life in a tiny apartment.

March 26, 2014

Tip #98: Keep your home office simple.

I’ve alluded in the past to doing some of my work at home. In the past five years, as I’ve made my way through graduate school and continued on to working a combination of freelance and full-time jobs, my apartment has doubled as my workspace for at least part of the work week. These days, my full-time work at Gardenista takes me to a busy midtown office a few days a week, but I still spend a few days a week working from home (the better to cram in a 12 hour work day, my dear….heh).

Questions of work/life balance and how I’m failing at it aside, I get a lot of questions about how I manage to work from home, especially in such a tiny space. Readers email with questions (only sometimes with a hint of incredulity) about where I keep my books and binders, my printer and office supplies. Pens? Pencils? Receipts?

And I’m afraid this answer might not be possible or plausible for all of you, but it’s the truth for me: Mostly, I don’t keep any of them at all. I have my computer, my mouse and felt mousepad and a keyboard. And that’s about it. I don’t keep a printer at home. I have one box of files and folders that I keep in the closet and I keep a wine crate of camera equipment and external hard drives stowed under the couch. A minimum of pens and pencils get stowed in one of my toolboxes.

My particular line of work doesn’t demand a lot of hardware or printing so I’ve chosen to keep my home office as minimal as everything else around here.

But in case you find yourself overwhelmed by your own home office, here are a few things to consider:

Home offices tend be the place in a home where miscellaneous stuff gets stashed. A pile of sentimental birthday cards get tucked onto a shelf, back issues of a favorite magazine get stacked, never to be flipped through again, cords to electronics you no longer own get shoved into drawers.

Go through your home office and consider what you keep there. Is it filled with things you actually need to complete your work, or is it crammed with things you just can’t bring yourself to deal with. Ask yourself: “Do I actually need 15 dried out markers taking up precious real estate?” No, no you don’t.

Other related tips:
on choosing computers.
on listening to music.
on transformer furniture.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – 97, right here.

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  • Reply Anonymous March 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I'm curious, do you still like having a desktop? Did you also invest in a laptop?

    • Reply Erin March 26, 2014 at 5:19 pm

      Hi there: I do love my desktop, but I'm lucky to now also have a laptop through work and it's pretty great. If I had to choose, at this point I'd probably forgo the desktop.

  • Reply Danielle E. Alvarez March 26, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    "No, no you don't" 🙂 great tips.

  • Reply Anonymous March 26, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    What do you do with all the receipts??

    • Reply Erin March 26, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      Digitize, digitize, digitize! Kayla (down below) knows this too! A file on a computer is a lot easier to store than a file on a desk!

    • Reply oliviajamie March 27, 2014 at 12:47 pm

      This is liberating…I'm going to get started!

  • Reply Kayla Poole March 26, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    agreed on all accounts. Tiho and I both have separate home office space at home (and by space, I mean we've each got a tiny corner in our living room). The only things I keep out on my wooden table desk are my iMac, mouse/keyboard and a grapefruit scented candle. All of the camera stuff/paperwork/general office miscellany are stashed in the hall closet to be retrieved and put back only when necessary. If I've learned anything from apartment living, it is this: hide the clutter!

    People ask me about receipts, photo contracts too: digitize everything! We keep folders on our computers where we scan or photograph every piece of business-related paper before archiving. I will never be a slave to paper again!

  • Reply picklesandchapstick March 26, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    This is great advice!


  • Reply Kim P March 26, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    I love this! Give what you use/love every day prime real estate. The rest can go away completely or go elsewhere.

  • Reply Kim B. March 26, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    THIS: "Home offices tend be the place in a home where miscellaneous stuff gets stashed. A pile of sentimental birthday cards get tucked onto a shelf, back issues of a favorite magazine get stacked, never to be flipped through again, cords to electronics you no longer own get shoved into drawers.

  • Reply Kari March 26, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    This is such good advice. Now, can you come convince my husband of same?

    I do have a question about the digitizing of receipts, etc. Do you trust your computer enough to feel that it won't eat all your stuff sometime? Or that some future update of software or hardware won't make it impossible to access your digitized stuff? I have trust issues in that area, so I still keep paper copies of all that stuff. Tell me I don't have to.

    • Reply Linlin March 26, 2014 at 11:46 pm

      keep a digital copy somewhere besides your computer instead!

  • Reply DontBlameTheKids March 27, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I work from home two days a week, and I also live in a very small space. My home office is non-existent. I set up camp on the living room floor, because I need at least two laptops open. If I am just reviewing documents, I do it on the couch. I don't need a printer, but I keep a notebook and pen in my purse. It goes where I go. I could work at the kitchen table, but that is closer to the refrigerator, so…no. Even without a real office, this setup works well for me.

  • Reply Carol March 27, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    thanks, erin! were you this minimal when you were a graduate student also? i find it hard to get rid of books and articles that *might* come in handy again someday. of course, once i'm done with my dissertation (whenever that might be!), a thorough empty-ing out will be my first order of business!

  • Reply Annie May 5, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Hi Erin! Where did you get your desk lamp?

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