Rethink your space

Local organizational guru Kathy McEwan shows Parenting Times readers how to revamp their home offices and kids’ play spaces

Whether your goal is to spend more time away from the office in favour of working from home; to complete a distance education course; or to (finally) start writing that novel, you’ve decided that 2018 will see some of your best work. Even if you’d just like a peaceful place to pay bills, you would likely benefit from a freshly organized home office.

According to professional organizer Kathy McEwan, home offices are growing in popularity.

“I am finding that more people are working from home so they can be home with their children before and after school,” says McEwan, the owner of Second Set of Hands ( and “It is not always easy balancing work and life, but by working at home, it can make it a bit easier. Also, I am finding more and more busy professionals bringing their work home with them, and are therefore in need of an organized and systematic office space.”

The youngest members of your household may not hold jobs, but that doesn’t mean that kids don’t work – play is the work of childhood, and children need a space for their imaginations to take flight. McEwan shares her tips for revamping two work spaces in the family home: the home office and the play area.

A better home office on a budget

1. Only keep items in your office that you need and use. This will prevent your office from becoming a dumping ground for items that you don’t know what to do with.

2. File, not pile. Paper piles have a habit of growing – deal with them regularly.

3. Keep the items you use regularly within reaching distance. Having your supplies close by will make it easy for you to quickly grab what you need.   

The home office

Whether you telecommute, log overtime hours or avoid the commute to the office on bad weather days, it’s important to have a designated area that you can go to when you need to get work done, says McEwan. “Ideally, a separate room with a door that you can close for privacy would be best,” she says, “but if you don’t have a separate room, then you will need a designated area in a quiet area of your home.”

She’s seen it all – clients who can’t find their files; people who have stacks of paperwork or items in their office that don’t belong; and others who keep buying office supplies because they can’t locate the ones they already own.

“The first thing I do is ask the client what is working for them and what isn’t, and then we come up with a solution to fix what isn’t working,” she says. They decide what they want to keep, remove all items that don’t belong in the office and organize what is remaining. Then they tackle the paperwork, shredding and recycling what’s not needed. McEwan creates a filing system and a system to handle incoming mail.

She also sees office spaces that double and triple as home gyms and dumping grounds.

“I suggest not having gym equipment in your home office,” she says. “If you have to, I would suggest having a portable partition set up between the two spaces to differentiate between the office area and the home gym.”



Kids’ play spaces: what’s in for 2018

• Picture ledges to store books

• Different stations (such as an arts and crafts area, reading nook with bean bag chairs, Lego station and a games and puzzles area) for larger spaces

• Cozy and colourful carpets

Useful tools

Once you’ve got the space cleared out, it’s time to start putting things – but not everything! – back. When it comes to gear for your improved office, McEwan suggests starting with a bookshelf. “It not only can hold your books, but it can also hold colourful binders, journals and home décor items,” says McEwan. On the top of McEwan’s tool list is a scanner, useful for keeping paper documents to a minimum. “However, a lot of my clients… also like to have paper copies on hand. Therefore, I highly recommend having a filing cabinet or a file box.”

The options are endless for sourcing office supplies, but as a professional organizer, McEwan has her favourites. “I recommend buying your everyday office supplies at Staples, and decorative storage boxes and file boxes at Solutions or Ikea. Dollarama carries clear drawer organizers in various sizes that are perfect for storing your pens, paper clips, binder clips and push pins. Also, I love the idea of having a piece of furniture with drawers… to put paper, envelopes and other office supplies in.”

The play area

McEwan’s clients want play areas that are functional and easy for children to find their toys and put them away. 

One way to do this is to keep the number of kids’ things under control, says McEwan. “Do a regular purge of items they do not use anymore,” she says. “Do the purges before your child’s birthday and Christmas/holidays, because more stuff will come into your home during those times.” Anything that is not being used, is broken or has missing pieces either gets tossed, donated or sold online or through consignment, depending on the condition. Once you reduce the number of toys, McEwan suggests controlling what comes in. Clutter-free gift ideas include movie or museum passes, tickets to games and enrollment into an activity.

For families that have an integrated living/play space, McEwan recommends using a wall unit, such as the Ikea Kallax storage system, which can hold containers for children’s items. Label the containers for children who can read. For children who cannot read yet, have the containers labelled with pictures of what goes into the containers, she says.

Make your office someplace you want to spend time

Once the nuts and bolts of the office are in place, McEwan suggests adding one or two accent colours that can be used to make the room feel warm and exciting. “Baskets, file holders, journals, and binders are all available in different colours,” she says. “If you have a hardwood floor, add an area rug. If you have a chair in your office, add a decorative pillow. Other options are to add pictures, candles, plants, home décor, books and a decorative clock,” she says. 

Alternative work spaces

If you don’t have a separate room for a home office, find an area in your home that is quiet and where you won’t mind going, says McEwan. “I have had clients put their office in the basement because it is a quiet area, but they didn’t like going down there because they found it cold and gloomy.” McEwan has a very large walk-in closet with two windows in her master bedroom. “I considered putting a desk in there because it is a bright area, and it is one area of my home that is quiet. Anything is possible – it just has to work for you.”