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.



  1. Yes, indeed. My mum taught me to buy the best I can afford, and take care of it. It has stood me time and time again. I have some things that I got when in my twenties and I am now in my sixties. I take care of my things and also take time to choose them. Sometimes nowadays things are not as well made as they used to be: it seems a lot of people and manufacturers think this is a throw away world! But I try to get the best value for my money and something that I will enjoy using as well. If I have to pay a bit more for it; and it is worth it, I will go ahead and do that. I have many things now that were bought that way. No more having to constantly replace something because I did not research it well enough to begin with. And purchasing quality goods is a pleasure.

  2. Lots of good ideas there, Rhonda. I wish I had thought of a drop zone years ago when the children were at school. No need for a charging station in those days though :-)

  3. Great reminders. Thanks Rhonda. I just reorganized my knitting patterns. For some reason, I couldn't find my Knitted Knockers pattern, and it turned out it was right in front of me! I'm throwing away the patterns I no longer use. It feels good to recycle the paper, and to clear the clutter.

  4. Some great ideas there Rhonda, especially the drop-zone. I also have a rule for this time of the year: health! My birthday is in January, and I use it as a reminder to check all our vaccinations, regular womens' checks, eye tests, dental checks etc. Otherwise, I forget and have to depend on when things go wrong. My dear OH has diabetes, so has his own agenda, but I still remind him at the same time.

  5. How encouraging Rhonda,as always. Love the photos as well. How would we be if we didn't have this basic advice to make our lives happy and nourished. I know I am old fashioned but to me this is the best way.

  6. I like the way you keep all your cake tins, trays etc, I might try something like that. Thank you for all the effort you are going to, to help all of us live more simply.

  7. I love the idea of cleaning one major appliance a month. So simple! Tracy

  8. I'm actually quite pleased with myself as I already do - or have done - much of these suggestions. It helps that I live on my own which makes it much easier to keep things where they are supposed to be! I think I first started doing this as I'm very short-sighted and knowing where certain things are at all times just makes life a lot easier. I am a naturally tidy and organized person and when friends say that it's too much work for them to live this way I point out that it actually makes my life easier in the long wrung - I know where things are, I know what needs to be repaired, washed or replaced, and I don't spend money on things that I already own.
    I really think everyone should be taking note of these suggestions Rhonda. Thank you.

  9. Hi Rhonda,
    We have just bought our first home and moved in just before Christmas so things are all still a bit chaotic! The kids going back to school yesterday made me realise just how unorganised I am...trying to find school notes from last year and then the zchool bags dropped on the floor when they got home! Time to organise a drop zone and admin area....love those ideas.
    Owning a home is a very different experience for us, we have rented for over 15 years so suddenly being responsible for home maintenance is a bit overwhelming for us, trying to sensibily prioritize but generally putting it off as we have no idea!!
    Although, we do plan on sorting out our gutters over the next couple of weekends

  10. Many years ago, I was given a beautiful large wooden cutlery trug by the family of a child I taught. Rather than cutlery and napkins though, I have used it for years as a lovely organiser for our car keys, wallets, mail etc. Our primary school son has a drop zone just at the entrance to our hallway where there is a long, wide basket (for his school bag and library books), a weekly planner on the wall above(to remind him what's happening each day) and a calendar too for a monthly view. When he walks in the door, his bag goes in the basket & he takes out his lunchbox to unpack and put on the sink. While it took a little time to teach him how to use it routinely every day, perseverence has now led to him being more organised! Meg:)

  11. Hello Rhonda... Loved your post and the tips are great.. I always love your pics.. For some reason they inspire me to get at it.. smile.. So real, I think.. Take care dear lady.. xo

  12. Re your thoughts about arranging baking station, drink area, etc., l try to “bend the tool to the tasks” as they say. So many people set up their kitchen cabinets based on architect’s ideas rather than their own needs. Gail in VA

  13. We have an old fashioned wooden ballet and just inside the front door. It has lovely old hooks on it which we put our summer or winter hats etc. It has a shelf below the handy mirror in the middle. On that shelf I placed a basket that holds our keys and glasses. The shelf is actually a wooden box with a hinged lid. When it lifts up you can place winter gloves in it. It also has a place for umbrellas or walking sticks either side. I see these lovely old hallstands in second hand and antique shops. Not only are they lovely but they are so practical. A family friend gave it to us many years ago. It is used every day and is very pretty too.
    At the doorway on our deck is a basket for shoes. Another thing I find handy is to have an umbrella on a hook on the back of the garage door. A great place to spot it.

    1. This auto corrected. It is a wooden hall stand just inside the front door.

  14. I too have a cupboard where I keep my baking trays. I used to keep them in the oven when I didn't have enough space in the kitchen. It was a hassle because I had to clear everything when I needed to bake. Now, it's so much easier.
    I also keep tea, coffee, sugar etc in a separate cupboard.
    When there is a place for everything it makes life so much easier.

