The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

DIY: Building a “Cloffice” (Closet Office)

closet office small space solution cloffice original
Pinterest

Don’t let anyone tell you differently: seeming “put together” is hard work. And staying that way is even harder, so I enlisted the help of Maxine Gautier, an organizing guru and the founder of Out from Under Organizing in Boston.

Since November, when I first founded Shoestring, every square inch of my living space and my brain have been working overtime, in exactly three so-called rooms (or 485 square feet). And it was starting to show—especially in the decreasing patience of my man and my hound, and the decreasing number of friends stopping over for an after-work cocktail.

So, I decided to do something drastic. I decided to change.

 

I’d always dreamed of creating an office in a closet, as I’d seen in this “25 Decorating Ideas Under $100” booklet from 1968 I picked up years ago for $1 on eBay. The idea was retro, fun, and would create a little nook behind a closed door where I could work from home (and hide all the miscellany associated with getting creative stuff done).

More importantly, it fulfilled Shoestring’s mission—to make better use of something readily available (a potential workspace) instead of spending more money (by leasing office space or moving to a larger apartment outside the city) and it was also good for the environment (by keeping our carbon footprint small).

But, was there hope for a person like me, who comes from a long line of hoarders (a pack rat by DNA) whose love affair with the printed word (and the ensuing stacks of paper and bound clutter that creates) often interferes with relationships of the human kind? And, was it really possible to fit an entire home office into a closet?

Maxine seemed to think so. Here’s how we did it:

Evaluate Your Level of Organization
When Maxine first agreed to help me transition to working from home, and build this closet office, she first wanted to understand who I was on a deeper level from a clutter perspective. She sent me a detailed questionaire, asking things like: What’s driving you nuts? (What can’t you find, what do you waste money on, what are you tripping over?) Are you a filer or a piler? And, do other people have to participate/use the same space? Maxine firmly believes that you have to get to the root of the organizational issue first before spending a cent. “See if a system works first before investing in supplies or even jury-rigging what you already own,” she said. “There are hundreds of standard workflows to go by, but if they don’t work for you, they won’t stick.”

Get Focused
Since I’m a creative professional (one of the worst breeds of clutter-monger, up there with doctors and lawyers, according to Maxine), we started with getting organized mentally. For intangible clutter, we created “idea garages” to corral post-its in a colored folder, so I could keep ideas, random jots, messages, contact info, and to-do lists together and making sense. The literal stickiness allows me to prioritize and re-prioritize easily, which works great for my deadline-driven, multi-tasking reality, but applies to everyone in this 24/7, wired new world we live in. Maxine reinforced how important this first step is for all her clients, and how much time management affects organization for all of us: “Tasks are to time as stuff is to space,” she said. “We all have too many tasks to fit into our time and too much stuff to fit into our spaces, no matter who you are or where you live.”

Practice Project Containment
For tangible clutter—like category piles and project supplies—we boxed and labeled them clearly, then stuck them under the futon (you could also use a bed or other high-traffic area) nearest to my work space. “Never title something miscellaneous,” Maxine said, “or you’re guaranteeing that you’ll never know what’s in there and it will never get done.” When you find yourself with an hour or so to kill, pull one out and tackle it. You’ll be amazed at how much more quickly they get completed (and how much less guilt you’ll have about not finishing them).

Examine Sentimental Saving
Knick-knacks, photos, and other memorabilia can really add up, sometimes overwhelmingly so depending on the person (me? check.) Maxine asked subtle questions, forcing an examination of exactly why I was holding on to each and every object. For photos and cards, I boxed them and labeled them “to scan,” since there really isn’t room for additional photo albums (and I have this new 1 terabyte hard drive just waiting to be used for digital back-ups and organization). For knick-knacks and ticket stubs, etc., Maxine suggested using a digital camera to snap memories of them (or scan them) and create a nostalgia album, and then hold on to only the most valuable (monetarily or sentimentally). For the remainder, she suggested hosting a yard sale, selling them on eBay or Craig’s List, or donating them to a local charity.

Ditch the Guilt and Glut of Information
“We have access to as much information in a day as the Founding Fathers did in a lifetime,” Maxine said. “When I’m giving motivational speeches, everyone in the room—whether they commit 15 hours or 15 minutes a week to reading—will say that they feel they don’t spend enough time keeping up.” I am definitely in this camp, so we worked on streamlining the emails, magazines, and other buckets of content in my weekly regimen to just those that are most important, so that I could spend more time staying focused, on-task, and ultimately, with family and friends.

Positive Inspiration (and Happy Colors)
Maxine works with lots of clients, from corporate executives to homemakers. Insofar as their environment allows, she suggests that each of her clients surround themselves with a pop of their favorite color and favorite images (nature, pets, people, etc.) to keep them motivated and focused on the big picture. “When you’re happy, you’re more likely to stay organized,” Maxine said.

And, here’s what we spent:

  • Desk (Milone console side table with drawer) from Christmas Tree Shops = $39.99
  • Neat brand wire mesh organizers from local hardware store = $9.99 (vertical file sorter), $19.99 (desktop organizer), and $15.98 (2 @ $7.99 each) for tabletop file bins, used to retrofit an existing storage ottoman (from SmartBargains.com, co-opted from the living room, $0).
  • Filing Systems (binders, etc.) from Target = $9.10 (2 @ $4.55 each) and $6.99 for 100 plastic protective sleeves (for magazine tearsheets and printed articles)
  • Blackboard paint, magnetic primer, and painting supplies from Home Depot = $33.22
  • Total Budget for Cloffice* Project = $128.27

Now, $130 might seem like a lot to spend on a closet (especially if you’re renting your apartment, as we are) but to upgrade from a 1-bed to a 2-bed would have doubled our rent (not to mention moving costs), and office space (even renting a desk in the offices of another company) would have cost at least $300 a month. Plus, now I get to save a little dough on dog walking, too.

