I used to have one of those big, cushy, windowed offices in Washington DC. It had bookcases and file cabinets and a large desk. There were even chairs in front of my desk, so I could have meetings in my office as needed.
When I traded that hectic lifestyle to become a full-time homesteader, I never planned to sit in an office ever again. I was so office-averse that for years, I kept all my homesteading stuff in baskets and worked at the dining table.
After wasting so much time moving my office stuff for meals or when company came, I finally accepted that managing a successful homestead is just as serious a business as managing a law firm. The tools you need and your organization methods may be a bit different. But, trust me on this, real homesteaders need their own offices.
Now, I know we don't all have an entire extra room in our homes to claim as our homestead command centers. But, somehow, you need to carve out a dedicated space to do your dreaming, planning, and record keeping so you can be productive at your “job.”
At that time I had no budget for buying anything and had to integrate my office into the guest bedroom that doubled as a storeroom and pet center. With some ingenuity, upcycling, and free sourcing, I made it happen. And so can you!
Create Your Homestead Command Center
So, now that I have hopefully convinced you that you can and should have a homestead office let's take a look at some of the things to consider when organizing your space.
1. Location, Location, Location
Situating your office zone in a place where you can jump on your computer to look up recipes, remind yourself of pressure canning requirements, add notes about what you planted in your garden, etc. can save you a lot of time throughout the year.
My computer is just inside the entrance to our guest room. That area is literally two steps from my back door, so I can dash in and out with ease.
2. Desk Design
Your desk does not have to be a formal desk. Since I had to use what I already owned, I re-purposed one of my folding farmers market tables as my new desk. Saw horses and painted plywood also make for an effortless desk using things you may already have on hand.
If you can buy or build a custom desk, then make sure it is large enough to meet your needs. I have a homestead laptop and a video making laptop. Using a large table as a desk gives me enough room for both. It also gives me space to open books and make notes while accessing my laptops.
3. Consider Computer Comfort
Having a good computer is almost indispensable in modern homesteading. Just about every answer you need is just a few clicks away with proper internet search techniques. As such, you will inevitably spend more time than you ever expected at your computer. Situating your computer and chair so that you sit comfortably is key.
– Ergonomically Correct
For more in-depth research, though, you also want that computer to be in a location where you can get comfortable for the long-haul. Having your monitor at the right height so you don't have to hunch over to see your screen can save you a big chiropractic bill.
Even if you are using a laptop or tablet, installing a shelf above your desk height to hold your primary device, then using an external keyboard and mouse can make it easier on your neck. I have a big, beautiful butcher block under my computer to get it to the right level for me.
– Lumbar and Tush Cushion
A little cushion for your tush and back are also a good idea for times when you have to sit for extended periods. I despise the look of most modern office chairs. So, I stubbornly use a kitchen chair in my office. But, I do have a lumbar pillow and a seat cushion for added comfort.
4. Good Lighting
One of the great things about being a homesteader is that you set your own schedule. I tend to do all of my work – computer and otherwise – during daylight hours. Then, I reserve evenings for cooking, cleaning, relaxing, and reading books. (Disconnecting from electronic devices after dark makes sleep a whole bunch easier.)
Whether you work during the day, by natural light as I do, or at night by electric light, you'll want your lighting just right to prevent glare on your computer or strain on your eyes. In my case, I have a Southeast facing window that lets in way too much morning and afternoon light in winter.
As a simple solution to cut down on glare, I used to hang tissue paper over the windows using double-sided tape. If you want a more formal solution, you can affix tissue paper using corn starch and even use soft colors to enhance your lighting experience.
Recently, I upgraded to a curtain that is white and somewhat sheer. It lets in plenty of light while still reducing glare. I also keep a stand-up lamp a few feet behind my chair that casts soft light for overcast days.
Also, consider using desk lamps instead of overhead lights for a more comfortable viewing experience. Soft light bulbs are generally better than fluorescent tubes. Adjust your computer screen brightness to a level that is most comfortable for you.
5. Power Down
Even energy-efficient computers and devices can use a lot of electricity when plugged and not in use. Consider plugging into power strips that can be turned off with the push of a button to limit the “phantom load” from devices left on standby.
Manufacturers have gotten better about reducing these phantom loads. But if you are living off-grid, every watt counts!
