What personal items should I really keep in my desk at work?
July 5, 2013 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I started my first 9-5 office job a few weeks back, and have been slowly figuring out the things I can keep on hand to make my work day a little more enjoyable. Things like hand lotion, trail mix, pictures of friends and family. There are also things I'm realizing I should always have handy: tampons, painkillers, granola bars, etc. What am I missing? What are the things that make sitting at a desk for eight hours a slightly better experience?
posted by frizzle to Work & Money (76 answers total) 104 users marked this as a favorite
A small sewing kit comes in handy and will also make you popular and seem well-prepared when an officemate is running around with a button that just fell off right before a client presentation trying to find a fix!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:39 PM on July 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Separate charger and headphones for phone/MP3 player. It's worth the expense not to have to remember to pack them twice a day.
posted by Etrigan at 5:40 PM on July 5, 2013 [25 favorites]

Deodorant, nail clippers, extra shoes.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:42 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pocket knife.
posted by Betelgeuse at 5:44 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rubik's cube or similar to have something to fidget with during long phone calls/reading stuff. I've also had a magnetic dartboard hanging near my desk before, but I think that only works in a super casual office.
posted by justjess at 5:44 PM on July 5, 2013

Gum or mints. Tooth brush and toothpaste (for the Forgot An Important Meeting After Having All Of The Garlic For Lunch problems that always seem to happen).
posted by rhapsodie at 5:45 PM on July 5, 2013 [14 favorites]

Spare shirt (in case you spill something down the front of the one you wore to work)

Sweater (a/c can make offices surprisingly cold)

enough cash to buy lunch/coffee

stamps/envelopes for mailing bills or letters during breaks
posted by belladonna at 5:46 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I keep a can of tuna, preferably one which doesn't need a can opener.
posted by goethean at 5:46 PM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

- safety pins
- lint roller
- hand sanitizer
- a bag with travel-sized deodorant, tooth brush, tooth paste, floss, nail file
- a bag with spares of the most basic makeup / hair products you might need if you have a surprise important meeting or a date after work - perhaps eye shadow, powder and lipstick
- Hairpins, clips, or bands if you use them
- definitely phone charger
- extra earbuds
- aspirin, tylenol, bandaids, TUMs
- definitely tampons
- stamps and envelopes. You rarely need them these days but ...
- Greeting cards. For when someone in the office has a birthday or life event and you don't have time to run to the store
posted by bunderful at 5:47 PM on July 5, 2013 [9 favorites]

Office desk essentials: Kleenex, toothbrush/toothpaste, separate headphones for the work computer, a wireless mouse and keyboard you like and that aren't gross from former employees, hand sanitizer (can be used to clean your keyboard and mouse), rechargeable batteries and a charger (people will definitely borrow these if you have extra), bright extra-sticky recycled Post-its (if you use Post-its), a nice lamp (or two or three) for your workspace, a nice pen holder, a spare jacket or sweater, an industrial-strength stapler and/or three-hole punch if you use these and your office doesn't provide them...
posted by limeonaire at 5:47 PM on July 5, 2013

Cough drops, painkillers of choice, any other drug you're likely to take. Tampons/pads. A charger. Bandaids. Deodorant. Gum.
posted by jeather at 5:51 PM on July 5, 2013

Tea and/or coffee you actually like.

A spare can or two of soup, in case your lunch goes haywire. Preferably one where a can opener isn't needed.

A mug.

I even have my own soup bowl, but our office is on a huge GREEN kick. I don't expect this to be for every office environment.

If you have allergies or sensitivities to the bathroom soaps, some Purell and/or a small container of soap you can use. I have Purell and a travel container of undiluted Dr. Bronner's Peppermint soap.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:54 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

baby wipes
posted by elizardbits at 5:55 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

In addition to the phone charger, sweater, painkillers, feminine things and mints, I also keep a pair of thick socks in my drawer for days when the AC is too much for my poor, unsocked feet. I have a pair of old ones with some of the elastic gone so that I can easily pull them off and put my shoes back on if I need to go to a meeting.
posted by kimberussell at 5:56 PM on July 5, 2013

