Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Mars and Venus Redo the Office

Next to the family room, the home office is where Mr. Jane and I spend the majority of our waking hours. Ironically, it's also the room in which we've spent the least amount of time, money, and energy decorating. Our office furniture is old (not all, but for the most part), mismatched, and not functional for our needs. It's a great space, but we are not making the most of it. We have a zillion computers in here, but only use a fraction of them. The closet is full of odd, mismatched, and unorganized things. And so on.

Recently, we decided to redo the office. There is a really good chance that one or both of us may be working primarily from home within the next year or so, so there is extra incentive to make the space into something that works for both of us. Luckily, we are happy with the paint job, carpeting, and window treatments, so we just have to address the furniture and organization issues.

That, however, is proving to be more difficult that we first anticipated.

One of the big challenges in this redo is that Mr. Jane and I work in two entirely different modes. I am very much a neat freak. (More than one person has, upon seeing my desk at school, declared that I can't possibly be a professor because it is "too neat".) Having anything stacked on my desk that is not immediately related to the task at hand bugs the heck out of me. Yesterday, for instance, I brought a bunch of books and folders home related to stuff I wanted to work on today....and I could not start working today until I had organized and stacked the books and folders on my shelves, off of my desk! Mr. Jane, on the other hand, is more of a "visual" person---if it's not out in front of him, it might as well not exist. I am looking over at his desk right now, and there are random piles of things everywhere. Some of them, I'm sure, have been there for months, untouched. It's not messy, per se, but the fact that anything is out on his desk bugs me. (Before you start thinking that I'm a real freak, I will say in my defense that sometimes I have to work at his desk, when I'm using one of the other computers; so, I have to move his stuff out of the way before I can start working there.)

As a result, both of us are having some difficulty in envisioning what we want the space to look like. How can we incorporate both of our modes of working within the space we have? How should the office be organized? How should we deal with clutter? What should we get rid of? (This last question has already caused contention between us. I'm of the "if I haven't used it in a year, toss it" school, while Mr. Jane subscribes to the "I might need this someday" philosophy.)

I'm thinking that we both need to take a step back and figure out what works for each of us, individually---what would our separate ideal offices look like? Then, we can work on hopefully merging those pictures into one unified picture. I have no idea if this would work, but it's worth a shot.

So now I'm curious. What does you own workspace look like? Is it ideal for you? If not, what would be your ideal workspace? And have any of you dealt with this sort of issue before---designing an office for two totally different people---and how did you work everything out?


Laura said...

I recently got my own space, which is working quite nicely. I'd say it's nearly ideal. Mr. Geeky and I have shared an office in the past. I'm more like Mr. Jane in that I have piles--they're neat and they're actually in labelled folders but they have to be out. But I'm also a purger and he isn't. He keeps everything. My goal is to create the space I want and get rid of stuff if need me. His goal is to create a space big enough to fit everything. Might I suggest a divider or a wall? :) I have pictures of my work space on Flickr, by the way.

BrightStar said...

I don't know if I could share a space or not... sometimes I think it would help me focus time on task if I saw another human also working.

Here's an older picture of my desk, from last March.

But my dream is to have LOTS AND LOTS of table space to spread out piles and papers. I clearly do not have this at home.

Jane said...

b*, are those black things speakers? If so, how cool! I love your lamp too! And yes, table space is a must, since both Mr. Jane and I are "spreaders"---plus, eventually I might move my crafting stuff into the office, in which case I will need space to spread out.

Laura, I do remember the saga of getting your own office, and I'm glad it's working out well for you! Separate spaces wouldn't work for us---we actually do enjoy working together in the same room (unless one of us is on the phone), and have done so for a long time. But maybe we can work a screen into the design or something....

academic coach said...

Ah, I wish that I had a few "neat freak" genes. My inability to be tidy and organized has gotten to the point of absurdity.

Good luck sharing space with a spreader and "visual" person. So kind of you to call him that instead of something, well, like messy slob.

What Now? said...

I'm on the same page as Laura: If you really want to stay in the same room (and a friend of mine recently emailed me to say that she and her partner had finally decided that the secret to long-term marital happiness was separate offices), I'd suggest a screen or a room divider so that you both get natural light from the window but you can't see his desk, if such an arrangement is possible. Good luck!

Mel said...

a folding screen is nice b/c you can leave it down but then if the piles start to irritate you, put it up.

another option is to have your desks not arranged in your direct line of sight -- kitty corner or even back to back (which might undo the shared office vibe, I don't know)

my partner & I have separate studies from each other (at opposite ends of the house) mostly for music/noise preferences.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I'm just impressed that you share - H and I really suck at sharing an office. (Currently we share the dining room at home, which works mostly b/c I tend to work at school or in coffeeshops, it's not really a separate room but more a "space" so we don't feel quite locked into the same room, and my back is to him when I'm at my desk. ;-D) He likes to have stuff out, but in absolutely neat and symmetric piles, whereas when I'm using stuff I have it everywhere and anywhere, but when I'm done with it, it goes away.

It sounds to me as though some of your problems would be resolved if you didn't have to use Mr. Jane's computer and therefore deal with what his desk looks like? Maybe the answer is more technology!

Jane said...

Hmmm, lots of ideas to think about! Thanks, everyone!

Some more info: right now, we do have our office arranged so that we have our backs to each other. It does work well, except: (1) I'm the one w/o the window view, and (2) the arrangement wastes a lot of space. So we're going to most likely be adding more table space....and we probably could preserve a bit of the back-to-back arrangement. Or maybe we could just build cubicles in here! (ack, dear god no!)

Guess I'll be looking into the screen option, since that seems to be the most popular suggestion! :)