Office still under way

by singlemomseeking on July 22, 2009

Thanks to all of you for your suggestions about keeping my work out of the bedroom.

Since moving to my new home, I’ve been working in a variety of places:

1. At my desk, after moving it to three different locations

2.  In the backyard

3.  In the kitchen

Because I no longer have a “real” office, I’m trying out new places to find the best fit. It’s not that I’m not high-maintenance (okay, maybe a little). But I work from home and really need to the right space to focus.

That’s why I’ve turned to Mr. Dreamy Blue Eyes — oh, I mean feng shui expert Ariel Joseph — again.

ariel-feng-shui

I wish he could just fly up north and have a look at my home…. In the meantime, emailing photos to him will have to do:
So, here’s my desk right next to the front door, which makes me feel like I should get up and go:

office-to-ariel-1st-try-near-door

I’m glad you are not keeping your desk here,” Ariel tells me.

Why?

“Near the door can be unsettling. Just ask the Godfather why he sits where he does in the restaurant. In fact, we could all take a page or two from the Godfather on this one. Ideally we would sit within a space where the Godfather would eat dinner (in the back, with something solid at our back and facing the rest of the room. Possibly with two “guardians” at our backs.) This position violates the principle of being in the “back.”
Now, here’s my desk next to the window, making it the focus of the living room:

office-2nd-try-near-window

“It is near some source of natural light which can sometimes help us feel connected to nature,” says Ariel. “However, your back is still to the door (another Godfather no-no) and it squashes the other purpose of the room (sitting, entertainment) which I am not crazy about for you. Plus you don’t like it, which is the most important thing.”
Lastly, when my college friend, Amanda, was visiting last week, she suggested that I move my desk to the kitchen:

office-to-ariel-3rd-try-in-kitchen

To my amazement, I’ve liked working here most of all. But there’s no room for the kitchen table, and understandably, my kid is upset about losing a place to eat.

“This sounds like the best option of the three — and I love the color of the walls!” agrees Ariel.

“However, it’s important to listen to our little loved ones, because they might be picking up on something that we can’t quite articulate. Perhaps it is just about change, and it will change over time. Or perhaps it feels energetically off. Or maybe she doesn’t like that there is a DESK in a KITCHEN forcing you to have no place to sit and eat! I’m not crazy about this solution either, but at least it’s out of your bedroom.”

Whew. So then, Ariel, just what do you suggest?

Him: “You may hate me, but I think it’s time to let go of the desk.”

Me: Let go of my desk? But I’m a writer!!

Ariel then asks why I’m holding onto my desk. For what? “A few drawers? You can get an actual dining table, put it in the kitchen, sit in the nook next to that great colored wall and in the place that you love the most…then when you are done being a working mama, you can shut the laptop, place it in its place and set the table for coloring, for meals or whatever the next purpose is.”

Maybe it’s the feminist in me, but working at the kitchen table just feels so 19th century to me. I’m not giving up.

So, I ask him: How about a wall desk, like this?

