Establishing your own business has tax advantages. Once you have a plan and a named business, you can declare it as a “sole proprietorship” on your income tax and start taking deductions for all those expenses. The biggest deduction will come from establishing your home office as your principle, regular, and exclusive place of business. What does that mean? Well, basically, no more writing at one end of the dining room table and then shoving the papers out of the way to serve dinner. You must have a clearly defined space in which you conduct all the activities associated with your business — writing, researching, editing, advertising, shipping. It does not have to be a large space. You can fit an office into a large closet, a cubbyhole under the stairs, in the basement or the attic, or into a section of a room that is clearly separated from all other activities there. It must be used for your business and for nothing else -- no sharing the space with the family TV, or letting Aunt Mabel move in and use it as a bedroom when she's in town. You’ll need a desk, a filing cabinet, and — most important — a place to keep everything separate from the other parts of your life.
I was fortunate to have my own space already designated. When we moved into our new condo, we had the builders convert what started out as an open den area into a third “bedroom” with a small closet. My husband had already claimed the smallest room as his place to work on all his Lions Club business. This new room was to be mine. It has evolved into a cozy hideaway that makes a perfect home office. My initial requirements were these: a door that closes, lots of natural light, phone and computer cable connections, and a few creature comforts. I furnished it first with bookcases and a large slab table to serve as a computer desk.And here’s what it holds at the moment: I’ve added risers at the back of the desk slab to lift frequently-used office supplies, the printer, the cable modem, the backup drive, and other components off the main desk. Two low filing cabinets flank the desk to hold research files and other supplies while providing additional space to stack stuff. The closet is now full of industrial shelving to hold overflows of books, files, shipping supplies, and extra computer elements. An upholstered rocking chair and a floor lamp positioned between the accordian-folding doors of the closet provides a hidden reading nook. A futon, full of pillows and a fuzzy throw, waits for the moment when I really need a quick nap.
The atmosphere is welcoming. The walls are painted a bright, energetic tangerine. A magnetic white board allows me to leave notes or pin up interesting pictures or publicity clippings. The large picture window looks out onto a grove of cedars and cypress trees. The rocking chair sits on its own little oriental rug, and a tiffany lamp gently lights my desk area. On the walls are a few award plaques, my diplomas, and a huge etching of St. John’s College, Oxford, where I was lucky enough to teach for three separate summers. And scattered around are a few stuffed animals from special places — a bear from Gettysburg dressed as a Union soldier, another dressed as one of the palace guards from Buckingham palace, the ragged little puppy from Poogan’s Porch in Charleston, and the stately lion from the Biltmore estate.
Finally, there are the reminders of the purpose of this particular office. Above the entry door is a cutout of a black cat, looking exactly like the Katzenhaus cat from my business cards. A brass Civil War cannon acts as a paperweight. The closet door sports a street sign that says “Frogmore” in honor of an upcoming book. (And no, I didn’t steal it; I bought it in a souvenir shop on St. Helena Island.) My favorite piece is a replica of a Civil War era rag doll. It is reversible, so that at one end is a black slave “Momma” wearing an apron and a turban. Turn her over, and you reveal a red-headed white woman. The storyboard says that the slave woman made the doll for the small child she tended. When the white “Massa” appeared, the doll could be quickly reversed to look like the child’s real mother — and then reversed again for the more beloved Momma. To me it serves as a reminder of the two very different perspectives — the slave and the white missionary — that fill my new book.
The result is eclectic, but definitely my principle, regular, and exclusive place of business. When I’m here, I’m working. Even the cats have learned to respect the boundary of the doorway. They will wander in once in a while, but only to curl up quietly on the floor or the futon, thus keeping it Katzenhaus in fact as well as spirit.