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Building the Home Office

Categories: maternity leave, the home office, working from home

3 comments

As I wind down and wrap up my work in the office before maternity leave,* I’m relishing the daily excuse to spend a few minutes here and there to simplify and declutter my space. I’m purging old files, organizing the keepers, and reassessing how much crap I really need to have on my desk at any given time. (Pencils: yes. Rainbow slinky: no.) It’s not nesting, per se, but it has a similar vibe; I’m cleaning out virtual instead of literal cobwebs, applying some metaphorical elbow grease to long-neglected messes, and trying to impose as much order as I can before things get really chaotic.

So far I’ve been ridding my office of all the personal effects that shouldn’t litter what will essentially become a community space; my desk will be the revolving door through which interns pass, and I want to do my best to make it inviting as well as functional. So, into a cardboard box go my framed photographs, my army of decorative doodads, and the secret stash of ketchup and soy sauce packets leftover from my take-out days. I’m also cleansing my computer of personal files—emails and photos and website passwords that probably should never have been on my work computer in the first place(!). A sweep of the arm and a click of the Empty Trash button and this could be anyone’s computer on anyone’s desk in anyone’s office, which is a little bit sad but also necessary and appropriate.

The good/bad part is that I’m not disassembling my personal office into a vortex. All those files and supplies, all that physical and digital clutter, has to go somewhere, right? For now it goes into boxes that go into my trunk and then into my attic, but eventually some of it will find new purpose in a new space: the home office I plan to work out of part-time after the baby is born. Right now it’s a sunroom with my craft supplies and sewing machine and a faraway view of San Francisco and the bay, but in time it will be my base of thinky-type operations, the place where I’m no longer Just Mommy.

In preparation, I’m making checklists of things I’ll need—dictionaries and style guides, red pencils and sticky notes, paperclips and binderclips and hairclips—but the one aspect of the office I’m having the hardest time with is not its contents but its character. See, I have no clue how my home office should be arranged and how it should operate, especially considering it will be the home office of a new mom. I have the space and I have the supplies, but I’m not sure how to best make them work for me. Do I need to hang curtains so I’m not distracted by the antics of the neighbor’s dog? (Or will I be glad to have that distraction in the absence of the antics of coworkers?) Should I formulate a strict routine to maximize my productivity, or should I embrace fully this chance to be completely flexible? Should I make an effort to change between “work clothes” and “home clothes” a la Mr. Rogers, or would that just turn into a tool for procrastination? For me the biggest question mark is this: Should I structure my office space to be child-friendly or child-free? 

Most of the answers won’t come until I’ve had a chance to test things out and see what flies and what falls flat on its face for my particular situation…whatever that turns out to be. I still haven’t nailed down a plan for childcare (I don’t know if I’ll be working at home while caring for an infant or working at home while the infant is in daycare), and that’s just one of several factors that will influence how my home office needs to look and function. For now, I’m (you guessed it!) busy collecting stories and advice from people who have been there and found a way to make it work. Just poking around the WIM archives gave me a good start: Sabrina Paradis writes about the balancing act (”My home life and work life weren’t blended, they were pureed”). My favorite tip from NSB Mom’s article “Set Up Your Workspace” is “Get out of the house every day.” Susan Wagner (formerly of WIM’s “The Working Closet”) started her series about work-from-home attire with an article titled “Working at Home? It Won’t Kill You To Get Dressed.” 

What’s your best advice about building a functional home office and a productive home office routine?  

*I still have five weeks to go, but considering the number and frequency of contractions I’ve had this trimester, I think I’m wise to prepare for a surprise early birth…



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3 comments so far...

  • We have a separate “office” in the house (complete with a door!) which is where Matthew does all of his work, and where I do the bookkeeping/payments, etc. for our business.

    When I am doing my accounting/writing stuff I actually tend to do it at the kitchen table so I can be where everyone else is.

    If I really need to concentrate I lock myself in the office, but other than that I get lonely :)

    Angella  |  October 22nd, 2008 at 7:16 pm

  • I work from home while my toddler cavorts around with her nanny. I have to hide out from her though (the toddler that is!), if she knows I’m home she’s all over me.
    I’m lucky to have a small bathroom en-suite to my home office so I stash a change of clothes and cosmetics there in the evenings and after breakfast just ‘disappear’ in my pyjamas to shower and dress etc there before starting work.
    Even if you don’t have a bathroom I highly recommend keeping a deoderant, lip balm, hairbrush etc stashed in your desk drawer for those moments when you simply can’t reveal your presence.
    I love having my daughter at home and being able to hear what she’s up to while I’m working.
    Good luck for the rest of your pregnancy - you’re looking fantastic!

    molly  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 2:54 am

  • When my son was an infant I found it so *easy* to Baby Bjorn him while working or boing him in the bouncy seat with my toe when at my desk. As he got older and mobile (and louder!) it was harder to have uninterrupted stretches to work. Now that he is an enormous, havoc-wreaking 2.5-yr-old I really REALLY wish I had an office space I could lock him out of. My 5-yr-old, however is fine to sit and color or read for quite a while and we can work companionably in peace.

    In short, I think you’ll find what you want from your office will change over time, so try to keep it as flexible as you can.

    shriek house  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 11:42 am

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