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Home Office Makeovers That Won’t Cost You A Cent

Wednesday, January 06, 2010
By Kim O'Connor

Many of us spend more time in our home offices than any other area in the house, so it seems strange that these workspaces are often neglected. How many stay-at-home workers dragged a desk into some unused corner when they started their business and never looked back?

The start of a new year is a great time to give the hardest working room in your home a little TLC. If you’re intimidated by the thought, take heart: You can bring out the best in your home office in just a few simple steps. Better yet, you can do it for free.

Whether you’re troubleshooting a problem area or planning a complete overhaul, these four steps will put you on the fast track to a more pleasant and productive workspace. And if you’re interested in upgrading your makeover from no-cost to low-cost, you’ll find a few budget-minded suggestions along the way.

Step One
Make A Plan
The key to a successful home office makeover is thoughtful planning.

The first task is to evaluate your current setup with a critical eye. Before you begin moving things around, it’s important to understand what it is that you don’t like about your home office.

“Start with one corner of your home office and work your way around to figure out which areas aren’t working for you,” suggests Lisa Kanarek, author of “Home Office Solutions: Creating a Space that Works for You” (Quarry Books, 2004).

Focus your attention on the areas that cause you the most angst.

An easy way to breathe new life into a tired workspace is to play with its layout. The online companion to
Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, www.bhg.com, offers a free planning tool at http://arrangearoom.bhg.com that lets you visualize your ideas without actually pushing around any heavy furniture. Lighting, placement
of electrical outlets, and your workflow are all important considerations that should factor in to your planning.

If you’re willing to invest in new shelving or other storage supplies, The Container Store offers free consultations online and in stores. IKEA offers similar services in its bricks-and-mortar stores. Experts will work with you to configure a customized solution for your space that you can install yourself. Even if you decide not to buy, you might learn something from the process.

Step Two
Create A Clean Slate
Sometimes the simplest solution is also the most effective one—a thorough cleaning might be all your home office needs to look its best.

Set aside an afternoon to dust off the highest bookshelves and to untangle the cords running into your power strip. Large-scale organization projects might take a full weekend or longer.

Sorting through piles of paperwork can be unpleasant, but stay goal oriented; a well-ordered workspace is well worth the trouble.

If you’re facing some serious clutter, consider bringing in an expert. Professional organizers often charge by the hour, so hiring one for, say, an afternoon to help with a specific project like implementing a filing system can be a cost-effective option. Rates vary widely by region, starting around $50/hour in metropolitan areas. The National Association of Professional Organizers offers a searchable directory of vendors at www.napo.net/referral.

Your investment will pay off over the short and long terms.

As you clean and organize, take the opportunity to purge your workspace of things you don’t need. Old paperwork can be shredded, recycled or thrown away. Larger items like furniture and electronics can usually be donated or sold.

Step Three

Go Shopping

With a little creativity, you can find new furnishings for your home office without ever opening your wallet.

Most people accumulate extra furniture over time. Go shopping at home by looking for pieces you can appropriate for your workspace.

Chests of drawers, for instance, make an excellent repository for paperwork or supplies. Armoires also work well in most home offices; they camouflage clutter and provide extra storage space, like a spare closet.

While you’re at it, scour your home for other items that you can repurpose for extra storage. Kanarek likes to store supplies in clear shoeboxes. She also uses silverware holders—inserts used in kitchen drawers to separate flat-ware—to organize her office drawers.

Check the newspaper or Web sites like Craigslist for listings from locals who are giving away free furniture.

If you have a few extra dollars to throw at your project, it’s easy to find great furnishings on the cheap.

“If you put some thought into the pieces you want, you can always find furniture inexpensively,” says Jeff Zbar, home office expert and founder of www.chiefhomeofficer.com. Estate sales, thrift stores, garage sales, fire
sales and eBay are all great resources for affordable office supplies.

Step Four
Add Personal Touches
Now that you’ve taken care of the basics, it’s time to inject some personality into your space. (This is the fun part!)

Start by filling your office with treasured objects from other areas of your home. Souvenirs such as postcards or seashells will instantly personalize your space. Framed photos can go on your desk, on a bookcase or on the wall. Tack your children’s artwork on a corkboard, where you can also post important reminders or receipts.

If your décor is still lacking after you raid the rest of your house, a good source for original, inexpensive art is www.etsy.com, a marketplace for handmade goods.

Vintage trays and serving bowls also ooze charm and are great for corralling small objects like paper clips and stamps. They are readily available on eBay or in charity and antique shops. Fresh flowers (even a single stem) are another inexpensive way to make your workspace feel inviting.

Keep in mind that small changes can make a big impact.

Paint, for instance, can transform your office with very little effort. Cover one wall with a bold color or revive old furniture with a coat of high-gloss paint.

Choosing a signature color is an easy shortcut to an artfully composed room. If, for instance, your favorite color is orange, you can use orange spray paint to transform accent pieces like file cabinets, wastebaskets and other supplies to tie your office together.

The best thing about a no-cost or a low-cost office makeover (apart from saving money, of course) is that it requires little commitment, while the potential for gains is huge. “What can go wrong?” asks Zbar. “Take a chance and have some fun; you can always put things back. It may give you a new look and lease on your Monday mornings.”

Freelance writer Kim O’Connor likes working in her home office, but she loves decorating it.

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