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Budget-Friendly Home Office Basics
What comes to mind for you when when you think, "home office"?
First of all, it doesn't have to be a separate room. For many of us, the home office is a space in one of the main rooms of the house -- maybe the living room, maybe a little space off the dining area, maybe even a space in a large walk-in closet.
Whatever works, right? Mine's in our living room. So, ... noise-canceling headphones are awfully nice to have -- and often necessary.
But what do you consider absolutely essential to your home office -- and where have you found the best deals for them?
We'll go by category:
- Furniture & Storage units (the basics)
- Small Tech & Helpful Apps
- Personal touches (to make the space your own)
I'm purposely leaving out the big tech -- the computer, monitor, printer, scanner, etc., since those are big-ticket items that I haven't had to shop for for some time, since we bought this laptop back in 2011, and I'm using it for all it's worth. And I don't have a printer in my office space. I haven't needed one (though it honestly would be nice to be able to print out some of the PDF ebooks I've bought to help me blog better and make better use of Pinterest).
We'll start with furniture and storage units.
The options for outfitting your home office are overwhelming, even when you eliminate everything that costs over $50 (and yep, I do that).
For an example, stackable Sterilite crates are great for those who (like me) want to get their office storage set up on the quick and cheap. I can go fancier -- if I want -- when the budget allows. The important thing is to get stuff off the floor and out of messy piles into an organized (or semi-organized) system.
It makes the whole space feel ready for greatness. Or at least way less stressful.
If you like something with a more homey look than plastic milk crates, there are ways to get the look you want without going broke or (deeper) into debt.
Furniture & Storage Units
Pinterest is a great place to find DIY furniture hacks for storage. I've spent hours pinning images of different ways to repurpose wooden crates -- like the ones you can buy at craft stores (JoAnn, Michael's) as well as at Walmart and Target and even home improvement stores like Home Depot.
If you're on JoAnn's mailing list, they'll send you coupons in the mail that will save you 40% to 50% off regular-priced items, and often you'll find coupons on the front page of their website (like I just did!). Then you can stock up on either the unfinished (and less expensive) wooden crates or save some time (which is also precious) by getting one of their white-washed crates (hopefully with one of those coupons) or one of their other finished crate options.
Here are a couple options on ebay.
I usually go for the leaner-budget options like the Sterilite crates (in black), which are stackable and work pretty well in our living room, at the front door (as a shoe rack), and in the play room (to contain toys, books, and movies).
I haven't made as much use of the mini crates, but I do use them for sorting mail and organizing the stuff that ends up in piles on the ledge that separates our living room from the stairs. That's our biggest catch-all zone, and it needs help.
Sneaky tip: Sometimes during the year (like when you're shopping for back-to-school stuff), you can pick these same Sterilite crates up at Walmart (at the store, not online) for just under $4 each, which means you'd pay only $24 for a set of 6. They're the same exact crates. I know, because Walmart is where I've bought most of the ones we have. I usually get them in black or cobalt blue (though I'd love to get some "Berry Bright" ones, too, if our store ever carries them).
Not all Sterilite file crates stack equally well on their sides to create storage units. I've found the ones with the round holes work the best. They have the tiny pockets on the top and bottom edges that allow you to link the crates as you stack them, making them more stable. You can also use zip-ties to anchor certain crates together in your assembly to make it more stable.
Six crates was just right for the shoe rack I put together for the space by the front door (a cubby for each person in the family -- at least that was the idea).
Ebay is one of my favorite places to shop for a variety of things -- as well as to sell gently-used things I don't need -- so it pays to be an affiliate, since I'm happy to recommend the site to others.
I've lost track of how many bargains I've found on that site. My favorite jeans -- NYDJ's (Not Your Daughter's Jeans) -- cost around $100 new at Nordstrom, but I've found several pairs for about $20 each on ebay.
Back to your home office, though. Unfortunately, ebay.com may not be the best place to shop for crates, if you're looking to create a storage system using 4 or more crates (which can get expensive with the cost of shipping), but it can be a goldmine for other home office basics.
Click on the images below, if you'd like more information or if you'd like to browse and find something more suitable to your own space. All the items below cost less than $50 (or at least they did when I wrote this).
I know the desk in the middle doesn't look very elegant, but it would work very well in my living room office space. We don't have an extra room we can turn into a private office, so space-saving furniture is my friend.
A good desk and some dependable storage options are the main furniture items in my office space. In the interest of full disclosure, what I currently have is listed below:
- an old sewing table (without the machine)
- a molded plastic platform that holds my laptop and external monitor (a Mother's Day gift from my husband, who saw me craning over my laptop to read off the screen) on the top and the external keyboard on a slide-out drawer.
