Home Workstation / Home Office Supplies
Content Updated October 3, 2007
You will first need to get your home workstation supplies. Here are the basics that should be at every home workstation.
This is where you keep track of everything: addresses, phone numbers, appointments, chores, etc. Learn how to make a household notebook / household organizer.
"To Do" Box
Every time something comes in that needs to be dealt with, such as bills to pay or forms to sign, place it in your "To Do" box. Accept that this box will rarely be empty, but always try to get as much done as possible each day. When you finish with the item, decide whether it needs to be filed, mailed out, or handled by some other means; then put the item in the appropriate place. You can use an "in box" tray and put everything into it, so you'll always know where your "to do" item is, but you'll have to search through everything in your "to do" box every day. Another way of having a "to do" box is to use a big accordion file for or even a hanging file folder box with one folder for each week, month, or even each day of the week or month. Then instead of putting things in your tray, you put them in the folder for the day you need to complete the task. This way, you only have to look in the current day / week / month's folder to see everything that you must do instead of looking through everything every day. The drawbacks of this method is that if you need to get to something quickly, you have to look through every single folder until you find it.
You're clock doesn't need to be exactly at your workstation, but you should be able to view it from your workstation. It's nice to have a clock with an alarm, so you can
"To File" Box
Whenever you finish with an item that needs to be filed, such as invoices and greeting cards, place it in the "To File" box. Choose one day per week to file all of the items in the "To File" box.
A filing cabinet is necessary to store the paperwork your bound to collect. Alone it can even serve as your workstation (e.g. supplies in the top drawer, files in the bottom drawers, household organizer on top, phone and answering machine on the wall, waste basket and paper shredder on the side, etc.). If you can't afford an attractive file cabinet, feel free to purchase a less expensive (and less attractive) metal cabinet and dress it up a bit. If you can't afford that, there are inexpensive plastic filing boxes. If that's beyond your reach, there are accordion files that you can purchase just about anywhere. If you're extremely hard up for cash, just put your files in a cardboard box until you can afford something better.
This is a must have for filing your paperwork. Don't just store things in "organized" piles because they typically aren't organized for long.
I recommend using a cordless just in case you need to run around the house for something. Newer cordless phone even have a speaker phone built into the handset so you can use the speaker phone anywhere in the house rather than at just the base. (Just don't forget to put the phone back where it belongs after each call.) You should have at least one no-frills phone that you can use if your electricity goes out since many phones with extra features require you to plug them in to an electrical outlet.
Digital is best for speed, but tapes are best if you need to save the message. Some machines will page you when you receive a message. Most machines let you call in and use a code to retrieve your messages. Machines are generally better than voicemail because they don't require you to pay a monthly charge, are not subject to the limitations that the phone company (or message service) may impose, and don't require you to have access to a working phone line to listen to your messages.
Items that are not to be filed or mailed out but need to be dealt with in some other manner, such as notes to be sent to teachers and phone messages, should go on the bulletin board. This way it will be in clear view as a reminder to finish handling the document. Don't clutter your bulletin board with items that should go in your "To Do" box, such as newsletters to read, items that should be written on your calendar, etc. Reserve the bulletin board for things that need to be noticed, such as phone messages, and look at the items on your bulletin board every day.
Instead of having a box of tacks for your bulletin board, just keep several tacks stuck into your bulletin board. This way you'll always know where they are and won't be tempted to post 20 different things on your bulletin board just because you have 20 tacks. Brightly colored plastic tacks are best because you don't need fingernails to remove them and they're easy to see if they fall on the floor.
"Outgoing Mail" Box
Every time you have outgoing mail you should address it, seal it, stamp it, and stick it in the "Outgoing Mail" box. Then, each morning as you walk out the door you can just grab everything in the "Outgoing Mail" box and transfer it to your regular mailbox. (This is especially handy if your mailbox isn't conveniently located on your front porch.)
#10 security business envelopes are best for most items that need to be mailed.
If you use online postage, which you just print out from your computer, this is a must-have item, but even if you don't it's still a valuable tool. You can weigh your letters and packages then look up the postage rate at the USPS website to find out how much it will cost you to mail your letter or parcel. It's nice to know how much postage will cost you before you take your package to the post office to avoid those unexpected "I didn't bring enough money" moments.
It's a good idea to have an adequate supply of postage stamps on hand.
Labels with your return address are a must-have. If there are people you send things to frequently, you may wish to print out mailing labels for them also to save time.
If you want to be more environmentally friendly, you can just print up a bunch of envelopes with the addresses ready to go and place the envelopes in file folders to separate them (it isn't efficient to sort through a huge stack of envelopes each time you want to find one with a specific address), but I still recommend having some labels to cover up mistakes. Of course, you can also do it the old-fashioned way and write everything out by hand.
When you look on the calendar and notice that it's somebody's birthday, you'll have a card ready to go. Stock up on birthday cards, congratulations cards, holiday cards, and blank cards. You'll never have to run to the store at the last minute to purchase a belated greeting card.
Thank You Cards
It is socially graceful to thank someone for doing a kind deed, giving you a gift, or simply for being there when you needed them. Keep a bunch of thank you cards on hand and use them freely.
