Looking for ways to improve my office at work!
November 21, 2017 7:46 PM   Subscribe

How do I make my office at work smell nice? What else can I be doing to make my office a nice, peaceful place to work?

So I actually have my own office at work, hooray! It's not very big - it holds my L-shaped desk with my computer, a tall bookshelf, and two chairs in front of the desk. But it has a door that shuts, and a window! (Such small things we take for granted.) I like my job for the most part, and I've mentally committed myself to being with this company for a long time so I want to be comfortable at the place I have to spend so much of my day.

One question I have specifically is how can I make my office smell nice without the scent being overwhelming? I sometimes eat snacks or lunch in there, so it occasionally smells like onions or similar, which is not ideal. Sometimes it just smells stale. However, it's a very small space so I suspect a lot of my options, like Glade plug-ins, will just be overwhelming. (One of my coworkers recently moved into an office vacated by someone who had one and the scent is impossible to get out.) I also don't want something that smells really artificial. Something very lightly floral like honeysuckle, or vanilla, would be good. Is my best bet going to be potpourri, or...?

What else can I do to make my office a nice, peaceful space? I've got art on the walls that I like (some nature photography that work provided and a travel poster of the Kilauea crater in Hawaii) and I plan to bring in some more. My windowsill is about six inches wide but I've got a couple plants I inherited from a coworker and some bamboo (that badly needs replacing). 95% of the time the temperature is just perfect, and I drink a ton of tea all day to help feel cozy as well. I brought in all of my money/finance/economics books from home (I work at a bank) to put on the bookshelf. I have pictures of my husband and my friends, a bulletin board with fun stuff on it, a brightly colored calendar. I listen to soothing nature sounds (or the Stranger Things soundtrack, which is not so soothing) on Spotify. What else? Thanks!
posted by skycrashesdown to Work & Money (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Get some eucalyptus or evergreen branches or a cinnamon broom.
posted by jgirl at 7:53 PM on November 21, 2017

Yeah, I came here to say exactly what jgirl said; something natural. Trader Joe's has those cinnamon brooms, if you're into that. I bought one but gave it away because the smell made me feel constantly hungry. Lol. Since you have a window, why not treat yourself to some beautiful little potted plants or flowers. Freesias and African violets have gorgeous scents. A small pine tree in the corner could also do the trick. Or a succulent that blooms periodically; some of the ones that sprout flowers smell heavenly and they're low maintenace once you get them started.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:09 PM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

What about crushed coffee beans, or crushed tea leaves, in a bowl, on your bookshelf? I think you would have to change it for fresh every month or so,.
posted by kellyblah at 8:23 PM on November 21, 2017

I think the best thing for offices to make them feel less office-y is good lighting. So see if you can get something there with a warm bulb (can be LEDs, they have cooler and warmer options) and consider a floor lamp and.or a desk lamp and never use overhead lighting or flourescent nonsense. I am a big fan of eucalyptus branches. You can stick them in the window to "activate' them a little otherwise stash them away. A nice rug if it's that sort of place. A hanging plant? Something tough to kill like a spider plant that can look nice in the window and lend some green. A nice setup for your tea stuff. Nice mugs and things to put tea into. Moisturizer if you're in a place where you can't really control the heat/humidity, or even potentially a small humidifier tucked away somewhere.
posted by jessamyn at 8:27 PM on November 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Please check with your neighbors before adding scent to a shared space. Last week someone in the office next to me was using a very potent smelling pine oil with those little wick stick things that took over the whole office suite. Unfortunately I'm allergic to pine and had to leave because I was starting to get itchy eyes/redness/swelling/etc.
posted by bowmaniac at 8:34 PM on November 21, 2017 [20 favorites]

Scented paper is meant for drawers, but I used it in my office. It was mild enough not to be overwhelming - the scents are nice and not artificial. And it's just colorful paper. And if you don't like it, throw the paper out - the scent won't stick to anything like with a plug-in.
posted by Toddles at 8:56 PM on November 21, 2017

Get a HEPA filter!

Please don't use a scent. Aim for cleanliness.
posted by jbenben at 9:17 PM on November 21, 2017 [16 favorites]

Nthing filters, improving air flow, and air-cleaning plants. Stick to natural, but I think even cinnamon brooms would be too much. I'm currently nursing a daily migraine because our office manager has started using an oil-based room diffuser and no one has the clout to pull out the batteries.

Maybe decorative soap in a satchel for inside your desk? (The scent shouldn't be noticeable right away or very strong.) Actual potpourri is usually doused in essential oils and if anyone around you is sensitive to it, it'll hit them like a brick. I'm sensitive to the point of illness for artificial fragrances and handmade soap is still the best closet freshener I've found.

Also nthing a bowl or mason jar of coffee beans/loose leaf tea.
posted by lesser weasel at 9:48 PM on November 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Can you hang plants from the ceiling in front of the window? A space heater if your office gets cold is nice too. Maybe a footrest for under your desk.
posted by ananci at 10:10 PM on November 21, 2017

lesserweasel has it. One cake of mild soap in a drawer will be a thousand times more pleasant than anything spicy or essential-oil-y. (Cinnamon especially, natural or otherwise, can be really harsh; all through childhood I didn’t understand why Big Red gum made my mouth feel like it was bleeding from every corner, and to this day those folksy scented-pinecone centrepieces have the same effect on my nose. I know I’m a freak of nature but I’m surely not alone!)