- two stacked (lengthwise) black Sterilite crates -- to my left -- to hold ...things
- a wooden shoe bench (to my right) with a red Sterilite crate on top of it, holding onto the receiving end of the extension cord I use to charge my iPhone.
- mini crates on the ledge behind my monitor (for sorting mail, etc.)
- a molded blue plastic and silver metal retro chair from a thrift store
[The external keyboard is there, because I spilled wine on the laptop keyboard (by accident), and found out my laptop doesn't like wine as much as I do.]
We also have a 5-shelf book case in the opposite corner of the room where I keep most of my books, journals, folders, and other things. The top shelf is my shoe shelf, because our 6-crate "shoe storage" system is overflowing and not ideal for shoes that are supposed to look nice (or, at least, not smushed).
I've wanted cubby shelves for ages, but for now, I'm going with crates in 2's, 2 x 2's, and 2 x 3's. I might even create a 3 x 3 cubby unit with crates, once I find the space for it.
It isn't even all about the cost difference. I was raised to appreciate bargains, so saving money is definitely important. But it's also about keeping things simple. The more money you put into the things that surround you, the greater your personal investment in them and the harder it is to part with things that aren't (or are no longer) meeting your needs.
Maybe it's my nomadic streak, but I'd rather put less money into furnishings and more into things that stay with me. And I'm too antisocial to entertain at home, so the only person my office furniture has to impress is me.
That said, I like for my office set-up to be visually pleasing, so I do put some thought into putting things together.
Small Tech & Helpful Apps
Our home office isn't limited to our home office, am I right? I can do some of my daily business on my phone while I'm away from home.
I've also wanted to try doing some offline work (planning and writing, mostly) in an actual coffee shop, just to see what it's like. But my wine-addled laptop is less portable than it used to be (with its external keyboard), so I'll have to limit myself to my smartphone and my journal / planner.
That brings me to virtual office tools, though -- some of which you can use on your smartphone or tablet and others that are easier to use on a something with a bigger screen and a more user-friendly keyboard (not to mention a bigger screen).
These are my go-to virtual business tools:
1. Grammarly.com (the free or the Premium tool) -- the best and least expensive proofreading tool for my books and blog posts. Even the free version has a Google Chrome extension, an app for Microsoft Office (which I use for Word), and an app for Windows. I use all three and have been grateful for Grammarly many times over the past year. I can't afford professional editing for the books I write, and while I've edited and proofread other people's books and academic papers (sometimes even for money; my husband pays me in beer. He gets me), Grammarly has caught things I've missed (embarrassing, right?), so I'm a fan.
2. Audible / Amazon Audiobooks (the app) -- to listen to audiobooks (hopefully taking notes in a notebook, while drinking coffee). Check out the link on the sidebar to get 2 free audiobooks just for signing up. I have quite the audio library, now, and as long as I download the audiobooks I want to listen to before leaving the house (and consequently our wi-fi), I can listen to the audiobooks stored on my phone without putting my phone at risk by using the shop's public wi-fi. If you have a generous data plan, this probably isn't an issue for you. Since I share my phone's data with others, I don't use it unless I need to figure out where the heck I am or how to get from A to B using my Google Maps app (lifesaver!).
3. the MailerLite email marketing app -- for keeping tabs on my email lists. You might use a different email marketing manager, though, and if it has a smartphone app, it makes it all the easier to keep track of open rates, click rates, and new subscribers.
*Update: I just set up my first MailerLite pop-up window today and first autoresponder email, and it was SO EASY! I recently switched back to AWeber (from MailChimp), and while it's known for having a high deliverability rate, opt-in forms are not one of its strengths -- which is why I bought the Thrive Leads plugin, which integrates with both AWeber and MailerLite, among others.
Plus, MailerLite is FREE for up to 1,000 subscribers (yeah, I'm not there, yet); AWeber charges $19 for the first 500, $29 for 501 to 2500 subscribers, and $49 for 2,501 to 5,000. Once you've reached 1,000 with MailerLite, the upgrade costs only $20 per month for 1,001 to 5,000 subscribers, then $35 for 5,001 to 10,000 subscribers, and $80 a month for 10,001 to an unlimited number.
* It's important to mention here that MailerLite does NOT allow affiliate links in their emails (as of yet), so if that's a deal-breaker for you, there are still other options (like AWeber) that do allow them. I've decided it's not a deal-breaker for me, since I share my affiliate links in my blog posts and on social media, anyway.