General Office Supplies
There's no need to rush out and buy an official looking notepad. You can just buy loose-leaf paper, which is cheaper than most notepads, and place it in the front or back of your household organizer book. You can also staple several pieces of paper together. If you actually feel more comfortable with a notepad, though, feel free to use one.
Keep at a couple of these around in case one breaks. Some paperwork, especially for school, is scanned by a machine that requires the use of #2 pencils, so having pencils handy is an excellent idea if you have kids in school.
...because you never know when the eraser on your pencil will be bitten off by family pet or even a child.
Most official forms require that you write in blue or blank ink. Some forms require black ink only, so to avoid any potential mistakes by signing with a blue pen instead of a black pen, just use only black pens for official stuff. You can have a few pens in other colors for informal notes. Make sure you have at least a few black pens in case one or two of them inconveniently dry up.
If you're writing with ink and you make a mistake, you'll need to correct it. I suggest getting correction fluid in pen-shaped squeezable containers rather than using the old fashioned paint-over-it-with-a-tiny-brush types, which tend to get quite clumpy.
You never know when this will come in handy.
These are a must have item for keeping papers together without permanently stapling little holes into them.
You'll discover uses for rubber bands when you least expect it. They're good to have on hand.
A 3-hole punch works best for quickly punching holes in papers that will go in your household organizer. A single-hole punch works just as well but will require you to figure out how to line up holes, which can get annoying after awhile. Single-hole punches are always good to have on hand as backup, though.
Coupons, magazine articles, etc. are much easier to cut out with scissors. Some people prefer those specially designed razorblade holders for cutting coupons and such because they don't cramp your fingers
You should only staple together papers that you don't plan on taking apart. If you're just trying to group pages together but expect to need them separately later on, just use a paperclip.
You can't use a stapler without staples.
...because we all accidentally staple together papers upside down eventually.
While we typically don't go around measuring things in our home on a daily basis, you'll be happy to have a ruler on hand when you need one.
This is a must have item for financial purposes alone to add up items in the checkbook or verify that the product price and shipping charges for the stuff you just actually add up to what the operator says it does. It even comes in handy when you're playing Scrabble.
Reference books (e.g. dictionary, thesaurus, etc.)
When you're writing a letter to your "overly educated" uncle who insists on picking on your spelling, a dictionary is a good thing to have on hand. (It also comes in handy when playing Scrabble.) Other reference books are optional based on your individual needs.
Every reference book you could possibly need is available online and often for free, but it's good to have at least one hard copy to use when your Internet connection isn't available.
You absolutely must have a waste basket if you're going to be sorting through junk mail and papers. I recommend having 2 waste baskets: one for paper that you'll have recycled and one for actual trash.
Paper Shredder (that fits on the waste basket)
This is a good thing to have since we now live in the age of identity theft. Shred up old bank statements, credit card receipts, and even junk mail credit card offers. It's just one more step that you can take in protecting yourself. I suggest placing the paper shredder on the wastebasket for paper to be recycled.
A desktop or a laptop depending on your needs.
When it comes to being efficient and organized, you'll want to at least get a calendar program, an address book, an email program, a word processor, and financial management software. You may also want to purchase additional software for helping you organize your hobbies such as photography, music, etc.
I'm a fan of the multi-function copy/fax/scanner/printer units for scanning most documents. Flatbed scanners are the best for scanning things like books, magazines, and photos, but feed scanners are best for scanning a stack of documents. Some multi-function machines have both flatbed and feed scanning. Avoid handheld scanners (I can't believe they're still around) because they're not the great when it comes to quality.
Again, the multi-function unit is my favorite, but stand alone faxes work well too, and if you can't afford a fax machine you can easily get software that will turn your computer into a fax machine; all you need is a scanner and a modem. A fax is one of those things you don't think about how wonderful they are until you get one. They're great for everything from getting and sending important documents that need signatures quickly to faxing in orders for products and services to companies that don't have online ordering or 24 hour phone service.
I wasn't aware of how much I needed a copier until I purchased one. Again, the multi-function unit is my favorite, but you if you have a scanner, you can also scan your documents directly into your computer and then print out copies, which takes a bit longer than a copier but is just as effective (sometimes better depending on your needs). I often use mine to copy important documents, contracts, rebate forms and receipts, and even just extra pages for my household organizer.
My favorite is the multi-function printers which have scanners, fax machines, copies, and printers all in one unit for most documents. They're just slightly more than a regular printer, but they do so much more. Pay attention to how much ink replacements cost for the printer you decide to buy. You can buy ink for some models for as little as $2-3 online while others will cost you at least $40. I've often found that inexpensive printers, which seem like excellent deals in the store, require more expensive ink cartridges, and if you are willing to pay a little more upfront, you can actually save quite a bit of money in the long run. You might want to also have a special photo printer for printing out your digital photos with much better quality than standard inkjet or laser printers (but you can also use online photo printing services or bring your digital photos to your local photo processor).
Running out of ink in the middle of a large printout is annoying at the least. Stock up on it when you find a good deal on the price.
You got to have something to print on, so stock up on your paper when you find a good deal on the price.
If you discover that you spend a lot of time punching holes in your paper to put them in binders, try purchasing printer paper that is already 3-hole punched (sometimes it's even cheaper than regular paper).
This includes blank CDs, DVDs, etc.