones are immediately clear! Thanks. That helps me clarify my priorities.

  12. I have never thought of my home in those terms before, I'll have to go and digest that now, and see how it all fits! Thankyou.

  13. Rhonda I laughed at myself when I thought of my responses to your question today.....lurching from one task to another or perhaps as in nature..tending towards entropy. I must admit though, with the forum and your blog I am writing lists and I now know what evening meals we are having a few days in I am making some inroads although the scatter gun approach sometimes returns. Since reading your blog and rediscovering the forum I have made more bread, made soap and other cleaners, partipated in several swaps and had the joy of belonging to a wonderful group of people. I did complete a permaculture course in the eighties when I lived in Canberra and have been thinking about applying the principles to the home. I think that having the cups stored near the kettle, the coffee and the tea etc are examples of this type of thinking. Having all the office supplies in one area....and having things easy to go from one area to another enabling one trip instead of 4 trips up and down the stairs for instan

  14. Hi Rhonda,

    food for thought, how to apply those principals to the zones of the home. I particularly liked 'use small and slow solutions'. I know you've said it many times, but I often forget the value of 'slow'. Because I'm working full-time, I do house cleaning and maintenance in zones, the most important to health,order and happiness being zone one.

    Working in zones allows me to finish one area and have a feeling of control. If things really are getting out of control, I go around and pick up 5 things that don't belong in each zone. Small steps can bring chaos under control!

    Have a great day :)


    PS: Yesterday I stumbled upon two most inspiring youtube videos : Homegrown Revolution - Award Winning Short Film - The Urban Homestead, and Urban Homestead - Living The Real Simple Life (ABC Nightline)

  15. I have been a silent reader for a long time, but now I need to leave a comment. What you write is so fascinating, not least because I have also started experimenting with the ideas of permaculture in my house, garden, and work. It is so exciting to see how different systems work together. Observing this teaches what really is necessary and what isn't - and gradually this leads to a very functional simplicity. I think permaculture is very much an attitude or a lifestyle.

    It would be so interesting to hear more about how you put the principles into practice, but even now, you have helped me a long step forward. Thank you!

  16. I love your zones. I was first introduced to the idea of the home in terms of zones while at Geoff Lawtons, by a woman called Cecilia Macaulay.At the moment I'm rethinking how I view my home and I am working on bringing some order to it and now My thoughts turn to zones. Thanks for the advice.

  17. Hi Rhonda
    How clever! You have such practical suggestions that can be applied to any home by everyone, thank you for sharing your wisdom.
    Today I am working on my Budgeting zone and making a spreadsheet with all our utilities & maintenance costs then looking at where some savings can be made.
    After extensive research, I discovered yesterday I can get a significant discount on health insurance with another provider due to my employer so am switching providers this week.
    As "CEO" of my household I feel in such control and fulfilled each day.
    have a good day
    regards Leonie

  18. Oh Rhonda! I have just come from Brydie's where she wrote a taster about starting a permaculture course, it piqued my interest and then I landed here. Serendipity?

    1. Rose, I've thought of doing a permaculture course in the past but they're so expensive. Those I've seen are over a thousand dollars. Maybe Milkwood is different. Here's hoping.

    2. Patrick Whitefield is now running an online permaculture course (with skype classes and videos etc) for £300 (about $500 I think?). Not the same as a residential course of course, but doesn't have the added travel and accommodation costs.

      Details here

      I did my own permaculture design course with Patrick about 11 years ago, and he's an excellent teacher, very knowledgeable and wise.

  19. A great post, Rhonda, which I'm sure will resonate with many.

    I heard of Cecilia Macauley some years ago, who divides her time between Australia and Japan, sprinkling Permie goodness on whomever she meets. She is a good example of taking Permaculture back to a personal level and I liked what I read so took it on board. One of her blogs is: If I can find some of the posts I'm referring to, I'll come back here and let you know.

    I wouldn't classify my home as having zones in particular however I "kind-of" live my life by what is essentially Permaculture principals as it just makes sense.


    1. Thanks for recommending Cecilia's blog - what a gem:)


  20. I have used a form of zoning for quite a few years, I created a simple excel spread sheet. This came about due to being a full-time work mum/wife with a house under major renovations. I felt overwhelmed and didn't know where to start there were so many things that needed doing. I also felt like I wasn't achieving anything. I am happy to say that breaking everything down into sections and having baby steps in place; I am achieving away with clarity. When I loose focus all I have to do is revisit my spreadsheet, I can see what I have achieved, what is coming up, what I need to save for or plan time for. MiiriH

  21. Another another interesting post Rhona. Hadn't thought of my home as zones of production, only as cleaning zones. Am actually doing this already but will now consciously apply your idea. Thanks Carol

  22. Very thought provoking.
    At first the concept of what you were saying seemed way complicated to think out on a house level.
    But, just sitting here thinking it through, it could be as simple as making sure that the activities that you do the most are in an easily accessible area of your home.
    For instance, my craft area is out in the shed. Great from the point of view that none of the mess is in the house, but, bad from the point of view that I have to walk out of the house and over to the shed to do anything. Which sometimes means that you put it off.
    Like today, it is absolutely pouring and cold outside, so not much chance of me going over there to work.

    On another note, do you do anything with your cut off ends of yarn from knitting projects? I usually just chuck them all in the bin, but Im sure there must be a use for them.


