Get To Work: How I Get By With A Small Workspace

As I’ve alluded to before, I don’t have a whole lot of room to work with. My home measures about 600 square feet—and that’s a generous estimate. My desk sits in a small corner between the foot of my bed and my closet. It isn’t much, but it works. Here’s how I deal with my space constraints—and how you can, too.

The desk: When I set out to buy a new desk about four years ago,  I had a handful of requirements: It had to provide ample workspace for an iMac, keyboard, mouse, and whatever else I had on my desktop. It needed to fit in my existing work area between my bed and closet. It couldn’t interfere with the closet door. It needed to be open underneath so I could push a chair under it—a computer cart with shelves beneath it was out. Ultimately, I settled on Ikea’s small Micke desk, which ended up being the perfect size for my space and fulfilled my needs.

I don’t work with too much paperwork, so I don’t accumulate too much clutter, but I clean the room about once a week and sort through any clutter that has accumulated then.

The chair: It may be tempting to get a nice, big, swivel-y office chair, but if all you have is two or three feet to work with, you’d probably be better off with something small. I use a compact, armless aluminum-framed chair that looks like it came straight out of the 1960s. It’s durable and lightweight, and actually pretty comfortable. In fact, the only real problem with it is that its Naugahyde cushion is torn—I’ll get that fixed someday.


The computer: I own a 13-inch MacBook Air (circa 2012) and a 21-inch iMac (circa 2011). My desk could fit a 27-inch iMac, but the 21-inch model is a better size for the space I’ve got. I keep hoping for a Retina 21-inch model; I’d probably buy one the day it comes out.

As for the printer… You might notice that there isn’t any room for a printer. My HP DeskJet sits on a large chest-style basket in the adjacent closet, and I have it set up so all I need to do to print is open the closet door and plug the printer into the wall outlet and iMac. If you live in a small space and don’t print documents very often, consider ditching the printer and going to a local print shop instead.

Making The Most Of Your Space

If you’re looking to rework your workspace, start with the basics: How much space do I have? What do I require in a workspace? What do I want from my workspace? From there, let your answers inform how you set up your space. I would also suggest against cramming too large a workstation in too a tight spot—it just won’t work. Similarly, let go of that large office chair; instead, consider a smaller chair—or even a folding chair or two.

Also, look for ways to free up as much desk space as possible. Use a wireless keyboard and mouse—and consider using a keyboard without a keypad or extra function keys. If you want a desk lamp, look at ones you can mount to the corner of your desktop instead of ones that are made for sitting on the desktop itself. And if you use your iPad alongside your Mac, check out the HoverBar, a desk- or iMac-mounted stand for your iPAd.

And as for storage, consider installing a couple shelves above your desk. I don’t currently have shelves installed, but it’s on my eventual to-do list.

If you’re looking for more ideas, check out Apartment Therapy’s collection of workspaces for small homes. Good luck!

Nick spends way too much time in front of a computer, so he figures he may as well write about it. He's previously written for IDG's PCWorld and TechHive.