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Home Office … in the closet!

I know a woman who’s had to relocate to a big city from a smaller one.

Prices being what they are, she’s had to sacrifice space for location, but now she’s in the jam that too many remote workers and the self-employed face when they’re trying to create a functional workspace in a smaller home — how do you have a work space without compromising living space, when there’s no extra room available for an office?

This friend has a walk-in closet as well as a large wardrobe piece in her bedroom. With clothes fitting in the wardrobe, she’s debating the idea of making that her office and she asked for my advice on the matter.

Naturally, I thought, “Geez, now there’s something to talk to my BuildDirect readers about.”

When we think about work, we think about space, convenience, and productivity. We don’t tend to think about comfort, light, and enjoyment.

Lighting Up

When you’re talking about spending eight hours a day in an environment, day after day after day, I’ve learned from experience how dire an output-only mentality about creating a workspace can be. In my present apartment, I work from the living room. Even with the (sole) window 15 feet away from me, I feel like I work in a dungeon every day, and there’s no question that it affects my productivity, my attentiveness, and even my mood.

The reality is, one in five people suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is the body’s way of reacting negatively when it gets too little light. The symptoms include lethargy, moodiness, depression, bad food cravings (particularly for carbs), and more.

That being the case, my first advice to my friend considering an office in her closet, then, was: Lighting is everything. In addition to good lighting, consider a daylight-therapy desklamp. These vary in price and power. If you want one you can keep on for hours a day, you’ll need to invest in a low-LUX lamp. “LUX” is the amount of daylight stimulation and output it has. Too much, and you can become wired, unable to sleep, and irritable. It’s a balancing act.

I personally have one on my desk I tend to use between six to eight hours a day, it’s a low-power lamp I can use most of my day. These lamps are a complicated subject and you’ll have to research it for your own needs.

Catching a Few Rays

I also suggest she remove the office/closet door, and put a curtain on the inside wall above doorframe of closet, so that she can pull the curtain all the way back to get as much light inside as possible. When you’re inside a closet, I guarantee you’ll want every inch of light you can get.

A great trick is to use mirrors both inside and outside the space, attempting to reflect light from a window so it refracts into the office space. I’ve always found really interesting mirrors marked down in clearance bins at places like Pier 1, if you’re looking for a number of them. For myself, I’ve got ancient wooden window frames I’ve kitted out with mirrors instead of glass. Apparently my $20 yard-sale windows plus mirrors equal some crazy $300-400 designer mirror treatment now. You can get custom-cut mirrors for neat frames of any kind.

A Desk is A Desk is A Desk (Not)

A fatal error for an office in a closet would be compromising on what you use as a desk. We don’t take ergonomics seriously enough in North America, and as a result, 50% of working Americans complain of back pain every year. In fact, back injuries are the leading cause of disability claims worldwide and more than 80% of the population is expected to experience back pain or injury at some point.

So, compromising on your desk to have a “pretty” desk, or a space-matters-first desk, instead of a desk that works for your body, can wind up costing you quite a bit more in the long run, including sacrificing your life quality.

If you’re creating a custom space office inside a closet, it’s really worth learning what the right desk height for you is. You can always use a higher desk and outfit it with things like adjustable keyboard trays (look for “articulating” ones that can be adjusted to any number of angles or heights — I love mine). You can also use articulating arms for wall-mounted monitors can make an awkward workspace much more accommodating while giving you more surface area for paperwork.

Creative Organization for the Win

You’ll need space for books, resources, and office supplies, so whether you’re using drawers, cupboards, and whatnot, make sure you’re creating a layout that offers you function without drowning you in clutter. Consider putting shelves along the perimeter at the top of the space, not all the way up the walls, as this will give you more space but also make you stand periodically, which experts say is ideal for our workday anyhow.

Despite the drawbacks, there are a lot of situations that make sense for sacrificing daylight in order to have a space that’s shuttered up and rather dark, especially if you’re working at home with family and other things going on.

By using mirrors and lights, being intelligent about layout, and remembering to keep things ergo-friendly, you can have an at-home workspace that works great for your life’s needs without compromising your living space, while keeping you on the lighter side of things.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.