7 Reasons WFH-Playroom Combos Are a Terrible Idea—Says This Mom of Two

Ashley Chalmers's home office-playroom combination

Ashley Chalmers

I’ve been a freelancer for nearly a decade, so I’m no stranger to the concept of working from home. But thanks to a perfect storm of growing kids, a small space, and—oh, right, a global pandemic—it recently became a bit too much to bear. I originally blamed it on the fact that the only logical place for my desk was in the living room, but I'm not sure my internet-inspired solution is the better option, either.

For some context, I live with my family of four in a 1400 sq. ft. flat in London. We have an open plan living room, dining room, and kitchen, plus three bedrooms: the primary bedroom, our kids' shared bedroom, and a playroom. No private office for me, so a multi-purpose space, like so many people these days, has to suffice.

I panic-ordered a lap desk in the hopes that would fix everything. My spine decided it did not. I wondered if I could sacrifice my entire closet in the name of a mini hideaway office. The mental image of all my homeless shoes gave me that answer. I was officially left with one option: combine my office with my kids' playroom.

I'd noticed this suggestion all over the place... bloggers and Pinterest and Instagram were full of suggestions that made it seem totally doable. But now, six months later, I know that WFH-playroom combos are a bad idea, in unexpected ways. Here are the seven reasons this was a terrible solution for my family.

  • 01 of 07

    My Oldest Child Lost ALL Interest in the Playroom

    Ashley Chalmers' playroom-office combo

    Ashley Chalmers

    For the first week, my five-year-old was indignant. The playroom was no longer a magical place just for kids. It was now a boring room with rules and a desk full of stuff they weren’t allowed to touch. The presence of toys and books didn’t matter, and by the second week, she was apathetic. Now, she barely comes in here to play, although my youngest is perfectly happy to have the room to himself.

  • 02 of 07

    I'm Now Doing Toy Cleanup Every Morning

    While I’m thrilled that one child still uses the "play" half of the room, I wish he wasn’t such an agent of chaos. In all of his threenager glory, my toddler is extremely resistant to tidying up. They could make entire movies about our family standoffs when he refuses to put away his toys. Unfortunately, he’s figured out that a morning mess in the playroom is one Mom is likely to handle, all in the name of getting my workday started, mess-free. He will take every item of clothing off the dress-up rack and run out the door with glee, usually dressed as either Minnie Mouse or a Formula 1 driver, knowing that my patience is too precious to waste on a fight first thing in the morning. So, instead, nearly every workday begins with a giant toy clean-up and a lot of personal grumbling. 

  • 03 of 07

    Work and Play Cannot Peacefully Co-Exist

    While I could occasionally slide into my desk chair in the living room and fire off an email or two, there's something about the WFH-playroom combo that doesn't allow for those same opportunities. If someone is in here playing and I pop in for a moment, it takes about .06 seconds before there's a child in my lap, tugging on my ears and begging me to read them a story, build them a castle, or pick out a tutu.

  • 04 of 07

    Piano Practice Is an Even Bigger Challenge

    A keyboard sits next to a small bookshelf in the wfh-playroom combo of Ashley Chalmers

    Ashley Chalmers

    As I reconfigured each room to fit my desk, the one thing that I knew had to remain in the playroom was our electric keyboard. Even if we could find space for it elsewhere, it’s kind of an eyesore. But because my desk has made this room The Worst in my daughter’s mind, piano practice went from something on her tiny to-do list to something she absolutely dreads. I know it’s normal for kids to whine about practicing their instruments, but the timing of the whining all feels a little suspect and I wonder if I ruined our solid streak of musical compliancy...

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    My Workday Ends Abruptly

    Finding a state of flow when I write is precious, and it takes major focus. This is where having an office space that isn’t surrounded by all the distractions of daily life has been a blessing. I fall into it so much more easily than when I was set up in the living room. But my workday still ends abruptly with the end of the school day. For the most part, this is fine... but I can’t seem to trick my brain. Stolen minutes in the living room made me appreciate every spare moment I had, while having an office has made me feel entitled. Now, once I know I only have thirty minutes until the school run, I feel like my creative juices have an expiration date. It makes it even harder to sink into whatever I have on my desk.

  • 06 of 07

    My Zoom Backdrop Is Not Professional

    A rocket ship and a world map sit between two doors in the office-playroom combo of Ashley Chalmers

    Ashley Chalmers

    I am endlessly jealous when I hop on a call with someone seated in front of beautiful bookshelves, cozy, plant-filled corners, and perfectly decorated shelves. You know what’s behind me? A three-foot-tall wooden rocket ship and a pin map showing all the places my five-year-old has traveled in her lifetime.

  • 07 of 07

    Turns Out, This Room Is Noisier Than I Thought

    Ashley Chalmers' office-playroom combo

    Ashley Chalmers

    All three of our bedrooms face the same, quiet, London street… or so I thought. It turns out, this room is the weird, noisy one. We just never knew it, because we never needed it to be peaceful! It’s positioned underneath an overhang, and there’s something about the acoustics, I guess. Any voice from outside seems to carry directly into this room. Cars are louder in here than anywhere else, and a quirky neighbor who loves to shriek about life’s injustices can be heard most clearly from—you guessed it—the office playroom.

Having a WFH-playroom was never my dream scenario, but I definitely underestimated the downsides. Now, after a year of balancing working from home with doing everything from home, I've realized why our own spaces are so key, and what I’ll look for when we inevitably move from this flat.

I’d love to say that I have a new solution, or that I found some ingenious hack that you, too, can try if you need a home office but have no space to spare. But, alas, I don’t. In some ways, the living room set-up was better, but in more ways... it was so much worse. So maybe don't fall for the listicles singing the praises of the office playroom set-ups of the world. Now that school's out for summer, I sense I’m about to shift to working nights, still writing and taking calls from my place between a shelf full of picture books and a rack full of princess costumes.