    1. I have been thinking the very same thing about ends of yarn just this week. I was thinking of using them as stuffing for small knitted items, or of making some kind of net bag or something to hang in the garden and put the yarn ends in for the birds to take for their nests.

    2. Hi Deb, sounds like a good idea giving the birds some building material.

    3. What about using the ends and pieces to make wool dryer balls?

  23. Rhonda, this is sounding like one of those ebooks to come (fingers crossed). Imagine if all retiries were handed a booklet on how to make their super last. Hey, Super funds should sponsor it. The longer the funds last the more income they derive anyway.

    If you cant find the information out there, write it yourself, exactly as you have above. Some permaculture material goes straight over my head but when you take principles and apply to what we do everyday then it becomes easier to understand.

    EG. Computers, how many of us simply say we dont understand how they work. This is how it was described to me by another woman: Ram - this is short term storage - think of it as your kitchen workbench. If you have a big bench (lots of ram) you can do quite a bit and store lots of ingredients before having to go to the pantry (hardrive) to get items, which slows you down and interupts the process. Obviously if you have a small bench (small amount of Ram) you are constantly stopping and running back and forward to the pantry (hardrive). The pantry is of course is your harddrive where most of the things you need are stored that you take out and return afterwards. The bigger the hardrive the more it can store, just like a pantry. You are the software loaded onto the hardrive (or the cook), you make things happen.

    I know im off topic but this is an example of how someone who understands their audience can explain something so that it is understood and retained. This is you Rhonda. Our teacher, our friend, our motivator (thats a big one)and our example.

    Lynda X

  24. Rhonda - this makes so much sense. I had wanted to reply to your earlier post about how I 'started' simple living, and was having real difficulty with it. I have been doing thinks like menu planning, making yoghurt, bread and muesli, cooking from scratch for a long time - since I was a student. In the last 18 months, I have added other things - more preserving, laundry liquid etc - incremental changes only, but it felt really different and I couldn't understand why. Now I realise that it is because I am thinking differently about it - instead of lots of single things, I am starting to live an idea ...

    I have much more I would like to do, and will be cutting back in a couple of weeks from a very full time job to a much more manageable 3 days a week, so the opportunity is not far away. Thanks to your blog and others, and the forum, I am now much more centred at home and looking forward to this next stage (pre retirement) immensely.

    Thx, Jenny

  25. Hi Rhonda,
    I'm enjoying this series very much. Thank you for stating earlier that at different stages in our life SIMPLE living can entail less complicated tasks as well and that's ok. At this stage in the middle of my life, I care for my 4 children and my aging parents, along with working part-time, so simple living has to be simple right now. I'm not at a point where I always make or do everything from scratch but that's ok for this moment in time. I love your blog thanks for the inspiration.

  26. My system probably falls under Mindful Chaos. :-) I try to be mindful, but chaos is always there. Whether it be caused by three dogs carousing in the house, the ever present dog hair, the bathroom that's never quite cleaned to my specifications, the lawn that always needs to be mowed -- even if I just mowed it, the weeds weeds weeds, my two teenagers and three jobs, or that mysterious corner in my bedroom that seems to just collect things which multiply into an ever growing pile.

  27. Living my simple life and enjoying it immensely, I started to make your recipe green citrus cleaner and it is absolutely fabulous. It smells fresh, works very well and is cheap. On top of that all: purely natural, no chemicals!
    It may be clear: I live and love my life... and your DTE blog too, Rhonda!
    Sending blessings and love from The Netherlands,


  28. Hi Rhonda jean,
    I wish I was as good in planning my housework as you are. I still haven't found a good way to keep up. It isn't a jumble in my home, but I wish it was cleaner. I just keep up with vacuming and dusting and keeping the kitchen and toilet / bathroom clean. I don't get to do the extra's. I would love to do that.
    My question: how does your diary / journal work ?? I would love to know if this would be something that could help me.
    Love to hear from you ; )

  29. Dear Rhonda,

    I haven't done the permaculture course either, I read "The permaculture way" by Graham Bell instead.
    During a period of unemployment last year, I tried to apply the permaculture zones and principles not just to my home, but to my life in general. This is what I got so far:
    zone 0: mind/subconscious/psyche
    zone 1: body
    zone 2: house & garden
    zone 3: family & friends
    zone 4: work outside the home
    zone 5: community
    zone 6: world (wilderness, uncontrollable)
    Maybe zone 2 and 3 should be the other way around, I'm not sure.
    I tried to apply the principles to this system as well. I find 'Use and value diversity' is a very useful principle. I try to include multiple elements for every function and multiple functions for every element.
    Being unemployed I needed a job. So I tried multiple solutions: I applied to vacancies, wrote open applications and took on two voluntary jobs. The voluntary jobs served two purposes: to expand my network in my chosen field of work, to help me gain more working experience and of course I hoped one of them would lead to a paid job. It worked out almost perfectly: I expanded my network and gained experience, and both jobs led to temporary jobs. Also, I found that being a volunteer helps keeping the feelings of uselessness and depression, which many unemployed people suffer from, at bay. So the elements I used in zone 4 worked their way through to zone 0.
    I haven't yet worked out the complete permaculture system of my life, so it may contain flaws. But I thought I'd share it anyway.


    1. It's very interesting, Frederiekje. I think these systems need to be worked with over the years and modified along the way. I love your definition of zone 6. It is the wilderness and uncontrollable, and that's why home is so important.


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