People spend a third of their lives at the office, and as such, it can feel like a second home. Many relationships are built with people we meet at work, and the office is where we have most of our adult socialization.

Yet, even with this in mind, many people hesitate when it comes to getting too comfortable in their workspace. Traditionally, the attitude has been that when you’re at the office, you’re there to work. So don’t bring your personal life or business into the building.

Times are changing though, and many employees are now viewing the workspace itself as one factor in choosing a job. And with job hopping on the rise, many companies are taking steps to maintain a healthy office environment and minimize turnover. This includes allowing for more personalized space in the workplace.

So, if you’re fortunate to work for one of these companies, you may have some freedom to personalize your workspace. And considering you’re going to be at work for a while, you may as well settle in and make yourself at home.

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Time to Tidy Up

Time to tidy up you office

The experience of tidying causes them to become more passionately involved in their work – Marie Kondo

Take a look at your desk and be honest, what kind of mess are you dealing with? Do you have stacks of paper comprised of unknown documents that you haven’t looked at in months? Are your drawers stuffed with various trinkets, receipts, and curiosities?

The truth is, a messy and disorganized workspace hampers productivity. Every out of place and unknown item represents and unfinished or unresolved task. The mere sight of a mess can be overwhelming and generate feelings of anxiety.

If you’re looking to spruce things up a bit and add some desk décor, it may be time to declutter your workspace. So, let’s take a look at how to get organized.

Papers and Documents

Grab the recycle bin and trash can and set them by your desk. Start tossing any unnecessary documents and create a stack of papers you want to save.

Sort through the saved papers and determine whether these can be scanned and saved to network or cloud storage. Be sure to review any documents posted on your corkboard or walls.

If keeping any hard copies is necessary, then consider picking up a document organizer. I’m a fan of the Rough Enough accordion organizers because they are flexible, durable, and easy to grab on the go. Plus their limited storage size forces you to organize and keep essential papers only.

Desktop Utensils

Once the papers are sorted, it’s time to look at office utensils taking up space. Consider tossing anything that’s used up or worn out and pass along any unused items to willing recipients.

The idea is to minimize your office supplies down to the essentials. Perhaps this is a few pens and highlighters (think about how many you really need). You’ll want to designate a spot for these to return after use, so you could either use a pen organizer or an old coffee cup.

Try to remember that cheap things can be replaced quickly and easily. So, don’t stress yourself out with worrying about things you “might need later.”

Open the Drawers and Cabinets

Being able to close your drawers or cabinet doors means it can be easy to stuff things inside to be dealt with later. Eventually this becomes a hassle to deal with; just think about the time you’ll spend rifling through a bunch of junk to find the items you really need.

You should be able to open your drawers and cabinets with pride and marvel at how pristine and organized they are. If instead, you feel shame and embarrassment, it’s worth sorting through them.

A good start is to remove all the papers, trinkets, and utensils from the drawers and cabinets and set them on your desk. From there, assess each item individually for worthiness. Keep the item in a separate pile if it’s a keeper, and toss it if you can part with it.

Eventually you’ll have a pared down pile of stuff that needs to go back. Now you can consider how best to organize them and return them to the cabinets and drawers accordingly.

Sentimentalism and Waste

Some people may struggle with feeling sentimental about personal items kept in the office or have a difficult time tossing things because it feels wasteful. So it’s worth touching on these feelings.

For items that hold sentimental value, you’ll want to ask yourself whether the item is special and holds personal value, or if it’s a symbolic item that reminds you of a special event or occasion. Items falling into the latter category can often be parted with because they’re simply a token item and your memory of the event will not be diminished.

For example, if grandpa passed his pocket watch down to you, then you probably want to keep that. If you are holding on to a commemorative wine glass from a friend’s wedding, then the sentimental value of the wine glass is tied to the event itself. So, you can part with the glass and your memory of the wedding will not disappear.

Ultimately, the decision on whether you toss something or keep it is up to you. But it’s important to question why the item has sentimental value and what you would lose by getting rid of it.

Waste is also a valid concern, especially if you have items in good or new condition that you don’t need but don’t want to toss.

If you’re not sure what to do with these items, you can always return them to the company’s supply closet (if they have one), ask if anyone wants them, or set them on the breakroom table with a “free” sign. Just don’t leave them there too long or it’ll become the office eye sore.

If the items are not worth the hassle, just toss them in the garbage. This suggestion might freak some people out, but it’s not a huge deal so long as you resolve yourself to less wasteful practices going forward.