  15. Overwhelmed sums me up :) ... so I'm continuing with removing/decluttering "stuff" one day at a time :) Thankyou for the words of wisdom .

  16. We have large old farm house so staying on top of things is a challenge. Way too much room to store clutter! I recently begun to reorganise my main areas where I do the most work, trying to think about "valuable real estate" (I picked that up at my favourite organization YouTube Channel "Clutterbug"). It means, setting things up in a way that you use the most accessible space for things you need often. It sounds like common sense, but once I really took a look at my kitchen and pantry I noticed that things are a lot more haphazard that I thought they would be! It has been an eye-opening experience, and finally the spaces I reorganized stay organized!

  17. My Dad made me a charging station which sits on the kitchen worktop and is used every day. It is extremely handy. I also use a hanging file rather like this one: https://www.amazon.com/Scholastic-Organizer-Pocket-Chart-TF5104/dp/0545114780 The pockets are used for school papers, tickets for things that are booked, holiday details for the coming year, and a pocket per month for receipts. Where I fall down are my kitchen cupboards which need sorting out again - I get them tidy and then they just seem to have a huge party in there without me and get into the most terrible heaps again!

  18. I do enjoy your blog Rhonda. Although I'm retired now I do have grandchildren living near me who visit often and I try to put into practice some of your organisational ideas when they stop by because they always seem to leave something behind! Also organising the kitchen has changed over the years because I need to put the things I use regularly in a place that is not too low down so I'm learning what works best for me now instead of keeping things the same. As I have a lifelong disability I believe in making life less physically challenging where I can as I get older which leaves me with more energy for the really important things like playing with my grandchildren.

  19. I am loving checking in to see what you have written each Monday Rhonda. I am still in the overwhelm stage but, I can see what i have achieved already in the last 17 months since joining the Down to Earth forum. (I had been absorbing knowledge from your blog for a year or so before).
    My challenge for 2018 is to put my knowledge into action, which i am doing in baby steps. Thank you so much for sharing your lifestyle with us! xx

  20. We went house shopping just this weekend. I think it will be a long process. The house we looked at looked nice from the road. It has a brick exterior, new roof and new windows. It doesn't need much in outside maintenance. But, the kitchen and other rooms were set up poorly. There were just two bedrooms for our family of five. We thought we could make it work by using the basement, but it was only about six and a half feet tall. My son is six foot four. He would have had to duck under duct work etc.

    I've never had a kitchen set up well before. I understand there will be accommodations wherever we move, but I really hope for a convenient kitchen.

    God bless!
    Laura Lane
    Carthage, Missouri, USA

  21. Thank you Rhonda - I have just had a light bulb moment reading this post. My admin station only has one filing tray so I have to keep searching through to find the bill I know has to be paid etc - if I use 3 trays as you suggest I can separate bills from letters needing reply or filing - I have been going along on autopilot instead of thinking!
    A small help in my home is to have the paper recycling bin right beside the post box in our semi enclosed porch - much of the post delivered to us is opened and goes straight in to be recycled.

  22. I especially like your point about buying the best you can afford, and then taking good care of it, Rhonda. In my experience (as someone born and raised in the US), American culture has rather lost its way on that particular idea. Instead, we get something at the cheapest possible price, then throw it out when it breaks/fails and buy another. The idea of saving up, buying something really high quality, and taking the time to maintain it, is foreign to many people. It seems there is a different ethic in many places -- for example, our family in Germany has fewer "things," but what they have is the best possible, and is prized and cared for. I am trying to follow that ethic. A top-quality deep freeze that my grandmother bought in 1946 was gifted to our local church when my parents upgraded to a larger one in the early 2000s; it is still working perfectly. The upright deep-freeze I currently use dates to the early 1960s and was also "inherited" from a family member.

    This approach does require that if something develops a problem, you call a repair-person or fix it yourself, rather than rushing out to buy something new, but I sure think it's worth it.


    1. I think it's worth it too, Kristin. It makes sense on so many levels. Thank you for your excellent comment.

  23. I have been spending the year decluttering and organising. If i find a need i buy things that serve several purposes. I have a set of 3 nesting baskets which have served at least 10 uses in the two years i have had them. Moving around the house for toy storage, clothes baskets, shoe baskets, jacket storage. Because my son is growing up I like to update our admin and dump areas each season to match what is coming into and leaving the house. Last winter i used a kmart towel rack as a shoe and jacket stand at the door so we knew each morning where everything was and we werent bringing wet or muddy clothes into the house, it was also the perfect size for him to have some independence in hanging his own jacket up (He is 3). Now in summer the rack is being used as a dress up stand.


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