6. Reference Materials
As much as I love the convenience of computer research, there are some things better learned by the book. Plus, writing things down in journals are great ways to reinforce what you learn, record observations, and plan for the future. Oh – and what about all those stunning seed and plant catalogs!
Even if you are a minimalist or digital homesteader, I'd be willing to bet you'll still need at least a few shelves for your tried and true recipes, favorite cookbooks, or mental meanderings about homesteading. Having dedicated spaces based on how you use the materials makes locating and re-shelving easier.
Here are a few ideas on organizing your reference materials.
– Quick Access Shelf
Useful reference books like How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons that has a fantastic appendix for planting densities, maturity rates, and methods, is out almost daily in spring. Resource books like the Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne also require frequent access at peak herb harvesting time.
These kinds of frequently accessed materials need to stay on a top shelf, ideally within arm's length of where you sit.
– Sort by Department
After that, I sort by department. For example, all my gardening books go on one shelf. Cooking, livestock care, and construction-related books each get their dedicated area on my shelves. I even have a place for personal inspiration books so I can reach for those whenever I need a quote or personal pick-me-up.
If there are things that just don't quite fit in the other categories, those go into an unsorted shelf. That section is small enough that I don't worry too much about organizing it.
As a master gardener, I attend a lot of classes and meetings where I get a lot of handouts on gardening science and new practices. I have a dedicated paper pile for those miscellaneous bits of information. If I end up using any of that information, I punch holes in it and include it in a garden binder. After a year, though, anything I haven't found useful gets shredded and fed to my worms.
Notebooks, journals, and calendars are stored in date order. Magazines are stacked like papers with the newest editions on top. When I run out of room for new magazines, I pull out the bottom half of the pile and give away anything I no longer need to reference.
7. To File or Not to File
A couple of years ago, I read Marie Kondo's book on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. So much of what she said appealed to me. However, when she got to papers – like mail and documents, we had to part ways.
Even as a homesteader, you'll have records to keep and equipment manuals and warranties to store. Here are some examples of when you may want to keep paper records.
– Livestock Records
If you sell livestock, such as all the baby goats you have when you breed your dairy herd for milk, you'll need to keep records of sales. Medical testing and registration records also need to be saved.
– Heavily Regulated Processes
If you do things that are heavily regulated like process poultry or sell items that require the use of a commercial kitchen, you are usually obligated to keep track of your customers' sales and be ready to personally contact them if you have to recall any contaminated items.
Storing this data electronically is great, but having a paper copy is important for total security. Also, in rural areas, inspectors seem to respond faster when you show up with paper files than when you send emails or have electronic documents.
– Tax Records
Additionally, if you sell anything that is taxable or run a homestead business, you'll need to keep your receipts and such in the event of a tax audit. So, in other words, even homesteaders need to file some things!
You can use traditional filing cabinets if you want to. Or, since you are a homesteader, you can exercise your freedom and file stuff however you want. You can use pretty boxes tucked inside antique dressers or a hope chest. You can use binders and plastic sheet protectors sorted by date.
How you file is up to you. But the fact that you must still have room to file is all the more reason why you need a homestead office space.
Homestead Specific Office Needs
Beyond the basics that any operator and manager of a complex enterprise might need, there are also some unique items you may want to consider having in your office area.
1. Seeds and Such
Since I garden almost year round, I access my seed library even more often than I do my paperwork and some of my books. I don't want to have to walk to some alternate location to find my seeds and then traipse back to my office to review my planting guides.
For me, seeds are something that must live in my office. I've been dreaming of getting some old library catalogs to do this. Maybe someday…
In the interim, I sort by seeds by my crop rotation categories and keep them in re-purposed plastic dishwasher tab containers. They have a dedicated spot in my office closet so I can keep them out of direct light and relatively cool.
2. Craft Supplies
Us homesteaders also tend to need a lot more craft supplies than the standard office user. When you don't have a lot of money to spend, you make your own gifts and create rather than buy your decorative details.
That means lots of ribbons, twine, rubber bands, paints, and more would be scattered about the house if I didn't have a dedicated homestead office. Having your office do double-duty as your craft room makes perfect sense from a homesteading perspective!
Depending on the kind of activities you do on your homestead, you may need to add more items to your office list. The important takeaways from this post are:
- YES – You do need a homestead office (of sorts)!
- With a little creativity, you can create a homestead office that works for you even with limited space, time, and money.
Make your office work for you so that you can work smart on the homestead.