Schools may be back in session, but many workplaces remain remote. So whether you love it or hate it, for many of us, working from home may be the norm for the foreseeable future. As someone who happily worked at home before the pandemic (and then really struggled with it once my husband and two young kids were also home all the damn time), I’ve amassed quite a list of work from home essentials that have saved me.
Of course, there are the things you need for physical comfort, as well as the things you need to help drown out all the distractions (possibly including chatty spouses also working at home?). Then there are the products that can help you look less like a worn-down, anxiety-filled meat sack when a client or coworker requests a last-minute Zoom. Equally important after 18 months of this “new normal” are the little luxuries you might not actually need but that make being stuck in your home office (or nook, or corner) more bearable. We’ll call it — all of it — work-from-home self care. And you deserve it.
Here are some of my favorite work from home essentials.
1) A better computer set-up
Of the many things I’ve purchased for my home office setup, an external monitor to use with my laptop was the most life changing. In addition to promoting better posture, it gives me so much more screen space that I don’t think I can ever go back to working on just a laptop again. Because I do a lot of graphic design, I opted for a pricey model with amazing resolution, but for most purposes, standard HD display is just fine. If a new screen isn’t an option, you can still get the ergonomic benefits by elevating your laptop on a stand and using a bluetooth keyboard and mouse or trackpad.
2) A dual-purpose desk lamp
While quarantined I became obsessed with ambient lighting, which resulted in me adding more lamps to nearly every room in the house. In my office, that meant a swing-arm desk lamp with a full-color smart bulb, which I use for Zoom calls instead of a ring light. I love that I can use an app on my phone to find just the right light to make me look less dead inside (soft pink is very flattering, by the way) or bump up the brightness when I need a burst of energy.
3) A cozy cardigan (with pockets!)
Thanks to air-conditioning, I’m a four-seasons cardigan devotee. And for me, the perfect work-from-home sweater is cozy but lightweight and made with enough synthetic material that I can throw it in the wash after my kids wipe something on it. It MUST have pockets so I can sneak snacks into my office without anyone asking for a bite, and, ideally, it falls at or below mid-thigh. (Yes, you caught me. I want it to feel like a robe! Anything that looks good on Zoom and feels like pajamas is a definite WFH winner.)
Plants will cozy up any space and literally make the air in your home office healthier. Looking at them will also make you happy — as long as you remember to take care of them (you know, along with everything else you’re already doing). Pothos are really easy to keep alive (water when the leaves start to curl in) and when you put them on a shelf, they look really great cascading down. And if that all seems like too much, fake plants will bring some joy, too.
I realize I’m lucky to have a whole room from which to work, but in our century-old bungalow, a door doesn’t do much to suppress the sound of cooped-up kids (or my husband’s booming phone voice from two rooms away). While I can’t quite bring myself to throw down $200 for the noise-canceling Apple AirPods Pro, I can muffle almost everything but the high-pitched screaming with these noise-reducing ear plugs coupled with a white noise machine.
6) A supportive place to sit
I probably shouldn’t admit that I’ve been working from a vintage dining chair for years, especially because I have chronic back pain. I know I’d be better off in something more ergonomic, but since I’m not really into my office looking like an office, I’ve been getting by with a memory foam seat cushion (and just upgraded to this gel version).
7) A personal massager
No, I’m not talking about a vibrator, but if you can make that happen during the work day, bravo. I’m talking about an actual device to massage your achy muscles when your shoulders tense up or your butt starts to go numb from sitting too long. And I have quite the collection, including a Theracane, one of those peanut massage balls, a heated shiatsu massager, and even a massage gun.
8) A big, insulated water bottle
While I know it’s healthy to step away from the computer more often, my youngest is still in that phase where if he sees me, he needs me to hold him — and if I don’t, he cries. So I often have to text my husband to take him to the porch or playroom if I want to sneak out to refill my water. I eventually wised up and upgraded to a bigger insulated water bottle so I can make fewer trips to the kitchen (but I still take just as many to the bathroom).
9) Face spritz
Speaking of staying hydrated, I like to keep a rosewater face spritz at my desk for when I feel like my face is about to dry up and fall off. It’s good for my skin and even perks me up a little when I’m feeling the afternoon slump. It smells nice, too.
10) Good smells
I’ve always been a big fan of splurging on my favorite candles and then actually burning them, and I really leaned into that in lockdown. It did get pretty expensive, though, so I started supplementing my candle habit with reed diffusers for everyday use. The scent is more subtle, but I get a lot more bang for my buck. I don’t need an overwhelming scent, anyway — just a nice smell to welcome me into my own personal Groundhog Day (I mean home office) every morning.
11) Comfy slip-on shoes
I can’t remember the last time I tied a pair of shoes (which, yes, also means I can’t remember when I last worked out). My second child was born three weeks before lockdown so I was already exclusively wearing shoes I didn’t have to bend over to put on, and I’ve since accumulated some very unattractive but also very comfortable and easy-to-clean slip-on sandals. I wear them all the time — with or without socks, thank you very much.
12) A good coffee maker
I have no idea why we waited so long to get a Nespresso, but it might be the best thing that’s ever happened to me. (It’s definitely the best thing that’s happened to me in the last year.) Mornings are easier, and having the ability to make myself a really great cup of coffee (or a latte) whenever I want makes being stuck at home so much nicer. Am I drinking too much coffee? Maybe. Am I okay with it? Totally.