Transforming My Home Office

I recently wrote “When A Piece of Furniture Has To Go.” You can subtitle this post “When Another Piece of Furniture Has To Go”.

I’m referring to my desk. Not the desk where I spend most of my time working on my computer, but the desk I’ve had since I was a child. It also served me well through many years of adulthood. It was a place to pay bills and write letters and sign school permission slips. But that was before life became electronic. It’s not a good desk for a right-handed person to use a computer. So in recent years I mainly used it as a place to dump my mail, and for storing a multitude of office supplies and other items in its capacious drawers.

When I set up my home office many years ago in the corner of the living room, I put this desk at a right angle to my computer desk (which is to the left of what you see in the photo). That gave me easy access to the office supplies in the drawers. I also put a decorative file box on top for frequently-accessed files.

Spending so much more time at home during the last six months has attuned me to the ways in which my home’s setup could be improved. I started thinking that this desk took up a lot of floor space for something that was essentially a storage cabinet, as well as a paper magnet that frequently looked messy. So I decided to give myself the same type of advice that I give my clients: let the desk go.

First, I had to figure out what to do with the contents of the drawers. Fortunately, I have lots of storage space elsewhere. The end tables next to my sofa have drawers in them but were not being efficiently used. I cleaned out those drawers and either tossed the contents or found storage for them elsewhere. Then I moved some of my office supplies from the desk to those drawers. I measured the drawers and the contents, and then purchased some drawer organizer trays from The Container Store so that things wouldn’t shift around when I opened and closed the drawers.

I also redeployed some plastic drawers that were on the printer table next to my desk. I was using them to store different weights of paper. However, I rarely use anything but all-purpose printer paper anymore. So I transferred the other paper into a closet and put more office supplies in the drawers. I labeled the drawers so that I could easily find the new contents.

What about the decorative file box that sat on top of the desk? It was really a bit of an indulgence, because my file cabinet is about six steps away, right in my living room. I emptied the file box and distributed the contents into the appropriate drawers in my file cabinet. Then I offered the file box and its matching decorative folders on Buy Nothing, and they were gone by the end of the day.

The next step was to donate the desk. I took a few photos and submitted them to HousingWorks, one of the charities here in NYC that picks up furniture. They only accept furniture that is in really good condition, so while I was waiting for the pickup at the end of the week, I polished and touched up the wood, and vacuumed out the drawers. I was so happy when they took the desk away!

So now the desk was gone. But I still wasn’t satisfied. Now the little blue printer table looked shabby to me. It was originally the table for my hamster’s cage and all of his supplies. It was time to upgrade to a nice piece of furniture, one with doors so that I could hide away the plastic drawers and other supplies.

I looked on-line for quite a while before I found the perfect piece. It came from Macy’s and it took my daughter and me two hours to assemble. It matches my living room décor and is the right size for my printer. It has enough storage space inside to fit not just the plastic drawers, but also some other items that had been cluttering my computer desk.

As I enter my 15th year in business as a Professional Organizer, I feel like I finally have an attractive and efficient home office setup that is worthy of the rest of my living room.

 

When A Piece of Furniture Has To Go

One of my basic organizing principles is “One in, One out.” I’ve written about it a few times, most recently in A Magazine A Day and If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. I apply that principle to clothes, linens, periodicals, and other items. But its largest impact comes when applying it to furniture.

Emily in her rocking chair at 2 years old

Within days of adopting our daughter 22 years ago, we walked over to the nearest baby furniture store and purchased an upholstered rocking chair. It has been a fixture in her room ever since. We used it when we read books to her or rocked her to sleep. No matter where we lived, and what the configuration of her room was, we always found a place for this chair. In recent years, I even replaced the cushions so that we could get more life out of it.

Early in the pandemic, when all the gyms shut down, Emily expressed interest in getting an exercise bike. She is a fitness enthusiast who works out nearly every day. She was accustomed to taking different classes all over town. Now she was doing online exercise classes, as well working out twice a week with me when my personal trainer connects with us via FaceTime.

I was not excited about adding an exercise bike to our apartment. In my clients’ homes, I have seen too many pieces of exercise equipment with clothing draped all over them. We suspended talk about a bike for a while and she continued to explore other ways of staying fit.

With everything still shut down five months later, she asked me about it again. This time, I acquiesced. We started talking about where it would go in her room. After exploring a few options, we came to the conclusion that the only way to accommodate the bike would be to get rid of the rocking chair.

While we waited for the bike to be delivered, my husband and I explored where else we could put the chair. We tried it in a few different places in our living room, but none of them really worked. We finally admitted that its time with us had come to an end. We took it down to the basement of our building where people put bulky things to be discarded. I pinned a note to it saying that it was still functional and that anyone who wanted it could have it. Within a couple of days, it was gone. We were glad that it would continue to be useful for someone else for a while, instead of going to the junkyard.