What have your experiences been like with getting organized in a small space? Or trying to create a home office on a budget? Share your stories with Shoestringers everywhere by posting a comment on our Facebook page, where you can also see the full album of Before & After closet office photos!

*Special thanks and props to our friend Mark Crowley, master of entertainment and etiquette, for coining the term “cloffice.

All photos copyright by Casey McNamara Photography: CaseyMcNamara.com

All styling credits – Kara Butterfield: MakeReady

Story: Copyright 2008, Shoestring, LLC & Melissa Massello.

  • Navan

    I love the cloffice idea. In my old apartment (when I lived blissfully alone!) I had a cloffice and it was perfect for me. The less room I had to spread out meant the clutter was kept to a minimum because I had to clean up as I went in order to keep working. Perfect. Now that I’ve moved in with my fiance, into a more modern building, we have less closets and therefore less space (whose bright idea was that?). I therefore bought a “Craftbox” armoire from Overstock.com (pricey, but absolutely perfect in every way) and stuck it in our bedroom. I’m fairly sure it’s saved my relationship.

    -Lana

  • http://www.relaxshacks.com Deek

    Great article/great photos! I work outta’ my little basement closet….about 15 square feet or so — in triangular shape. I could use a little push towards organization though! lol.

    -Deek, RelaxShacks.com

  • http://secondglass.com Morgan First

    I love this idea! What might make it even better is Idea Paint! Its like chalkboard paint, BUT makes an instant white board (less messy) and more awesome!

  • Richard James Oakwood

    This is perfect for those who are working at home who don’t have much space. This is very clever, I must say! It’s like you have your own little private office room in your bedroom. It does seem a bit pricey but it’s probably worth it if you really need an office space for all your important papers and documents.

  • http://www.obsessiondujour.com Kellee

    Fantastic! I have always loved the ‘cloffice’ idea, and have always wanted to do one of these myself. I was also wondering if there was anyway we could convince you to show us the whole of your finished office makeover? I’d love to see a full-on ‘after’ shot.

  • Melissa Massello

    Sorry about that, Kellee! We had some technical difficulties today with photos (hence why they’re all missing captions), which will be remedied tomorrow—including the “afters” from the fabulously talented Casey McNamara. So glad you’re enjoying the article and Shoestring Magazine. Please check back soon (like, in 24 hours.)

  • http://topidol.wordpress.com Reluctant Fashionista

    How difficult was it to find a table such exact measurements? I figured it may be more of a “building project”, like a desk I once made out of metal shelving.

    You also just made me realize its been way too long since I’ve been to a Xmas Tree Shop.

  • Melissa Massello

    You know, I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it was to find a table/desk with the exact measurements I needed, and definitely had planned on needing to build one with a plank and brackets or something similar.

    The key was to have the measurements on me at all times when out and about, and to recreate my experience for someone looking to build a “cloffice”, I would suggest looking (either online, in stores, or at yard sales and consignment furniture shops) for an entrance table or hall table, which by design are slender in width and usually include a drawer.

  • http://indieeconomics.blogspot.com Sarah G

    This article is fantastic – genius. Now, if only I had that spare closet…

  • nicole

    This whole idea of “Cloffice” is great! And I also love the steps/tips that you use to organize your “cloffice”. I think if you follow this tips/steps, everything will be ok.

  • jeng

    This is the best info on closet office ideas I’ve found yet! Thank you!

  • downtown houston apartments

    That looks like something i should do with my closet. I am so pressed for space. I wonder how long this will take me.

    Hopefully it wont take longer than a couple hours.

  • Melissa Massello

    Downtown Houston,

    The most time-consuming part of the project is the painting. The magnetic primer needs about 5-6 coats to work properly, and that took me about 4 hours. Then the blackboard paint over it was about an hour. Arranging furniture, assembling the desk, and hanging/installing the organizers was another hour or two to finish. It’s about a day-long weekend project, but the result is WELL worth it when you’re done!

    Best of luck, and thanks for reading Shoestring.

    ~ Melissa, founder, editor in chief, and proud (former) cloffice owner

  • Shoestring Gumshoe

    This is the best info on closet office ideas I’ve found yet! Thank you!

  • Jen

    Is there any way the rest of us can use the questionnaires to help figure out what organizing steps we need to take? They sound really key to your project, and like just what I need.

  • Melissa Massello

    Hi Jen,

    Thanks so much for reading — glad to hear you’re interested in making your own cloffice. As for the questionnaire, they are unique to Maxine’s organizing business, and we didn’t want to give away her secrets. You can contact her at Out From Under Organizing. Good luck!

    ~ Melissa, Founder & Editor in Chief

  • Kall

    Nice post, I really enjoyed reading it and I had to learn from your attitude. I work from home too and I never really gave much importance on how my office look like but I realize now that in order to love my work even more I need to make my office a pleasant place. I used to be disastrous with organizing things on my desk so my friend gave me a set of clear view binders and then waited to see what happens. Well, a simple set of binders changed me not because I felt the need to keep my office organized but more because I felt the need to use those binders and I wanted do it right. I did it out of hedonism and I am keeping my office clean because of that. It’s an interesting aspect, those unfamiliar with that should read about it.

Pinterest