Happy Freelance Living | Part Two: Space
Read PART ONE of my new freelance mini-series here, all about setting goals and claiming your identity.
The first picture I’ve included here is a painting from my studio wall, inspired by my third book Dark Skies - out in September. The great thing about renovating our house in a year or two is that we can do whatever we like with it in the meantime, which means painting all over the questionable wallpaper adorning every inch of the walls. So for this part of my freelance mini-series on space, I’ve started with a painting of space! Why? Because this part is all about the spaces we work in when we choose to work for ourselves.
According to Labour Force Survey data, 66% of all UK freelancers work either full time from home, or have their home as their main workplace. Over half of these also regularly use other spaces to break up the working week, such as coffee shops and libraries. In my first year of going freelance, I spent several months working off my lap/breakfast bar in the living room of our old flat. When we moved into our new house in December 2018, I seized the spare room at the back of the house and turned it into a studio for writing, drawing and painting.
WHY DO WE NEED TO MAKE SPACE FOR OUR WORK?
My thoughts on why we need to make space for ourselves stem from the idea of imposter syndrome. I don’t know a single creative person who doesn’t suffer from imposter syndrome - the idea that we are frauds, blagging our way through life, and that one day someone will discover we have no idea what we’re doing and expose us. It’s a feeling that eases over time, but I doubt it ever leaves us completely, and one way we can tackle it is to ‘fake it ‘til we make it’. That’s not to say we should pretend we’re something we’re not, but when everything on paper tells us we are deserving of our achievements, and it’s only our minds that convince us otherwise, the only thing we can do is pretend our self-doubt doesn’t exist.
There are lots of ways to boost your self-confidence, but the most important one is to view your professional self how you’d like to be perceived by others. If we’re squashed into the corner of the living room, surrounded by noise, mess and distraction, we won’t feel like the professionals we know we are. But to give yourself a small, quiet space, tailored to your own needs and tastes, fully equipped and ready to inspire - that is the loveliest way to give yourself the respect you deserve for your hard work, talent and creativity. No longer are we self-indulgent freelancers trying to squeeze in our silly ambitions around everyday life - we are taking control of our own needs and passions, and respectfully creating the space we require to make our mark on the world. We deserve it!
On a practical level, having your own workspace has a range of obvious benefits. A dedicated space, peace and quiet, easily accessible materials and the ability to switch into ‘work mode’ will all improve productivity, give you focus and help you maintain the work/life balance that is so essential when working for yourself. So how can we make our spaces work best for us?
STUDIOS, COFFEE SHOPS & KITCHEN TABLES - WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?
The most important thing to remember is that a workspace can be any size, anywhere, as long as it’s an intentional space, just for you and your work. That doesn’t mean it’s permanently yours - a kitchen table might only be available until the kids get home from school, but for those few hours you choose to sit there and work, it’s your space. Here are a few options for freelance workspaces, and the pros and cons of each:
The Spare Room
This is the option I went for - a dedicated space just for you, decorated to your tastes and equipped for your needs. I love my studio - settling down on a rainy day with a hot cup of tea, looking out onto the garden to see blackbirds drinking from the pond. But there are downsides - on sunny days I just want to work outside, and if I’m suffering from a creative slump it can be very frustrating to remain in one place for the entire day. It also means you have less space for household storage or guests to stay.
The Kitchen Table
The kitchen table is really an all-encompassing way of saying ‘a corner of the house’. This kind of workspace is one that is tucked into another room, whether it’s the kitchen table, lounge sofa, bed, conservatory or garden shed. It’s a resourceful way of finding space when everywhere else is full, because you can move from place to place and have more freedom in where you feel ‘inspired’ to work. This is lovely if you like following the sunlight as it moves around the house, or if you like to be as close to the kettle as possible. The downsides? It’s temporary. You’ll forever be moving your things around, so if you need lots of materials to work, make time for setting up and clearing away sessions every day.
