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Marie Kondo Your Office Y’all
December 29, 2021

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Take a look at your office or lab space. Does it represent the quality of work you are doing in the office? Do you think your boss wants clients looking in there?

We’ve all been to “that office”. Maybe it’s the one with IEEE papers covering the desk, floor and walls like a hamster cage. Maybe it’s the one with the broken chair office visitors have to sit in. Maybe it’s just a musk in the air. Whatever it may be, no one wants to go in there and that’s an issue.

People know who has a tidy office and whose office is a mess and no one wants to be the one with the gross office. A tidy office leads people to believe you do high quality work and generally have your stuff together. Tidy does not mean spotless, it just means organized and picked up. You will also get huge points for having even a minimal amount of decoration.

Organize Your Bookshelf

The first step is the easiest: organize your bookshelf. Get them all standing up properly and facing the right way. This is an easy win and makes you (and your library) look professional.

Light Cleaning

Your office doesn’t need to be white glove clean, this isn’t Buckingham Palace. But there shouldn’t be food stains on your desk and the trash shouldn’t be overflowing. Separate what’s garbage from what’s useful in your office and lab. Throw the garbage in the can and prepare to store whatever is left over in your brand new junk drawer.

Create a Junk Drawer

The truth is that no one is 100% organized all the time and this is where the junk drawer comes in. The key to being organized is have one place to hide your junk instead of having it sprinkled across your workspace.

It’s Friday afternoon, your desk is a mess, and you don’t want to have to clean it before heading out for the weekend. I’ve been there and I totally get it. So make it easy by taking your arm and sweeping it along your desk like a snowplow so all of the clutter drops into your junk drawer.

You’ll fish out any important stuff from the junk drawer quickly. Once enough useless clutter fills the junk drawer it’s time to migrate it to the trash can.

Now that your office is clean and organized, let’s make it look awesome for cheap!

Decorate It

I know what you’re thinking. I am an engineer! I don’t know how to decorate an office, nor do I want to! That’s why I made it easy for you. Start with one of these options:

Fake Plant
This plant is 5 dollars.
This plant is 5 dollars.

Buying a fake plan is a cheap and easy way to add some color to your office while making it look more professional. You buy it once, install it, never water it and it looks great forever. Here are some other options for you from both Target and IKEA. Pop it on your bookshelf or put it next to your computer monitor and boom, you’re done in 30 seconds.

An example of a 10 dollar light. You can buy a cheap bulb at the grocery store for a dollar.
An example of a 10 dollar light. You can buy a cheap bulb at the grocery store for a dollar.

Most offices have cheap and bad lighting in them. If you have a private office you could both improve the lighting as well as decorate your office with an inexpensive desk lamp. Here’s some options from Target and IKEA.

Framed Art
An example of a 5 dollar picture frame.
An example of a 5 dollar picture frame.

This picture frame only costs 50 cents and photo prints at Office Depot run about 50 cents each so for $1 you can decorate your office with a photo. Ideas for the photo include your family, some friends from a hiking trip or even an outdoor landscape you took from your photography hobby.

Wooden flags are also an interesting and popular way to decorate your office. They tend to run $50 to $100 on Etsy depending on size. Options include the state flag where you are from, a stylized flag with your college logo, and you can never go wrong with Old Glory.

A 4 dollar battery powered clock.
A 4 dollar battery powered clock.

A clock is simple way to add some style to your office while also giving it functionality. A retro clock like the one above goes great on a bookshelf. I am also partial to this one from IKEA that has a modern design and some color as well as this one from Target.

An example of a 5 candle that can sit on your desk as decoration.
An example of a 5 candle that can sit on your desk as decoration.

You don’t have to light your candle in the office and you probably shouldn’t. But buying a candle is a cheap and easy way to add some color to your office. Target has a bunch of candles to choose from including this one which has a good design.


People should want to come by your office. It is a bad sign if they want to avoid your office. Spending $20 to decorate and 30 minutes to clean your office will transform you in the eyes of your co-workers, and more importantly, yourself.

If you liked this post you might enjoy Richard Hamming’s talk You and Your Research!

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