6 functional home office fixes on a $1500 budget

by Rachel Smith
20 November 2020

What happens when you’ve worked from home for 20 years, renovated your house AND created the home office of your dreams – only to watch it become a dumping ground for washing, storage that isn’t quite right, and OH SO MUCH PAPER?

Well, if you’re like me, you decamp to the dining table – or your favourite library. But then I did this podcast episode, realised I was being a dill and had a perfectly good home office to work in. So decided to rethink how I work and how to create an office that complements that. My criteria was:

  • An effective filing system to help me be much more organised
  • Tools that help me work towards being more paperless
  • Decent shelving rather than a dangerous bandaid solution
  • A clear workspace with warm and personal touches.

I set myself a $1500 budget and some long over-due changes. Here’s what I did, what it cost and the results.

1. I got rid of silly storage units

I am a sucker for vintage or antique collectables. And over the years, I’d stuffed a heap of these collectables onto my desk under the guise of ‘being surrounded by beautiful things makes me happy and productive’.

Except if I was honest, all my vintage boxes and bits and bobs were just cluttering up the place. Even my much-loved antique letter box – which I’d tried to stuff birthday cards and wrapping paper in – wasn’t THAT useful. So I got ruthless! Gone went the magazine holders and folders. Goodbye, all boxes and storage units that weren’t working. The only thing to survive the cull was an old antique spice box which is perfect for pens, scissors and my stapler! And isn’t it gorgeous?

Cost: Nothing, just my time.

2. I installed a wall filing solution.

I had two corkboards and one magnetic board on my walls and again, they were just dumping grounds for stuff I’d long forgotten. I actually found an old cheque pinned up for $31 that I’d never banked, dated 2011. Holy shit.

Instead, I needed a system where I could get my hands on things fast – and which enabled me to file things in seconds in order to tidy my desk at the end of the day. I didn’t want folders or anything on my desk (been there, done that, got the T-shirt). So I had a metal filing system installed on the wall. There are sections for briefs, transcripts, bills, family paperwork. The clutter Is gone and everything is so much more organised.

Cost: $40 for two IKEA wall file systems and $75 for my handyman to install.

3. I had new shelving put up.

Towards the end of our reno, we had no money, a baby about to pop out and an unfinished study. In desperation, I got the builders to get some black brackets and chop some leftover IKEA cabinet doors into shelving for all our books. I’m sorry to say we lived with those crappy, sagging-in-the-middle, downright dangerous shelves for SIX YEARS.

It was time they went, so I got our handyman to come and measure up, buy 22mm shelving and fit it re-using the existing brackets. I cannot believe the difference it has made to the space. Our books are no longer about to fall on our heads, and it feels like a dedicated work zone in a way it never did before.

Cost: We had to shelve quite a large space and had 3 levels of shelving installed, so the shelves, lacquer and installation cost about $750 all up.

4. I bought a reMarkable.

Did I mention I’m drowning in paper? It consumes way too much of my time so after a LOT of research and an ever-increasing desire to go more paperless, I decided to invest in a reMarkable. This is a tablet with a paper-like feel that replaces notebooks and printed documents.

You can take notes directly onto pdfs, convert your handwritten notes into text and organise your notes into folders. My process is to scribble all over research notes and during interviews I take notes onto the question print-out – so I’ll be doing both of those things on the reMarkable from now on. I also plan to use it to phase out all my big client notebooks, which I use to take notes in during client calls. Instead, notes will be on the reMarkable and can be saved as text, or saved into the right client folder in the cloud. I’m hoping it’ll put an end to the piles of paper I’m constantly dealing with in my office and help keep things much more streamlined.

Cost: Around $750 with the marker pen.

5. I brought in some greenery.

A plant in a nice pot is such a little thing, but makes such a huge impact to your mental health AND your productivity – in fact, some psychologists say a bit of greenery around you while you work can boost your productivity up to 15 percent.

So meet mine: there’s Betsy, the money tree who grew herself around the side of my house from a cutting that blew into an old abandoned jar of earth. She’s the most resilient plant I’ve ever met in my life. Her sidekick is the leafy but slightly more high maintenance Estelle (who scored a new pot as part of the makeover – lucky you, Estelle!)

Cost: Estelle was a gift, the blue and white bird pot was about $10 from Bunnings. Betsy was free.

6. I added floof and personal touches.

A discarded sheepskin throw has transformed my chair. After bidding goodbye to all the corkboards, I now had heaps of wall space to hang things – from a painting my kid has done, to artwork I’ve collected on my travels. And of course, a few photos of my family. I find I work better with a bit of colour and a few reminders of loved ones around me.

Cost: Nothing. I ‘shopped the house’ as they say (Ikea does have similar sheepskins here for about $40).

Result? I love my new home office. I have waaaay more desk space than I thought and an organised system that works for my paper and my brain. I also have a few personal touches around that keep me happy and motivated. I did go a smidgen over budget at $1625, but it was money well spent to create a space that’s beautiful, functional and a home office I can actually work in.

Have you recently zsushed up your home office? I’d love to hear what you did to make it work better for you!

Rachel Smith

6 responses on "6 functional home office fixes on a $1500 budget"

  1. Oh my gosh! So you did get tempted by the Remarkable after all Rachel!!! Mine’s coming next week and I can’t wait. Great blog!

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Thanks Rashida! Yeah, I’ve been weighing up the reMarkable for years as you know – I ended up asking a few people on the FJ about theirs and it tipped me over the edge. I really do want to work towards being more paperless so hopefully this will help. Mine arrives early Dec, and I can’t wait to get started with it myself 🙂

  2. Andrea Sophocleous says:

    Looks lovely! I love the spice box for pens! I’ve been paperless for 11 years. I type interview notes into Word and never print anything – just re-open the document when I need to check anything. (I’ve never owned a printer!) I do use one printed notebook to write my weekly to-do list, but each one lasts about two years and is easily filed into my desk drawer.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      I’m not surprised you love that spice box – you have so many unique little touches around your home just like it! I love your paperless tips… I’m on the journey, but it’s been a process moving away from printing. Argh!

  3. This is a great piece Rachel. I love the way that it only adds up to $750 if you take out the ReMarkable.

    I really liked the bookshelves. I won’t be sprucing up my office until the house is finished but when I do, I’ll be doing the brackets thing like you have done as it looks great.

    I will be interested to see how you go with the ReMarkable. I generally don’t like single use gadgets, e.g. I read eBooks on my iPad which can do many things as all gadgets end up as e-waste eventually and I’m trying to minimise mine.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Exactly! That was a big ticket item BUT without it, the office is transformed for not a huge outlay. I just wish I’d done it ages ago, but it all comes down to funds, really.

      I have read all those arguments about the reMarkable but I’m really excited about it now, and I also LIKE that it only does one thing. Hoping it helps in my paperless quest but yes, I will definitely post an update once I get into using it!

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