Modern Office Furniture

Affordable standing desks for when you’re in a pinch

Autonomous Autonomous | May 26, 2017

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There are infinite ways to be continually improving the space around you. We’re all about working smarter and healthier here so if you’re crafty and/or thrifty and like to maximize the space you have, this article is for you. There are tons of clever ways to improvise an affordable standing desk when you can’t get a full on adjustable height one yet, and once you do have your basic desk, there are tons of ways to customize it so that your workstation is comfortable, functional, and perfect for your needs. 

Thankfully we don’t have to just make these up. When crowdsourced, there’s a whole world online of desk-hackers who have experimented with these DIY projects so that you don’t end up wasting your time on something that won’t really turn out the way you expected. If you use someone’s idea on here, maybe post a photo and give them a shoutout. It really does help other people find ways to make an affordable standing desk or add things they need to their own desk. 

One caveat before we dive in: while one of our core philosophies is making affordable standing desks available to as many people as possible (that’s why we make a fully adjustable standing desk for $299 instead of the usual $600+ retail price tag), ergonomics is of the utmost importance. If you DIY an affordable standing desk that isn’t properly adjusted to your height, you can be doing your body quite a lot of harm. Poor posture, even while standing, can set you up for chronic pain and health issues, such as tension headaches, that won’t be helped by the better circulation, higher calorie burning, etc. that you get while standing. Keep in mind that there are definitely hacks to get yourself standing while working—you just can’t shortcut ergonomics. 

Space and money saving alternatives 

If your kitchen table is what you call your “desk”, most of us have been there, no judgement whatsoever from us. Not everyone is ready to splash out on their own desk and some people just don’t have space for a home desk. But that doesn’t have to keep you from standing! Here are a few of the most creative ways to get your laptop or monitor elevated to a height where you can stand with proper alignment. 

In order to stand (or sit for that matter) while working on a laptop, you really do need to invest in at least a separate keyboard and mouse. You can get a wired bundle with a keyboard and mouse from Amazon for as low as $15, or you can opt for the more flexible Bluetooth version for just $21.99 from Anker here.  

That’s about 3-5 chai lattes and it will save your eyes, neck, and upper back so, so much trouble. Some of these hacks can be useful for everyone (especially tall people) to make sure that your laptop screen is aligned with your eyes properly and that your arms are also bent at a 90 degree angle even while sitting. 

Here’s a quick photo essay of what not to do. The DIY, stand-at-all-costs spirit is great (and we know it’s tongue-in-cheek) but the ergonomics of these set-ups hurt. So, in case you’re wondering what we mean by proper alignment: someone with their head tilted down, arms and shoulders hunched up, at close range of a laptop on an unsteady surface is not it—standing or not. Here are a few more useful tips from the Posture People about what not to do, for DIY and regular standings desks alike. 

Easiest/temporary solutions for laptop + keyboard users 

Paper Reams/books  

So our friends at Posture People took issue with this idea, but we feel you can achieve proper alignment with a stack of books or paper reams if you try. Make sure to adjust it so that your laptop is high enough that you’re looking just slightly down at the screen while standing and that the keyboard “shelf” is at the correct height for your arms to be comfortably resting at a 90 degree angle while using the keyboard and mouse. Books of different heights might allow you to fine-tune this but paper reams in the office are also a great (free!) solution, if you want to try out standing for a bit. 


Paper Reams/books

Foldable stool/tray 

This works if the height of the table/desk you are using allows your arms to rest comfortably at a 90 degree angle while using the keyboard and mouse there and elevating your laptop on a foldable stool or tray. We don’t recommend using a monitor in a situation like this because it’s hard to guarantee how much weight your foldable mini-standing desk can support while still being stable. 

Foldable stool/tray

A chair (or your desk chair?)  

If you’re pretty tall, you may need to use something as tall as a chair to elevate your laptop high enough that your arms are properly aligned while using the keyboard. This article in Cosmo recommends just using your own office chair because it has the added benefit of giving you an extra step to get your chair back before you can sit down. However, in the Posture People article (and we are inclined to agree), they emphasize that an unsteady work surface can be not only frustrating but dangerous to both you and your electronics. However, you could still use a chair without wheels if you don’t have books, paper reams or a foldable stool that will do the job. 

A chair (or your desk chair?)

(Above images thanks to Cosmo's article on ridiculously easy standing desk set-ups, which has some great ideas but they're not all ergonomic so we added our thoughts). 

Book shelf 

We’ve seen some great adaptations of bookshelves around online. Not to sound like a broken record, but you need to find one that allows you to place your laptop so that your gaze is angled just slightly downwards while your keyboard is on a lower level where your arms can rest at a 90 degree angle.

We love this example from Elan Morgan, because it’s adjustable height! The convenience factor is one of the main reasons that adjustable height standing desks are ultimately the best longterm option for everyone. As research has shown, we tend to make choices, which develop into habits, depending on what is most accessible to us in our environment. If all you have to do is press a button to sit down or stand up, you save yourself a lot of hassle which translates to commitment to using the standing option. So, big kudos to Elan Morgan, for coming up with a solution where all you have to do is pick up your laptop to change positions. 

Book shelf

Our cardboard desk 

As we said above, we know that not everyone is ready for or has the space to commit to a fully adjustable standing height desk. That’s exactly why we designed our cardboard standing desk. It’s foldable, convenient, sturdy and very affordable at $19. 

With a bit more effort...

With a bit more effort, you can fashion yourself an affordable standing desk that is sturdier and looks a bit more official than the options above. The issue with these two options is that they’re not sit-to-stand desks, they’re just standing. Standing all day long is not recommended, and as said above, the easier you make it on yourself to smoothly transition between standing and sitting, the more likely you will be to consistently use the option. But these definitely work for some people. You may also even be able to make something like this from what you have around the house, as with the bookshelf example above. If you can make it from what you have around and make it both sitting and standing—perfect! 

Desks on desks on desks 

With a bit of stacking you can make yourself the two-part platform that looks like a really legit desk. We recommend that you secure whatever platforms you’re using as much as possible to avoid having this all come crashing down. See here for more ideas about this. 

Desks on desks on desks

The legendary $22 Ikea desk 

This is a popular “Ikea-hack” from Colin Nederkoorn works for many people and only costs $22. If you have a strong feeling that you won’t want an adjustable height standing desk in the future and you’re somewhat handy at assembling Ikea parts, this might just be your affordable standing desk solution. 

The legendary $22 Ikea desk 

Bonus: useful additions to any desk 

If you already have an adjustable height desk but you’re looking for ways to customize it or make it more versatile here are a few accessories to consider. A lot of these we now offer in our store, because people would buy the SmartDesk and then jerry-rig their own versions of these. We took inspiration from them and tried to make versions that are as high-quality yet affordable as possible. 

Check out the monitor arm, office bike and cable tray



We also recently came across a desk that converts into a little sleeping area so you can take an afternoon nap. It’s brilliant. But it’s not a standing desk. We know how ingenious our readers are already from all the accessories they’ve inspired us to come up with, so our challenge to you is if anyone can find a way to hack a SmartDesk so that it (safely and easily) converts to having a little sleeping cot underneath, you’ll go down in our DIY hall of fame. And we might start making them. 

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