“What’s mine is yours” is a great motto on the day you say your vows, and it can carry you through most of your marriage, but one space can be significantly harder to share than the rest of your home: The office. Home offices are a deeply personal space, and to be effective they have to be stylized to your work style. Since your work style and your spouse’s work style might not jive, this can lead to conflict. One person’s “organized chaos” may be another person’s “total mess”, leading to stress in the office. If this sounds like you and your spouse, read on to learn some tips and tricks for sharing an office space with your spouse.
Tip #1: Try Having Separate Areas
If you have enough space to allow for it, try having different desks for you and your spouse. Just as you might be required to ignore a messy workstation at a corporate job, it might be possible for you to ignore their messy desk as long as their mess doesn’t encroach on your territory.
If it’s not possible to have entirely separate desks, try using tools to keep your work separate from their work. Maybe agree to each of you having a bin that your loose work goes into at the end of your work period. Valet trays can help you keep small items, like fidget cubes and chargers, separated but organized on the top of your desk. Shelves can also be a lifesaver, allowing you to put your work up high at the end of the shift and leave the desk itself cleared off for the next person to enjoy.
Tip #2: Use Two Different Computer Profiles
You might not have a choice as to whether you share a workspace or even a desk, but if you’re sharing a computer, you can definitely ensure you have your own profile so that you only look at your favorite programs, apps, and files when you’re online. This article can help you figure out how to create separate profiles on your computer in no time at all.
Tip #3: Agree on a Neutral Décor
If you both have to be able to be productive in a space, it makes sense that the décor for the space makes sense for both of you. This may mean compromising on a less-than-exciting wall color if your spouse can’t work in a room that screams Green at them, or settling on a set of plain curtains rather than the patterned ones you would prefer. Have a discussion about which items would help the room feel homier—perhaps a lamp you both love—and which items will distract more than they’ll help. Go into the discussion with an open, rather than accusing, frame of mind, especially if this is already a tense area in the office. You may be surprised to learn that they brought lilies into the office in an effort to help with their depression, for example, without knowing that the fragrance would irritate your allergies. Knowing that, you may, as a couple, be able to settle on a plant with a less intense odor, meeting both of your needs.
Tip #4: Keep Debate Items Movable
Sometimes, things you need to work are the opposite of what your spouse needs—and vice versa. In these cases, it’s best to find items that can be moved into place when one of you is working and out of the way when the other one works. Need complete dark to work? Try installing black-out curtains which can be moved out of the way when your light-seeking spouse needs the office. Love having pictures of your kids when you’re working, but dealing with a spouse who hates clutter? Compromise by saving pictures of your kids as your computer background, or keep a framed photograph in a drawer that you can pull out when it’s your turn to work. You can even keep a small tote bag under the desk that has a few items tucked in to make the space feel more like “yours.” At the start of your turn at the desk, you can pull the tote out, assemble your space, and instantly feel more at ease in your office space without infringing on your spouse’s needs.
Tip #5: Pick Your Battles
Our final tip is perhaps our most important, both for your shared office space and for your marriage in general: Pick your battles. Understand that your spouse’s office needs are different from yours. While it’s important to keep the lines of communication open between you, it’s equally important to learn not to take offense every time they cross a boundary. So instead of losing your cool the next time you see a mug of coffee sitting idle on your desk, perhaps let it go—and invest in a set of coasters going forward.