Still, it's something to take into consideration, and it was one of the first things i wanted to know about MailerLite when I was checking it out. It won me over in other ways, though, so the affiliate link issue, for me, is outweighed by its greater ease of use and affordability.
And I know I said it already, but I LOVE being able to check on my list with an app on my phone. I'm such a nerd.
4. The Todoist app (which I use more than the desktop version with the Chrome extension, though I use that, too) -- to keep track of what I want to accomplish each day and each week. Checking them off one by one is very satisfying. I've found I use this more consistently than Wunderlist or Trello, though I do still use the latter to plan out blog post ideas for the months ahead (and, yep, I use the free version).
5. Evernote -- for capturing ideas (for blog posts, books, and other projects) and keeping them organized in virtual folders and stacks, though tags / keywords may be a better system for keeping them organized and making them easier to recover when I need them. I have the Plus plan, which only costs $2.99 a month and which allows me to access my notes offline, using the app on my phone.
6. Money-making or money-saving apps like Ibotta, which gave me a $10 bonus when I used my first two rebates. Their payout threshold is $20, and they pay by PayPal. If I shop on ebay on my mobile phone, through my Ibotta app, I earn 2.5% cash back, which is usually more than I can earn with either Swagbucks or Ebates, unless one or both of them are having a special promotion. So, I'll usually do some shopping earlier on my laptop, which is easier, then I'll store some things in my shopping cart. Then, when I know I want to order something, I'll use the Ibotta app to shop on ebay, save whatever I don't want to buy yet "for later," order the one or two things I need to get, and Ibotta lets me know later on when it has added my cash back amount to my balance.
I'm not a coupon-clipper, and I don't like to spend a lot of time looking for ways to shave a few bucks off the cost of our weekly grocery purchases. I'd rather spend that time creating things of value than scrounging for pennies. So, apps that are designed to save money or give money back on purchases have to be easy and quick to use, and the returns should justify the time spent using them -- or what's the point? Money we can get back; time we can't.
I use Swagbucks and Ebates to earn money back on things I would buy anyway, and I earn Swagbucks also for using their search engine, but I don't bother with surveys, because the time spent to take them is worth more to me than the pennies I've earned from them in the past (when I tried to make it a "side hustle" <grumble>). They don't pay me enough to get that frustrated (or bored).
7. Social sharing apps (when I'm within range of safe wi-fi) like Tailwind and Hootsuite -- both of which offer free trials to get acquainted with their services. I used Tailwind for less than a week (didn't even use up my free pins) before upgrading to the Pro version, so I could schedule more pins each day.
(My husband knows internet security, and he'd rather I never used public wi-fi).
When it comes to small tech helpers -- aside from the smartphone, tablet, or other big-ticket tech device -- here are a few supportive tech options that I've come to appreciate:
- Earbuds or noise-canceling headphones -- for listening to audiobooks or podcasts and letting other people know you're not there to socialize.
- Speakers (at home), like this one.
- Microphone (at home), like this one.
- USB charging port for the car, like this one.
- USB charging cord for the phone (a spare one for the car, for those times when I'm rushing out the door and my iPhone's battery is almost dead, which happens a lot).
These are the options I've been debating over on ebay. I use an iPhone, so when I'm away from home, I use my Apple earbuds if I want to listen to something on my phone (audiobooks, podcasts, songs I've downloaded with Spotify), but I've wanted to try a Bluetooth set of either headphones or earbuds (like these or the ones above) for some time, and these options are all under $20 (the earphones cost less than $10, while the on-ear headphones cost a little under $20). Maybe I'll get both and save one for Christmas (for someone at least).
I've ordered most of my small tech helpers on either eBay or Amazon. Since clumsiness is one of my most notable (and slightly least endearing) qualities, I'd rather not have to worry about tripping on a cord or accidentally yanking it out of something. And our oldest has gone through more earbuds than I care to remember.
(P.S. I bought him his first Bluetooth set of Beats earphones on TopHatter.com for only $14. I'm saving them for Christmas. Shh. Good thing he doesn't read my blog.)
Little Things / Personal Touches
There are a number of ways to personalize your office space and give it a more welcoming and inspiring ambiance.
- Calendar / sticky notes / white board and markers, or bulletin board
- Desk blotter calendar (whether plain or fancy -- and monthly or weekly )
- Planners (digital or printed)
- Sorting containers (small baskets, crates, trays, drawers, organizers, etc.)
- Inspirational art and/or humor (for the wall, on throw pillows or seat cushions, on mugs, mouse pads, journals, notebooks, ...)
- Pens or other writing/marking instruments
- AV or beverage/snack/essentials cart with room for hot or cold (or both) drinks on top and an outlet for plugging in things like a coffeemaker or a hot plate for a tea kettle.
