A home office is supposed to be a pleasant — maybe even ideal — place to work. But for many, it feels like a cave with four walls that appear to be sinking in more and more each day. And if you’re a time-challenged and financially strapped entrepreneur, chances are you’ve thrown in the towel and decided to endure the less-than-desirable working conditions because it still trumps commuting to a cubicle.
You drag yourself out of bed each morning, tidy up, shove breakfast down your throat, and then it’s off to that space you’ve designated as your home office. After spending several hours glued to a rock-hard desk chair, staring at a computer screen, and digging through endless piles of paper, you finish for the day and dart out of there as quickly as possible only to do it all over again the following day.
Sound familiar? I’ll be the first to admit this routine closely resembles my first year as a full-time mommy-preneur. Money was tight and I wasn’t exactly sure if I was on the right path, so I spent a grueling amount of hours each day in a cluttered home office trying to find my way. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing, as I learned some valuable lessons. But I will say that my work environment definitely hindered productivity and in turn, my business progressed at a much slower rate than it should have. I was at a difficult point in my life and spending most of the day in a space that darkened my mood only made matters worse.
You don’t have to keep working in such depressing conditions. Here are some cost-efficient ways to quickly give your home office the face-lift it desperately needs:
1. Purge the Junk
I’ve read several articles on how clutter boosts productivity. But it doesn’t quite work that way for me. In fact, I find clutter annoying and it drives me absolutely insane; I’m able to get work done, but the thought of the messes all around me and the amount of time it’ll take to clear the haze lingers in the back of my mind until I decide to take action.
And I find that the most sensible way to resolve the issue is to begin by tossing everything I no longer need. That way, you’ll be able to find the things you do need more quickly, and you won’t be stuck with piles of junk in the way during the renovation process.
Whew! You can breathe a sigh of relief now that all the unnecessary stuff is gone. (And I’m hoping this will drastically minimize the workload that lies ahead.) But the items that remain definitely need a home — besides the floor or in a corner somewhere — so you’ll need to organize them.
Instead of just pulling random items out of the pile and placing them in their final destination one at a time, group them by category to be more efficient. Next, determine where their final destination will be and arrange accordingly. A few suggestions:
- File cabinets: Designate sections for administrative, past, current, and future projects or client files, and use hanging file folders to store the contents.
- Shelves: Installing a shelf is a simple and cheap DIY project, and a good way to keep often-used items off your desk but within easy reach.
- Bookshelves: Beyond books, of course, they can be used to display awards or other decorative items.
- Desk drawers: They can be used to store supplies, such as pens, paper, markers, highlighters, and other regularly used items
- Desktop: Place a standing file system on the top of your desk so you can easily access documents related to current projects.
Lastly, don’t forget to consolidate and conceal all those coils of cords, wires, and power strips with velcro strips or clips. You can even mount them under your desk to free up some leg room and reduce the visual clutter.
The clutter is gone and everything else is intact. Before we dive into the fun part of renovating the home office, there’s one more pertinent step: cleaning. And by cleaning, I don’t mean a slight touch-up, but a thorough tidying up session to address all those little cracks and crevices. Among the list of tasks are:
- Dusting the fixtures and window sills to freshen up the air
- A detailed cleaning and shining of desk, cabinets, bookshelves, and other hard surfaces
- Window washing
- Vacuuming and shampooing carpet or shining hardwood/tile
4. Accent Wall
If you’ve read any of my other posts on home and life, it is obvious that I’m a huge fan of accent walls, and for a valid reason: They require just a fraction of the time and cost required to paint an entire room. And the right color can give the space an entirely new look.
When shopping for paint, stick with vibrant colors, unless you desire a shade so soft it puts you to sleep. That’s always been my rule of thumb since I spend several hours in my office each day doing what I do best: writing away (and consulting when time permits). On those evenings that I have to burn the midnight oil to meet an important deadline, I rely on that bright red accent wall to give me a quick burst of energy when entering the room, even though I’d much rather hit the sack and sneak in a few extra hours of sleep.
5. Wall Art and Décor
A stylish and rejuvenating home office isn’t quite complete without all the decorative fixings. So head to your nearest discount retailer, such as Ross, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Burlington, to pick up a trash bin, a piece of wall art, a decorative rug, and a couple of throw pillows to place in your seat while you’re away. These items should complement the shade of your accent wall and can also be solid-colored prints free of patterns.
A tip on wall art: Don’t be afraid to pick an image that’s fun and captivates your attention each time you glance at it. Or if you prefer an existing photograph you have lying around, blow it up to 11″ x 14″ and find an inexpensive frame for it.
I’m a fan of over-sized family and garden portraits, so you can guess what’s hanging on my wall. We also framed our degrees — and added a few pieces our children’s artistic masterpieces at my husband’s request. He said they help put things into perspective so we can focus on what matters most on those days when things seem to be spiraling out of control, and I couldn’t agree more.
