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My Cheap Home Office Setup Will Save Your Back in Quarantine

Here are the accessories I use to stay comfortable at a desk or kitchen table for hours on end. Treat yourself — it’s going to be a long shelter-in-place

I’ll admit it, I’m one of those guys who take their desk setups Very Seriously. I find it hard to focus unless the workspace is exactly how I want it: monitor at eye level, laptop to the left of it, displays arranged so the cursor flows seamlessly between them, apps arranged exactly right, keyboard and mouse lined up with my elbows, desk clear of clutter, cables tucked away, hands clean, nails trimmed. I spent too much of my collegiate and adult life as a lanky internet addict hunched over a desk, my neck craning down to view a laptop screen, and now my back seems to let me know as soon as this ergonomic Elysium I’ve entered is compromised. It’s a Princess and the Pea situation, if the princess were writing dick headlines.

That is to say, the transition to work-from-home quarantine in the coronavirus outbreak was seamless — one of the few things I’m grateful for as I watch my meager retirement account disintegrate.

But why take this to my perfectly aligned grave when I could help others do the same? Here are the relatively affordable tools I use to stay comfortable at a desk (or kitchen table, or co-working space; I generally bring them with me everywhere). I’d recommend them to anyone trying to work a desk job from the couch. Your stiff body will thank you (and me) for each minor investment.

A $30 Laptop Stand (Or a Stack of Books)

First things first: Get your computer at eye level. You know the feeling of bending your neck down to look at your phone for long periods of time? That’s what you’re doing for hours when you type on a small laptop. Raising the computer about five inches makes a big difference. It doesn’t matter how: You can use a stack of books for free. Personally, I like this aluminum Nulaxy laptop stand, which has room for some notebooks and papers underneath.

Of course, next you’ll need some peripherals to type comfortably…

A $35 Bluetooth Mouse

I love this cheap Logitech Triathlon mouse that connects to my MacBook via Bluetooth. It’s big enough to fit my hand comfortably but portable enough to carry with me in a small backpack pocket. I’ve had it for two years, and I think I’ve changed the battery only once.

You can spend way more money on a mouse, but I’d only recommend this if you need an ergonomic option that keeps your wrist at a 90-degree angle (that is, not flat, but on its side). Logitech has a good option for this, too.

One mouse I would not recommend is the Apple Magic Mouse. This product isn’t designed for human hands; instead, it seems to have been built for an alien species with paddles for arms. It’s a flat, glossy, sharp-edged plane that feels like it’s stabbing my wrist after extended use.

Of course, you can also just use the trackpad on your laptop, but if you’ve elevated it like I recommended, that’s gonna be an uncomfortable reach.

A $35 Bluetooth Keyboard

A keyboard is something I believe in spending a little more money on. Everyone’s typing preference is bound to be different. But there are so many good options, you don’t have to spend more than $40.

Why Bluetooth? Well, mostly because the new Apple laptops value form over function: You get only two USB-C ports, and one takes the power cable. The tech giant has forced us to adapt to the new wireless future or shell out for adapters. I’d rather have a clean desk and fewer components, so Bluetooth it is. Fortunately, even wireless tech is cheap now.

Also, I loathe the flat, finicky butterfly keyboards on the post-2015 Apple laptops. I’ve never gotten used to them, and I’m delighted they’re being phased out. I’m not a mechanical keyboard geek like the dudes of r/Battlestations, I just like pressing normal goddamn buttons and I like a keyboard not to jam at the mere suggestion of dust. Needless to say, having an external keyboard makes work a little nicer.

I have a little Logitech Bluetooth keyboard with good action on the keys. It’s the K811, an older model, and I don’t recommend hunting for it. But the size is right: I love that I can pop it in a bag and take it anywhere. Along with the Bluetooth mouse, it’s like having an on-the-go office.

So. What to buy? Unfortunately, you can’t exactly leave your house to test-drive one and see if you actually like typing on it, which is all that really matters. But here’s what I’d get:

  • This Wirecutter pick is $40 from Logitech and $35 from Amazon.
  • If you’re not crazy about those round keys, try the Logitech MX Keys, a very well-reviewed upgrade pick. It’s available at Best Buy for $100. Digital Trends calls the the best keyboard for creatives, and my friend Alex Fitzpatrick, a senior editor at Time, swears by it; he says he’d replace his Apple keyboards with it if he could. The only downside I can find with this keyboard is that it’s full-size, meaning you have to move your hand about a foot from the QWERTY keys to the mouse.
  • If the MX Keys looks too wide for you, here’s a cheaper, more compact keyboard that still has a number pad.
  • I actually do like the new Apple Magic Keyboard. It uses a scissor mechanism instead of the cursed butterfly system, so the keys are more satisfying to press. They’re expensive, but if that’s the look you want, knock yourself out.
  • If your wrists are killing you, this ergonomic keyboard gets great reviews.
  • So does this, for half the price.

A Half-Decent Chair — Or a Great Ass Cushion

If you can afford it, and you’re doing the sitting to earn it, an ergonomic chair is a great investment in your ass (and, really, your whole body). The Wirecutter has done extensive research and testing. Its top pick, the Steelcase Gesture, will set you back $1,000, while its budget pick, the HON Ignition, is closer to $300.

I think there’s a Goldilocks pick that has the Steelcase’s comfort and the HON’s price, or close to it: a used Herman Miller Aeron. You can pick one up from eBay or an office discount store (I found mine at a Design Within Reach outlet) for about 60 to 75 percent off the list price. If you can find this for $500 instead of $1,400 (which, right now, you can), pull the trigger.

Of course, if you plan to go back to the office in a couple months, you might just want a way to make your current setup more tolerable. In that case, buy the $100 Purple seat cushion. “I can sit for several-hour stretches without ever feeling uncomfortable or out of whack,” writes the Strategist.

A Tennis Ball

If you’re sore, it probably means you should’ve gotten out of your damn seat and done some jumping jacks a few hours ago. (Get up right now and do some head rolls and toe touches as penance.) But as you sit, try using a tennis ball as a tiny foam roller, recommends writer Ted Hornick. Crushing one with your hands is also a good exercise for your forearms.

A Monitor, You Fancy Bastard

I like using an external monitor because it lets me pay attention to three things at once. But without it, it’s undoubtedly easier to focus on one task at a time: There’s no visible news ticker, Twitter column or Slack convo to distract me from deleting your precious em dashes in WordPress.

Besides, monitors are very heavy. They’re also quite ugly. And a good one costs at least $350hundreds more if you want 4K resolution.

But if you want one, your life will probably improve. If you’re already half-blind from years of browsing tiny Verdana text with your nose inches away from your laptop screen, you’ll find it much easier to read text on a large display. If you use software like InDesign, a monitor is essential. As I said, you can now watch work, chats, feeds, YouTube, etc., with no toggling necessary. Plus, a 27-inch screen makes your midday Netflix break far better now that your boss isn’t looking.

The Brass Tacks

Adding up the bare essentials, the combined price of the laptop stand, mouse and keyboard is $100. If you haven’t stepped foot in a bar or restaurant in over a month, it sounds like you’ve earned a little ergonomic comfort, as a treat.

Disclosure: Affiliate links included.