How to Set up a Great Home Office (Even When You Don’t Have Much Space)

sunny home office with small desk and plantsPhotographee.eu/Shutterstock

Just because you don’t have a lot of space doesn’t mean you should be working on your coffee table. Here’s how to create a workspace when the space itself is limited.

When most people consider working from home, they imagine a spacious and well-lit home office. Your fancy desk could have an elegant desk and a high-tech ergonomic chair. Or maybe an antique oak desk and a soft leather chair is more your style.

But when you look around your studio or your cluttered little house, you quickly understand the reality. Is there still enough room for a real office? How much work can you really do on your sofa? Maybe you should just work while sitting on your bed, like you did your homework in college?

The prospect of cutting out a home office into a tiny living space may seem impossible. But with a little creativity and resourcefulness, you can build an office space that will help you get more out of working at home. Here’s how.

Seek natural light

When you decide which part of your living space you will use for work, there is one thing that we want you to keep in mind first: natural light.

Even in an apartment in the basement, you probably have a small window that lets in at least a little light. You can use these natural light sources to your advantage. Studies have shown that access to natural light is the number one thing which makes employees feel good in a workspace.

Without natural light, you will quickly feel bored, tired or trapped. Your brain will have a hard time harnessing the energy it needs to focus. So no matter where you decide to set up your home office, make sure it has a clear view of a window. The larger and brighter the window, the better, but work with what you have.

Consider your needs

Now consider what your home office will need.

For most people, a desk and a place to sit will do. But how big should your desk be? Do you work regularly with two large screens or do you work from an ordinary laptop? Do you need a place to spread a lot of paper or can you work with a single notebook?

When thinking about it, be sure to separate needs from wants. Maybe you want a big, pretty monitor to work with, but a laptop will work just as well. Also look for creative solutions. Perhaps you can hang this large monitor on the wall so that it does not occupy any office space.

Identify the right space

With that in mind, it’s time to identify where you will set up your home office.

Unless you really need a lot of space, you really don’t need more than a few feet. However, depending on the narrowness of your living situation, you may need to rearrange some furniture to open this office space.

Find or create a spare corner, a section of wall or a space under a window. Move things around as needed until you have an open space where you can set up any office. If there is no wall space available, you may be able to place a desk against the back of your sofa. You can even use an additional closet as an office (but let’s face it – how many people in small living spaces have a closet to spare?).

Compact home office nestled under a staircaseel lobo / Shutterstock

Your office can also be in your hallway, your hallway, your kitchen or even your bedroom. Anywhere with a few feet of extra space works. Our editor Jason turned an unused alcove at the end of a corridor into a home office for his wife: it was just the right size for two filing cabinets, a wooden counter from IKEA and an office chair. You can have a place in your own home like this: a space at the end of a corridor or under a staircase where a modest little home office could sit.

If you’re putting your desk in your bedroom, try to face it away from your bed, so you don’t have to think about napping all day or working while you’re in bed.

Choose your desk and your chair

Now you have a place to set up your office. It may only be a few feet wide, but all you need is enough space for you and your most essential work supplies.

Then find (or create) an office that will fit this space. Use a tape measure to see what you need to work with. Then think about the type of office that will work best.

Most people do not need a full traditional office. You can install shelves or buy stand-alone organizers to replace desk drawers. So, in addition to shopping for desks, consider ordinary tables. Thrift stores often have old desks and tables in many different sizes at great prices.

You can also set up a shelf to serve as an office instead. A sturdy shelf large enough for your work essentials will do. It’s a great way to make the most of very small or irregularly shaped office space, and supplies are generally inexpensive. You can even place your desk shelf high enough to use it as a standing desk, then use a high chair to give you the opportunity to sit down.

The chair you use is up to you – just make sure it’s comfortable enough for everyday use. You can also help a small house feel less cluttered by carefully choosing the design of your desk and chair. Styles with thin feet and clean lines, or even clear acrylic that blends with the background, don’t add much visual noise to a room.

Consider the dividers

If you live with other people, you may want to find a way to separate your office space from the rest of the living space.

Of course, the dream is to have a home office with a door that you can close. But as it is not always realistic, be creative. Try hanging curtains or installing a folding room divider to separate your office area from the living space.

These solutions will not block noise, but they will at least limit visual distractions. You can use noise canceling headphones to take care of the appearance of the noise.

Find storage solutions

If you have a small living space, you are probably having trouble finding places to store your things. Fortunately, your home office space can also become a source of new storage.

Look above and below your desk. Can you install shelves just above the desk or add rolling drawers below? Remember that vertical space is your best friend in a small life situation.

Your storage solutions can hold your work supplies. But if you don’t have a lot of work items, they can also contain everything you need to store.

Get versatile

If you’re still having trouble finding a space in your home that will work just for work, you can create a dual-use space instead.

Maybe you just need to rearrange your dining table so that it can easily turn into a work table after breakfast. A few rolling drawers to keep your work supplies handy could do the trick.

Or maybe the new office space you’ve built can be used as a coffee corner. Just make sure you can easily store your things when you want to use the space for relaxation.

Add personal touches

Your home office isn’t just about convenience. It should also have some fun and personal touches that make it an integral part of your home.

If you don’t need to hang shelves for storage up to the ceiling, you can instead hang your favorite art prints above your desk. Watching them will inspire boring days and make the space less useful.

You can also stack your favorite books on your desk shelf, place some cute plants on your desk, or buy office supplies in your favorite colors. Do whatever it takes to make your home workspace just like home.

Creating a home office in your small living space may encourage you to find other ways to use your space more efficiently. Most importantly, it will provide you with a place where you can quickly go into “work mode” and get things done.

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