Over the holidays, my boyfriend and I took some time to redecorate our apartment. We painted a wall in our bedroom a serene blue; we organized our bookshelves; we finally got rid of some of our most decrepit pans.
And then there were the curtains. Never before had I thought curtains really mattered, but now that I have white wisps of fabric framing my windows, I somehow feel calmer. At least when I’m in my living room.
That calm quickly disappeared when I returned to my windowless office at work, where curtains are a moot point. To my newly trained decorating eye, the grey desk, grey cabinets, and brown bulletin board were just depressing. I started to question the phone list tacked up on my bulletin board I never referenced, the pile of papers on the shelf I never looked at, the files in the cabinet drawers I never opened.
I wanted to feel inspired by the things around me, not complacent about them.
So I started to do some research about how workspace can affect mood and productivity, and I quickly realized there were changes I could make to reclaim my office as my own. Here are a few simple shifts you can make, too—whether you work in a small cubicle or have a whole room to yourself.
Personalize Your Space
Most of us spend at least 40 hours a week at our desks, and yet most of us show up, sit down, and think very little about how the space around us affects our mood or productivity.
"I find it surprising that so many of my clients haven't really personalized their office space," says Maureen K. Calamia, a Feng Shui consultant. "I tell them—sit at your desk and ask yourself, ‘What are you looking at?’ Is this really what you want to be looking at to be inspired?”
Calamia says her clients often have paintings or photographs at home they don’t have a place for. She suggests bringing these personal items into an otherwise dull workspace—and finds it makes her clients calmer and happier to be at work.
Clear Away Clutter
It’s more stressful and harder to focus when you're in an environment where you're unconsciously distracted by piles of papers, knick knacks, and various office supplies scattered around you. According to Feng Shui experts and professional organizers, these disorganized objects create chaos and drain you of positive energy.
Look around your desk. Are there a lot of visual distractions and items you only occasionally use? Block out a few hours in your week to be ruthless with what's around you. Throw away what you don't need, and organize the things that you do.
By simply boxing up items you only use occasionally—like staplers, paper clips, and your surplus of pens—you can create a more peaceful desktop. For more detailed de-cluttering instructions, check out Leo Babuta's Zero Clutter guide.
Bring Nature Inside
I've killed more plants than I'd like to admit. The last shriveled up greenery I had to toss in the garbage had been purchased at the farmer’s market to live on my desk. I had good intentions, but it clearly needed more nourishment than the fluorescent lights in my office could provide.
"Plants are huge to create a less chaotic environment," says Calamia. "We thrive in environments that have that green. Plans also give off oxygen and eat off a lot of the toxins." If you're wondering what plants might work in your office, check out Calamia's list of "toxic avenging" plants.
And if you, like me, are stuck in a windowless office with no hope of sunlight or living plants? You can actually still benefit from looking at photographs of nature. The visual depth in a photograph of, for example, the Grand Canyon will relieve eye strain.
If you’re terribly stressed at your job, redecorating your office isn’t going to miraculously alleviate your troubles. But the energy in your workspace may have more of an effect on your mood than you realize. So examine your current work environment and consider that you may benefit from taking the time to make your space your own, clear away clutter, and bring in some greenery. And, if you do have the luxury of working in an office with natural light and your windows happen to be bare, I highly recommend curtains.