Setting Up a Frugal Home Office

My family recently moved and we have settled into our new home. While we love our new house, it did have one glaring problem for a wanna be writer – no home office space for Frugal Dad. Not to worry, as you may remember I’ve had experience setting up a home office in laundry/utility rooms, bedroom corners, and even recently threatened to convert our outside storage building to a home office.

Initially, I dreamed about setting up my own shop remotely. It would be nice to have a place to go to do some writing out of the house without having to share the space with diners, coffee drinkers or teenagers playing online games (this is the setting of most places with wi-fi in my area).

I checked out a few online listings for office space and found a promising lead. A local real estate office was renting out one of their unused offices for only $400 a month, including utilities. I talked with the manager of the firm and rode by to check out the office. It was nice, but something told me not to sign right away.

While I came away with a favorable impression of the space, I added up the annual costs on the way home and realized it would cost me nearly $5,000 a year to fund this extra space. There had to be a more frugal alternative. I returned home to do a little brainstorming.

Setting Up a Home Office: The Before Picture

frugal home office

Yes, that’s our master bedroom closet. Well, half of it. And yes, this is the place where we just threw everything we didn’t have room for elsewhere. The fun part about moving is that you get to discover just how much crap you’ve accumulated over the years. I told my wife I was going to use my half of the closet to create a writing area. Once I convinced her that her side would be unaffected, she went along with the idea.

My first order of business was going through some old clothes I had accumulated over the years and no longer wore. I wound up bagging three bags full of old shirts, sweatshirts and miscellaneous t-shirts simply taking up space. I donated them to a local men’s shelter in our area, and they seemed grateful.

With the clothing racks cleared on one side, I moved that file cabinet into one corner of the office, and relocated an old table sewing machine my grandmother used (bottom right of that picture) to another room. I cleared out the remaining stuff (including the giant Christmas gift bag, which I embarrassed to confess still held most of the contents of our family’s Christmas stockings!).

The Frugal Home Office: After Picture

home office picture

After sliding the file cabinet into the corner, I had plenty of room for a four-foot folding table. This was the ideal size, and since I already had one on hand, I made it work. The only other supplies needed, in addition to my writing laptop, was a simple scratch pad and pen, and a small basket with basic office supplies (stapler, dry erase markers, etc.).

As you can see, not much decorating going there. I did hang a dry erase/bulletin board and my kids were nice enough to supply a few early Valentine’s Day decorations. That sticker on the side of my filing cabinet has been there for several years and reads, “Live Like No One Else.” You might recognize that quote from Dave Ramsey. For years I looked at that sticker while toiling away on my side hustles with the goal of debt freedom in mind.

The books on top of the file cabinet represent just a small section from my budding personal finance library. You might recognize a few covers as Your Money or Your Life, Work Less, Live More, The Tightwad Gazette, America’s Cheapest Family, and the recent release from Gary Vaynerchuck, Crush It. The supply rotates as I discover new reads, but these four or five books stay because I always go back to them for ideas and inspiration.

In case you are worried about me becoming claustrophobic, I should tell you that since taking the picture I used a bungee cord to band those clothes on the right side and pull them closer to the wall. They were mostly warm-weather shirts, so I won’t be needing them for a while anyway. This freed up a lot of shoulder room, but honestly it felt pretty cozy without the extra space.

I couldn’t be happier working away in my frugal home office. I’m fairly isolated from other noises in the house, even with the door open (I can always close off the bedroom door and leave this one open if the kids get too noisy). I don’t expect everyone to be able to set up shop in their closet, but if you are looking for a place to start a home business, I encourage you to get creative before rushing out and leasing office space.

Chances are there is some tiny bit of unused space in your home to set up a folding table and computer. If nothing else, it was a good excuse to clean out our closet!

Comments

  1. Does it have a door? Might qualify as a tax write-off! (only sort of kidding…)

    Otherwise, great job making space work for you. Did you ever find a solution to the no-outlet issue?

  2. Well done! Not only is it cool that you’re using the space in this way, but I especially like that you’ve removed the “well, I don’t really have a place to work” rationale from the list of excuses.