- Misc. decorations -- like this, though of course, you'll want something that suits your particular tastes.
As for (printable) planners, check out this post by 12 Free Planners to Help You Grow Your Blog.blogger, Elna Cain:
I've found it hard sometimes to find the perfect journal or planner for my own use, so I've designed my own -- using Canva to create the cover and a Microsoft Word document for the interior. You can create your own planner this way, too.
I go into the specifics on how to do this in my first Canva book, Create Stunning Journals & Workbooks Using Canva & CreateSpace. My second Canva book -- which goes into more depth on creating a book cover on Canva (for an ebook or a paperback) -- is still in the works. If you want to get advanced notice of its launch and a chance to get a free advanced reader copy, sign up for my email list using the sign-up form on this page for the Thrive, Create & Make Money list.
I'd recommend reading Elna Cain's post, downloading some of the free, printable blogging planner pages she's linked to -- to get some ideas on what you'd want in your own custom-designed planner or journal (or hybrid) -- and get to work on Canva or the graphic designing program of your choice.
And if you want some help designing your cover or your planner/journal's interior, take a look at my first Canva book or read some of my earlier blog posts on journal creation:
- Two Journals & a New Book: Canva & CreateSpace Magic
- Journal Creation: a Marriage of Canva & CreateSpace Templates for Word
- Find the Perfect Font for Your Creative Project -- and Use it Legally
- Upgrade Your Book Cover Design with Glitterboo, Deeezy, and Creative Market
- Book Cover Design Tip: Adding Depth to Text with Canva
Your home office is your creative work space, and the way you furnish and decorate it should reflect the kind of work you do and why you do it. It should reflect at least to some degree the kind of person who uses it to create things of value.
Whatever you add to your home office doesn't have to be expensive, but it deserves some consideration. Will it serve your purposes? Do you like the way it looks? Does it help you make better use of your time?
As a final note, we can't ignore the importance of what we put into ourselves when we're working and the effect those things have on our mental and emotional state, our energy levels, and our ability to focus and remember things.
I've been a coffee drinker (more or less consistently) since I started working the 5 a.m. baker shift at a monastery kitchen about 23 years ago. But I know even strong coffee has its limits.
These are my other secret weapons for helping me regain focus, boost my energy levels, and improve my mood and overall mental state:
- a glass of water with a teaspoon or so of apple cider vinegar (and raw honey, if we have it)
- a glass of water with lemon juice
- a daily thyroid-support supplement that doesn't contain herbal ingredients that can mess with your hormone balance (as some have done with my own).
- a daily coconut oil softgel (I do sometimes add coconut oil to my coffee, but I find it easier to take it once or twice daily as a softgel)
- a daily Omega-3 Fish Oil supplement -- unless I'm already taking the thyroid-support supplement linked to above, which contains an omega-3 fish oil supplement (for a while, I wasn't; but I'm back on it, now)
- a brief (and I do mean brief) workout, usually involving squats and modified push-ups) to get my blood pumping -- and then water.
- music that either matches the tone of what I'm writing or that motivates me and helps me get into a creative flow
Just drinking more water during the day helps, but I've found that adding apple cider vinegar, raw honey (or raw Manuka honey) coconut oil and other natural remedies makes an even bigger difference and helps with the subdued metabolism and brain fog that usually come with inadequately-treated hypothyroidism.
I almost forgot to mention a daily probiotic supplement. I usually prefer to get my probiotics with either Kombucha or homemade sauerkraut (Bubbies Sauerkraut is my favorite), but we buy probiotics in supplement form, too, since not everyone in the house enjoys Kombucha or sauerkraut.
As I wrote in a previous blog post on OTC thyroid support, we can't always find or afford a doctor who will prescribe anything but the standard treatment (synthetic levothyroxine), but we can supplement that with natural remedies that help our bodies make better use of the thyroid hormone we have -- and can even stimulate our thyroid glands to produce more.
Having a great home office won't make up for lack of energy or a brain that just won't work as it should. Designing our home office should begin with improving and maintaining the health of the one who will be working in it. That'll be the foundation not only of your daily productivity but also of the way you see your daily work from one day to the next.
If you're running yourself into the ground to get more done in the short-term, you will eventually crash. If you're planning to do this work-at-home thing for the foreseeable future, you should be creating and steadily improving your home office with the long view in mind. Do the same for yourself.
Help yourself get the right things done -- one day at a time.
Please share in the comments if you have any secret weapons for improving your energy levels and mental clarity or for creating a home office that makes the most of you at your best.
Thank you for reading! I hope I get to read something from you, too.