Take this job and love it Making your work space feel more like home

As we’ve shared on our About page, both Cane and I are educators. He teaches in a digital media program at a small charter high school and I am a literacy coach at a large urban high school.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--nameplate

My job is to support teachers’ learning and work in the area of literacy instruction.

Back in June, I did something I’ve said every year I would do, but never have until this year:

I cleaned up and put away everything in my office, so that I’d come back to an organized space in August.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--office before

I have to say:  It was nice to come back to a (mostly) tidy work space. But I was able to see that it was a pretty sterile one.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--office before

Don’t get me wrong:  I appreciate my office. I have the nicest one in the school, and I know it. (Yes, even better than the principal’s.) There’s a ton of storage, lots of great counter space for working on projects, and–best of all–windows that look out onto a courtyard.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--office view

Last year was my first one in this space, but I never really made it mine.

Some of that was simply a time issue; I learned that I would need to move into it with little notice last fall. Once school starts the pace never slows, so things just got thrown into the room and never fully unpacked until June.

More than that, though, was the fact that it was previously the librarian’s office–the librarian we no longer have because of budget cuts. I had (and continue to have) all kinds of wonky feelings about this. I really hate that we don’t have a librarian anymore–that none of the schools in my district have a certified librarian any more. It just didn’t feel right for me to be in this space.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--office view to library

As you can see at the top of this “before” shot, I also have windows that look out onto our library.

I also had wonky feelings because my job was reduced last year. For the first time in my career, I wasn’t a full-time employee. For the first time in my career, I felt a very different sense of commitment to it. Much as I tried to put a positive spin on it (More time to do some things I’ve always wanted to do! Hey, at least I still have a job!), it was unsettling.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--office view to library

Random junk kinda thrown up on the wall…a lame attempt at personalizing the space.

Heading into this school year, I still felt more wonky than settled, about all kinds of things. (If you’re not a regular reader, I already wrote a bit about that here.) Between this blog (the thing that filled the space opened by the job reduction and quickly overflowed it), my job, and my family, I felt as if I’d stretched myself too thin everywhere.

When several things crashed in August, I wondered if my discontent with work might subside if I gave it a different kind of attention than I had for the past year, if I gave myself more fully to it.

I decided to shift some energy from this blog back into my day job. And, thinking about the connections we’ve seen between caring for our homes and caring for our lives, I decided to see if giving the office some intentional love might change how I feel when “living” in it.

I’ll share a bit about how that’s worked out at the end of the post, but first are some ideas that might be helpful if you want to undertake a similar project for your work space.

Idea #1: Form follows function.

Above all else, a work space has to be functional.

Although my countertops were clear when I came back to school in August, the walls were cluttered with all kinds papers. That’s because there are some things I want to have out in the open, where I can find them quickly and see them easily. (I’m a visual gal.)

To corral that clutter, I decided to group a set of 3 bulletin boards on one wall, so I could pin up everything I want for quick reference in one place. It’s not exactly pretty, but the wall looks better than it did and it’s even easier to find those things.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--bulletin board

Not everything hanging up there is strictly utilitarian, but most of it is. Doing this allowed me to remove all the sticky notes I had tacked up above my desk space, making the desk space better. I hate a cluttered desk, and cleaning off the counters and the visually cluttered strip of wall along the desk top makes a huge difference for me.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--notes tacked up

Here all all the random sticky notes and such tacked up above my desk space…

This (sorta) Old LIfe: Making office like home--clean work space

…and here’s that same space all cleared off.

Speaking of better desk space, I decided to ignore conventional function there. The desk is supposed to face the windows that look out to the library, which makes sense if you’re the librarian; you want to be able to keep an eye on students, even if you’re in your office. But I’m not the librarian and don’t supervise students. I realized I could shift the workspace to the side, giving me a direct view out the window.

Doing that also means that I now have a nice big work space right next to my chair–so I can spread things out when I’ve got a project to do.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your workspace like home--big workspace

Getting new computers this year means that sometimes I’m using the old one and the new one at the same time.

 Much nicer!

Idea #2:  It’s gotta be frugal.

Obviously there’s no budget for office/classroom improvements, and I wouldn’t feel great about spending a ton of my own money to deck out my work space. I decided I would (mostly) use what I have or what I could find at a thrift store for this project. One thing I really wanted to do was bring some plants into the space.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your workspace like home--plants in thrift store pots

A coaching colleague tells me that living things in a space impacts our brain functioning in positive ways. I also like the symbolism of having living, growing things in my office because my work is all about growth.

I didn’t have any extra pots hanging around the house, so I made a trek to Goodwill. There wasn’t a lot to choose from, but I thought these pots complemented each other. (I did buy new plants, so I broke my own rule just a little bit.)

Another thing I picked up at Goodwill:  Some coffee/tea mugs.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your workspace like home--tea mugs

I already had the hot water pot, and to keep them all together I brought in this sweet little wicker tray that my Grandma painted when she was in high school.

I have this fantasy of offering teachers who come to meet with me a mug of something warm. Teachers are so busy and so rarely take the time to do something for themselves during the day. So far, I’ve only had one person partake of tea with me, but it was really nice.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your workspace like home--tea mugs

I also brought in some art for the walls that I already had, in frames that I already owned, which met my goal of frugality. All of it also had to meet the criteria for Idea #3:

Idea #3:  Decor must be meaningful/useful (no decor for the sake of decor).

This is where I had the most fun.

