An Organized Office, and the Journey into the Unknown

A couple of months ago I effectively moved in with Theresa; that is to say I have not yet vacated my apartment, but have relegated it to being little more than a drop box, sometimes office, and place to store things until we actually hire a truck to move the lot down to Oakville. 

Other than the obvious there have been some tangible benefits to Theresa and Aaron, one of which is that all of the computers and related components (networks, wireless, printers, etc…) are always working, protected, and safe (see my recent article on Internet Safety).

One of the downsides, for Theresa anyway, is that she has had to share her home office.  In my absence this room could generously have been described as cluttered, with what few shelves there were crammed with boxes, files, books dating to the turn of (thankfully this) millennium, and software manuals that predated those (The Viso Corporation, Excel 97…).  As a tribute to Theresa's musical background a clavinova occupied an entire wall, and a plastic 6' work table occupied another, although to identify this table would have required clearing off myriad piles of bills, reports, and boxes of games for Aaron's Nintendo DS.  The last wall was (thankfully) occupied by a desk and a filing cabinet.  The desk was home to the computer in the same manner that an untended garden is home to garden gnomes – it was there and accessible, but the overgrowth (papers, not weeds) made its use uncomfortable.

The clutter was initially made worse by my presence.  The inkjet printer that sat quietly on the filing cabinet in the corner was out of ink and rather than buy more (it was more expensive than the printer) I brought my spare laser printer; the new printer did not occupy the same space as the old one because the old one still had a flatbed scanner in it so that stayed there, and the laser printer took what was at the time the only uncluttered corner of the desk.  When Theresa moved her laptop from the plastic work table to the family room to let Aaron use it more comfortably the space was freed up was immediately taken over by… well, me.  My laptop did not come alone, it came with a pile of CDs that we wanted to rip to listen to on the Zune in the car, a few papers and five external hard drives… with the cables.  Six (yes, SIX) software boxes for Windows Vista and Microsoft Office were strewn about the table wherever they could settle.

The room is well lit by the window during the day, but in the evening a single lamp in the corner weakly lit the room.  There was a light switch, but it did not do anything, and Theresa explained that it was connected to a wall socket that was not used.

Enough was finally enough.  We had put it off long enough, but as we had organized the kitchen and the dining room, and forced Aaron to do the same to his room, we decided to bite the bullet and make this room right.

Three weeks ago I was to be home all day while everyone else was out, and I announced I was going to organize the office, but standing there looking at the reality of the project I knew it was not a job that I could do alone, not because it was too big a job, but because there was a method to the madness, an organization to the confusion; I could not start boxing or worse throwing out papers which were not mine.  This was a job that would require several distinct components:

  • A well thought-out plan of action;
  • Teamwork and Cooperation; and
  • Refurnishing.

The project started one evening with Theresa and I standing in the middle of the room and taking in the room… what was where, what was important.  The room had been thrown together over the years, and the furniture was what had been available, rather than what was required

The music just did not belong in our vision of a home office.  On the other hand it is important to Theresa, not to mention a potential source of revenue going forward.  However if we were to make this an actual office we would need space for shelves – lots of them, not to mention a work area for three computers of mine (you didn't think I woke up every morning and magically knew the material I have to teach or consult on?) and a desk for Theresa to manage the finances, bills, taxes, and such… not to mention her computer.

We are lucky enough to have two extra finished rooms in the house, not to mention the basement (currently terra inhospitable to me, as it is home to the cats).  There is also a large and spacious family room (probably poorly named, as Aaron and his clutter monopolize much of it).  What if we were to make the office hers and mine, rather than for the entire family?  Aaron had been doing his thing just fine since we moved the laptop into the family room, so why not make that his permanent work space?  Of course he would not have the laptop and I would have to get the extra computer working for him, as well as put in a desk but none of that would be overly difficult.  The third downstairs room could eventually be made into a music room/recording studio… a soundproofed room where Theresa could play and record her music, and I could record podcasts and such. 

The plan was forming… but how would we get there?  Theresa and I agreed that unlike the other organizational projects, for which we had enlisted Aaron's help, this would be us alone.

Step 1: Slash and Burn.

Well of course we neither slashed nor burned anything, but we cleared all of the non-office items into the unused room.  Clavinova, boxes of music, some boxes that did belong to the office (my new laptop, some other accessories), and bags of cables.  Anything that looked like it belonged in a basement – tools and such – went into the basement. After three hours of hard work we had one wall completely cleared, and the middle of the floor was relatively free of clutter as well.

Step 2: Acquisitions.

While the room was relatively (ha!) empty, we decided to bring in a standing lamp from the unused room.  We put a good energy-saving bulb in, and stood it in the corner by the socket that was connected to the light switch.  It was not overhead lighting (which both Theresa and I prefer for an office) but the improvement over what had been was measurable.  The lamp has three shelves in it and because this room would be off-limits to children we decided that it would be a nice place to put some of the jade and marble animal carvings that I had brought home from the Orient.  It might be an office, but it is our office, and if for no money we could spruce it up to reflect our tastes, then why not do it?  To complete the menagerie we added a wooden camel that must have come back from Israel with me years ago, but whose actual origins are a mystery.

The plastic table would not be long for this room, but because of the sheer amount of otherwise unmanageable… stuff on it, we would not touch it until we had the necessary places to move everything to.

At the office supply store we found a desk box with eight cubbyholes which would be used to manage papers.  It had a nice leather look to it, but for under $20 it was actually cardboard and plastic.  We also bought a desktop accessory to hold hanging files, along with legal-sized file folders.

It would be exaggerated to call Ikea a necessary evil, but suffice it to say that I have never liked shopping there.  However it is a great place to buy just about any furniture one could need for reasonable prices, as long as you are handy enough to assemble it yourself… and have a car that can hold a box six feet by four feet.  We needed desks, I am pretty handy, and my Toyota Matrix was built for the task.  Saturday evening we picked out a desk that was functional an
d not unattractive (called Frederik) and bought two of them.  We also picked up a couple of plastic mats for the floor so that our chairs would not muck up the wood floors any worse than had already done so.

We could have gone home and continued to work… but it was Saturday evening and we had a babysitter, so those of you with children will understand that we opted for Chinese food and a movie.

Sunday afternoon I assembled the desks, and we were ready to start populating them.  My desk was immediately occupied by two laptops and the external drives.  The first shelf (there are two shelves above the desk area) is home to the laser printer and software boxes, while the top shelf holds one of my PCs, and presently all of the 'not now' stuff… Nintendo boxes and such which will eventually find their way into the family room.  Theresa's desk has the files, trays, and cubbies needed for organizing papers and such, and we spent a lot of time getting the papers and files into their place.  It is hard to believe that the plastic table is gone, and you can actually walk around the room!

The week-end was over but the project is not… but the progress we made is remarkable.  The next phase will involve getting rid of the 'garage sale desk' and bringing proper shelving in… we bought the desks to match the shelves I have at the apartment which will come over in the next few weeks, and we will move on to the next phase of the organizational project.  However we now have something that we had never had before… a comfortable place for two people to sit side-by-side and work in!

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