3 Steps to Fix a Home Office Setup That Has You Feeling Unproductive and Uninspired: 'You Don't Have to Spend $70 to Buy a Freaking Snake Plant'
Political strategist turned eco-lifestyle journalist and TV personality Ashlee Piper discusses her top tips for creating the sustainable, wellness-promoting home office of your dreams.
The ongoing public health crisis meant one in four Americans worked remotely in 2021, and those who did had a prime opportunity to reevaluate and revamp their home-office setups. More and more, people considered value-based office design with a focus on sustainability and how to optimize their space for mental health and wellness.
Entrepreneur sat down with eco-lifestyle journalist Ashlee Piper, author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet., to learn more about this shift in home-office priorities. "Before the pandemic, a lot of people were focused on how to make a home office sustainable," Piper says. "And now, since it's such a fixture — pun intended — in our lives, people are also blending wellbeing into it, and that includes not only how the milieu is conducive to productivity, but also how it helps you establish a good work-life balance and feel good."
Related: How to Design the Ideal Home Office
Here's how remote employees can give their home offices a green makeover for a happier, healthier work-from-home life.
Step 1: Declutter and designate responsibly
Piper acknowledges that people have different work styles — some even go so far as to call a cluttered desk a "sign of genius." But she begs to differ, citing the American Time Study, which found that each one of us spends approximately 55 minutes a day searching for things.
Spending even 10 minutes looking for your favorite pen or phone charger wastes precious time and energy. "Having a space that cuts down on clutter and is as minimal as you can make it while still being functional is really germane to not just being productive at work, but also to your own mental health," Piper says.
Because of this, an initial decluttering and designation of space are key. "No matter how small the area is, we know that we like having a designated workplace that we can leave when the workday is over," Piper says. "That helps create a healthy workspace — something we're all struggling with working from home. How do we maintain a good work-life balance? Even just having a little nook is good for that."
It's also important to declutter responsibly. "When people think of recycling, they pretty much think of their kitchens exclusively," Piper says. "Think sensibly about how you're going to get rid of your paper waste. Are you going to compost it? Recycle it? Or are you going to work with a Rocketbook or iPad and not have any paper at all?" Piper also suggests giving old tech a second life via Buy Nothing Facebook groups whenever possible.
Step 2: Drill down on the essentials
It's a common misconception that revamping your space with wellness and sustainability in mind requires purchasing a whole host of expensive, eco-friendly products, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Once you've decluttered successfully, consider repurposing what you already have before acquiring more.
"We're in the pandemic, so it can be a bit of a double-edged sword, because people obviously are at home and bored and want to treat themselves by shopping online," Piper says. "But putting together a designated home office can be sustainable if you're doing it in a way that's pushing yourself to ask, "What do I already have that I can make work in this space? Do I already have a table or a desk? Is it something that just needs a tightened bolt? Do I just need to clean this up a little bit for it to work?'"
Then, once you've honed in on what you actually need, you can be kind to your wallet and the planet by sourcing those items secondhand. Piper suggests scouring platforms like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Freecycle and Nextdoor for amazing deals.
Related: The Growth of Sustainable Investing
"You can really get a chic space going that feels good for working, with not a lot of money — and sometimes completely free," Piper says. "Once I told my neighbor about Craigslist Free and Buy Nothing, he literally outfitted his entire office for free with stuff from Craigslist curb alerts and things that people were posting on Nextdoor for free and stuff that people were giving away on Buy Nothing."
If you can't find what you need via online marketplaces, source your supplies from companies that care about their customers and the earth. Piper recommends Nimble for chargers (you can also take advantage of its mail-in cable and cord recycling program), Pela for phone cases and screen protectors, House of Marley for headphones and Wisdom Supply for plastic-free office supplies. And, if you're looking to splurge on a sustainable chair that will last forever and give you the best posture of your life, look no further than New Zealand-born brand noho.
Step 3: Delight in the details
Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference when it comes to reimagining your space. Following are some of Piper's favorite ways to revitalize your home office for maximum wellbeing.
Optimize natural light
Studies show that natural light boosts your body's vitamin D storage, benefits vision and sleep, leads to increased productivity and improves your mood, so take advantage wherever possible when it comes to your interior design.
If your home office doesn't get a lot of natural light and you still want to brighten up your space, consider this splurge-worthy desk lamp from Herman Miller. Its bulb is designed to last for 24 years before it needs changing.
Add a touch of green
Prior to the pandemic, studies revealed that we spent at least 90% of our time indoors. "Now, people think that's actually pretty conservative, that it's more than that," Piper says. "And we know that indoor air quality is about two- to five-times more polluted than outdoor air."
Adding plants to your space can dramatically improve the quality of the air. "It's a pretty common tip," Piper says, "but NASA recommends something that can clean the air, especially since we're spending so much time indoors. Whatever we can do to bring some of the outside inside to boost our mood and make ourselves feel better is always a good thing." Plants can also visually enhance a space, Piper notes.
What's more, cultivating your indoor garden (or forest) doesn't have to break the bank. "You can look at your local free groups and Buy Nothing to see if folks are giving away pots, soil and clippings," Piper says. "You don't have to spend $70 to buy a freaking snake plant, y'all."
Experts recommend drinking approximately 11 cups of water a day for women and 16 for men. Drinking enough water can be life-changing — improving cognition, mood and sleep quality, and establishing the foundation for a healthy lifestyle.
Opting for reusable water bottles over plastic can be a simple first step in the direction of overall wellness. "People feel more comfortable trying something they are not familiar with if they're at home, especially a lifestyle habit, because they feel less like likely to be judged," Piper says. "For some folks, something as simple as going to a coffee shop and asking if they can get their own cup filled gives them a lot of anxiety, because it's kind of different."
Piper's preferred water bottle (not for keeping things cold, but for showing her the actual water, which helps her drink more) is the big one from Kablo with the olive green silicone sleeve. "The risk for breakage and heartbreak from breakage is high, so I keep it as my 'at-home' bottle," Piper says.
Whether you've always worked from home or have gotten used to it during the pandemic, there's never been a better time to reimagine your home office with sustainability and wellbeing in mind.