As our personal and professional responsibilities continue to merge, a home office has become a fact of life. Home-office experts offer these suggestions:
• Identify your work style. Make the office work for you, says Linda Formichelli, co-author of The Renegade Writer. For instance, some home-based workers thrive in the center of family activities, but others operate best with a closed-door policy. Arrange space and buy products -- especially organizational systems that really fit with your personality. ''If it isn't something that works for your lifestyle, it'll be a waste of money,'' Formichelli said.
• Understand your assignments. Before you shop, study your job description, says Melissa Perlman, an Office Depot spokeswoman. Do you need file space, a wide desk area for projects or a conference table for meetings? You can save money by defining your purpose.
• Buy flexible products. A living room can easily double as a home office, says Andrew Schneider, director of brand management for Staples. Many home-based workers work in multipurpose spaces. Flexible products includes the Mission Pop-up table at Staples, which looks like a traditional coffee table, but has a surface that pivots into a pop-up desk with storage space. The product is featured in the photo above.
• Be creative. Make a large desk by placing a door ($10) over a matched set of filing cabinets ($5 to $40), says Nancy Daly, chairwoman of The Habitat for Humanity Restore in Broward County. Restore sells desks priced from $25 to $250. The store's merchandise includes new furniture donated by area stores such as City Furniture and El Dorado. In South Florida and throughout the country, Restores receive new furniture (slightly damaged or discontinued pieces) from major retailers.
• Keep supplies close at hand. Make sure you have easy access to high-use items, recommends Formichelli. ''You don't want to walk across the room to get something five times a day,'' she says.
• Shop with the school calendar. You can get office supplies at bargain prices during back-to-school sales. ''From early July to early September, there are a number of killer deals of different items,'' Schneider says.