Get Real

June 16, 2011

Do you have a Pottery-Barn-perfect office?

Yeah, me neither. But I suuuuure did want one.

To be 100% honest, I yearned for an office like that.

I sighed over the high-end woods and metals…pined for the sassy classy textiles tossed just-so on the lounging sofa…longed for the vast empty desk space to whistle while I worked…and whined for an upholstered wall with lots of inspiration and very few work reminders.

And I did all that sighing, pining, longing, and whining while slumped at an undersized, overwhelmed particleboard IKEA desk—in a small bedroom with barely enough room for rolling back my chair, forget an extra piece of furniture just for lying around and throwing blankets on.

If there was a square inch of empty space on my desk, I would’ve had to move the 8-inch stacks of paper and a rainbow snowbank of Post-Its to find it.

And if I wanted to find inspiration, my four blank beige walls with a few wilted postcards pinned to them were not the place to look.

This was my reality.

Reality? Check!

But the fantasy…oooooh, the fantasy!

I daydreamed of Pottery Barn’s pictured perfect spaces, full of bright windows and matching folders and furniture not made of dust and glue. In my sleeping dreams I walked among tall cabinets with tiny drawers full of treasures and sat at a gleaming empty desk.

And whether asleep or awake, I thought: “If I had an office like that, I would have a real business. And until I have that, I’m not a real business person. Because this mess of mine ain’t what a real business looks like.”

And then I found the first flaw.

I was flipping through yet another catalog and deep into the sighing, pining, and whining when I realized that none of the computer monitors had cords. Or the CPUs. Or the laptops either.

But then, what would be the point of cords when there were no outlets to plug them into?

Sometimes this was absurdly obvious, like the desk that was coyly positioned in the middle of a room. It was a shining steel-and-glass island floating in a sea of polished wood floor…

…that I’d have to abandon for the kitchen counter in four hours when the laptop battery died.

And good thing their office had those big windows for general lighting, because there were only two task lamps for the entire room. And, hey, how can someone pick the right folder when they’re the same color and alllll the way on the other side of the room?

It went downhill from there.

I’d finally seen those dream offices for what they were: Dreams. And someone else’s dreams, to boot.

Because my ideal office would need all kinds of lighting to shine me through the wee morning hours when I do my best work. And why have furniture to hold folders when I could organize my files digitally and get rid of paper altogether?

And it’d be pretty important to have cords to plug in and outlets to plug them into, wouldn’t ya think?

Sheesh…how was anyone supposed to get any real work done in there?

In the end….

As you’d guess, my real office looks nothing like those dreams. In fact, it looks like nothing…period.

I have a laptop, a portable wireless connection, a notepad, and a pouch of pens. And when I want to travel really light, I exchange the laptop for an iPad.

And that’s all.

No desk, no chair…no office.

Instead, my office is where I make it. Sometimes it’s in a noisy plaza across town and sometimes in a cafe downtown. Sometimes it’s a quiet corner of my local sandwich shop and sometimes it’s the soft sunny corner of my couch.

The world is my office.

I never pictured that. And those catalogs didn’t either.


Please don’t compare and despair. The pictured perfect probably isn’t perfect for you! You’ll need more or less space, more or less light, more or less storage, more or less stuff.

Maybe you’ll discover you need a whole lot more. Maybe, like me, you’ll discover you need a whole lot less.

You’ll definitely need a way to plug stuff in 😉

Don’t get me wrong, magazines and catalogs are great for ideas and inspiration, but only those. If you catch yourself sighing and longing and pining and whining, remember my opposite-of-office, chew on what would work best for you…

…and get real.

Crys Williams writes about ideas and tools for tiny online businesses over at Big Bright Bulb. Her office moves around, but you can always find her in the same place on Twitter: @bigbrightbulb.


  1. Oh, yeah. Those catalog/magazine offices are designed by people who don’t have to actually work there, so they can make them pretty but not functional. Kinda like those TV show decorators who remove the TV from the family room and the coffeemaker from the kitchen. But I do find them to be inspirational for ideas on how to make my existing space and setup more attractive and welcoming.

  2. Thanks Lori!

    And ha! I forgot about the decorating shows. As you say: Usually lovely, but not always liveable.

    That said: Wouldn’t it be nice to have hunky carpenters standing by in the yard to custom make furniture when we need a little sumpin’ for an oddly shaped space, eh? 😉
    Crystal´s last blog post ..Just One More…

  3. 1805 days ago,
    jennifer said:

    I love your non-nonsense style, Crys!

    One of the things that gets to me about Pottery Barn office photos (and other companies like it) are the lack of drawers on desks. I couldn’t function without my drawer of pens, scissors, etc.! It *looks* pretty, but…

    Get real, Pottery Barn. 🙂

  4. Ooo. That’s a seriously truthy truth. Even without a desk, I do still have a wall bin for pens and all those goodies you mentioned. And Post-its…and index cards.

    Thanks for inviting me over to your house 😀

  5. Thanks, Crys. I love the creative descriptions you use, especially this one.

    “And I did all that sighing, pining, longing, and whining while slumped at an undersized, overwhelmed particleboard IKEA desk—in a small bedroom with barely enough room for rolling back my chair, forget an extra piece of furniture just for lying around and throwing blankets on.

    If there was a square inch of empty space on my desk, I would’ve had to move the 8-inch stacks of paper and a rainbow snowbank of Post-Its to find it.”

    Thanks for helping me recognize some of the flaws in my own longing for such ideals and for your reminder not to compare what I might need to what someone else might need.

    Christine Weddle´s last blog post ..A Teenager Can Motivate You Towards Self-Care…

  6. Thank you, Christine, and my pleasure! Longing is a good thing…a reminder of what we desire most, yeh? The super-important stuff bubbles right to the top…

  7. One of the things I realized when I did Jen’s Wish Kit class was that I can use those gorgeous magazine offices I love for the *feel* they produce. I can take that same feeling and translate it into my own usable space.

    For example, one home office picture I really loved had a bank of french doors open to a patio garden. I can create that same feeling with the huge window in my office, garden prints, etc. I’ve even thought of painting a cherry tree on one wall of my office. =)
    Tami Stackelhouse´s last blog post ..Honoring Your Body- Practical Advice- Part 1

  8. Love this post.

    I used to drool over the Container Store catalogs longing for the perfectly organized closet or kitchen. Until the day I started looking closely at the photos and realized that in their closets there were only 4 dresses and 2 pair of shoes. And they were all the same color!

    And the kitchen photos! Who has a whole wall of canned tomatoes (and nothing else!) in their pantry?

    It struck me that these images were like the air-brushed supermodels in fashion magazines. No one (not even them!) really looks like that.

    So instead of spending my whole life feeling bad that my closet/kitchen/office don’t look like the pictures (or that I don’t look like the supermodel) I can make peace with the fact that my closet is never going to be monochromatic (because I love color too much) and my pantry will have cans and bottles and boxes of various sizes and shapes because I like to eat a wide variety of food.

    Thanks for calling out fantasy and celebrating reality!

  9. Thanks for the reality check! I’ll definitely being looking very briefly at catalogs in the future only to remind myself that they are not the reality!

  10. Thank you Liz! And oh golly, I so never even noticed that about the clothes and cans. I can’t wait to look through magazines now!

    Ooo, Tami…I haven’t yet taken Jen’s Wish Kit class. What a yummy idea, to recreate the *feeling* and not the identical look. Thank you!

  11. Thanks Lynn! Have fun 😀

  12. […] I read her great post about how the pretty pictures of offices and homes in catalogues ( I have a crush on Viva Terra) […]

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