Consider how You want to Personalize Your Space

personalize your workspace

Once your office is in a pristine and organized state, it’s time to take a look at how you can personalize your space. Your work area is your home away from home, so consider some quality of life additions.

Pictures of Friends and Family

This is an obvious suggestion, but having pictures of your family, friends, pets, or even your favorite celebrity, will bring some joy to your office.

There are some things to consider when it comes to photos though, because they should be appropriate for the office. So, consider the following:

  • Avoid pictures of you your friends/family partying and drinking – This will not look professional and can tarnish your image in the company. Be sure that the attire worn in the photos is office appropriate.
  • Keep the photos minimal – Too many photos, whether appropriate or not, will also make you appear unprofessional. So, two, maybe three, is a good number.
  • Frame the photo – A photo stuck to the wall with a thumbtack is not a good look. Even a cheap plastic frame will look good enough for your desk or wall.

Don’t feel like you have to put up pictures of people either. Some may feel uncomfortable about this, and in some places there is still a stigma about personal photos. So use your discretion and go with what feels comfortable.

Get a Plant

A plant on your desk or in your office brings a touch of nature to your workspace and provides a relaxing and calming effect. Studies have shown that plants in the office bolster productivity and provide a number of other benefits.

Some great plant options include:

Each of those plants do well in low light conditions with little care and maintenance. Additionally, they are easy to propagate, which means you could eventually become a plant dealer in the office (talk about being popular!).

If you are concerned that your plant won’t receive enough light, you can grab an LED grow light. Also, be sure to pick out a nice looking pot (doesn’t have to be an expensive one). If you keep the plant in the cheap plastic nursery pot on an appetizer plate, it’s going to look unprofessional.

Get a Fake Window

If your office doesn’t have a window, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Science has shown that simply looking at pictures of nature could be enough to lower your stress levels.

To get this benefit, consider hanging a nature picture on your wall (in a decent frame) or get a digital photo frame and load it up with nature pictures. Either way, adding some natural scenery will help turn your workspace into a personal sanctuary.

Consider Colors

Colors can instill different feelings and emotions, and often times businesses default to gray or wood tones when it comes to furnishings. So, add a little color to your office when picking out things such as desk organizers, pens, desk lamps, and coffee cups. You could even consider a colorful desk mat.

Desk Décor, Sensory Trinkets, and Toys

When it comes to these items, you should consider your company culture to determine what is appropriate for your office. For example, some businesses may be consider it acceptable to decorate your desk with action figures and pop culture memorabilia. However, other offices will view this as childish and not take you seriously.

You’ll have to decide whether you want to push the envelope with decorating your office or not. But you should balance this decision with your career goals, because your reputation matters when it comes to promotions.

With that said, if you decorate your office with these items, be sure they’re not a distraction. Sensory trinkets are nice for fidgeting with while contemplating a problem, but a mini basketball hoop that invites people over for long shot challenges will hurt productivity and draw unwanted attention from management.

If want to add something different to your desk that is not too flashy, consider the following options:

  • Polished Minerals
  • Fossils
  • Glass art
  • Antique Scientific Instruments
  • Abstract or Architectural Art

One or two of these will add a nice personal touch to your workspace.

What to Avoid

oil diffusers can affect people with fragrance sensitivity

Personalizing your office will help you feel comfortable in your space, however there are things that can make other people feel uncomfortable. Even though it is your workspace, it is still company property, and co-workers will visit your office for official business.

So, you should not adorn your work area with any of the following:

  • Political paraphernalia
  • Posters, calendars, or other decorations that are vulgar, sexist, or racist
  • Overly religious or anti-religious materials
  • Anything with a strong fragrance such as flowers, oil diffusers, and air fresheners
  • Seasonal decorations that are out of season

Any of these items (minus the seasonal decorations) could result in a conversation with HR, or worse yet, a workplace confrontation with a co-worker. So, do yourself a favor and keep that stuff at home.

Change it Up

Once your desk, cubicle, or office is the way you like, don’t be afraid to change things up occasionally. Variety can be fun and keeps things interesting. Plus you’ll have interesting conversation starters to boost your internal networking skills.

Remember, your workplace is a second home, so adding some personal touches can make it feel like it’s your space. So have fun with it, keep things simple, be considerate to your co-workers, and soon you’ll look forward to seeing your office in the mornings.

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