I find it's best to acquire things as you need them. You could go to the pharmacy and spend a fortune duplicating their inventory, never use it and then find yourself in an awkward position when it's time to clean out your desk. Think about what you already use at home or wherever to start, then accumulate and shed as needed. That being said, a Tide stain remover pen and disinfectant wipes are two things I always find useful.
posted by bleep at 5:58 PM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Start with a phone book of important contact information in case the cell network is down but the landlines work (or you forget/lose your cell)
  • nail clipper and file, and a cuticle nipper if you get hangnails with any frequency
  • clear nail polish
  • extra pair of pantyhose if you wear them
  • face wipe clothes or baby wipes if there's one you can abide
  • anti diarrhea medicine (pepto or offbrand chewables), other meds as appropriate, TUMS or Alka Seltzer for instance
  • cough drops or hard candy that works as a cough drop
  • headphones you like if you ever need them at work
  • something more exciting than a granola bar, but not so tempting that you're eating it all the time.
  • a selection of cards, some envelopes with postage on them, for when you hear that someone is having a baby/getting married/sending condolences. I get a box of ten cards really cheap that are all blank inside, but others keep an assortment of Hallmark type stuff around.
  • eating utensils and napkins, for when you're stuck ordering lunch to your desk
  • a book you might read
  • a wrap or cardigan that is always at your desk, because air conditioning can be awful. I like a wrap, because if I wore a cardigan with my outfit in the morning, then I can throw a wrap over my knees and look less weird than having a shirt on my legs....maybe that's just me.
Keep all of this in one box or drawer that would be easy for you to empty/take with you in the event that your job ends more suddenly than you expect. In fact, some of it can be kept in a toiletry bag in your purse, if you carry that kind of purse.

And this last thing is more for other people than for you. But a map of sorts to help navigate your workspace should you be out sick or otherwise indisposed. Where the critical files are on your computer, email contacts for people outside the company that are very helpful.
posted by bilabial at 6:00 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Eye drops.

Salt, pepper, cumin, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon. And Old Bay.

Oatmeal and a jar of peanut butter. That jar of peanut butter has saved my coworkers from many a hunger-fueled breakdown.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:01 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you can go without eating them, small-size candies and such you can use as bribes or pull out when you want something or want to comfort someone will take you further than you might think. The hand that keeps the mini-Snickers rules the office.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:02 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fancy hand sanitizer! I have a lemon one, and the nice smell motivates me to use it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:06 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A little plate, plus a knife, fork, and spoon, in case there is some leftover birthday cake in the kitchen.
Definitely a small stash of high-quality chocolate, for those times when bribery is necessary.
Do you wear glasses? Be sure to get one of those tiny eyeglass screwdrivers.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:08 PM on July 5, 2013

Gas-x. The probability of audible farts increases with the size and importance of the audience.
posted by workerant at 6:10 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

deodorant and toothbrush/toothpaste (I mean if you are like me and you ever sometimes forget to do that stuff in the morning ahem).
posted by magnetsphere at 6:10 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

My office lifesaver items are all related to my inability to plan for my commute: dry socks (for when it is unexpectedly raining on the way to work), a tiny umbrella (for when it is unexpectedly raining on the way home from work), an extra tote bag (for when bulky items are unexpectedly acquired during the day).
posted by teditrix at 6:11 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I keep a cell phone charger and some basic backup makeup in my desk (my usual powder, a neutral lipstick that goes with pretty much everything, blotting papers, a travel size of my usual perfume).

Nthing extra deodorant (yes, you will one day get to work and realized you forgot to put any on), tampons, snacks, gum, toothbrush and toothpaste, a sweater, a little fan, and a pair of flip flops in case there is a shoe malfunction (depending on your office culture, you may prefer to leave an inexpensive pair of ballet flats in your desk).

I also keep a couple of bucks in change in my desk in case I am cashless and just REALLY need to make a vending machine run.
posted by elizeh at 6:12 PM on July 5, 2013

I would also say stitching kit and maybe Tide-To-Go. You could keep a change of clothes in your car or if you have a locker.

Some tupperware and set of utensils for eating lunch that you may bring or unexpected food. Then you don't have to worry about bringing your fork home with you every time. (And of course, snacks, bars, water bottle, etc.)

