Working from Home in a Tiny Tokyo Flat: The Surprising Household Item that Helped

  • HOW TO
  • LIVE and WORK
  • WORK
  • by Zoria Petkoska

    Working from home has never been easier and never been harder. Yes, both. How is that, you may ask?
    Of course, the ubiquitous high speed internet and myriad of apps and software help us stay in touch with the team and work efficiently wherever we are. Many creative and IT industries and especially freelancers have been working remotely for a long time. However, even though ‘working remotely’, ‘teleworking’/’telecommuting’ or ‘working from home’ are basically the same thing, they are a tiny bit different. See, in ‘working from home’ the problem is ‘HOME’. The tiny Japanese home in particular.

    Working OUT of the office can be really stimulating for the brain, but where you take your work also matters.

    Working from a tiny Tokyo home

    Working FROM home during a pandemic is completely different to working out of the office. This means you are working and sheltering, a unique and stressful situation. You need to be not just a worker, but your own IT support, your own chef and barista, among other things. Pre-pandemic, working remotely could be from a nice cafe or co-working space, to make up for the same office rut. However, working from home exclusively and for days on end means having worse work conditions than in the office for most people (bar the exceptions). Many people’s homes lack proper work desks and chairs, as they never needed them before. Working one day on your bed, one day on the floor, one day on the sofa, will do for a day or two, but not for long.

    This is cited as one of the problems Japanese workers have been facing while working at home.
    More about that survey here: Japan Vs. Teleworking During the Covid-19 Pandemic

    Small Japanese flats have minimum space that needs to be put to a maximum use, so we usually only have the necessities. That’s why the Japanese have their ‘ori-tatami bunka’ or ‘folding culture’, with household furniture that can be easily moved around and transformed. Traditionally, tatami rooms are bedrooms only for the night, and when all the bedding and futons are stored away in the morning it becomes a living room. There’s also an abundance of foldable furniture that can be taken out and stored away at will. And I realized I had a foldable work desk all along.

    Makeshift Foldable Desk from an Ironing Board

    Yes, the humble ironing board that I barely touched (especially now that I’m not going to work, so no need to iron a proper button-down shirt).

    This lady is good at multitasking, but she should try putting the laptop ON the board.

    The ironing board is actually not that different from the fancy fashionable standing desk. Its height is adjustable, its width is perfect for a laptop, and the length means you have a lot of space for other office necessities and drinks.

    Note on the drinks: an ironing board is lighter, so you could more easily knock things over if you bump into it. Make sure to have a saucer or a small tray for your drink, to help with potential spillage.

    Realizing I have a perfect foldable standing desk at home that takes minimal space and can be put away, made a whole world of difference in my Tokyo flat. Here is why the ironing board turned out to be not only a good working desk substitute, but one that is preferable over a ‘proper desk’ for someone living in a tiny flat.

    Height adaptability

    A proper desk’s height is final. You can buy add-ons to put on top of the desk to elevate it, but that’s it. An ironing board has built in mechanism that can set it at different heights.


    An ironing desk can be folded and stored anywhere. A proper desk takes the space forever and is bulky garbage that cannot be thrown away easily if you decide you don’t need it.


    In addition to the ironing board taking minimal space, it also helps that it’s easily movable. This means I can easily change WHERE in the flat I work, to combat the monotony. I can place it in front of the window to get some sunlight, but move it away if the sun becomes too hot.

    You can also take it on the balcony or outside in the garden if you have one. And poof!, just like that, you’re working outside and making the most of a nice spring day.

    And I am not the only one to notice it. Many people who started working from home have shared this realization online – sometimes with humour, but also surprised at the usefulness.

    If you are not a laptop person, but need a full PC setup, the ironing board can still help give you extra space when combined with other desks/kitchen tables you might have at home. It can be a life saver in so many ways!

    What else can an ironing board become?

    Discovering the ironing board’s potential only opened my mind to more and more possibilities. Since this item is so light and easily foldable, I could put away the laptop after work and use it in other capacities. Here are just a few, and I’m sure people have come up with more uses depending on their needs.

    Extra Kitchen Space

    People often complain about super small Japanese kitchen. If you love cooking you will hate it, and if you already don’t like cooking you’ll never be motivated to try it in such a cramped space. Then again, with working from home ONLY and no going out to eat, you must cook more than ever before! (Yes, there’s delivery options, but let’s be honest – it’s expensive, not enough choice, not always healthy and fresh, and potentially soggy and cold when it does arrive).

    Just take the ironing board to the kitchen. Instant extra space for cutting, or drying the dishes on it for instance.

    Here’s how someone used it:

    If you’re interested in making REALLY EASY Japanese dishes at home, this is the article for you:
    5 Super Easy Japanese Dishes Anyone Can Cook at Home

    Easier laundry

    If you’re putting your laundry out to dry, an ironing board on the balcony can hold the laundry basket, so you won’t have to bend down for every sock.

    Arts and crafts table

    If you picked up a new hobby, or rekindled old ones, you might find yourself in need of a workspace for it. Whether it’s jewellery-making, calligraphy, or assembling plastic Gundam models, the ironing board is there for you. Especially if you don’t know how long you’ll be doing the hobby, there’s no need to invest in a specialized hobby table.

    Want to try something from the Japanese arts and crafts? Check out our suggestions for arts and crafts that can be easily and cheaply done at home.
    Great Japanese Arts and Crafts to Try at Home

    Look, the ironing board is so great, that it’s no wonder pets are trying to claim it first!

    This cheap household item has been a total life saver when it comes to getting extra work space in a tiny Tokyo flat and I might never go back to other furniture! How about you? Any other clever uses of your ironing board?
    Let us know in the comments!