Emily on her exercise bike

I’m happy to say that Operation Exercise Bike is a success! Emily loves her new bike and uses it frequently. Because of where we placed it, it’s the last thing you see when you walk into the room, so it hasn’t disrupted the warm, homey look of her bedroom.

Although we know intellectually that the rocking chair is gone, when my husband and I walk into Emily’s room to visit with her, we still go over to that corner to sit there. Even while I was writing this, I walked into her room with the dog in my arms and went to sit in the chair. Old habits are hard to break.

 

 

Creating A Home Office

When New York City shut down back in March, we figured we wouldn’t have any problem working from home since we were already doing it. I’ve had a home office in the corner of my living room since starting my organizing business 14 years ago. My husband, a research scientist at a medical school, does a lot of writing on his laptop at the dining room table, going into the office only for meetings. While working from home was new for my daughter, she brought home her work laptop and settled into her bedroom.

However, as the months wore on, conflicts were inevitable. My husband and I were both holding frequent meetings via phone or Zoom, and my daughter’s job required her to be on the phone for much of the day. Since I have a desktop computer and am not easily relocatable, my husband would move his laptop to my daughter’s desk when one of us had a Zoom meeting, and she would decamp to our bedroom. Every morning we would compare our schedules to ensure that we each had a quiet place when we needed one. It was getting old.

I suggested that we set up a small desk in our bedroom for my husband to hold his meetings. It was really important to us that the desk be very low-profile so that it wouldn’t overwhelm our bedroom, which has a “bed and breakfast” vibe.

We selected a small space next to the dresser and bought the following:

  • A folding desk
  • A lightweight upholstered chair that matches our bedroom decor
  • A power strip.

We rearranged items already on top of the dresser so that a lamp, landline, and coaster were within easy reach. I dipped into my cache of organizing supplies to come up with two cord organizers that would keep his laptop and iPhone charger cords at his fingertips. Excess cables got tucked under the dresser.

We are so pleased at the way it turned out! My husband likes the space so much that he usually works in there even if neither of us has any Zoom meetings. My daughter appreciates not getting bumped from her room. And I enjoy how the blue chair enhances our blue and yellow bedroom decor. I even upped my game by replacing all the coasters in that room with yellow and blue ones.

By the way, the blue chair came in a set of two, so now I have a new chair at the writing desk in my home office, too!

Creating a Home Maintenance Schedule

We recently spent some time moving all of the furniture away from the wall so that we could vacuum behind it and dust the baseboards. Yikes! It has apparently been a long time since we did that.

I’ve decided that it would be helpful to make up a year-round maintenance calendar for my home. (Luckily I live in an apartment building, so I don’t need to include things that house-owners would need to do, like roof gutters and lawns!) Tasks will include:

  • Vacuuming and dusting behind furniture
  • Dusting ceiling fans
  • Vacuuming bottoms of closets
  • Cleaning windows and window screens
  • Dry cleaning or laundering curtains
  • Vacuuming the refrigerator vent
  • Waxing wood furniture
  • Vacuuming upholstered furniture.

My plan is to assign one of these tasks to the first weekend of each month. Have you organized your home maintenance tasks to ensure that they don’t get overlooked? Let me know what is working for you.

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Back in June, I wrote about a project on which I had done a good bit of procrastinating (see A Blessing and A Curse). To refresh your memory on the salient details, I was asked to record a 90-minute class I had delivered at a NAPO conference 6 years earlier, so that the class could be made available as part of NAPO’s educational offerings. I put it off and put it off, and finally got it done by setting myself a deadline. But as it turns out, that wasn’t the end of the story.

First, a little more background. Somehow, my first attempt at recording what had been a live 90-minute class came out to only 27 minutes. By going into more detail on some of the points in the class, I was able to extend it to 36 minutes – an increase of 33%. I was pleased that I could add more value to the class. But as Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

A couple of weeks later, my contact at NAPO headquarters let me know that the NAPO Education Committee wanted all NAPO courses to be at least 60 minutes long so that they could be used as Continuing Education Units (CEUs). As a Certified Professional Organizer® who needs to earn CEUs to keep my certification, I was sympathetic to the concept. But how was I going to add another 24 minutes to this class? Especially when I had already wracked my brain to extend it 33%? I guess I was going to have to do a little more brain-wracking.

The class is called “Less is More: Maximizing Small Residential Spaces.” I decided to add more examples of the guidelines I had included for small spaces. I gave more specific tips. I added photos of products. And I included more client anecdotes. I spent many hours researching more content, and I actually had fun coming up with new ideas. The number of slides in my presentation went from 18 to 42.

When I recorded the class, I was thrilled to see that it had reached 60 minutes and 51 seconds. Success!!

The class is now available on the NAPO educational website, NAPO University, for $45. While it is intended for Professional Organizers, it is chock full of content that is useful to anyone who lives in a small space and is looking for some pointers. Check it out here.

This experience was a good lesson for me that we do our best work when pushed out of our comfort zones. I started out by thinking “I can’t” but ultimately, I could — and I did.