This is a guest post from Betsy Teutsch, who writes about socially responsible investing, savvy consuming, and sustainable living at Money Changes Things.
I sit down to work at my second floor drawing table in the morning and look out the window at traffic backed up on Wissahickon Avenue. I marvel as I gaze at the cars through the blooming dogwood — how did I get so lucky?
I have worked at home for almost 30 years, and highly recommend it. Telecommuting has added to the self-employed, so more people are exercising this wonderful option. If you can figure out how to make a living at home, it has many advantages.
One major benefit of working at home is that your overhead is lower so you don’t need to earn as much to come out with the same net income. Think of all the time and money spent getting to work: commuting by mass transit or car is stressful and costly. No gas, no parking, no rushing to make a train. Your 30-second commute can save you many, many hours. For some, this alone provides a whole extra day each week. This reduces stress, and of course reduces your bills as well.
Your wardrobe can be very simple, which translates into less time shopping for and maintaining your dress-for-success clothing. (Most work-at-homes actually do not wear their pajamas all day though, contrary to popular belief.) If you work solo, you don’t need to do the manicure/make-up/accessory thing; for men it means no ties — ever! You don’t need to go out for lunch or buy snacks, another savings. If you have children, you can save on childcare. And it’s no problem to make personal calls!
Working at home allows immense flexibility. You can take breaks during the day and accomplish tasks more quickly because stores, banks, and health clubs are very quiet during the midday hours. You can go to the doctor, to your child’s performance, to visit a hospitalized friend, or anything else you like without asking permission. You have complete control over what your workspace is like and how you structure your time. No office politics, bureaucracy, or meetings disrupt your work flow. You are the boss.
Beware of distractions
Working at home is not without its challenges, of course. You need self-discipline to structure your time so that you get your work done. For me, a sufficient motivator is the fact that if I don’t get my work done, I will not earn any money.
Being at home offers distractions of its own. Doing housework, supervising people doing work in your house, and talking on the phone are occupational hazards. If you are partnered and trying to keep housework 50/50, you will have to defend against the obvious argument that it makes more sense for you to do pretty much everything. If you are the anchor parent, working home is ideal since you can schedule around your children’s appointments, play dates, lessons and even illnesses. However, this can be full-time work by itself, so you will need to create boundaries.
Houseguests are a challenge, since they are lounging around in your work space without seeing it as such. Without an office to travel to, a brief case, or title, some people don’t really believe you have anything important to do.
Craving human contact
For me the biggest problem of working at home has been isolation. Paul and Sarah Edwards have written a great deal about working at home, and they advise to be on guard about neighbors dropping by for coffee. In over a quarter century, this has never happened to me, not even once! The closest I’ve come is neighbors locked out, coming to pick up their key.
All that office intrigue, water-cooler chitchat, and camaraderie is hard to replace synthetically. Activities that create connection include lunch dates, seminars or continuing education in your field, getting out of the house for some fresh air, exercise, or errands, or daytime volunteer work. Personally I check my email about 20 times a day. I don’t necessarily recommend this.
Creating the ideal office
If you choose to work at home, take time to create an office you want to spend your day in. I always had a bed in my office, since it doubled as a guest room. After many years, it finally dawned on me I didn’t really like looking at a bed every day. I gave myself permission to get rid of it and replaced it with an easy chair, plants, and art that I do enjoy looking at, improving the aesthetics of my workspace enormously.
When you work for yourself, no one will see to it that you are taken care of — you have to take care of yourself. It is crucial to have a space that you can close off. One of the downsides of working at home is that you can become a workaholic, answering the phone or checking the fax during family meals or in the evenings when you hopefully have something else to do besides working. Just as you need to guard against family responsibilities encroaching on your work time, you need to guard against your work encroaching on family and personal time.
The simplicity dividend derived from working at home? More freedom and more time. Sounds simple to me!
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