wall-desk

And Ariel likes it! Although he asks: “If you can pull it off, but where?”

~~~

Your turn: Do you have any advice for me on this one?

Do any of you work in your kitchen?

Do you believe this Godfather advice… or do refrain from working with your back towards the door?



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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

OaklandMama July 23, 2009 at 1:17 am

I don’t get your “maybe I’m a feminist” comment. Um, I’m a feminist, and a single mom and I make a great living and…I always work in the kitchen. I even considered a built in desk in my kitchen so I could have a permanent place to work but for now, the kitchen island does the trick.

Why? I can dual task so easily – thinking about dinner, checking email and taking a business call all at once. I love it!

Oh and…what do we have to do to get Mr Dreamy Blue Eyes to come up to Oakland?

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singlemomseeking July 23, 2009 at 8:08 am

OaklandMama: The working-in-the-kitchen thing is probably MY hang up.

But growing up, my mother didn’t have a room of her own to study when she went back to school… Hmm, maybe she, too, preferred working at the kitchen table? I think about Virginia Woolf’s book, “A Room of One’s Own,” and how women in the 19th century weren’t given a room of their own to work… But again, it’s probably just me. Over-thinking.

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singlemomseeking July 24, 2009 at 8:19 am

@Oakland Mama: I’m working on a way to get Mr Dreamy Blue Eyes to come up to the SF Bay Area! If he held a feng shui workshop here, would you come?

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Apples July 23, 2009 at 1:42 am

It isn’t really related but kinda.. I do not know why, I never was taught or care about feng shui or anything else. However- I cannot sit with my back towards the main flow of traffic or door in a restaurant. It drives me bonkers. I don’t know why either. Just makes me uneasy.

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MC July 23, 2009 at 3:54 am

I have a desk downstairs….but I end up doing all my work on my laptop on the breakfast bar in the kitchen!

The uncluttered expanse of counter is inspiring and lets me spread out my work junk when I need to work (whereas my desk downstairs is covered in stacks of paper). I’m very strict about not leaving papers and projects out in the kitchen after I finish working (I have 1 drawer in the kitchen for my current projects, and I can even put my laptop away entirely when I want to cook something messy or when people are coming over.

The kitchen is also the center of our house–my kids are usually in the family room or the adjacent dining room building lego creations on the table. So if I have to catch up on things at work I can do it without cutting myself off.

There’s nothing in my downstairs desk’s drawers except office supplies and some hard drives anyway.

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Robynbeth July 23, 2009 at 5:34 am

I am in the same situation and went through this 1,000 times last night. My computer desk is in my bedroom, but it seems to clutter the entire space. Since I am no longer using my desktop computer, I am considering putting my desk in an upcoming yard sale, but that is my security blanket. I teach, and I bring home paperwork every night. I do have a large coffee table and can use my exercise ball as a chair, and I have my dining room table. Why can’t I find a place just for me in my own home?

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Avigail74 July 23, 2009 at 6:08 am

I love Ariel! I have a dining room table that serves many purposes—it’s where I place my laptop daily, my daughter often sits next to me to draw or do homework, a place where children at her birthday party made necklaces (then cleared off to eat cake) and so on. The table is also located in the brightest part of the house, openest part of the house and close to everything else!

The challenge is to keep it cleaned and make sure that we don’t leave anything on it.

Yes, I have the same odd feeling as Apples–I have to face the door and see who is coming in—be it at home or at a restaurant.

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debra July 23, 2009 at 6:38 am

I love Avigail’s picture of her dining room table being the center of the action, and someplace that her daughter can join her while she works. I grew up in a very small house with my parents and two brothers. Our dining room table was like grand central station with homework, projects, bill paying, etc. I never thought about it, but I loved being there as a kid. Now, when we visit as adults, we spend as much time there as anyplace else in the house. I think the key is to find a dining table that you love the look and feel of as much as you loved the desk.

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Phil July 23, 2009 at 8:05 am

Why is having multiple uses for your bedroom bad feng shui, but working in a kitchen is okay? I would personally be more distracted working next to food than I would be in my bedroom.

I agree, get rid of the tiny kid desk. I got rid of mine a couple of years ago and then wondered why I didn’t do it 15 years ago!

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singlemomseeking July 23, 2009 at 2:27 pm

@Phil, I’m going to put this question to Ariel, because I wonder the same thing! Food and dirty dishes distract me much more than…. ?

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Jim Everson (Depot Dad) July 23, 2009 at 8:11 am

Your dining room might table might work in your living room where your desk used to be if you want to continue working in the breakfast nook. Otherwise, I say clear out your garage and turn it into a work space.

