The compost is full, the recycling is overflowing, and the junk mail is piling up. What now? Making the little details of your home design more accommodating to the way you live your life will enable you to use those details more effectively.
When most people think about the design of their home, they focus entirely on things like the roof pitch, the location of windows and doors, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and other major decisions. This is good, on one hand, but is missing some of the little things that can make a house more efficient. For example, do you recycle? (The answer needs to be yes, so I will assume it is!) Do you compost? (Again, same answer here, right?) What do you do with recyclable mail that has personal information on it like bank statements? These are questions that are often overlooked during the design.
Incorporating the small details will help you live more efficiently in your home. If you typically sit at your kitchen table when reading your mail, then install a mail sorting station near the table. It can be built into the wall for a sleek design and efficiency. I have a friend who reads his mail every morning, except Sundays of course, at his kitchen table. He gets a lot of junk mail and does not like to deal with it. When we designed his house, we added a slot near the backrest of a built-in seat that holds a paper shredder. When he gets something he doesn’t want, but that might include some personal information, he sends it through the shredder. The remains fall directly into the paper-recycling bin. Impersonal mail is pushed through a separate slot directly into the same paper recycling bin.
The location of the recycling bins is another topic of discussion. If you are anything like me, you have a small cardboard box next to your garbage can that acts as a temporary recycling bin. Every day or so, you march it to the big can in the backyard and empty it out, sorting it accordingly. If you’re really organized, you may have a three-bin system that pre-sorts the recycling before it is carried out to the curbside bins. Well here’s an even cooler way to go. Imagine how simple it would be if you could drop your recycling directly into the bins that take it to the curb. Imagine now, if you can, that those bins could be removed directly from the exterior of the house. If you design it right, you can have a recycling center that is accessible from the interior and exterior of the home. Just be sure to use quality design and insulation materials so you don’t create an insulation break in the home.
Here’s another example. If you heat your house with wood, you know how tiring it can be to carry wood into the house all the time. There is also a question of where to store the wood before it enters the home. Many of us have storage areas outside the house that are covered with a shed roof. The wood needs to be stacked there and then carried into the house and restacked as needed. A better way is to create a storage center in the house next to the fireplace where it will be used. Make it big enough to accommodate enough wood for a relatively long period of time. Even better, make it accessible from the exterior, like the recycling bins, so you can stack it from the outside of the home. This way you won’t need to stack it outside, carry it inside, and then stack it again. Of course, if you buy wood or cut it yourself in bulk, you will need to create a separate storage area for the excess. Simply store it near the exterior access door so you can easily move it into place when the time comes.
Still not getting the picture? Okay, here’s another example: a compost station. This one is really cool and simple to incorporate. First, a question: where do you create the majority of your compost? Now that you have answered the question, you know where to install your compost station. Add a small catchment tub underneath your kitchen counter where you do the majority of your kitchen prep work. This is where the ends of those carrots get cut off and pushed aside along with the onionskins and broccoli stems. The tub needs to have a top to prevent fruit flies from hatching and other pests that will otherwise populate your tub. Set it up so that the tub is flush with the counter when the lid is removed. This way, you can use the back of your knife (don’t use the sharp side as it will dull the knife) to slide the compost directly into the tub. You can easily manage your compost this way. Just be sure to remove the contents daily and walk them to you compost pile. I have tried everything from small countertop bins to five gallon buckets under my sink and have learned that the smaller the tub the better. Otherwise, the common practice is to wait until the tub is full, no matter what the size. This can be pretty smelly if using a five-gallon bucket!
Okay, last one: built-ins. I love these things. The picture above shows a built in seat in a straw bale wall. The seat is actually part of the wall, which saves space and is an efficient use of the wall design. There are many designs for built-ins. You can create seating, storage, cabinets, media centers, and more. The idea is to utilize the space created within a wall to accommodate the other needs you have in the home. Surely you’ve heard of built-in seating under a window that also has an operable storage center under the seat. This simple design is a great use of space. How about that space under your stairs? Perfect for a small wine cellar or long term storage. I’ve even built homes where that space is set up with many wood drawers. This is an old Shaker design that still works wonders today.
Don’t overlook the details. Incorporating the way you live into your home will allow you to live a more streamlined life. It may sound silly, but it’s true. I sure don’t want to spend my time stacking wood and separating recyclables. Not when I could be hanging out with my family instead. The reality for most of us is that if something is not easily incorporated into our lives, we don’t do it. I know many people who talk about recycling or composting, but they don’t do it because “they don’t have time.” If the design is in place, they will have the time it takes and they will be able to do more of the things they want to do. I’m sure you have your own list of “I would do that if…” Be sure to tackle all of those things when you design your home. If you do, you won’t feel that void of “I should be doing this, that, or the other” any more. Now that’s a feeling worth designing for.