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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Adding Personal Items

You’ll spend about a third of your life working, so your office should be a place you enjoy. To this end, I do think it’s important to have personal items in the space that bring you joy and remind you of the importance of balance in your life. However, one problem with keeping an abundance of personal items in the office is that many people fail to limit themselves and their office becomes cluttered and unprofessional looking.

Personal items in your office can enhance the comfort of your space as well as give guests and clients conversation pieces upon which to build interaction with you and each other. When adding personal items to your office, it’s important to be aware of the quantity you have and set space limits on yourself for those type of items. Otherwise, your personal things could take over and make it hard for you to work, focus, and be productive in the space.

A client I worked with some years ago had so many personal items in her space that she barely had a flat surface to work upon. When I visited her office, most of the clutter was a result of a large amount of photographs, figurines, souvenirs, greeting cards, and special items that reminded her of events and relationships. She said she loved having her personal things close by. She hadn’t even noticed how much personal clutter was in her space, however, until I removed and boxed it up.

After we organized the framework of her office and set up organizational systems so she could better run her business, we sprinkled many of her personal things around the space to add a personal touch. We installed wall shelves that acted as a gallery to show off her photos and other memorabilia that had previously been cluttering her work space. She liked her space even more than she had before because she could fully appreciate her things now that they were on display, rather than buried on a cluttered work surface.

Projecting the Right Appearance

Keeping a large amount of personal items and memorabilia in your office can also project a less than professional image, depending on your industry. For example, those in the financial, medical, legal, accounting, or tax industry should more carefully choose the personal items they have in their offices. These are historically more conservative fields, and clients might be put off by an overabundance of personal things in the office.

Conversely, those working in fields such as art, music, theatre, retail, and design have a bit more latitude when it comes to what clients and superiors expect in the display of personal items at work. These fields are more creative and free-thinking, and clients often expect to see brighter colors, more whimsical or humorous art, and a larger quantity of fun and personal items in the space.

Attention Aesthetics! You might find that your tolerance for décor is low, even for your own personal items in the space. Don’t feel guilty if you only want a few family photos in your office. It’s your space and it is important that you design it so you are able to focus on your work without being distracted by visual clutter.

Finding and Maintaining the Right Balance

Establish rules regarding how many personal items you will permit to live on your desktop. Remember that any personal items living in Zone One are taking space away from other things that could be living there instead. Make sure personal things live above or to the sides of the desktop and out of the way of your work. Personal items should be fit into your space after your functional foundation is laid. Art, photos, memorabilia, and such are like the sprinkles on a cupcake—first you frost the cupcake and then you add the sprinkles, and not the other way around.

Periodically ask a friend or co-worker to look at your space to check for personal clutter. It’s good to get an objective viewpoint because after a while your brain stops seeing the clutter. Someone else’s objective eyes will see what yours have stopped seeing long ago.

To create visual interest and keep your décor fresh, rotate various personal items into and out of your space from time to time. Good points for switching items around are the beginning of each quarter, or with each new season. Changing old items out for new ones is a good way to keep your clutter level low, while still enjoying all your things. Keeping the décor fresh will also help maintain the energy level of your office and ignite your creativity all at the same time.

Displaying personal items in your office is a wonderful way to help maintain that important balance between life and work. A comfortable, balanced office shows signs of the hobbies, travel, relationships, or interests of the person within. Remember, the goal is to create an organized space where you can enjoy being, feel successful, and be productive.

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