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Priscilla San Remo July 23, 2009 at 8:42 am

I wish I could be one of those writers for whom everything neatly fits in a little drawer or file folder, so I could work at the dining room table and then put everything away at the end of the day… but I’m not. I’m lucky enough to have a tiny under-the-eaves study to work in, although I try to only do creative work there–work related to my other pays-the-bills job gets done at the dining room table or at Starbucks. My study allows me to have a bulletin board covered with sticky notes and index cards or piles of books related to the topic I’m writing about. I’d still like to pare things down a bit, but I like not having to hide my inspiration and information when I’m writing.

I have to say I initially set up my home office for my “job” job in my dining room when my son was just starting middle school (he just graduated high school). We both loved that I could work there and he could sit next to me doing his homework. It was easy to keep an eye on a pot on the stove or listen to the news on TV too. So spreadsheets and memos in the dining room, yes. The great American novel, nope.

BTW, have you read Michael Pollan’s “A Place of My Own?” It chronicles his attempt to construct a tiny writing space in the woods behind his house. Depot Dad’s post about converting the garage (great idea in a warm climate) made me think of that. Even though you’re not looking to create a new freestanding space, it might inspire you and make you think about your work environment differently.

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singlemomseeking July 23, 2009 at 2:26 pm

@Priscilla: I’m going to order Michael Pollan’s “A Place of My Own.” Looks SO good. Thank you!

Yeah, @depotdad, you’ve seen my place, so you have insider knowledge…. the garage might work in the future. After I get rid of the mice in there. (The cat caught three this week!)

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MindyMom July 23, 2009 at 9:08 am

Yeah, I do not like my back against the door, I have to be facing it. Right now I have a study where I have a desk with a hutch against the wall that stores the desktop, printer/fax and all my files/paperwork but I do most of my work from my laptop sitting in a cozy chair next to a window and that faces the door.

Is there anyway you can find a place for the wall desk and kind of make it your “hub” but also have a cozy chair to write in?

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Dido July 23, 2009 at 9:21 am

you know i guess he’s right…. as a matter of fact, you don’t really need a desk… i know we’re all still too used to the idea, but the truth is – you can just carry your work anywhere you want.
have a nice little nook in the kitchen as your main station, then when you just read and edit your stuff you can take your laptop to a cosy armchair in the living room, or sometimes to the backyard when the weather is nice (and hey, you’re in california, i guess you can have an open-space working place most of the time, with a nice whicker chair and a table and some flowers….
so really – why not change the way you think and what you’re used to… hm.
mr. dreamy blue eyes just might be right.

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judy July 23, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I agree…dump the desk…
make a list of the office supplies you truly need handy and figure out how to store them. There are some great ideas from scrapbook sites with rolling carts

I don;t like those plastic carts and prefer using baskets

for some reason those modern-hard-edged wall units do not look like you.

I got 2 ikea butcher blocks for our kitchen. My DD uses them for her homework desk. There is plenty of room and a shelf underneath for storage or feet. We also eat off them. I got great hard wood/oak tall swivel bar stools at goodwill for 7.00 each.

I never have my back to a door…always a wall…and I sleep with my head facing north..ask dreamy blue eyes about that one!

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Jackie July 23, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I want him to come to my house! I have plenty of space for my desk yet can’t find the place that feels “right.” It sounds to me like you could have your desk anywhere, but you’ll change places to spark your creativity anyway. So go with that and move around.

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Ariel Joseph Towne July 23, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Great questions!

Firstly, I never said that having two purposes for a bedroom was bad. I said that there were two clear purposes to a bedroom, IMO: rest and play. I suggested that in a small space that adding a third purpose tends to distract from the primary purposes. There are some people who function well having multiple (meaning more than two) purposes within a space, but I don’t break what isn’t broken. You told me that you were concerned that working in the bedroom was, on occasion a distraction. To me THAT is the red flag.

As far as the kitchen goes, I hardly think that occasionally working in the kitchen will distract you from the primary purpose of the kitchen, which is nourishment. However, that is pure speculation on my part (until you put it into practice.)

As far as food and dirty dishes distracting you, I don’t recommend dirty dishes regardless of what else you decide do in the room. It’s kind of like wanting to go to sleep on a pile of moldy towels. It’s just not going to do it for you. So keep everything clean and that will help.