    Not that you seem to have a problem with that, but I can see it being a fallback when the computer looks especially uninviting. (Hey, it happens to all of us.)

  3. That’s a great idea, and without having to remodel another room or (gasp!) build an addition to your house!

    I did a similar thing for my wife a while back. My man space is one of our bedrooms, but since my wife likes to create jewelry and scrapbook, there was no room for her in my tech/music/photo studio. I decided to “hollow” out the 5′x6′ walk-in closet in that bedroom by removing the wire shelving on one wall, building a desk with some scrap wood I had in the garage, and adding painted shelving. Plus, there’s a window to let in natural light during the day. Oh, and I painted the walls a light blue and took off the door so she would feel she is a part of the action when I am in my “studio” space. She has made it pretty cozy with her own own creations too. It’s been a marriage win-win all around!

  4. I use the diningroom as my “office”, but I am thinking about using a corner in my bedroom. I already have a secretariate in the corner, so it’s just a matter of putting up some peg boards and calendars. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. @RainyDaySaver: Yes, there is a closet door, and yes, I’ve considered the tax advantages. Although it might be a stretch, and it is such a small space it’s probably not worth the risk of raising red flags.

    I decided I didn’t need an outlet as there is an overhead light, and my laptop battery works fine. I am considering a small, USB or battery-powered light for ambience (and so I don’t have to burn the overhead light the entire time I’m working in there).

  6. My farm diary office was in the master closet also – but it was a walkthru…one door went to bedroom and one to the entrance foyer for coats, etc… It was about 5×6 with an old steel army surplus desk in it. Worked just fine :) Necessity is the mother of invention, as you know!

    My scrapbooking room is a 6 x 6.5 room with a pocket door – specially made just for that purpose when I remodeled the house. It’s floor to ceiling cabinets (old kitchen cabinets) and shelves on one side – with an old garage sale find rolltop desk on the other side under the window, with a filing cabinet on the floor by it, and overhead cabinets (the old kitchen ones from the remodel) around the window.

    You’d be surprised how much you can cram into such a small space and still make it functional!

    As I live it a small home, 1035 sq ft, I need to take advantage of all the small nooks :) My sewing center is a sawhorse looking table next to some cabinets with pull out boxes under cover.
    My canning center is in bimart special cabinets in the mudroom, all out of sight. Under the stairs to the attic is a wonderful pull out storage “pantry” for winter veggie storage, like squash, green tomatoes, potatoes, onions, etc…as it stays nice and cool in that room! Above the bathroom doors are shelves running the width of the room, which is an excellent place to store bundles of TP or towels, etc. Either end of the hallway also has shelves over the bedroom doors – great place to store extra blankets or pillows.
    The broom closet in my new kitchen cabinets (sitting in a barn for years -1960′s era- and bought for $500) I converted into canned food shelves – the space was a lot more valuable with 5 shelves in it than just holding a broom etc… and the broom slides into the small space between it and the refrigerator anyway :)

    It’s just a matter of getting creative with the small spaces one does have :) I looked at a lot of camper, boat, and tiny trailer designs for some of the shelving and storage and office space ideas.

  7. Great job utilizing space! I’m doing the same in my basement. I wish I had taken a before picture because it was so packed you couldn’t even walk around down there.

    This past Saturday I loaded up half a dozen garbage bags and cleaned up a lot of clutter. Still need to organize a bit more to make room for my table and filing cabinet, but with 3 young kids I really need to find a quiet place to get some writing done.

  8. That is great! I tried to do that with the only space we have left in our house too. My wife didn’t approve of me taking my half of the kitchen table. I even tried your argument that HER side wouldn’t be affected…. It didn’t work. :)

  9. I don’t think there’s a closet in this house you could squeeze a desk into.

    We actually planned for an extra bedroom when we bought our house because we knew that my husband would be working from home full time eventually. For security reasons (he works for the gov’t), his office needs to be lockable and he needs room for several thousand assorted files.

