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Wise Buys for the Home Office

If you were outfitting a home office 10 or 20 years ago, you could have developed writer’s cramp just listing what you needed. A lot has changed. For starters, that list is no longer on paper; it’s on your smartphone. And it’s way shorter. Nimble and mobile, the modern office requires a lot less stuff.

Even better, thanks to productivity software, apps and cloud-based storage, you’ll spend considerably less today to get your office running than you would have in the ’90s. Here’s a guide to setting up a home office that will boost productivity and organization.

Shopping Rules

Plan before you go. Like walking supermarket aisles when you’re hungry, visiting an office supply store when you’re eager to launch your home-based business can lead to impulsive, budget-bloating purchases. “You end up with $500 worth of stuff you don’t need and will never use,” design guru Christopher Lowell says. “I’ve done it myself.” (Lowell designs office furnishings and accessories for Office Depot, so self-interest isn’t driving his observation.) His suggestion: Delay nonessential purchases a few weeks until you learn what you really need.

Spend where it matters; save where it doesn’t, says Hassan Osman, aka TheCouchManager.com, a senior program manager at Cisco Systems and part-time webpreneur who works from his Boston home. Osman, author of the eBook How to Design the ULTIMATE Home Office, invests generously in items that are “mission-critical”—for him that means laptop, phone, headset and other electronics. For everything else—furniture, organizers, stationery—he keeps costs low by shopping at places such as dollar stores and IKEA.

Save trees. Eliminate paper, and you eliminate the need for items ranging from filing cabinets and folders to Rolodexes and, well, paper. While the completely paperless office may be more ideal than reality, you can certainly use less paper. Cloud-based technology such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Drive, Dropbox and Evernote Business (Evernote.com) are free or just a few bucks a month; these tools let you safely share and store files with ease.

Swap:

Filing cabinets for a digital scanner. “Filing cabinets are too big for what they do, and they’re incredibly unsightly,” Lowell says. With a desktop scanner such as the Canon imageFORMULA DR-C125 Office Document Scanner ($479.99 at OfficeDepot.com) you can scan business cards, receipts and other documents to searchable PDF files—and included software allows you to send the images straight to cloud apps such as Evernote or Microsoft SharePoint.

To ease into the transition to paperless, try a service such as Shoeboxed. Drop receipts, business cards or any document into its prepaid “Magic Envelope,” and the company scans, sorts, digitally archives the information and saves it your secure online account. Plans start at $9.95 a month.

You can store and manage remaining paperwork in a wheeled file cart that tucks under your desk. Affordable choices include 1. Realspace Alluna Collection Mobile File ($49.99 at Office Depot), Safco Onyx 5211 Mesh Rolling File Cube ($34.99 at Staples) and Alera Rolling File Cart ($59.99 at OfficeMax.com).

A credenza for storage bins. Sure, Don Draper has a walnut credenza in his Mad Men office, but that was the ’60s. “Trust me, you’re not going to use the drawers or cabinets of a big hulking hutch,” Lowell says. Storage boxes with lids are superior, he says.

➡ Hassan agrees; he’s devoted to 2. Kassett boxes from IKEA ($6.99 for a two-pack) because, “First, they have lids, so the stuff inside never collects dust. Second, they have slots for labeling each box, and it’s easy to change the labels. Third, I don’t have to be organized inside the boxes. I can throw stuff in there [to keep] a clean and clutter-free-looking office.”

A desktop computer for a laptop and docking station. To avoid duplicating technology, ditch the desktop computer. For roughly $100 to $200, you can buy a laptop docking station that delivers extra ports for one or more full-size monitors, keyboard and other peripherals; it also provides heating and cooling protection to extend your laptop’s life. The tray-like 3.Targus USB 3.0 Dual Video Docking Station ($150.43 at Walmart.com) slides right under your laptop so it doesn’t occupy valuable desk space.

Value Furnishings

Chairs: Ergonomics expert Mark E. Benden, Ph.D. (see “Be an Ergomaniac” on page 58), recommends moderately priced but well-designed chairs providing lumbar support and adjustments for seat height and backrest tilt. You’ll probably find a winner among these: 4. Staples Vayder Technical Mesh Manager’s Chair ($399.99), Raynor Eurotech Multifunction Task Chair ($239.99) or Via Riva Act2 High Back Chair ($305 at ErgoPrise.com).

Desks: Today’s desk is lean, streamlined, tech-friendly and easily expandable. The compact wood-look-laminate Sauder Appleton Computer Desk ($219.99 at OfficeMax.com) has a slide-out keyboard shelf, two storage drawers and cord-management pullouts. A stylish workhorse, the Alera SedinaAgSeries Porkchop Desk ($789 at OfficeMax.com) features a commercial-grade scratch- and dent-resistant wood-grained surface, two grommets for cable management and leveling glides to compensate for uneven floors. IKEA’s Fredrik ($99.99) has a birch finish and a cable shelf under the tabletop to stow power strips and cables. Martha Stewart Home Office Chase Desk ($249.99 at Staples.com) rolls on casters and features a keyboard shelf, hidden power strip and built-in USB ports.

Five More Ways to Save

1. Become a member—it’s free—of Office Max, Staples and Office Depot. These superstores have vast buying power that assures competitive prices, and member coupons offer significant savings—typically 15 to 20 percent off purchases over $50 or $100.

2. For excellent prices (but fewer product options), shop at warehouse stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco.

3. Open an online loyalty-program/rewards account with your favorite electronics brands. You don’t need to buy anything to do this, and when you do buy, you’ll be informed about current specials from Dell, HP, Lenovo or Samsung.

4. Browse eBay and Craigslist (Craigslist.com) for bargains on office furniture. You’re likely to find chairs, desks and filing cabinets from revered Steelcase at a fraction of original cost. Kevin Kuske, general manager of Turnstone, a company that carries Steelcase and caters to entrepreneurs and small businesses, notes, “These products are designed to last for decades. There’s a large market of recycled products in great condition.”

5. Check out university surplus sales, which occur frequently. The University of Iowa, for example, sells keyboards for $2 to $10, printers and monitors for $1 to $50, metal desks for $5 to $50, and chairs for $10 to $15. Google the names of nearby universities and “surplus sale” to begin your hunt.

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