Lest you think that amid all this running and general goals talk I’d been slacking on my 2017 goal of growing in my minimalism practice: SURPRISE! For the past month or so I have been hard at work making over my work space into a “minimalist office”. Okay, okay….minimalist cubicle. I hope this serves as a great way to start off a year of trying to live minimally; today I want to share my inspiration for this makeover and how I’ve developed my minimalist office concept.
Look at this picture. Just look at it. Is it not the most breathtakingly boring space you’ve ever seen? I mean there’s nothing there! If I’m not around, will coworkers who walk by think I’m moving out or something? It’s so…plain! And…bland!
Darn skippy it is. Believe it or not, that’s the whole point.
I’ve been wondering for a long time if there is something I can do about my work space that will help me feel a little happier and more content while I’m at work. The monotony of desk life gets difficult and I often find it hard to concentrate and be productive. A year or so ago I thought I needed to go in the opposite direction: I became preoccupied with making my cubicle “homey”. I brought in a blanket and a chair pillow, even a rug. I pored over cubicle design ideas on pinterest. I collected artisan-made trinkets. I even cut out a piece of a cheap rug to put under my keyboard for my wrists to rest on.
It didn’t work. Maybe nothing could help that sterile office environment, but all that stuff just felt so awkward and out of place in my cubicle. And I felt crowded by it. It suddenly just looked so silly there. And why shouldn’t it? I’m not a decorator, I never have been.
More importantly, I felt ambushed by clutter. Piles of paperwork were everywhere. It was just a depressing mess in there. Getting our office space remodeled and having to move to a temporary area then moving into my new cubicle last year did force me to clean some of that up a bit, but in my new space I just went right back to my old ways. I hated it. I kept thinking what would happen if I were to suddenly lose my job, what an utter mess I’d leave behind. It was depressing.
Our outer environment and living spaces can have a powerful subconscious effect on our state of mind. Think of how you feel when the house is newly clean: that deep contentment and feeling of freedom. Conversely, when you have to live in a messy home or work in a messy office, you often feel stressed or distracted or uncomfortable without even fully realizing it. Eventually I began to dream of an office space that wasn’t besieged by disorganization or a total eyesore. I thought about how nice it would feel to work in clear, open space, and how much more productive I might feel without the weight of clutter constantly distracting me. And that’s when I decided: I’m going to make a minimalist office.
My vision was to take the word “minimalism” to heart. I wanted everything gone. If there was desk space that didn’t need to be filled, then it would not be filled. Other than my phone and computer stand, I made it a rule to keep on my desk only the things I actually need to have at hand on a regular basis. Important things that need to stay in files for reference are still around, in the cabinets and drawers, but since I don’t need them on a regular basis, I wanted them out of sight.
That leaves some lotion and chapstick, a pen holder, a notebook, and this file rack where I keep things that I need to use every day or have at arm’s length.
I put them in these colored folders to make it more pleasant on the eye, but I only kept things I need to have handy or refer to on a regular basis.
There’s one more thing, though.
Here’s what I love most about it and, pardon me tooting my own horn, where I think the real genius comes in. Yes, this is PLAIN. It’s boring. You’d think no one even used this space if not for that one little personal touch, that dash of Hanna:
Elements like this, in my humble opinion, are the lynch pins of minimalist design. That “this is totally impersonal and sterile, BUT WAIT!” moment. That subtle, less-is-more stamp of identity that swoops in at the last second. This could be anyone’s cube, or no one’s, if not for that little human element. There is a big misconception that minimalism is a draconian act of stripping down to only the essentials for survival, but on the contrary – it’s these understated personal touches that make it thrive.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t any clutter hiding away in some cabinets and drawers. I suppose a better description for this project is a “visually minimal” office. But unlike making your home or your personal belongings more minimal, there is only so much you can do in a work setting where you don’t get to make all the decisions about what stays and what goes. I focused on what I could control and what could benefit me most at work: my open work space.
Here’s hoping this makes me feel a little more productive and serves as a breath of fresh air. As I was doing this project, I decided it would be cool to tackle one big minimalism project each month to give my goal of better minimalism project a bit of a push forward. In February, I will be focusing on paring down my wardrobe again and maybe even giving Project 333 another go. I also hope to spend a month each on minimizing waste and my digital life. Stay tuned!