For the past few years, ever since my wife freelanced, she has worked out of our living room. We have a one-bedroom apartment, and she had a desk set up against a wall with her work spread around her. If I worked from home, I took to the sofa or a corner of our kitchen table. This setup helped keep expenses down as she grew her company, but it took a toll on us. Every night when we sat on the couch trying to relax while staring at her desk and the work that was waiting for her in the morning.
To regroup, we took a trip up to Scribner’s lodge last year, a few days before Thanksgiving. We talked about how we could create better systems where we can be productive but also keep a healthy work/life balance. We talked about better scheduling and prioritizing, but as long as her studio was our living room, the balance would be way off. On the drive back down to NYC, Becky came up with an ingenious idea.
We knew we weren’t ready to move to a two-bedroom apartment, nor did Becky think it was time for her to get a studio space for work. So we decided instead to take inspiration from Asian “floor culture.” In countries such as Korea and Japan, where there is less space than NYC, you usually have one room serve multiple purposes. It’s why we take off our shoes when we enter someone’s house. Floors had to be kept clean since that’s where did a lot of our living.
Instead of trying to fit a sofa, a dining table, and a bed in one space, they used a more modular approach. The room became a living room when you brought out mats to sit on. When it was time to eat, there was a table you could unfold, and when it was time for bed, you’d roll out a mat to sleep on at night. If we could sleep in the living room, the bedroom would no longer be a room for a bed; instead it would just be a room.
A room we can turn into a home office.
The more we thought about it, the more it made sense: sleeping has a definite beginning and end. Once you wake up, you don’t need a bed until the evening. If you’re working from home, it made little sense to have a room empty for most of the day.
We asked for advice from our friends who did something similar when their twins were born. They turned their bedroom into the kid’s room and got a sofa bed in the living room. They said we should get this foldable foam mattress that could be packed away in a case rather than a sofa bed. We bought the mattress to test if it was comfortable enough to sleep in, and it was.
Once we knew we could sleep on the floor, we bit the bullet and made the switch. The mattress, once folded, fit perfectly into a small closet. We got rid of the mattress and bed frame, moved Becky’s desk to the room, bought a shelf for her supplies, and I bought a desk for myself. Within a few weeks, we had flipped our apartment.
So now every night, when we’re ready for bed we take out the mattress from the closet, bring down our blanket and pillows and go to sleep. When we wake up, we put everything back in the closet. Setting up and packing the bed away each takes less than a minute to do.
It’s been a few months since we made the switch and it feels like we moved into a new apartment. We both feel so much more productive working at home. When the workday ends, we close the door to the room and wind down in the living room, work free. Changing our environment this way has allowed us to build good habits and momentum so we can be more productive and balanced in our work and life.