As far as food being a distraction goes, I’m a Taurus, so I’m a huge fan of food. In my home I have a California-style kitchen, which is open to the living room. I don’t find myself being constantly distracted by my fridge, just because I happen to be in the same room with it. I do, however, enjoy putting out some frozen grapes or some delicious cherries or peaches for a healthy mid-afternoon snack.

Ultimately, it’s not up to any of us, including me. You have to live there. I’m only suggesting things to help based on what you are saying is NOT working. I think that experimenting with our homes are part of the joy of it all. Our homes are alive. Our relationships with them change as we grow and transform ourselves.

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Kristin LaVanway July 23, 2009 at 8:30 pm

I am digging this article. My desk is in my bedroom and I hate it. I could not figure out where else to put it. But now, I am eyeing my kitchen. It is a genius solution. Much better view…might get to see more of my kiddos…and, I can sleep in a bedroom instead of an office!

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Noel July 24, 2009 at 5:49 am

Check out an AirDesk (http://www.airdesks.com). I just bought one, and am very pleased. I customized mine to have two shelves (one standard, one large), a laptop shelf and a separate keyboard shelf. The arrangement is portable, allows me to optimize display and keyboard heights, and keeps frequently used items close at hand. I can provide pictures of my own setup, if you are interested, and you can see pictures on their web site.

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Dating Down Under July 24, 2009 at 7:13 am

Making changes in your home as per Feng-shui does help. I wont say to put your desk in the kitchen tough. The kitchen needs to be very spacious for that. Sleeping in office is not healthy, bedroom is always best.

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judy July 24, 2009 at 9:52 am

Organizing from the Inside
http://www.juliemorgenstern.com/index.php

It will help you figure out your habits and how to organize around them.

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Matt T. July 25, 2009 at 3:21 am

That is a cool wall desk. I’d get one right now…if it wouldn’t rip the studs out and the drywall off my apartment walls.

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Kari July 25, 2009 at 8:32 am

Rachel, could it be that moving has thrown you off enough of your work? If you were in your previous home long enough to be comfy I could see that.

I’m a creature of habit and comfort, take me out of my ‘habitat’ and it takes me a while to adjust, especially my work space (for my homework).

Maybe if this is true about you, you just need to try out the space a little longer the kitchen does sound ideal. My couch is my space, add a coffee table and I have a work space (sometimes I need a TV tray to hold the laptop up high enough if I’m doing more than studying). Whats great about my couch is it comes with me when I move so I never totally lose that comfort?

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singlemomseeking July 27, 2009 at 7:43 am

Great point Kari! I am certainly a creature of habit, too…. and it does take time to settle into a new home. Thanks.

You also bring up another good point that’s been on my mind (Ariel, care to chime in here again? Thank you!): Ergonomics.

If I do decide to ditch the desk and work at the kitchen table, most tables are higher than desks. In other words, because I’m typing for 8 or so hours a day, I want to make sure that everything that my body is also working in the best ergonomic position.

From what I know, desks are usually a few inches lower than kitchen tables. I realize that I’m getting very nitty-gritty here… but I’m curious.

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Ariel Joseph Towne July 27, 2009 at 11:28 am

Hi Rachel,

There are several factors that go into Ergonomics, but it is wonderful that such a science exists to help prevent long term injury to ourselves.

There are several ways to account for this in using a table.

1. If you can, pick a table height that works well for eating as well as typing.

2. If you can’t adjust your table, adjust your seat.

3. Use a device on the table surface to help adjust the height of your laptop. For example:

http://tinyurl.com/layssd
The simple, affordable Logitech Alto Express elegantly elevates your laptop to a more ergonomic height.

I’m not recommending this specific product, but it is one of many laptop stands that are out there to support you.

4. I would recommend changing your venue from time to time (couch, patio table, coffee shop) if sitting in the kitchen for 8 hours feels overwhelming to you. Edison was a big fan of changing up tasks every two hours in order to help his stamina throughout the workday.

5. I would also recommend lots of Yoga (to strengthen your wrist, stretch your muscles and make you more resilient to deal with your rigourous laptop schedule.)

Lastly, I would pose this question to you: Since you chose to move to this location, which otherwise suits you beautifully…is there anything in your intentions, in your manifesting of this apartment that you might do differently in your next one? (i.e. making sure there is enough space to get all my needs met in my home?)

It is one way to avoid having to fight against (or troubleshoot) our space is to take extra care in the planning stages of where we decide to live.

all joy,
Ariel

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Anna September 4, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Just created a recycling area/work area for my son in the kitchen with some help from Ikea. Expedit 5-shelf bookshelf on it’s side for the bench/recycling center and a Muddus drop-leaf table for the work surface. So excited!

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