So, you're stuck in cubi-ville, too? The organization where I work recently moved from a quaint, sun-drenched house to a corporate office deficient of fresh air and Vita D. My initial ideas to improve the situation were expensive — expensive lamps, expensive vases, expensive art. But if you attack this problem like a thrifty hippie, restoring peace to your space can be simple and affordable.
Problem 1: Gray cubi padding. Everywhere.
Cure: Photos of what you love (print at Target for as cheap as 15 cents each); material (There has to be a scarf that you don't use because it's too short or too long or too something. Pin it to your cubi walls or lay it over a shelf for a little color); mirror (Check your local thrift stores for the best deals and unique options); pretty memory boards (DIY!).
Problem 2: Fluorescent lighting.
Cure: Make your own fluorescent panel diffuser or bring in an old lamp from home. Use "soft white" bulbs only — the warmest and easiest on the eyes. If you don't have an old lamp on hand, check your local thrift store or Craiglist. You may even be able to use your company's funds for this purchase. Check with the co-worker that handles these decisions.
Problem 3: It's stuffy.
Cure: Plants — lots of 'em. Find a local greenhouse, not just a florist, which will over price plants ridiculously. Try to buy in large quantities to get a better deal (ask your colleagues if they'd like you to pick a plant or two up for them). Let the greenhouse know if your organization is tax exempt, as many offer special discounts for non profits.
Problem 4: Noisy co-workers.
Cure: You're caught in the pettifog of your colleague's verbal battles. Only one cure, my friend. Noise-canceling headphones. Best ask the boss before, though. I let my co-workers know when I have headphones in so they know to email me or tap on my shoulder. If you can't indulge, induce a food-related coughing fit that will force them to stop arguing and, instead, be overly concerned with your safety.
Problem 5: Your computer screen faces the cubi opening.
Cure: Feng Shui-ers call this issue the lack of the "power position." You may not realize when someone comes up to your space when your back faces the door or opening to your cubicle. To combat this problem, place a mirror so you can see the reflection of your cubi opening without turning. It not only opens up your space, but it allows you to notice when someone enters.
Other tips: Beware of over decorating a small space, especially if it lacks natural light. Less is more. Instead of hanging up a ton of random clippings and artwork, stick to a few small photos and one larger piece that ties it all together. Balance dull colors with bright ones, and vice versa, sticking to a general color scheme. Above all else, make sure the space is designed for utility. No one wants to bang their shin every time they reach for a pen. Lastly, check out one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits, by Leo Babauta, before you do anything. So good.