Professional organizers offer ideas to create work-from-home and school-from-home zones.
Work life and home life have always been tricky to navigate. Add a pandemic that closes schools and offices, and it gets even trickier. Suddenly, guest rooms became work-at-home offices, and dining room tables became home school learning spaces.
Molly Boren, a certified professional organizer with Simplicity Works, knows firsthand how families have scrambled to accommodate the changes in their living spaces. She is currently juggling clients virtually, while also preparing her son, Sam, age 8, for the start of a new (and possibly virtual) school year at A2STEAM.
Preparation and planning have helped Boren’s family, as well as her clients, during these unusual circumstances.
“I ask clients to do a brain-dump of their current spaces and routines, including what’s working for them and what’s not. Then we talk about the physical spaces where kids and adults can do their work, plus each person’s preferences. We outline the steps it will take to transition to this new plan, breaking it down so that it’s less overwhelming.”
Boren suggests a review of office and school supplies, while also weeding out the clutter.
“We all have different comfort levels with visual clutter, so not everyone needs a work space that looks like a zen hotel room,” Boren said. “It does help with function and focus if nearby surfaces are cleared of unnecessary objects.”
“First, set your intention as ‘organized enough’ and try to avoid perfectionism,” Boren advised. “Consider what characteristics each work space needs. Do the parents’ and kids’ spaces need to be near each other so the parents can monitor the kids? Or separated from each other so each can focus and/or make calls? Do you need good lighting and a calm background for video calls? Once a decision has been made, shift as many unnecessary objects out of this space as possible.”
Tools of the Trade
There are many tools and products to help with storage solutions and organization.
“First and foremost, shop your home. You’re very likely to already have most of what you need, either as an existing product or something you can repurpose,” Boren said.
Here are some items that Boren recommends to stay on top of the paperwork and clutter:
- A desktop bin or a large magazine holder. This will serve as a spot to corral each child’s papers, tablets, workbooks, etc. Label each box with the child’s name and any school log-in information.
- A clip board with a dry-erase checklist. “For me and my eight year old, this list includes everything that has to be done before screen time,” Boren said. “It’s a paper list inside a document protector with a dry erase marker.”
- For parents, a folder and notebook to keep lists, notes, brainstorming, etc.
- Binder clips and cable clips to keep charger cables at the ready.
- A book box to keep reading material handy. This could be a cardboard box that children can decorate with their own artwork.
- A kitchen timer for timed reading assignments.
- A labeled box for storing the special mementos of the school year.
A Stylish Space
For Holly Southerland at Ann Arbor Home Organizers, form is just as important as function when it comes to creating a work space.
“An efficient space can also be stylish, and ideally, you want to feel inspired in your workspace and not cramped,” Southerland said. “In order to do that, consider storing all items that are not used every day in a nearby shelf or closet, rather than on or near the desktop. Aim for clear surfaces, and your mind will be at ease, ready for a productive day.”
Southerland suggests envisioning how you want the space to feel, while considering the flow of traffic in the home.
“Zoning is the most important step. Create zones for the different tasks and objectives, then fill it with the right supplies. Make a list of all the things you need to be able to do, the possible spots in the home where you could do that, and strategically plan for how to implement it in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re playing musical chairs, switching furniture in rooms all the time.”
Southerland offers monthly virtual workshops to learn organizational habits through a system called Sunday Basket. She also encourages the use of digital aids such as Dropbox, Google Calendar, Google Drive, and Trello for managing appointments, tasks, and projects.
“Having the right products makes all the difference in the ability to keep up and maintain your newfound system,” she said.
“One way a professional organizer can support you in this plan is to create a cohesive strategy that accounts for every objective you have, while also accounting for how to make it look and feel nice.”
Southerland had good advice for those just getting started.
“Spend some time really thinking through how you want to function and feel in a space. Get in touch with how you feel and how it functions now, and then make a plan to bridge that gap! Life is too short to live and work in a cluttered and uninspiring space!”