6. Portable Lighting
Don’t forget about the lighting. During the day, sunlight may suffice, depending on the location of your window. But during those late-night or pre-dawn productivity sessions, you’ll need good lighting to boost visibility. At 1 a.m., your eyes will be tired enough without straining to see the letters on the keyboard.
My advice: Ditch the fluorescent screw-in light bulbs for stylish and portable soft-white LED lamps. They’re easy on the eyes and foster extended productivity. However, natural light is still ideal, so maximize any window light you have and cram in as much work as you can during daytime hours.
7. Add a Little Inspiration
And no, I’m not referring those generic images most commonly spotted along the hallways or in the break rooms of corporate offices that induce an eye roll at best. (I can vividly remember the “Motivation” and “Teamwork” pieces hanging on the wall at a previous employer’s office; nice try, but our group failed to effectively collaborate on any major projects for a number of reasons. But I’ll save that for some other time.)
Do you have a favorite quote, scripture, poem, or infographic? If so, have it enlarged and affix it to a highly visible place on the office wall to add a creative, inspiring touch.
Lists are among my favorite things to create; too bad I don’t always enjoy executing the tasks on them, but that’s beside the point. Life happens and lists get misplaced, so why not add a whiteboard to your office to serve as a backup to electronic or paper documents? The whiteboard in my office has a stylish, decorative border that complements the fiery red accent wall and contains five main components:
- Projects: current, present and future
- Goals: short-term (less than one year), mid-range (one two five years), long-term(five + years)
- Weekly Incentives: Another source of motivation during those rocky moments is a weekly reward I list on the whiteboard, which is usually something as simple as a manicure, dinner at my favorite restaurant, or a trip to the ice cream shop should I meet my goals.
- Wish List: This is similar to a vision board, and contains images and a written list of all the tangible items I’d like to acquire in the near future, and the income needed to get there.
- Quick Reference: frequently used sources, contacts, etc.
While it serves as a daily visual reminder of all of my pending and forthcoming tasks, it also motivates me to accomplish my goals so I can free up space for more exciting business ventures down the road.
9. Lighten Up the Mood
Your home office should be as pleasant and relaxing an environment as possible, so lighten up the mood by adding a flower and a few candles. Both are inexpensive and exude a soothing aroma. If your budget permits and you want to take things a step further, invest in an incense burner and lavender oils, which are known for fostering relaxation.
Since I’m very frugal, I typically go for an inexpensive plant from Walmart’s lawn and garden section and a few lavender candles from Dollar General. They aren’t the best in terms of quality, but the scent coupled with fresh air set the perfect mood for a peaceful and productive workday. Plus, plants boost air quality and lower humidity levels.
10. Splurge on a New Chair
Well, maybe not splurge, since we’re trying to complete this project on a budget. But you’ll be parking your buns there for a nice chunk of the workday, so you definitely deserve it. Like a good mattress, a good chair is often more important than we realize and worth an investment.
I’m currently sitting in luxury as I write this post, but it’s not because I spent a fortune to do so. In fact, I was able to purchase a brand-new leather office chair from a thrift shop for only $35. And apparently, this price point isn’t all that uncommon.
Before making the purchase, I asked the store’s owner if there was some sort of issue with the chair or if it was a defective model, because the offer seemed too good to be true compared to prices I’d seen at office supply stores.
His response: When they receive a surplus of the same item, they use drastic price reductions to move the inventory. So now you know where to go if you want to “splurge” on a new chair without actually forking over a large amount of dough.
11. Lounge, Anyone?
Assuming there’s still some space remaining in your home office, skip the bulky conference table and add a comfortable lounge chair or love seat for the moments when you desperately need to escape from reality. It also provides an opportunity for you to eat lunch or take a break to engage in your favorite activity without heading for the living room couch and running the risk of losing focus for an extended period of time.
While I don’t have an adequate amount space for a lounge in my home office, there is a corner designated for my children’s activity station. And in that small space are a few feather pillows and bean bags — enough cushion for me to take a mental break. In fact, I typically escape from my desk for 30 minutes or so each day for a bit of downtime. (Occasionally, I drift into the clouds, but quickly bounce back to reality once my alarm starts blaring in my ears).
12. Don’t Forget the Snacks and Mini-Fridge
I know, I know; the kitchen’s only a few steps away. But the goal of a home office is to create a productive professional oasis, and not to be lured out of it by the comforts of your own home. So avoiding other areas during the workday, with the exception of the restroom or kitchen during lunch hour if you actually take one, is probably a wise thing to do.
That’s where the mini-fridge with the snacks on top come in. During my initial year of self-employment, I struggled with staying on task during the workday because of all the distractions around me. The couch and television, or even worse, bed, were always calling my name to join them for an opportunity to indulge in pure laziness, and I couldn’t get the treats in the pantry off of my mind.
To curb this problem, I incorporated a strict schedule to help me stay on task and added healthy snacks and beverages to my office to avoid the desire to linger around in the kitchen.
Now, it’s your turn to put your makeover plan into motion. And by implementing these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating the home office of your dreams.