by Kyndra Steinmann

“I just can’t figure out what I’m doing! I keep getting mixed up!” my seven-year-old wails at least once a day.

“Did you clear your desk to zero?” I ask.

“Clearing to zero” has become a kind of catch phrase around the home. We use it for school and work, but also as a way to say that someone (or all of us) need a reset.

I’ve found this especially good during these past busy couple of months of holiday preparation and celebrations–all being worked in around having our elderly house rewired! The rewiring meant that things had to be emptied out of closets and cupboards as well as the entire basement. We were able to put most things into storage, but some stuff we needed to have easily accessible, yet didn’t want to have piles everywhere. “Clearing to zero” became a survival tool, enabling us to move things from room to room and still have workspace that we could use.

People coming over for a birthday? Let’s clear the downstairs to zero so we can put out party stuff.

Piles were taken up to the bedrooms and schoolroom to be brought back down when we were done.

Busy-day running errands and killing time out of the house so the electricians could turn off power (and heat)?

“Now we’re at home, everyone is going to have some room time, so that we can reset our minds from all the stimulation of the day.” And then, when that time is over:

“OK guys, now we’ve rested, so let’s bring the groceries in and do a general tidy so the downstairs is cleared to zero for the morning.”

I read about this idea somewhere a few years ago. I was looking at various ideas for keeping a small house tidy and started reading about workflow and how different professions keep their workflows moving efficiently. At this point, I don’t even remember what profession used the concept of “clearing to zero,” (I think it may be engineering) but it has become a principle for us in schooling and in the home.

Basically, “clearing to zero” is a kind of physical equivalent of pushing the “clear all” button on a calculator. As you finish a task or as you come to a point of confusion or lack of clarity during a task, you stop and take a few minutes to clear away and clean up, restoring your workspace to a “zero” or neutral position. Tweet this!

It looks something like this:

Everyone clears their desk and space completely between subjects. All books get put away. All tools like rulers or pencils are also returned to their spot. Scraps of trash are picked up and the workspace retains nothing of the just completed subject. Once that is done, the next subject and its necessary tools are taken out and the desk “set” for doing that subject.

What does this accomplish?

  • It gives a physical break of three minutes or so between subjects.
  • The physical task of clearing up the completed subject helps clear the mind for the next task.
  • The new subject goes more easily because all of the tools are in place and ready to be used (similar to a chef’s process of mise en place before beginning to cook).
  • It reduces distractions.

Play spaces get cleared to zero several times throughout the day. We do allow for elaborate projects that take over several days but when they aren’t being worked on, all pieces that are incomplete or unused are put away until they are needed. As part of this process, we try hard to have a “home” for everything that is easy to access, making it is easy to take things out and put away again.

What does this accomplish?

  • Play spaces are left ready for the next person.
  • Creativity flourishes because the play and project spaces are ready for use and not covered with old projects or scraps from previous efforts.
  • Tidying up the house never takes too long because the tidying is done as we go through the day and doesn’t become a huge task.

Such a simple idea, but it has a huge effect!

Kyndra Steinmann blogs at Sticks, Stones and Chicken Bones about living in a houseful of young children, special needs, discipling hearts, and abundant grace! As a homeschool graduate, she has an especial burden to encourage mothers to know and enjoy their children. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

 Manage your homeschool by teaching your children to “clear to zero,” after each activity. It helps them—and you!—keep the workflow moving forward.