Home Organizing with Universal Design

You may have heard of Universal Design. This method employs barrier-free design principles for the intergenerational use of any space. Universal Design evolved from Accessible Design, a process that addresses the needs of people with disabilities. However, Universal Design addresses the needs of all people.  

There are some great ideas for employing Universal Design when organizing your home. Some of these ideas may make things easier, even for those without a disability.

Universal Design Tips

Close at Hand: Place utensils and appliances close to the appropriate work area, even if you need to duplicate some items.

Heavy on the Bottom: Store heavy pots, pans, dishes and mixing bowls on the bottom shelves, along with canned foods and appliances. I try to do this in almost every kitchen I organize so no one gets injured removing heavy items. However, some people find that bending over can be an issue if heavy items are placed too low. Also, avoid putting heavy items on the top shelf when organizing other spaces such as closets, sheds, or garages.

Pull-Outs: Any shelf or drawer that rolls out is a blessing – especially in the kitchen and bathroom. I think most of us prefer pull-out drawers and shelves, no matter our ability level. It simply makes your stuff easier to access and put away.

Unbreakable Items: Choose good-quality food storage containers and stainless steel bowls. I like plastic containers with lids that can attach to the bottom for storage. This might also be a good choice if you have young children who like to help out in the kitchen.

Rolling Carts: I am a fan of carts on wheels at home and the office for transporting heavy or awkward items. In the kitchen, a rolling cart with a cutting block top is a great solution. You can use it to take food and dishes from cupboard to table and as a work center in any location. A rolling file cart at the office is a great way to transport heavy paperwork.

stainless steel kitchen cart with rubber wheels and butcher block top as an example of universal design
Image Courtesy Wayfair Canada.

Turn-tables: Use a “lazy susan” on the counter or in a cupboard to avoid reaching for things to make life easier. They cause you to lose valuable space, especially in your cupboards, so keep that in mind. For corner cupboards in your kitchen, there are rollout wire racks and the fabulous LeMans system, which I adore for its design and ease of use.

If you help someone with a physical disability or mental health issue organize their space, be sure to go slowly. Think carefully before introducing new solutions, preview what you are doing, and review what you’ve done. Ask them to repeat what you have done and what they need to do to keep things organized.

Ensure you explain each step and write it down in a notebook. Include each decision you make so they can refer back to it. Consider creating instruction cards (or recording auditory instructions) with the steps needed to complete each task. Focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do. And use systems and processes that already work for them to create organizational solutions.

Look around at the organizing systems in your home and share any Universal Design systems you have in place. What has worked well in particular?

Leave a comment