How to build an outdoor office for cheap (or free)

outdoor office space
© FuzzBones/Shutterstock

It’s finally warm out and I, for one, do not want to be inside all day. Alas, to talk to you all, I must sit at a desk in my bedroom, typing at my computer.

Or must I?

I’ll confess: I’ve been browsing pictures of immaculate outdoor offices. These futuristic designs look beautiful, relaxing, and most of all, EXPENSIVE. I saw one for almost $7,000. But you know what? I bet you can make an outdoor workspace for cheap. Maybe even free.

Outdoor offices make use of sunlight rather than relying on electricity, making them pretty eco friendly. Plus, being outside decreases stress, makes you happier, washes away fatigue, and enhances creativity, says the University of California at Berkeley. So in addition to making you a happier human being, it also makes you work better. Sold.

Here’s how you make one without spending a ton of money:

Step 1: Desk

outdoor office table desk© Alex Brylov/Shutterstock

I’ve worked in a lot of places. I’ve worked in armchairs, at café tables, and even in bed (in case you’re wondering, working in bed all day does indeed make you feel gross). But for me, there’s nothing like a good desk. Typing is a physical activity, weirdly enough, and being in the right position, with your computer in the right position, really matters.

But you can’t exactly bring a regular desk outside. Mother Nature doesn’t take kindly to humans trying to keep their stuff pristine. So you want a waterproof desk or, more likely, a table that’s the right height. For me, a 5’3’’ creature, that means finding a particularly low table.

If you want to maximize sustainability, I’ve got one word for you: Craigslist. People post old desks and tables they’re selling on Craigslist all the time. Often, they just give the stuff away. You can also go to yard sales and thrift stores. If all that fails, and you must buy something, check out this spacious folding table from Home Depot for $40.

Desks are all about height and sturdiness. No need to get anything fancy.

Step 2: Chair

office chair outside© Patrick Foto/Shutterstock

Here’s where you might want to get a liiiittle fancy. If you’re sitting in a chair all day, you want it to be a supportive chair. Once again, I suggest Craigslist, yard sales, and thrift stores for this. Since you can move a chair more easily than a table, you don’t have to worry about waterproofing so much (you can always move it inside or under a balcony if it starts raining). So you mainly want something comfortable and light.

Here’s a nice $50 office chair on Amazon that’s pretty lightweight.

Of course, feel free to modify this general plan to suit your needs. Maybe you want to sit on an exercise ball. Maybe you want to stand at your desk. Even easier.

Step 3: Electricity

outdoor electricity© outdoor electricity

As much as I’d like to avoid using electricity, my computer eats it.

You, like me, probably don’t want to bring your computer inside to recharge every few hours (my laptop battery isn’t the best). So get a heavy-duty outdoor extension cord and run it to your desk. Easy.

This is one item you might actually want to buy. People toss tables and chairs all the time, but you’re less likely to run across a secondhand extension cord. Of course, you might already have one — I've got three floating around my apartment somewhere.

Here’s one for $14.

Step 4: Shade

outdoor office umbrella© Creativa Images/Shutterstock

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to work on a computer outside on a sunny day, but let me tell you: it makes your eyes plot mutiny. The glare does not make for a visible screen or happy pupils. So you need some shade.

To keep things simple, that means an outdoor umbrella or canopy. Here’s a canopy from Home Depot for $30. It only takes a few minutes to set up.

If you want to really be pro, you could even buy or build something that keeps out the rain. Then you could get whatever desk/chair you want. But personally, I am not quite ready for the time, energy, or money that would take just yet.

So there you go! You can build an outdoor office for anywhere from free (thank you Craigslist) to about $150.

One last thing: Originally, I was going to actually make an outdoor office and write about the experience, but I realized that it’d be more helpful to teach other people how to build their own. But if you want in on my own personal outdoor office building adventures, let me know in the comments below.

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