A Minimalist Workspace and 7 Steps to Having One

A minimalist values quality, not quantity, in all forms. – Leo Babauta, The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life

What does your workspace look like? Does it resemble this?

Or is it more like this?

The latter photo of the workspace is actually my cubicle at work. Thankfully, I am not the person sleeping underneath the cluttered cube in the former photo. Although, I have thought about sleeping underneath my desk at work during my heaviest commute times of 3.5 hours, before I moved closer to work. It is a good thing I did not have to resort to that, or to sleeping in my car overnight. I certainly scared several people when I mentioned I was thinking about it. People such as my parents and my manager (I know, what was I thinking?!). But when you have to spend almost 4 hours on the road during mad Chicago rush hour, tell me you wouldn’t feel the same way too.

Many coworkers have mentioned the following statements to me regarding my minimalist workspace:

“Where’s all your stuff?”

“It looks like you have one foot out the door with nothing in your cube.”

“Wow, I wish my cube could be as simple as yours.”

“Seriously, you need to put more stuff in your cube.”

“What about a photo or two? Or a plant? You need to spice it up here!”

“Where are all your folders?”

“You have OCD, Nina.”

To the above mentioned statements, here are my reasons why my workspace is the way it is:

  1. Workstyle Preference. Everyone works differently, which means, everyone has their own style and preference when it comes to getting work done. Just because my desk is nowhere near as cluttered and paper-filled as others, does not mean I have no work to do. In fact, this helps me to focus and to be in a state of flow, lending to more productivity and efficiency.
  2. Electronic Storage vs. Paper Storage. I prefer to keep my files electronically for easy storage, filing, and sorting. I do have a few paper files for items that cannot be electronically stored just yet but the vast majority of what I need can be found on the company’s hard drive. And that drive is continually backed up.
  3. Aesthetically Pleasing. A minimalist workspace is easier on the eyes and more aesthetically pleasing. When I have a lot of papers on my desk, I start to feel anxious and overwhelmed. The same goes for my e-mail inbox. I keep my projects that are on my desk or in my inbox to the bare essentials of what I am currently working on. Everything else is put away.
  4. Eliminating Unnecessary Items. Having cups full of pens, pencils, markers, and highlighters in unnecessary for 1 person. Maybe if you’re a classroom teacher, this would be more appropriate, but seriously, you are just 1 person. Why do you need to have dozens of writing utensils on your desk at all times? In the rare and crazy chance that you would need them, all at once? Highly doubt it. I only have 1 pencil, couple of pens, 1 highlighter, couple of markers. And that’s all kept in my drawer, out of sight.
  5. Ease of Cleaning. Having a simple workspace makes it easier to clean, which leads to less bacteria, crumbs, and creepy crawlies from hiding in every nook and cranny of your desk. I wipe down my desk, keyboard, mouse, office phone, drawers, and chair once a week with disinfectant wipes.
  6. Aligned with My Lifestyle. A minimalist workspace aligns with my minimalist lifestyle. Having only the essentials applies to work, just as much as it applies to your personal belongings.
  7. Confidence. Do I have OCD? Maybe so, maybe not. What I do have is the confidence to be myself and to not conform to others’ beliefs that a workspace should look and operate the same as everyone else’s. I know I get things done and do a good job at it to boot. My minimalist workspace is the least of my manager’s concerns. So long as I am doing what I have to do, who really cares how my workspace looks? Those that dwell on how another coworker’s cube looks like doesn’t seem like the person who has their priorities in check. Maybe what they need to do is get back to work!

Do you want to have a minimalist workspace?

Here are 7 simple steps to get you started:

  1. Empty out duplicate items that are unnecessary. That means take all those extra writing utensils, rulers, staplers, tape dispensers, post-it pads, boxes of paper clips, portfolios, etc., and put them back in the supply room at your office. If you ever do need it, you know where to find them. You don’t need to have your own supply room at your desk.
  2. Take down old and outdated memos, office announcements, phone numbers, and other random pieces of paper that are pinned on your wall or cabinets. When a piece of paper that once mentioned important numbers or announcements becomes out of date, that piece of paper needs to go. It has become useless and more often than not, the most updated information can be found on your company’s intranet. Refer to that for the most recent version of the org chart, company phone list, guides, and reference materials. There’s no need to keep older versions of this displayed on your walls or cabinets.
  3. Limit your little knick knacks, magnets, and souvenirs, or better yet, get rid of them. You might think you have to display everything you receive as a gift, like your boss’ souvenir he gave you from his vacation to Hawaii. Fact is, you don’t. It’s your workspace and everything that comes in and out of it, should be left up to you. Certainly be accepting and thankful for their kindness and thoughtfulness of thinking of you while they’re on vacation, but you certainly don’t need to put every magnet up or postcard you receive from coworkers. It’s the thought that counts.
  4. If you enjoy having photos up, select a couple of your favorite ones and only display those. This draws actually more attention to the 1 or 2 remaining photos you have up, rather than 20 photos all scattered throughout your workspace. A beautiful picture of your child, a warm and fun family photo, good times with your best friend while vacationing … those are some of the more precious photos you may want to leave up.
  5. If you like plants, keep it to one that thrives in small environments with little exposure to sun light. I’ve kept a little bamboo plant in my offices prior to my current workspace and just haven’t yet brought one in. A large, overgrown plant can be a little strange and may overwhelm you if it grows out of its pot and space. Keep it tactful and easy to maintain when selecting a plant to go in your office.
  6. Shred old documents and scan those that can be stored electronically. This will help limit your paper files and binders. Many of the documents you should keep can be kept on the computer. Unless you absolutely have to keep a paper copy of it, you’d be better off scanning the original, saving it onto your computer, and then recycling or shredding the paper copy.
  7. Keep it clean and simple. How often do you actually clean out your workspace? Maybe once a year during your company’s annual spring cleaning day? Maybe never? If you don’t like cleaning, keeping your workspace to a minimal actually helps you in not having to clean so often. Because it’s not messy and disorganized, it’s less likely to be as dirty and attract more clutter. And when you do finally clean, it’s a breeze and takes a fraction of the time. For me, to wipe everything down takes less than 3 minutes tops.

Remembering that possession is illusion helps keep your items in check and to a minimal. Having a minimalist workspace is not only possible but very doable. I’ve done it … so can you.

View Comments

  1. Kiran says:

    What a good post, Nina. My workspace is pretty tidy on the outside too. I don’t like papers laying on my desk when I’m gone for the day. I put them in the drawer when I’m done. I like your cubicle, very easy on the eyes.

    • That’s wonderful, Kiran! So long as you are comfortable in your workplace, you are more apt to do great work, and be more productive, happy, relaxed, in the long run. You have to do what’s best for you!

  2. Jonathan says:

    One more step:

    8. Hire a professional clean-up guy (hmm… Jonathan comes to my mind) to clean up a cube.

  3. Witty Smitty says:

    I still think you have OCD. :)

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