The ideal home for better learning

How can we design and decorate our homes to improve the learning experiences? Is it possible? Is it expensive? This is a personal opinion based on my experimentation.

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What is the optimal home for learning?

It is quite clear that there is no optimal environment for all kinds of learning. Everything changes. 50 years ago a perfect home of an intellectual had a library room with 2000 books and a heavy desk. Today, it is more likely to have a laptop and several screens for reading online. A 100 years ago, the home of a scientist and inventor might have dozens of strange devices. Today it may have a 3D printer and a simple toolset. Everything we do is becoming more abstract and virtual.

The home itself changes. Several decades ago, a wealthy intellectual might have owned a country villa, where he could pursue his interests without interference from noisy neighbors. Today, the focus will probably we on a city apartment with very fast internet and road or train connectivity that enables communication with other people who have similar interests.

So if there are some learning-boosting ideas, they are not generic and transcendent but specific and contextual.

Dedicated workspace

Typically it is recommended to have a dedicated workspace, like a home office or a garage. Simply getting into the relevant corner should stimulate a focused business-oriented approach. Typically this includes a very simple setup:

  1. A table with an ergonomic chair. The focus here is really on ergonomy, as we often need to work for many hours, especially learning new stuff. The size of the table is usually not an issue. I personally prefer L-shaped tables, as I need to do many different tasks.
  2. A computer with a large screen or multiple screens. This is a relatively new requirement. Two decades ago a computer might have been optional.  A large screen and a mechanical keyboard typically increase productivity. Multiple screens improve multitasking.
  3. A storage compartment. We may store books, writing utensils or even focus objects. Usually for any given activity we need just a couple of objects, but as we perform multiple activities we may need to store the things we do not use.
  4. Focus objects. This is not an absolute must, but it helps. Typically this includes specific books and notebooks, markers, and writing tools, but sometimes also decorative objects like lamps and 3D printed models.
  5. Physical tools. For some activities, we may need 3D printers, screwdrivers and pliers, soldering kits, and other similar equipment. Not everyone needs this, but many people enjoy access to physical equipment.

As you can see, more often than not this is something anyone can easily put in a corner of any room, and the cost is very reasonable.

Personal preferences

Several key preferences are very personal and I want to address them here:

  1. Muda
  2. Cables
  3. Illumination
  4. Pricing
  5. Focus objects/decor
  6. Pomodoro breaks


The Japanese approach to the workplace is minimalistic. Japanese try to avoid unnecessary distractions and clean everything as much as they can.  Wastefulness is called “muda” and is avoided.

For more relaxed Westerners, this can become comical. When our offices were visited by Japanese partners, we carefully cleaned up the whiteboard and removed everything we usually have on the desk into the storage compartment.

Formally, the minimalistic environment focusing on having only the essentials on the table is more effective. It is also more friendly for the cleaning staff. Informally, some people need a certain level of mess to feel comfortable. I  personally need some mess on my table, otherwise I get intimidated by white paper when starting new projects.

It is important to avoid placing food and other “messy” stuff on the work table, as it can become unsanitary. Coffee mugs are a fair game, usually with proper costers and mouse pads. It is also a good idea to have some empty space to place mugs, notebooks, focusing objects etc.


Some people really hate cables. Perfectionists find cables annoying, and people with focus deficiencies often get distracted by cables. So some people prefer a cable-less work environment.

Personally, I am in the opposite extremity. I love cables. Mechanical keyboards and quality mice usually need cables. CubiQ switches work best with cables, and I often like to work with multiple devices using one keyboard and one mouse. I also like that all of my devices are perfectly charged, and do not want to risk losing a USB cable. Once I opted for cables, adding yet more cables is not a big deal. I do not even collect cables with strips, as I enjoy moving items freely around my workspace.

