How to get your home office in order now that working from home is here to stay

We've all spent months making the best of what we've got, but as 2021 approaches, it's time to get the home office in proper order

how to organise your home working space
Plants, a tidy desk and clean equipment can positively shape a working space Credit: CreativaStudio/E+

Working from home for many of us has become what simply used to be called “working”. Our landscapes are different now: no rows of desks, corner offices, ergonomically designed chairs, miles of grey carpet and windowless kitchens with fridges filled with antique yogurt. But what is expected from us is the same.

When you google “home office inspiration” – or “inspo” as these colour-co-ordinated box file peddlers call it – a lot of what you get is of absolutely no use to you or me, or to the average person who can’t see her tax return for the laundry basket. For a start, many people (most?) don’t have a dedicated work space at home and are trying to live out their professional dreams on a corner of the kitchen table or a hastily cobbled together work station in a bedroom.

Here’s how to survive it. First, you purge, then you sort, and then you get on with your life.

Start with your table, desk or whatever corner you’ve eked out to work on. I know this is boring, but if it’s neat you will feel less anxious when you sit down to be brilliant. Get a box. Put everything on your desk into the box.

Give the surface a good clean, then put back just what you need to work today – perhaps a lamp, your laptop, a notebook and a couple of pens.

As the week goes on, as you need it, take from the box the minimum you require for professional survival.

At the end of the week, anything left in the box doesn’t need to be in your precious working space, and should be housed elsewhere or tossed.

Speaking of which, you probably need two waste paper baskets, one for rubbish, one for recycling, and a shredder if you live that kind of life.

Now to your tech. This is the bit where I tell you your keyboard is a filthy repository of bugs and bacteria. Friends, I am just serving up the stone-cold facts.

According to a University of Arizona study, there are 400 times more germs on your keyboard than there are on your loo seat, and your mobile phone isn’t much better. To clean your keyboard, unplug it, or turn it off if it is wireless. Spread a sheet of newspaper on your desk, turn the keyboard over and tap it to release dust and crumbs.

Your computer keyboard is probably a lot more dirty than you care to imagine Credit: Stefan Cristian Cioata/ Moment RF

If you’re fancy, you can use a few blasts from a can of compressed air, but personally I think that just spreads everything everywhere. Next, squeeze a few drops of rubbing alcohol (you can buy this cheaply online) or cheap vodka on to a microfibre glass cloth and rub it all over the keyboard. Use a cotton bud or a clean make-up brush dipped in the alcohol to clean between the keys. Use a dry microfibre glass cloth to clean the screen – if it’s very greasy, use a very little water mixed half-and-half with rubbing alcohol on the cloth.

Never apply liquids or ordinary domestic cleaning products directly on to the screen. You need to avoid getting it wet, and any cleaners that contain ammonia could damage it.

It is so pleasing when it’s done. Working with clean kit is the daytime equivalent of slipping between clean sheets in fresh pyjamas, so why would you deprive yourself of that joy?

When you’re finished tidying and cleaning, put a plant on it. I know I’m always bashing on about this, but plants help clean the air, increase humidity and make a room – or a corner of a room – feel happy and cared for. If you are plant-nervous, here are three easy ones to try.

English ivy, good old, no-nonsense Hedera helix, will just keep twirling and growing with little intervention from you; give it medium light and a bit of water now and again.

English ivy is a good idea for a desk plant because it requires minimal upkeep Credit:  Christina Schmidhofer/The Image Bank

ZZ plant, or Zamioculcas zamiifolia to its mother, is a glossy succulent that will thrive even in low light.

Philodendrons, with their trailing, heart-shaped leaves, can be excellent office companions if the only place you have for a plant is a high shelf.

Once you’ve created your small corner of office heaven, build into each day a small amount of time to organise yourself and your environment.

It’s very easy to think that you’re only working when you’re hammering a keyboard, talking on the phone or Zooming heroically, but just five minutes spent at the end of each day sorting, tossing, making lists of what to do tomorrow and running a duster over things will make the next day much calmer.

This small, soothing ritual is especially important when you’re working from home, when it’s easy for each day to become an amorphous lump.

It is a good way to say goodbye to your desk, especially if at any moment, it needs to become your dinner table.

Dear Debora...your questions answered


Dear Debora,

Q I have an aluminium roasting tin that, despite my best efforts, has become badly marked and stained with grease. How can I clean it?

– Gavin Andrews, Easingwold

Dear Gavin,

A In a small bowl, stir together about a ramekin’s worth of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar, then top up with just enough white vinegar to make a thick paste. Stir in a squirt of washing-up liquid and immediately spread this magic mixture thickly on your roasting tin; leave for an hour, or overnight if it’s very bad. Use a scrubby sponge, a Brillo pad or very fine wire wool to work the paste well into the aluminium, playing close attention to the corners where stubborn grease accumulates. Rinse, wash thoroughly in warm, soapy water, then rinse again.

There’s no getting around the need for elbow grease, but it’s very satisfying to bring a much-used tin back to a near-pristine state. Oh, and one final thing: wear rubber gloves or it will destroy your manicure, Gavin.

Readers' tips

This week's reader tip works a treat on scratched wood Credit: Tim UR/ iStockphoto

Dear Debora,

I wanted to share my best tip when it comes to removing small scratches on wooden furniture.

Just cut a walnut in half and rub it on the scratch.

Rub it gently with your ­fingers to help the oils penetrate it.

Then buff it with a soft cloth. It works very well.

– Pamela Jones, Hastings

Do you have a question for Debora or a domestic tip to share? Email her at [email protected]