Although the bulletin boards are mostly utlitarian, I did throw up some things that I just really like.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your workspace like home--bulletin board items

I love the juxtaposition of the “reading is sexy” bumper sticker with the pic of George Elliot. Underneath her face are her words: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” This card has been in whatever work space I’ve had for at least 15 years.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your workspace like home--paint by number

This is a paint-by-number my dad painted as a teen. It’s not expertly done, and he’s really not an artistic type of guy. It reminds me that we can all do things outside of our usual pursuits, we all have sides of us that others don’t see, and doing something–even if we can’t do it expertly–has value. We don’t have to be master painters to pick up a brush, you know?

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your office like home--poem card

This poem from a poet friend is titled “Use.” It’s something I look at when I’m feeling discouraged about the progress of my work. I love it for the words and for the reminder of realms of my life outside of work.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your office like home--bulletin board items

These two pictures of my kids I tacked up to keep me grounded in why all of us do the work we do. It is easy to forget that inside of each high-schooler is a child who is someone’s baby. At work, I’m always asking myself: What would I want for my kids if they attended this school?

I also brought in some meaningful vintage goodness. A few years back at a local flea market, I found an entire set of elementary school science posters from the 60s (only $8 for all!). I had some hanging in my old kitchen, but haven’t found a place for any in the new house. I thought the large expanse of wall over the storage cabinets would be the perfect place for some.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your workspace like home--vintage school posters

I’d call these meaningful just because they are a nod to two of my favorite things (schools and mid-century vintage), but I tried to up the meaning factor by choosing posters that seem symbolic to my work with teachers.

The activities of plants change with the seasons.

Only living things can grow and feed themselves.

Light helps us to see colors and shapes.

Living things need air…Air is all around us. We live at the bottom of an ocean of air.

There are many planets in the universe.

 In the area of vintage and meaning, I broke my frugality/no spending rule one more time (and in a kinda big way). Thanks to Pam at Retro Renovation, I saw these vintage school posters on Etsy:

This (sorta) Old Life:  Making a workspace like home--retro school posters

This (sorta) Old Life:  Making a workspace like home--retro school posters

Not sure if you can see the words at the top of this: Work is love made visible. (I love the 70s…)

Both seemed so relevant to the work we do in schools, and to the work I do in particular. My job is to be an agent for positive change in our teachers’ instruction. It’s not easy work (for any of us), and I like the reminders I get from both posters.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Making a workspace like home--retro school posters

Have to show you a close-up of the cool graphic on the second poster. Love how the flower is made of tools.

While it’s been really helpful for me to ponder the idea that work is love made visible, I thinks it’s also useful to have reminders of who we are (and what we love) outside of work. 

On one wall I have a framed card I made for Cane (an illustration of Rita Dove’s “The Secret Garden”), an old picture of a school that a friend once gave me, and the framed cover of a children’s book I wrote.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Making a workspace like home--Creative artifacts

I also brought in one of Cane’s old pieces of art:

This (sorta) Old Life:  Making a workspace like home--Creative artifacts

The most meaningful things I brought in are those from my kids. They are the reason I go to work every day. Not just because I need the paycheck (though I for sure need the paycheck), but also because I truly believe that the work I do in my school will help make the world a better place for all kids.

Obviously, literacy is hugely important to me, and I’m so thankful all three of our kids are readers. I love these pictures of them engrossed in books. I put them where I’ll see them all the time, right behind my computer.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your workspace like home--pics of kids

Yes, the trim piece is drooping down. Not sure how to fix that.

I also brought in some framed art that my kids made when they were younger, and framed pictures of them from a few years ago. (I shopped our garage for the frames, and the photos were prints I already had that were sitting in an envelope.)

This (sorta) Old Life: Making your workspace like home--kid art and pics

So…did it work?

The short answer is:

Yes. I am so much happier with my work space.

I love the very tangible reminders of why I do what I do. I love that I can easily find everything I need.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--desk after

I love that it is more comfortable and inviting. It’s nice to spend my day in a more aesthetically pleasing space, surrounded by meaningful things.

This (sorta) Old Life: Making workplace like home--office after

The process of thinking intentionally about what would be useful and meaningful in my space got me to think deeply about what I do at work and why I do it.

After a difficult last year, that process helped me reconnect to the parts of my job I love–and that’s made a huge positive difference in how I do my job and how I feel doing it.

But I have to confess:  Something is still missing for me here.

What that is and how it connects to our blog is something I’ll likely write about later. I’m still working through some things and don’t feel far enough along to share more than this for now.

But I can tell you that both Cane and I have realized in the last month that this blog is something we want to keep doing. We’re not sure of exactly how we’re going to be doing it, but we’re going to keep writing here. 

And we hope you’ll keep reading. We are so excited that we are finally (almost!) ready to share our finished master bathroom with all of you.

This (sorta) Old Life: Bathroom remodel-painted light fixture base

We’re down to the small details now. This guy got some Antique Brass paint yesterday.

Yep, you read that right:


 You can read the last installment on this project (how to install tile for a tub surround) here, or catch up on the entire project on our project/home tour page. We’re actually planning a series of posts on the bathroom (along with a reveal of our newly painted exterior) and we hope to have the first installment up within the next week.

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This (sorta) Old Life: Making an office like home--Sentimental objects

I love this goofy tiger cup. It reminds me of a project Cane and I worked on when we were team-teaching together–one that centered on Blake’s “Tiger, Tiger” poem.