Is your hair long? If so plenty of hairbands and bobby pins. You don't want to have to put your hair up with a pencil if it starts getting in your way. Totally also agree with a nail file/nail clippers. It's a pain if you break a nail and you can't get it even without one.

Pepto/Imodium. You never know if you might get some embarrassing stomach issues and it's probably great to stop diarrhea if you get sick.

Possibly a neck shaped ice/heat pack? That can help with headaches or if it's too cold/hot.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:13 PM on July 5, 2013

Plants. Some do very well in 8 hours of artificial light a day, and it's good to have something with an unpredictable curvy shape to look at sometimes.
A vase for when you buy yourself flowers.
Hello Kitty magnetic paper dolls.
Ask your friends and family to send postcards from wherever they travel.

Think about what you might need if you're stuck in the office for an extended time (because of weather, for example): flashlight, really thick novel, charger for your phone.
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 6:15 PM on July 5, 2013

If you're bringing nail clippers and work in a cube, please, for the love of god, clip your nails in the restroom or outside.

I keep hair bands, change, spare shoes, sugar and salt, ibuprofen, oatmeal, and a flashlight.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 6:16 PM on July 5, 2013 [15 favorites]

One of those stain-removing pens--it's saved me many times from the dreaded combination of red Crystal Light + drippy water bottle.

A heating pad, both for cramps and days when you're just freezing for no reason.

Dry socks, possibly a sweater. If you can, keep a spare shirt in your desk, too--stay there long enough, and at some point you're going to end up with a pen exploding on you, or getting drenched running inside, or whatever. (This works less well if you have a business casual, as opposed to casual-casual, office, but a polo from the thrift store might about cover you.)

A fork, a spoon, a steak knife (useful for cutting everything from cake to raw veg to a chicken thigh for lunch). Single-serve packets of ketchup, mustard, and soy sauce. Salt and pepper, and sweetener.

For a while, I had a very large office with cabinets on the walls, and I was only using a few of the cabinets. One was turned into a food cupboard--tins of soup, ramen, tea, tinned chickpeas, crackers, etc. It was great--it made my life lots easier, and many of my coworkers were also grateful to know that if they forgot to bring lunch and they were broke, someone would always have soup (or whatever) that they could eat.

Toothbrush and toothpaste--not because I'm some kind of tooth-cleaning freak, but because you never know when someone important is going to drop in/when you're going to end up going out for a very garlicky lunch.

Also, what everyone else said about a first-aid kit, definitely including Immodium. I can't say that enough. Definitely, definitely including immodium.
posted by MeghanC at 6:25 PM on July 5, 2013

Dental floss
posted by drlith at 6:31 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you wear contact lenses: a travel-size bottle of lens cleaning solution, spare lens case, and an extra pair of contacts.
posted by fikri at 6:40 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I keep a jar of rainbow-colored markers on my desk so I can make pretty doodles on my blotter during conference calls. Also, I spend a few dollars for rainbow paper clips, binder clips, pushpins, notepaper, etc. at Staples -- they're more fun than the plain boring ones my office buys.

If you can get away with it, a little area rug can really warm up your space and make it cozy. Artwork on the walls you really enjoy looking at.

Squeezy stress-ball type things, magnets, etc. if you are a fidgeter like me.

In addition to the other great suggestions above: Chapstick. And extra napkins.
posted by southern_sky at 6:46 PM on July 5, 2013

Seconding the heating pad; I always keep one around for cold days or if I have a backache. I also keep fingerless gloves for chilly days, too, so I can type while keeping my hands warm.

Other things I keep around: an extra mug or two (it's always nice to be able to offer someone a cup of tea), napkins, utensils, single-serve packets of condiments. Tea, honey, instant oatmeal, peanut butter. Pain relievers, antacids, bandages, etc. Clear nail polish for fixing runs in your tights or hose.
posted by scody at 6:47 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing one of those tide pens.

