Have you found yourself and your home or living room stuck in childish preschool and kindergarten mode, and are you yearning for a makeover, wanting to adapt the room to the more demanding activity-as well as academics-oriented lifestyle of your growing schoolchildren?

    Everyone's lounging and congregating space. The living area is a busy space.

    Everyone’s lounging and congregating space. The living area is a busy space.

    This post focuses on managing school scheduling and household documentation and bills and record-keeping; it is also about adapting home spatial design, function, interfaces interweaving with form and human user and traffic flow.

    Today, I will use my living room as a model and example of how to make some small changes that will have significant and large impact on lifestyle and efficiency.

    In the light of my son’s forthcoming university entrance exams, work-from-home and intensive sports tournament scheduling, we needed to streamline the way we communicated as a family to improve efficiency and productivity, as well as to avoid interpersonal friction. This room takes heavy traffic, everybody congregates here and in the adjoining dining area,  several times a day. It also tends to get awfully messy and to become everybody’s dumping ground for clothes, books, homework, empty snack plates etc. An organized genkan, mudroom or closet is a key in keeping clutter in check. A cleared-of-clutter central communication or coordination center or space facilitates communication, planning and scheduling and helps children settle down quickly and get into their homework sooner.

     

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    A closet by the door serves to collect all the jackets, caps, gloves, scarves, etc., as people walk through the door.  Being rather small, everybody is allowed one at most two jackets in the closet’s hanging space.

    The living room is the nerve and command centre of the home, it is where we share and coordinate information, so we have house rules for the kids…for everyone, which have been negotiated and drafted in consultation with the children. Below are the major areas of central control:

    Landphone line and stationery station

    Landphone line and stationery station (keep only necessities, crayons and paints can be moved to the individual kids’ rooms instead)

    Around this space, we have our communication board and calendar schedule where major events are marker-penned for all to see, where day-to-day routines of bento, and school schedule are indicated, and a phone contacts and emergency numbers are instantly accessible.

    Everybody's calendar schedule

    Everybody’s calendar schedule

    School bento and activity schedule noticeboard, school letters go straight in there after school

    School bento and activity schedule noticeboard, school letters go straight in there after school. Make it simple and a no-brainer to encourage compliance

    And next to our TV and music & media entertainment station, here is our central station for all our communications and social media devices, this is the charging station as well as depository for all electronic devices – phones, smartphones, iPad, iTouch, iPods and DS’ have to be returned by a certain time,  and during the Golden Hour of study time (8-10 pm) is no-screen time.  They also have to be returned here just before bedtime. Blinking lights and social media bleeps are terribly distracting for study concentration, and disturb the formation of deep sleep for our children.

    Beside the media station (TV, DVD player, etc) is our social media, mobile phone and game center)

    Beside the media station (TV, DVD player, etc) is our social media, mobile phone and game center). Above this setup is a wall clock.

    One of the hardest aspects of school life and scheduling to keep under control, is the constant stream of letters and communication from school. The other equally huge minefield is the constant stream of mail and household matters that require our attention such as bills, some urgent, some not, but most require some kind of action or record-keeping.

    I like to keep it simple. These “color-box” shelving are the cheapest standard book shelves you can find in any furniture shop. We have been using them since the kids were born, and they are easily adaptable for a great many purposes. We turned them on their side, slotted in baskets. In two of them, we keep vitamins, earbuds, and daily use skin-lotions and medical items (not first aid which is kept separately). School documents are filed in accordion type file folders that cost only a few cents/yen and that fit perfectly into the standard cubby holes, and a nifty black slide-out multiple pocket file-cum-brief document carrier will hold all types of bills and banking documents. Throw out and shred old statements, keeping most current two, and that will keep your filing system portable and manageable. Portability and compactness is also vital for us living here in the event of fire or earthquake disaster. A simple all-purpose basket can hold you latest magazines, start discarding old issues just before it starts to bulge. Accordion folders are useful or stationery such as envelopes, as well as for odds and ends and keepsake cards or souvenirs.

    Accordion filing system fits into basket and cubbyhole of bookcase

    Accordion filing system (perfect for school communication, notes and schedules, contact numbers) fits into basket-drawer and cubbyhole of bookcase

    Left: household management notes folder with pockets and tab dividers. Right: Slide-out multiple pocket-system in a black document carrier.

    Left: household management notes folder with pockets and tab dividers. Right: Slide-out multiple pocket-system in a black document carrier.

    The document carrier, house-management-foler fit into the drawer

    The bills document carrier, house-management-folder and school files as well as health records fit easily into these two basket-drawers

    Our set-up is now more efficient, serious and work-and-activity-oriented in the light of our high schooler’s college-going goals, and also in anticipation of our daughter’s juken year (next academic year) but most of our ideas can easily be adapted for any family’s educational goals and purposes.

    Short on wall space like most Japanese homes,  most fixtures are not designed to be permanent, but to portable or removable and adapted for changing circumstances and goals.  We have absolutely no room for example, for a wall map, so we added a bilingual world map to our glass table which we have had since our kids attended kindergarten. It is one of our best buys, and proof of it is that our son aces all geography mapwork related and earth science subjects in school, and is aiming for a higher-ed degree and ultimately a career in those subjects. Small tweaks in your living space can produce huge effects or impact.

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    Last but not least, I decided to remove the fussy, lace curtains of the room to let in more light into our living area, to cut out the dust-trap and extra washing… and to remind us that we have a view and that there is a world outside to be explored and enjoyed. None of the above ideas or steps we have taken to orient the form, function and flow of our living room have been difficult or expensive, and all of them can be easily adopted or adapted for the average family’s purposes.