Some food stinks linger with mad tenacity though; if you decide to break out the big guns, citrusy scents counter allium/fish/blue cheese funk better than dainty florals or sweets.

I also echo the recommendations for pleasant lighting and a space heater, but check with your facilities and/or risk management people about what’s allowed.

Congratulations on the new work-digs!
posted by armeowda at 10:35 PM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, and plants...just know that the only gnat-free workplace I’ve ever known was an office at a museum that had a strict no-plants policy. (They also forbade eating at our desks, but that was to deter more pedestrian bug species.)
posted by armeowda at 10:40 PM on November 21, 2017

I had maintenance remove the fluorescent bulbs in my office ceiling lights (because office mates would regularly walk in the door and flip them on) and requisitioned floor lamps and task lights. What a difference!

Also plants in nice, coordinated pots, stress toys scattered around, and -- if you like it -- soft instrumental jazz.

The downside is that you will have lots of visitors. ;)
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 10:45 PM on November 21, 2017

To remove unpleasant smells - I realize it's unlikely in a modern building but on the off chance that the window can be opened, open it for a few minutes.

If you frequently have meetings in your office make sure the visitor chairs and their positioning make sense.

If you end up with bespoke lighting also consider how that would work for people the other side of your desk.

If people have to bring their laptops for meetings in your office having another power pack and another network cable all ready to go for that side of the desk can be really helpful.

Minimizing (desk and to a lesser extent shelf) clutter generally goes a long way to making a workspace feel pleasant. So if you're the sort of person who always ends up with stacks of stuff on their desk rid yourself of the stacks - file/shred/delegate or whatever may be appropriate.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:01 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I always throw away my lunch and snack trash in the break room garbage instead of my desk waste basket. This really keeps the smell down (especially important as I work at a university and the cleaning staff only handle office trash twice a week, to cut costs). I also wash out any food containers brought from home as soon as I’m done using them.

A small fan would also keep air moving and could help keep it feeling fresh.
posted by castlebravo at 4:58 AM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I made an led vase lamp for my desk and I love it. Just google image search those words for lots of options. Mine is a copper wire warm white led strand with the last 3’ unlit and a usb plug. I gently stuffed the strand into a pretty glass vase on my desk. The plug sits next to my keyboard and I plug it in each day. To me it says “open for business” and people compliment me on it all the time.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 5:04 AM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have the Hamilton Beach True Air Plug-mount odor eliminator by the litter box and it definitely works.

Also, lighting. Even a regular old desk lamp as an alternative to the awful overhead fluorescent lights is a step up.

An extra long charging cable for your phone.

A pen and extra pad of paper sitting out in front of the guest chair so people don't go pawing through your stuff if they want to leave you a note or forgot to bring their own stuff to a meeting.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:42 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

What jbenben said. Scents that seem nice to you can be eye-wateringly overpowering to others. Even scents that seem innocuous. Since in an effort to reduce my allergies I stopped using scented anything, I've become much, much more aware when others use scents, even when they believe it's not very strong, or a small amount. A good filter, making sure trash and other smelly items are removed on a daily basis, not doing things like heating fish in the microwave, and cleaning surfaces regularly with something with a mild scent (nothing ammonia based) will go a long way towards freshening your space. A good filter (preferably one with a UV light) absolutely works wonders.
posted by Crystal Fox at 8:01 AM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Febreeze makes fragrance free products. Febreeze doesn't need the scent to hide smells as it actually get's rid of them but people wanted air fresheners to smell for some reason. The unscented ones smell pretty much of nothing but are great at freshening up a space.
posted by wwax at 8:52 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Plug-in scent devices generate serious air pollution. If I'm in a room with one, my asthma acts up. Oil diffusers, wax warmers, etc., are all quite aggressive and I dislike them; many people are allergic. Take lunch trash to the lunchroom trash can; makes a big difference. I love the smell of cardamom, and keep a little jar of it handy. Just leaving it open a couple minutes is my version of aromatherapy. You could also bring in apples, oranges and clementines to keep in a bowl on your desk. They smell nice and are a healthy snack.
posted by theora55 at 9:33 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use a spray bottle filled with Vodka and a few drops of orange essential oil to spritz on upholstery to kill germs and odors. So much better than chemically lysol, works a charm!
posted by jbenben at 11:26 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Pleasepleaseplease for all your coworkers who have allergies or scent sensitivities, do not put any "air freshener," potpourri, scented soap, essential oils, oil diffusers, cinnamon brooms, eucalyptus, etc.

An air purifier with HEPA filter is probably your best bet for making it smell better, but they're pretty pricey. A couple of discreetly-placed Bad Air Sponges or Zeolite should also help with any mustiness.

I agree with the above comment about clutter. I hate clutter and it can be visually stressful to go into a cluttered office.
posted by radioamy at 9:58 AM on November 23, 2017

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