Also, head to the dollar store and grab a cheap brush and handheld mirror. Both have been handy for me.
posted by royalsong at 6:53 PM on July 5, 2013

Small fan, battery-operated. My facilities team is notorious for confiscating fans with plugs.
A coaster for your beverage, so that your cup is not leaking/condensing onto your desk. Coaster looks a little more thoughtful than a wrinkled up Starbucks napkin.
Nail clippers, but agree NOT at the desk. Especially not your toenails.
Nuts, seeds, microwave popcorn for an emergency snack.
posted by spinturtle at 6:54 PM on July 5, 2013

Plants. Some do very well in 8 hours of artificial light a day, and it's good to have something with an unpredictable curvy shape to look at sometimes.

Yes! I love my desk pothos. It enjoys the harsh environment of my cold, sterile office that gets no natural light. It sits in pitch black for 2-3 days at a time and is as perky as ever when I come back in and turn on the lights after a long weekend. I only water it about once a week, and it's so happy.

Breath mints and cough drops are good to have too, as well as a variety of teas if your office has a hot water dispenser. I keep teas that serve various purposes - energizing teas (green/white tea), relaxing teas (vanilla rooibos tea, peppermint tea), teas that are good for when I feel like I'm coming down with something (Throat Coat). I have a travel mug that keeps hot drinks hot for a really long time, which is a lot nicer than drinking out of a paper cup wherein the coffee or tea becomes lukewarm after only a few minutes.
posted by wondermouse at 7:02 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A spork. No lie, I use mine every week.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:02 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Emergency - appropriate shoes. A few days' worth of daily rx meds in case of earthquake or other emergency.

A couple of bottles of water (switch out from time to time)

Trail mix or other nonperishable snack.

That ^^^^ tells you I'm from California. This vvv tells you how OLD I am.

An extra pair of pantyhose.

YES I STILL WEAR PANTYHOSE if I am wearing anything above the knee.
posted by janey47 at 7:07 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also : Keep a file but not clippers. Clippers pose a temptation too great to resist. Make some kind of note to yourself to ask yourself in ten years' time what the WORST office noise was -- guaranteed it's nail clippers.
posted by janey47 at 7:10 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, right: compostable wooden spoons and forks, for those inevitable times when you need a utensil for lunch but don't want to totally destroy the Earth. (Yes, compostable items don't necessarily decompose in landfills, but they're still made from a renewable resource, which is more than can be said for plastic.) Office life can be so wasteful!

Also, a magazine holder doubles amazingly well as a mini personal paper recycling bin.
posted by limeonaire at 7:15 PM on July 5, 2013

Cheap pair of ballet flats for when your "nice" shoes are causing undue amounts of discomfort.
Office umbrella for sudden downpours.
Agree about extra pantyhose, though mine are actually opaque black tights.
I like to keep those powdered vitamin packets like Emergen-C handy.
posted by Miko at 7:19 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank goodness my office has a fully- stocked medicine cabinet!

Tampons, kleenex, refillable water bottle, painkillers, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, dry shampoo, emergency snacks (canned soup, peanut butter, granola bars etc).
posted by Joh at 7:24 PM on July 5, 2013

It really depends on your job. At one job I kept a spare suit in case I was unexpectedly called to court, but always had a spare set of clothes, with underwear and pantyhose, regardless.

Emery boards. Paracetamol. Tampons. A microwaveable heat bag for period cramps. I had a drawer full of food (cupasoup, cereal, Ryvitas, muesli bars, trail mix, chocolate) at my last office job that was frequently raided by my colleagues. A sharp knife, a butter knife, spoon, fork, bowl and plate so I could cut my tomatoes and avocado for lunch and have something to rest them on. Butter and Laughing Cow cheese in the fridge, and a loaf of bread in the freezer. Salt and pepper grinders. Sriracha. Food was obviously really important.
posted by goo at 7:27 PM on July 5, 2013

I've long kept a Leatherman multi-tool in my desk. When somebody needs a knife, screwdriver, pair of pliers, etc. (or I do), I'm always able to help. As Eyebrows McGee points out, it's great to be known as the person who always comes through when folks are in a tight spot.
posted by waldo at 7:49 PM on July 5, 2013