The Hired Office
With freelancing on the rise, there are now lots of places renting out office space - an office, studio or even just a desk that you can go to every day as if you were going to work. Depending on your budget, these can be isolated booths or communal spaces shared with other freelancers, such as the Sorting Office in Eastleigh where we made our wedding rings last month. This is a great option for anyone who misses the social element of employment, and can be brilliant for inspiring each other and sharing new ideas. The downside is the cost - although there are affordable spaces, you need to work out whether the extra productivity will balance out the rent.
The Coffee Shop
This is the ultimate Insta-ready freelancer - sitting in a snazzy coffee shop drinking lattes, looking ultra cool, productive and successful. It’s a lovely thing to do, and a great way to get out of the house, spend time among other people, enjoy great coffee and find the best wifi hotspots. The downside is, once again, the cost. To spend any length of time in a coffee shop without being too cheeky, you really have to buy another coffee every hour or so. It’s not too bad if you just save coffee shops for those days when you just need to get out of the house, but making them a regular workplace might prove expensive. Libraries are a good choice if you like silent socialising, or your nearest outdoor space is perfect in lovely weather.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR PERFECT WORKSPACE
We all work in different ways - while one person might need a quiet studio overlooking the garden, another can be just as productive lounging on the sofa. To work out what you need, think back to your most productive day in the last few weeks, and write down what you think made it so productive. Use this list of potential needs you might have to make your space work for you:
Are you easily distracted and willing to procrastinate, or can you drown out noise and focus on the task at hand?
Does your freelance work need lots of materials and equipment, and is it a hassle to move it around on a daily basis?
What kind of surroundings inspire you? Do you need to see nature from the window? What decorations can you use to create an inspiring space?
Do you need lots of natural sunlight, or are you happy with a decent lamp?
What furniture do you need? Can you find it second hand, or do you need to invest in something very specific?
What is your lifestyle aesthetic, and how can you bring it into your workspace? Are you a minimalist, clutter lover, or somewhere in between?
Now think about your workspace needs and compare them to the realities of your life and home. If it’s not possible to turn your spare room into a studio, could you take just one corner of it? Could you ask the family to leave one end of the kitchen table free for you? Could your garden shed be turned into something more creative? There’s no right or wrong answer, and there’s no ‘ideal space’ to work in. All we can do is work with intention and hold ourselves to the working standards we would expect from any other employer.
A studio or workspace is yours, so don’t get bogged down by beautiful Instagram shots of perfect studios filled with flowers and ornaments. The only function of your space is to facilitate your work, feel homely, inspire new ideas, support your career and work for you, so decorate it exactly as you think it should be. You might have perfectly stacked shelves, overflowing draws, paint on the carpet, empty coffee cups or a jungle of houseplants - whatever you need to bring out your best, most productive and creative self.
Before I go, I thought I’d share a photo of my little studio below and tell you more about it. All the furniture was second hand from charity shops or Gumtree, and the wall painting is based on a map of the South Downs National Park, my home and my greatest source of inspiration. The poem is an extract by Rudyard Kipling, who lived just across the border in Sussex, and I’ve marked on the map a few special places that mean the most to me. In front of my desk is the star map from the top of this blog post. I hate clutter and mess, so I tend to keep my studio pretty tidy and clear of crap. Having said that, the red wire invoice tray on my desk is a new addition as I usually have a pile of ‘stuff’ I’m working through - research, sketches, letters to reply to - and I wanted somewhere to collect it all in one place! One pile of mess is better than seven… It’s a work in progress, and when we renovate next year we’ll be removing the wallpaper and returning to nice clean walls. But I tend to get bored of things fairly quickly anyway, so I’m sure by then I’ll be ready for a fresh new look! I’m also extremely excited to remove the beige swirly carpet that runs through the entire house…
I’d love to hear more about your workspace, so please leave me a comment or message me on Instagram with any thoughts or questions!
Next up in this series, I’ll be talking about money and easy ways to manage your freelance finances. Subscribe to my newsletter to stay in the loop!