The Surprise Upside of a Home Office

For the past four-and-a-half years, I’ve made my professional life in a tiny windowed sunroom off the dining room of my rancher in Northern Virginia. From my home office window, I watch the birds feeding outside , and I have a trellised magnolia and a crepe myrtle in my view. On one memorable spring morning, I watched over eight hours as a trio of hyancinths I had planted under my crepe myrtle bloomed, gaining purple and red as the day wore on.

Working at home poses challenges. It can be lonely, and it’s difficult to keep up to speed on what’s going on in the office … and then there’s the whole boundary question. (There are tremendous upsides, too, of course, which we’ve written about many times.) One thing I haven’t written about is the surprising inspiration I get from ideas that cross the boundary between work and home.

Margaret and Richard Swift owned this ranch house before me, for more than 40 years. She was a homemaker. He was a machinist at a nearby base and then, the neighbors tell me, worked his way up the ranks at the IRS. The neighbors and his wife all called him “Swift.”

Before he lived in my house, when he was a young man, he stormed the beaches of France on D Day. I can’t even really imagine the courage required to step through into the waves from the troop transports. I can get a sense of his commitment to doing the right thing by the way he maintained my house. He dug gutters to keep the water out of the basement, installed an entire bathroom in the basement and caulked up the seams along the roof. He also left careful notes around the notes here and there, as on the air conditioning and heating vents: Flip Here In Summer. Flip Here in Winter.

A lot of people glamorize writing and freelancing. I love what I do, but a lot of it is just work, plain and simple, a question of putting the right word in the right place, over and over again (flip here in summer, flip here in winter), and not feeling satisfied until you’ve constructed something lasting out of all the words.

So sometimes, when I am going about my routine, and it gets to be a bit of drag, I think about Swift sometimes, as he went about his routines, taking just one step at a time.

(Kay Luo wrote about the importance of a sense of history on her blog, HomeCrunch, a while ago, and it was when I was working with her on this post about buying homes in Silicon Valley for Wealthfront that I first starting thinking about Swift and his notes.)

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