I keep a bottle of Pro Link chain lube and a set of good allen keys, but I do work in an office full of cyclists, so somebody is always borrowing my tools.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:01 PM on July 5, 2013

Tweezers and fold-up ballet flats for when your regular shoes get soaked in a downpour. I also keep big scarves in my desk drawer for cold-office days.
posted by zoetrope at 8:21 PM on July 5, 2013

Oh by the way -- your question as posed is correct. In no office should you believe that anything stored in the communal fridge -- irrespective of the threats you issue -- is safe from appropriation by the entitled. They will take it. They will take one bite from it and put it back. And if you protest, you will lose.
posted by janey47 at 8:31 PM on July 5, 2013

If you know what kind of meds help your particular pain/allergy/whatever symptoms, take a look in your office first aid kit. Many of the otherwise well-stocked ones don't carry Aspirin, and sometimes the stuff they have for allergy symptoms is drowsy-making.

An emergency $20 bill (or enough to get you home if your wallet/purse gets lost or stolen).

I keep a set of earplugs.
posted by dws at 8:42 PM on July 5, 2013

If you take a laptop back and forth to the office on anything more than an extremely rare basis, a separate charger for home and for your desk. The stupidly high cost of the charger is nothing compared to the satisfaction of not having to lug the thing around.

Same goes with a backup pair of headphones if you like to listen to music at work and usually carry headphones to/from the office. Headphones are useful in general even if you don't listen to music, as you'll eventually have some work-related need to listen to something, like the online sexual harassment training or whatever.

Enough cash for a cab fare home tucked in an envelope in a drawer or similar.

If your office doesn't otherwise have them in the kitchen or closet, basic cleaning supplies suitable for dealing with small spills and messes. Having a sticky desk is no fun.
posted by zachlipton at 8:52 PM on July 5, 2013

Umbrella. Clif bars. Can of SPAM.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:09 PM on July 5, 2013

A space heater/fan has saved my ass more times than I can count when I lost the climate wars at work, and awesomely doubled as white noise.

I'm also a big fan of aromatherapy, provided you can manage something that doesn't bother the people around you. I personally like a spray of rose water. It's calming, not too cloying, doesn't linger and won't layer on top of other smells and make things worse.

My dream office will have individual, personally issued climate, fragrance and sound barriers. And kittens.
posted by Space Kitty at 9:14 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A small bottle of dish detergent so you can wash your coffee cup.

The spare laptop charger a nice idea, my company gives every laptop user two chargers. It's certainly worth asking for one before you spend your own money.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:41 PM on July 5, 2013

A spare pair of underwear (don't ask).
Batteries, a spare set of headphones, snack food.w
posted by dbmcd at 9:42 PM on July 5, 2013

Cutlery and maybe even a decently sized plastic tupperware container to use as a bowl. Even in offices with dishwashers, I've found most colleagues lose the ability to act like intelligent adults when it comes to dishes, and just leave the sink full of dirty plates and spoons. I know it's not very communal but whatever -- I would just wash mine after each use and take them back to my desk, and I never had to get annoyed by the lack of clean forks (or just forks, really; no office kitchen ever has enough forks) again.

Cans of soup. Tea bags.

If you hate your office coffeemaker, an Aeropress. If you want to go full snob, also bring your own coffee and a hand grinder.

Maybe this is just the kind of offices I've worked in, but people are always asking for cork screws and bottle openers, and they're often hard to find. If you provide the opener, you'll probably get some of the booze.

If you eat at your desk, Febreze or some fairly odourless air freshener is good. I'm messy, but also paranoid I leave my desk gross, so a quick spray every few weeks (at the end of the day, no one wants to smell that stuff while eating their lunch) is a nice thing to do.

Spare USB flash drives.

Two pairs of office headphones. Not just one in addition to your everyday ones, as some are suggesting, but one just for work and a second set for when your workmate asks to borrow them (or doesn't ask and just takes them while you're away) and doesn't return them/goes on holiday. It will happen. Make sure one set is crappy earbuds covered in wax, so anyone who does ask to borrow them never does a second time.

