22 January 2018

Customising work spaces and looking after what you own

January, week 3 in The Simple Home

Thinking back on all the houses I've lived in as an adult, I've never walked into one that was exactly what I needed to work efficiently. I always want to make my work, especially the work that is repeated daily, to be as easy as it can be.  For that to happen, I've had to modify my work spaces. Modern houses in particular are set up with an emphasis on contemporary style and modern finishes and while older houses are more likely to have pantries, laundry rooms and a dedicated place for the ironing, they often lack storage and bench space.  We need to modify those larger spaces to support us in the work we do in our homes. This is something you'll do more than once. As you and your children grow older, needs change and so should your home.

Start by looking around your home in the areas when you spend the most time and do the majority of your housework.  For me, that is the kitchen, and my work room, but now we have Kerry and his family staying with us, it also includes a drop zone where they leave their bags, phones and keys, and a place where everyone can charge their devices. Hanno and I charge ours on our computers.

If you have children in the family, it's a good idea to have a drop zone near the front door where they leave their school bags, hats and shoes. If you give them a bench to sit on they can drop everything where it should be, empty their school bag - putting their lunch box and water bottle in the kitchen to be washed, and leave their jackets/hats hanging on a hook or hanger right where they'll find them again the following morning.  This will help with your morning routine too. If you don't have to join the search every morning to find shoes, hats or books, you'll save time and energy at the very time you need it most.

Here are some ideas for drop zones near the front door.  Remember, it doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to work. If all you have is a table or cupboard, make that work.

There are two extra spaces that will link in very well with the drop zone - a charging station and an admin area. Nowadays almost everyone has a mobile phone and often families will have more than one. There are also tablets and laptops that go with family members to school and work and all of them need to be recharged.  If possible, make room for a charging station near the drop zone and encourage everyone to hook into the system as soon as they come home. The benefit of this will be that everything will be charged by the following morning and all devices and phones will be ready and waiting to be picked up right at the front door.  It might even encourage some to leave their phone there and not take it to bed with them. Here are some ideas for charging stations on Pinterest. 

The other area is the home admin area. This is the place where you keep all your paper work - letters, school newsletters, permission slips, bills etc. It doesn't have to be near the drop zone, it can be in the lounge room, kitchen or home office.  Tell the children to put all school letters, newsletter and reports in this area and when you have time, you can sort through it.  All you need to collect and hold the information is either three-tier tray or a tray and three bulldog clips. Label them:
  • TO PAY: bills and invoices 
  • TO DO: letters to reply to, permissions slips for school, bookings and appointments to be made
  • TO FILE: paid bills, letters you've finished with but need to keep
Once this areas is set up, you can deal with it when you have the time but if everything is in this area, you won't lose the electricity bill or have to go looking for a school permission slip at 8am Monday morning.  Try to give this zone one hour a week to pay bills, reply to correspondence or emails and to file.

Here are some ideas for setting up a home admin area.  Again, this should be a simple exercise using things you already have at home.

It's also a great idea to group together those things that you use often for baking, making tea and coffee or drinks for the children.  If you do a lot of baking, arrange all your flour, vanilla, spices, choc chips, bicarb, icing sugar and toppings together in the cupboard. Move your tea, coffee, sugar, honey and a little jug of teaspoons closer to the kettle and cups.  Hanno put in a little shelf for me but it would also work by placing most things in a small basket.  If you have children home for an extended period of time for holidays, set up some glasses and an insulated flask or glass container with a tap. You can fill it in the morning and the children, depending on their ages, can help themselves during the day. It will save you stopping what you're doing to help them during the day.

Of course I can't write about every area in the home because of our collective vast differences. Some of us live alone and some have many children, and within each home we all focus on different things. But I hope you give this a bit of thought and use these ideas to customise your own home to suit how you work. If you sew or quilt, I hope you have space to house all your materials and have a sewing machine at the ready. If you're doing a lot of preserving, look for a cupboard to store your jars and equipment - keep it all together. Organise your laundry room so you can easily make up laundry liquid and soap. Just think of the work you repeat often and try to make it easier for yourself by organising your materials and equipment. You'll find that being organised with everything together will encourage you to do your work and it might also make it quicker when you start.

An important part of simple life is to look after what you already own. This will allow you to have a fully equiped home and it will save you money if you don't have to constantly replace items of clothing, soft furnishings or appliances.  I think it's sensible to buy the best quality you can afford and then look after it.  It's far better to buy something that you know will last, and pay a bit more for it, than to have to replace it over and over again. We're all trying to cut back on the junk we get rid of and this is a good way of doing that.

With your clothing and soft furnishings, set up a small sewing kit for yourself with scissors, cottons/threads, an unpicker, a few buttons and snap fasteners and keep it in a basket near the seat you relax in. Whenever you come across something that needs mending - a button, a hem repair, a rip or whatever, put it in the basket and you'll be ready to do those repairs while you're watching TV or listening to music.

Your appliances need to be clean and dust-free all the time so make up a routine where you clean one major appliance a month. If you have a fridge, washing machine, dish washer, air conditioner/fans etc., those major appliances can be on a monthly list to be checked and cleaned. When you finish the list, you start again. Keep in mind that the warranty will be void if you take anything apart but you can certainly give everything a good clean and in the case of your fridge, washing machine and dish washer, give them a good vacuuming around the sides and top and if you can get in behind the appliances, all over the back as well.

Starting today in Queensland and followed by the other states in the next couple of weeks, students will return to school after the long summer holiday. Most will return with new books, stationery, equipment, shoes, backpacks and uniforms. Don't forget to tag and name everything you can. It can be a great expense, and frustrating, to replace what you've already bought.  And on the subject of expense, one last suggestion, make a list of outdoor things that need to be on a regular maintenance checklist. I'm thinking of the guttering on the roof, the roof itself, solar panels, mower, garden equipment, pool, pool filter, fences, hot water system, garage, shed, chook house and outdoor furniture. Some of it will need to be cleaned during the year, all of it will need to be checked to make sure it's in good working order.  And again, make a list of what you have and divide it up month by month so you have one or two things a month on the list.

I know that some of you will feel a bit overwhelmed after reading this, but like everything else, a small steps approach will help.  If you can't do everything you need to do, do what you can and feel proud that you did it. The next time, maybe you'll do all of it but even if you don't, it should never give you a reason to feel guilty. Please remember, this is not a competition. It's just a way of caring for what you own and getting your house in order so the work you do later in the year will be easier and faster.  So be kind to yourself, do as much as you can and be happy with that.

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