5 Essential Tools for Any Home Office

by Meg Favreau on 25 March 2014 (1 comment)

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I’ve worked from home for over six years now. There’s a lot that I love about it, but I can tell you from trial and error that creating a comfortable, functional home office setup is key to a great work-at-home experience. Here are five essential tools that help you create a great home office for less.

1. Repurposed (Almost) Everything

If you’re setting up your first home office, don’t immediately head to the office supply store. Instead, look around to see what you already own that you can repurpose. Is there an extra dining chair you aren’t using that can serve as your office chair? Do you have two filing cabinets of the same height that you could put a board on instead of buying a new desk? Even being able to move a lamp from another part of the house or turn a mug into a pen holder can make a difference — those little costs add up.

If you can’t repurpose certain key elements, look to Craigslist and thrift stores before buying new. It’s often possible to find used desks and chairs for very little.

2. Smart Storage

Notice I didn’t just say storage, I said “smart” storage. The key to smart storage is understanding how you work. In the past, I’ve had bins for all sorts of different papers — financial documents, writing edits, articles ripped out of magazines to read later, etc. But I’m the sort of person who tends to put paper in a pile and then forget about it, which meant that my office became bins and bins of paper that I never did anything with.

Now I have exactly two small paper holders on my desk — one for items that I’m currently working with (such as papers marked up with writing edits), and one for papers that need to be filed or otherwise dealt with later. When the to-be-filed holder is full, I file or throw away everything in it in one big batch, so things don’t pile up.

If you’re the sort of person who files everything immediately, great! You might only need a filing cabinet. The key is, whatever your style, don’t let too many organizational products overwhelm your organizing (or your budget). Stuff doesn’t make you organized; you make you organized.

3. DIY Standing Desk

If you’re thinking about using a standing desk — awesome! Reducing the amount of time you sit during work can help you live longer. Unfortunately, standing desks can be expensive. That’s why you should try making a standing desk before buying, especially if you’re trying it out for the first time. This Ikea-hack version is popular. I’ve also made a standing desk by expanding my regular desk’s telescoping legs as far as they would go, and then stacking sturdy books underneath my monitor to make up the height difference.

 

4. Separation From Your Personal Life

We’re not all so lucky that we have a spare room we can turn into an office. If you don’t have a full room for your office, you should still make an effort to separate your personal life from your work life. If you’re able to put your office into a particular corner or closet you don’t use for anything else, that’s great. I once lived in a studio apartment where I blocked off my work area from my sleeping area with an inexpensive room-divider screen. And if you can avoid it, don’t set up at the dining room table or in another space that gets regular use by your family — otherwise it will be easier for work to seep into personal time.

5. Frugal Computer Tools

When you work in an office, you might not realize how much all of the software, hardware, and other tools you take for granted cost. Here are some frugal substitutions for things that are normally provided for you in an office:

Fax Machine

Faxes are slowly being replaced by email attachments as the preferred way to transfer documents. Unfortunately, some of your clients will still rely on faxes — but that doesn’t mean you have to buy a clunky fax machine. If you only receive a few faxes a week, consider using eFax, an online service that allows you to send and receive faxes as email attachments for $14 a month.

Telephone

Skype is a great choice for keeping in touch with your clients and vendors. If you’re calling someone who also has Skype, calls are free, and you can buy inexpensive, pay-as-you-go Skype Credit that allows you to call landline and mobile numbers anywhere in the world.

The Gimp

If your work involves any online element that requires photos or other images, such as running a blog or maintaining a website, download The Gimp. This open source image editing software is comparable to Photoshop, but it doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars.

Invoicing, Time Management, and More

There are several great free and cheap apps out there made just for freelancers and those with home offices — rather than list them all for you here, I’ll point you to our list of the 16 Time and Money Saving Apps for Freelancers.

What are your essential home office tools?

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Minor, but revealing: It's "GIMP", not "The Gimp".