Your desk may not seem like an area to design or spend any money on, but why not? You sit there for hours and hours every day; it’s practically a second home. It should, of course, be ergonomic for comfort and good posture, so why shouldn’t it make you feel good, feel at home, and inspired to work, too? Whether you work in an office or you have a home office, your desk is a reflection of you, and should be a joy to sit in.
A few years ago, I transitioned from having a cluttered workspace that was a total eyesore and a burden that I tried to ignore, to clearing out all the junk and designing my desk like I would any space in my home. The transformation in my level of motivation and how others perceived my work was a real eye opener, so I’m sharing my lessons learned with you.
It doesn’t have to happen all at once
If you have a quiet day to undertake these tasks, then all the power to you. In reality though, work can get busy and the time slips away. If you’re unable to dedicate a morning or a Friday afternoon to reimagining your space, then be patient with yourself and do it over time.
Clear the clutter
If you can’t actually see the surface of your desk, there’s a problem. I know how difficult it can be to clear the excess. When I worked in publishing, my desk was covered in advance copies, manuscripts, and books. That was on top of my overstuffed file drawers (yes, this includes clutter hidden out of sight), stack of work snacks, and pile of shoes and sweaters stuffed under the tabletop. It took me forever to find anything and contributed to a general sense of disorganization and mental clutter. When colleagues stopped by my desk, I was always a bit embarrassed about the state of it, though I will say this is not uncommon in an office environment. It’s so easy to let things pile up at work even if you are the tidiest person ever at home. If something can be filed digitally, why not recycle the physical copy? Are any of your desk snacks expired? Do you really need that dusty sweater that you brought in a year ago and haven’t worn? Sorting through old paperwork and other clutter may be a boring task, but getting rid of things you don’t need and creating a blank slate can provide levity and is the first step to desk excellence.
Clear the kitsch
How many printed memes are hanging on your bulletin board? Do you really need them all? What about all those little tchotchkes and souvenirs that people brought you back from wherever they went on vacation? Any corporate branded stress balls or useless objects hanging around? That standing desk that you’ve never used? Assess what you really need and what can be discarded so that you can make way for items that will actually bring you joy.
Does your office have decor rules?
Rules about your personal space, you say? Yes, this is a thing. Some offices have rules about what you can and can’t have at your desk, in order to prevent the clutter and the kitsch from piling up. Others may have rules about diffusers, candles, room scents, flowers, or plants. If your office is in your own home, then the rule should be that it follows the same aesthetic as the rest of your house. It’s easy to just close the door and claim that you really need all those loose papers and surplus staplers, but does it feel good to step into an office that looks like the victim of a temper tantrum each morning?
Shop in themes
Once you have a blank slate, think about what you really want and need in your workspace. What are the basic necessities? A lamp, a good chair, a single nice pen and a notepad are my staples in my home office (aside from my computer, of course). If you’re a teacher though, you may need tape and scissors, a ruler, a cup full of pencils, etc.
Stationary or decor shops such as Paperchase, Urban Barn, and Indigo, will often display different items all centered around one theme. This is an easy place to start, because the buyers and merchandisers have done the heavy lifting for you. But also take some time, if you can, to hunt through discount department stores like HomeSense, Marshalls, or Target, to see what you can get for a steal.
What style reflects you personally? Do you gravitate towards florals, chevron and stripes, colour blocking, bright shades, or pastels, rich leather finishes, or shiny chrome?
You don’t need to spend a lot
Extra emphasis on this one. Cute stuff doesn’t need to cost a ton of your hard-earned cash. Is there anything that you already own which can be repurposed? For example, is there a desk lamp in your basement that you really liked when you bought it but now have no idea where to put it? Set your budget and work within it. It’s easy to drop $20 on a notepad, and another $30 on a stylish pen, and $18 on that trinket dish, etc. If you have a bountiful budget, then go wild. If not, figure out where and what your splurge is. $25 on a gold coloured tape dispenser from Anthropologie may be your new prized possession, so figure out how you can balance that with your basic necessities.
Items should be versatile
For something often so clunky and immobile-seeming, workspaces tend to move. In offices, desks are reassigned or reconfigured. Maybe you leave your job for greener pastures. You might have to move your home office to make room for a new family member or a pet, or have to share your office space with a partner or roommate. Things should be easily movable and transportable (bringing it back to de-clutter-ing and de-kitsch-ing, see how I did that?).
Or, maybe you just get tired of a piece of artwork and want a change. When I was at my old office job, I had a simple white gallery frame leaned against the wall on my desk. I was able to buy inexpensive prints and just swap them out to change the mood when I got tired of what I was looking at. It was a quick and easy refresh.
Pick things that reflect your personal style and that will bring you joy
Through all of this, remember that it is you who has to look at this stuff and sit in this space every day. Make it a place you love and that you can get comfortable in. It doesn’t have to be aspirational, but it should be inspirational.
And while we’re on this point, maybe add fleece blanket and beautiful coffee mug to my list of workspace necessities…
Avoid the delicate in favor of the practical
Desk accessories are easy to find these days, but all aren’t created equally. The things you will value most or be most inspired by may be the things that are most usable and practical, because they will allow you to function without getting in your way. That soft buckskin leather desktop mat might look stunning at first, but a week into it you’ll be putting your coffee mug on it and leaving a ring. Find items that marry form and function for the best value in the long term.
Have you styled your desk? What components were most important to you? What’s your favorite item on your desk right now?
Disclaimer: FCT does not claim ownership or copyright of the image showcased above.
Freelance writer and photographer living in Toronto. She is the author and photographer of two cookbooks, Everyone’s Welcome (2019) and Allergen-Free Desserts (2015).