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By Jill Hamburg Coplan
APRIL 26, 2000

Is Too Much Equipment Hurting Your Love Life?

A home-based designer says clutter doesn't makes dates' hearts flutter


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With spring in the air, even a workaholic entrepreneur's thoughts turn to romance. Alas, this week's letter writer has found that the tools of his trade can be less than alluring. The dates he brings home haven't been lost in his charms, but in the jungle of equipment and wires. Here's his predicament:

I work out of my studio apartment as a Web designer, so this single room is my office, living room, and bedroom. My computer hardware tends to get spread out all over the couch, bed, etc. It's fine, except when I have a date over. Then it gets embarrassing (not to mention inconvenient).

-- M.R.A., New York City

I could tell you to reform and become a neat freak. There's one thing to be said for the mess, though: It's truth in advertising. Sure, there are ways to tidy up. (The coming wireless revolution will help.) But the dates you bring home might as well get used to the idea that you're committed to your work -- and that you're not much of a housekeeper. None of those things are likely to change much when you find the love of your life. The truth is that décor isn't a big priority for you.

AN EXCUSE? One important question: Why is this bothering you now? Were your last few dates visibly appalled at the mess, or is someone else giving you a hard time? "Somebody, a date, a mom, a sister, has said to you, 'How do you expect to have a relationship if your place is a mess?'" conjectures Linda Talley, an executive coach and the author of Business Finesse: Dealing With Sticky Situations in the Workplace for Managers (Leadership U Press). "But you really don't have a conflict as long as you know what you want and what will make you happy. Stop playing to other people, and play to yourself. Women and men are out there who understand a commitment to work and a house that's messy with work stuff. If you love your business, if you're involved, why go out and change? Surround yourself with people who support you. Find someone who understands you and your lifestyle."

That said, it's also possible that you're using a cluttered apartment as an excuse for not having a fulfilling social life. If you're really looking for love, and you truly want to entertain at home, don't undermine your best efforts. You can always improve the space -- small as it is. If you're in the Web design field, you can probably find a friend of a friend who's an architect or an interior stylist. Have the person come over and make a few quick diagrams of how you could rearrange your furniture to maximize space. (Swap some computer work for the service.)

OPTIONS. Look up. Can you add more storage with shelving near the ceiling? Can you squeeze some cabinets under a table? Get rid of broken equipment, or -- if you're positive you'll repair and use it later -- rent a storage closet or put a secure locker in your basement. If you don't use it once a week, it doesn't belong in your office.

Make the most of technology. Consider replacing your monitors with flat-panel displays that take up far less room (though they're pricey at $1,000 and up). If you rely on a copier, fax, printer, and scanner, replace them with an all-in-one machine.

Alice Breden, a work-at-home columnist for Newsday and public radio and the author of the forthcoming Virtual Office Survival Guide (John Wiley & Sons) notes that even in the midst of clutter, it's possible to achieve a pleasing environment. Air the place out. Buy lamps with dimmers. Use the lowest setting for mood lighting, and brighter gradations when you're doing close work. Add a plant or two. Certain varieties (Chinese evergreen, English ivy, spider plants) even remove toxins such as carbon monoxide from the air. They might just be your lucky charms.

Send your questions to

Jill Hamburg Coplan has covered work, family, business, and finance for the past decade as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines, and wire services. She left Working Woman magazine, where she was senior editor, when her first child was born and now works solo from a home office in Brooklyn, N.Y.


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