Working in your home - your system

25 June 2013

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?