My boyfriend just got a new job, and with it, a new office that’s all his. He asked me what he could do to make it less sterile, and to show more of his personality (and I am always thinking about how any space can be healthier).

I rambled off a bunch of the ideas below — I worked at quite a few offices in NYC and Connecticut, and went from having a cubicle to my own offices at a couple of jobs, and at each one I took the time and energy to make it my own because: (a) I really can’t help myself, I have a penchant for recreating spaces wherever I go, from hotel rooms to several-month sojourns in Hawaiian yurts. (b) Any place that you spend more than a couple of hours for weeks or months on end should suit your needs and comfort level to contribute to your overall happiness.

Use the ideas below that work for you and your work environment.


These are objects that remind you of your friends, your family and your favorite things in life. Most of us are doing work that brings us a modicum of joy and interestingness, but it’s OK that sometimes work is about the paycheck. Having reminders of what you love that’s NOT work — like rocks from beloved streams (I keep a collection of these), action figures from your favorite TV show or movies, concert ticket stubs and anything else that brings happy memories or activities to mind can be a fun addition (and give you something other that work to chat about with your co-workers).


Having a giant bulletin board with every far-flung friend and family member is probably not appropriate for the office, and neither are "sexy" pictures of your lover/partner/bootycall (or newest moviestar crush). But a few (preferably framed) photos of your favorite people can really make a difference. I’m always reminded by the important things in life by those pictures on my desk, and they are especially helpful when a work-specific frustration threatens your cool. It’s probably not that important, and pictures of what is will remind you of that.


For those of us who appreciate paintings, sculpture, illustration, graffiti and the myriad ways we understand the world visually, there’s nothing better than a reminder of how complicated expressing ourselves creatively is — and that it’s OK to try and fail, and try and fail again. I favor colorful reproductions (framed posters can often be found dirt-cheap at Salvation Army or Goodwill) of Kandinsky, Picasso and de Kooning.


A man works in a cubicle with a plant in the foreground. Plants make the office a better place, cleaning the air and even improving productivity. (Photo: shawdm/flickr)

Greenery is a proven stress-reliever, and spider plants, Gerber daisies, golden pothos and other plants (check out our list here) will also clean your air and remove toxins at the same time. I think having plants around makes the air smell fresher, too.

A mug, bowl and silverware

If you keep your own dishes at work, you will be less likely to use disposable ones when you’re spending your lunch hour at your desk. If you heat food in the office microwave, it’s healthier to do so in a ceramic bowl than a plastic one too (plastics are known for leaching toxins into food, especially when heated to high temps). And I find it just more comforting to use my own mug for my hot beverages.


I like to keep Emergen-C for a quick afternoon energy boost (and to give a bit of flavor to my water), as well as raw almonds and some chewy dried fruit (figs are always great) so that when I get the munchies, I have something fun — and relatively healthy — to munch on. Be sure to change up what you keep so you don’t get bored. Other great options are raisins, whole-wheat pretzels, and carrot sticks (keep these in the fridge).

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

How to create a healthier, more fun office environment
Just because you're at work, doesn't mean you have to give up your feel-good habits.