Too much light

My wife loves a lot of light when working and very little light when resting. I prefer a more balanced approach. I want to optimize my screen. To do this I use a hardware device. This optimization is illumination-dependent. So I prefer when the bulk of the illumination is artificial and accurately controlled. Arguably, this reduces the strain on my eyes. I am almost 50 years old and so far I never needed glasses.

Working in a dim environment when only the screen shines is considered to be preferred by hackers and extreme programmers. Arguably this was a great approach in 1980s when computer screens were weak and most IDEs were black. Today, computer screens have excellent backlighting, and the comfort of finding everything on the table and using a physical notepad is quite important.

Still, we do not really want too much light. The screens reflect light and we may start straining the eyes, especially from strange angles. Moreover, natural light varies strongly depending on time and weather, and we usually prefer a more controlled environment. Finally, the brightest objects in the room usually catch our focus, and we probably want this to be our computer.

For example, I have several workplaces. In my workplace, the light is not direct and the window is very far from the computer. My wife teaches on a well-lit balcony, so I placed 80% reflective film on the relevant glass surfaces. Leeron has the window in one corner of the room, and the workstation in another with very little direct light. Daniel has his computer under the window, but his window shutters are almost always closed and not transparent.


Proper workspaces are usually relatively cheap. Extremely cheap items are not ergonomic, but very ergonomic items are usually not very expensive.

Opting for expensive equipment is a personal choice. Usually, the idea is focus. The more money we put into the workplace, the more obliged we are to use it. The extra money buys automation and customization in tables and chairs. It buys bigger screens with better resolution, color accuracy, and response time. For sure it buys faster computers with newer GPUs.

Is that really worth the trouble? Not for me. I opt for highly ergonomic extremely reliable mid-range equipment. I never buy the latest and greatest for my work. For example, if a chair can be extensively customized, one of my family members can customize it in a way that will hurt my back and cripple me for a week. So I minimize any possibility of such a situation.

Focus objects

I love office toys. I can easily lose focus, especially during conference calls. Office toys allow me to focus back. It is recommended to have between one and three toys on the work desk at any given moment. It can be a photo frame of a family member, an art piece, a toy like a globe or a fidget, memorabilia like a seashell, a notebook with a pen, a book with markers, a special light source, a small plant, and more. Coffee mugs and water bottles are also focus objects with more practical roles.

Minimalists usually recommend removing everything that is not relevant to the work, probably except water bottles. More reasonable people recommend putting one or two objects for personalization, as a way to connect work and home life and “own” the workplace. People who spend their entire day working, tend to bring many toys and decorations as a way of feeling home at work. Those of us with ADHD use fidgets, especially during conference calls.

Similar criteria apply when working home and in the office. Many offices are animal-friendly and support employees wearing “casual” stuff.

Pomodoro breaks

It is recommended to use 10 minutes every hour for Pomodoro breaks. This can vary depending on activity. Some activities require short breaks every 20 minutes, while other activities benefit from long breaks after 3 hours of productive flow. In any case, not all the time that we work we actually work.

Some people spend Pomodoro breaks in their work corners: meditating, observing their decor, or using mobile phones and social media. Others walk around, filling coffee mugs and water bottles, socializing with coworkers (or family members), maybe observing the view outside the office window. When working from home, a small nap or physical exercise is also an option.

There is no formal “good” and “bad” approach, as the most viable approach is dictated by the activity and the context. Typically it is recommended to have multiple strategies and choose a different strategy in each particular situation.  This is definitely my approach. I utilize both short and long breaks, active and passive activities.

What to avoid

From the description above it is easy to assume that everything goes. I do not think so. There are some limitations.

  1. Prioritize ergonomy. Use ergonomic tables and chairs, and do not work in your bed.
  2. Optimize illumination and air conditioning.  The room needs to be pleasant, not too dark or too bright, and definitely not noisy (jazz or ambient music optional).
  3. Keep the workplace clean. Some people manage to work in bread crumbs, food stains and even unclean dishes. It is unsanitary, not very safe and should be avoided.

Try to experiment with everything else, and see what works for you.

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