I’ve had a day job for most of my adult life, but right now, I’ve been freelancing full-time for about six months. I’ve worked from home before — I went a year with nothing to support me but freelance until the money ran out — and I far, far prefer it to going to an office, if for no other reason than my morning commute consists of walking from my bedroom to my office.
Recently, though, I had an old friend ask me if the perils of working at home — the old ‘pajama shuffle’ — outweigh the benefits. Going to work every day, however patently unnecessary (and freelancing aside, I’ve had more than a few regular jobs I could have done at home via telecommuting), is a form of discipline, and with that discipline removed, my friend explained, she felt like she’d let herself go to hell in terms of structure.
This is less of a problem for me, since I let myself go to hell ages ago, and if anything, working at home has just led to me ditching the last vestiges of self-respect I had left. But I can understand how it would be a problem for some people. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about some of the aspects of working at home, their potential pitfalls, and what you can do to avoid them.
WORK. Actually getting work done at home is no problem for me. I have a lot of work discipline, I do well under deadlines, and I’m pretty self-directed, so I never have any trouble actually doing what I need to do, regardless of the myriad distractions of the home. In fact, having stuff like the TV, internet, video game console, and bookshelf around my workspace takes the forbidden fruit aspect away from them; at an office, I’m way more tempted to take a peek at various websites because I’m not supposed to. At home, no one cares, so I get to it when I get to it. Of course, part of my success comes because my work as a freelancer largely involves writing about film, television, music, books, and so on. So I’m not going to get in any trouble for watching movies all day. If my work-at-home job involved, say, selling real estate, I’d be fucked.
CLOTHES. “What’s the point of getting dressed if no one’s going to see you all day?”, my friend asked. “I’d worry that I’d just spend the whole day in what I slept in.” The difference between she and I is that she worries about it, while I completely embrace it. I often go days without changing clothes, because I live and work alone, and my only appointments are over the phone. For me, it’s time to change clothes when they start standing up when I throw them in a corner instead of crumpling in a heap. But then again, unlike most people, I am a horrible filthy pig. Which brings us to…
HYGIENE. The combination of being a confirmed bachelor (which, in this case, means ‘disgusting social outcast’, not ‘homosexual’), living alone, and working from home is enough to turn me into a hygienic hermit; add my advancing age, and I turn into a walking experiment to see what happens to a human body whose owner pays it no attention whatsoever. If hot showers didn’t feel so goddamn good, I would probably never take one. As it is, the necessity of leaving the house to buy things, as well as the desire to stave off death a few more years, has kept me in the habit of cleaning, brushing my teeth, and maintaining a certain level of hygiene, but as far as my hair and beard go, it’s pretty much anything goes. I would say I look like the “It’s” Man from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but he dressed better than I do.
HOUSECLEANING. This is where I really fall apart. I hate cleaning house in the best of times, but now, the only guests I ever get are IRS agents and FedEx delivery drivers. Who am I trying to impress? Since I can set my own schedule, I’ve begun to favor the technique — familiar to younger people as regards their laundry — of simply letting it go as long as possible until it gets completely out of control and then either cleaning everything at once in a single miserable weekend, or just buying all-new stuff. Also, if you use the “I’m letting them soak” excuse on your dishes, even they’re not fooled.
EATING, DRINKING, AND DRUGS. I used to think, with the freedom to go anywhere and do anything that comes with setting your own work schedule, I would quickly become addicted to eating out, and end up consuming nothing but junk all day. Here, though, laziness wins out over vice: going out to get food is a big pain in the ass, so I usually just eat the moderately more healthful stuff I have in the house. I still manage to gain weight, though, because calling my lifestyle sedentary is an insult to rocks, and when I’m working, my exercise bike is just that thing that’s in the way of the TV. Likewise, I can drink all day if I want, but I don’t particularly relish drinking in the morning, or alone, so I stick to my pre-working-from-home routine of a cocktail or two at night. My drug intake, however, is way up. The consequences of getting stoned before heading to your office job are pretty extreme, but these days, I’m my own police department. Can I really work effectively while zooted? Ask my clients.
SLEEP SCHEDULE. Even before, my sleep schedule was totally screwed. Now it is also blued and tattooed. Various minor ailments and a severe case of sporadic insomnia already had me sleeping around 4 hours a night, and now, with no reason to wake up at any particular time, I’ve now developed a sleep ‘schedule’ consisting of about a dozen 15-minute naps scattered throughout any given 24-hour day. The only thing I can do is stay in my office as much as possible; my bedroom has a bed in it, so that’s obviously too great a temptations, and the living room is where the cats are, and those lazy motherfuckers are the worst possible example.
PERSONALITY. My friend also expressed concern that, personal and work habits aside, working at home all the time, in total isolation, would lead to a fractured personality. She worried that she would become some sort of eccentric recluse who spent 12 hours a day watching old movies, hatching insanely overambitious schemes, tinkering away on obsessive projects, and telling insane stories about their daily activities to an imaginary internet audience. To which I responded: well, now you’re just being ridiculous.