    My ‘office’ is actually the dining room, since I don’t need doors that close. Since we have a huge eat in kitchen, we don’t need the space for anything else and I can do my crafting while still keeping an eye on the sproglets in the living room.

  10. You can sit in a closet and not feel claustrophobic?

    More power to you. The small space/size is not an issue, but being enclosed and facing a blank wall?

    I work more than 14 hours a day from a home office. The only reason I can is because I have a window nearby and I get lots of light and sun.

    I would literally be unable to sit in such a cramped space, let alone concentrate or be productive.

    Of course, I can’t write and think in the middle of people talking and eating in public places either, which you’ve already done. By comparison this space must be heaven for you.

    In my mind, it’s easier to set up a corner/portion of a bigger room and then use a screen or something else to shield it from the rest of the space.

    I had a play closet when I was little and I hated the confined space even then.

    Yes, I am claustrophobic but I showed this pix to others and they were like: Seriously. An adult works there daily?

  11. @Stella: One thing to consider – I only work in there for a couple hours in the evenings or early morning. I’m at my full time job the rest of the time. No way I could stay holed up in there for a solid work day. Well, unless I cut a window out of the wall!

  12. Thanks for sharing your home office pics! Truly, we can make anything work, can’t we, if we try? You are a great example of that.

    BTW, you mentioned two books that were very influential in my life too: “Your Money or Your Life” and “The Tightwad Gazette.” Was introduced to those in the early 90′s I think, and they helped shape my thinking on lifestyle design, which is a big passion of mine.

  13. I’m a huge fan of the minimal desk too. I hate clutter and love the simple pad of paper and pen for ideas.

    Very surprising indeed, but I like the isolation too.

    - Austin @ Foreigner’s Finances

  14. My first home office was in the closet. I simply faced my desk out instead of in. Once I was in place- it worked well. I did buy a silky curtain to put over the top of clothes that were held back.
    OF course- this is from a teacher who once had to teach first grade from a recently converted boy’s bathroom/locker room-lol!

  15. Let’s see my master bedroom, bathroom and closet are a t-shirt screenprinting business that wouldn’t fit in the commercial space I use as a printer. My husband and I moved to the guest room. And in the commercial space we took the 2nd bathroom that the city required the restaurant before us to have and turned it into an office after disposing of the old “furniture”. Printers only need one bathroom by code not two and we so needed an accounting office. Glad I’m not the only one.

  16. I really like cozy little spaces, so to me the little office looks superb. I think you do need a few more pictures on the wall though… maybe start a postcard montage :) .

  17. Great creativity!
    Check out this cool take on “office in a closet”:
    http://www.blisstree.com/keepingthecastle/a-closet-turned-home-office-from-lowes/

    When we finally tore down our 1920 detached garage and had a new one built we added a home office to it. It’s heaven! It’s 12′x20′ and I begged for French doors which make all the difference to my claustrophobia! It cost *very* little additional $ and the contractor even threw in lots of freebies left over from other jobs like crown moulding, ceiling fan, window box.

  18. Frugal Dad:

    This article was like a mirror being reflected on my life. I recently left a stressful job to open my own business. I live in a small house, and had no room for an office. Found 3′ of space in my bedroom, and took my tape measure to Wal-Mart to find a desk that would fit…

    Sure, it’s small, but I love not blowing $500-$1000 on rent each month! Plus, the commute is wonderful!

  19. What a neat idea! Why not use a closet for an office if it’s big enough?! Hats off to your creativity and use of space. I thoroughly appreciate reading stories about people who are smart with their money and inspire others to be the same. Thanks for sharing, and keep up the great work on your blog. This is my first time seeing it and I love it already!

  20. Absolutely charming and brilliant idea! Instead of buying an ambient light, I’d set a candle (fragrant if you like) and a lighter or book of matches on a small plate to your left (AWAY from the clothes). I used to write gothic poetry by candlelight, and there’s something mesmerizing and inspiring about gazing into a flame between keystrokes. Bonus: extra warmth in the winter.

  21. That’s a great idea, converting without having to remodel another room, not everyone can convert a closet into office space, but there are lots of other options but I think we all need to evaluate things and possibilities.

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