Magazines. If you eat at your desk, sometimes it's nice to take your eyes and brain off the screen for a bit. Also, as you're new, it tells workmates, "Hey, these are my interests."
posted by retrograde at 9:49 PM on July 5, 2013

Duct Tape.
posted by Sophont at 10:07 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hot sauce, or other non-perishable condiments and spices that you use regularly if you eat at your desk and your work kitchen doesn't have this stuff.

Crackers and peanut butter.

A big lump of silly putty or some other kind of toy to give your hands a breather from the keyboard and mouse.

A pack of disinfecting wet wipes.
posted by deinemutti at 10:16 PM on July 5, 2013

Most cell phones can charge from microUSB, and the cables are dirt cheap -- I bought like twelve from monoprice to distribute about the office, just so people stop asking to borrow / lose mine. Sure, you could hand them out as people ask to borrow one, but then they'll feel obligated to return it.

Allergy medications and headache are pretty nice to have around. As are tissues.

If you work in an office cube farm and feel isolated, candy can help make your cube more inviting to coworkers. I procure very large bags of individually wrapped lifesaver mints for this.

In my line of work, a multi-tool (Gerber/Leatherman) is a pretty useful thing to have. Socket screw driver, scissors, knife, pliers, can opener, ruler (makeshift hammer) all in one little tool.

Also in my line of work: textbooks. The internet is great, and we have a lot of O'Reilly books, but I find textbooks more valuable as timeless desk references. Most O'Reilly books serve as a "here's how to run and configure this piece of software", and textbooks help cover the theoretical underpinnings of say, Kerberos or SSL, which is at least important when debugging. And the good ones have citations / more reading suggestions. Plus, it's plenty theatrical when you can point to a page X in a textbook that describes the name of the feature and it's concept in plain language that would have prevented Y helpdesk tickets had the responsible party known about it beforehand.
posted by pwnguin at 10:21 PM on July 5, 2013

If you drink coffee and they either don't have a coffee machine or you don't care for it, they make things that sit on top of mugs and hold a filter. Here's one, though you can get a plastic one for about $3.

You put the coffee in the filter and pour boiling water over it. Voila, quick and easy fresh coffee of your choice.

For better or worse, it smells very, very good, and I've always had people ask if they could trouble me for a fresh cup.
posted by ambient2 at 10:49 PM on July 5, 2013

Nthing a box of tissues, preferably the name brand lotion infused kind.
posted by fozzie_bear at 10:49 PM on July 5, 2013

I always keep an extra set of keys to my house at my office. If you drive a car, keep an extra set of car keys in there too. That way, if you find yourself locked out or you lose your keys, you always know that you can still get home from your office.
posted by decathecting at 11:07 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

q-tips, nail clippers. Paper towels if you can't quickly access them in the office-- shit spills. Glass cleaning wipes, because cleaning supplies disappear. Hand sanitizer and/or wet wipes.

I made a lot of friends (mainly, in all honesty, with the women in my office) by keeping a mug full of individually-wrapped chocolates on my desk. It's not my preferred candy, so I've probably had 2 in 3 years. But my coworkers sometimes need a fix.

Antacids, basic pain meds (ibuprofin), allergy pills. An assortment of bandaids. If you can tolerate them, one or two 5-hour energy drinks, or the like.

Stain-removing wipes/pen.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:19 PM on July 5, 2013

Nail file.
Individual servings of flavored coffee creamer (I don't drink coffee every day, and I suspect that if I left tasty creamer in the fridge it would be commandeered). They don't require refridgeration.
Disaster-recovery / shelter-in-place items: water, non-perishable foods, basic medical supplies. If we get stuck in the office for 24-72 hours, I have the feeling that people will quickly lose interest in sharing the communal supplies nicely. Actually, I think that's a reflection of what I think of the office manager, she's kind of a stickler for rules and procedure, which I don't want to deal with if I just need some tylenol.
posted by vignettist at 12:13 AM on July 6, 2013

A spare pair of stockings/tights if you wear them, in case you get a ladder or a hole in the pair you're wearing.
posted by RubyScarlet at 12:43 AM on July 6, 2013

"... hand sanitizer (can be used to clean your keyboard and mouse) ..."
posted by limeonaire at 8:47 PM on July 5

Good idea, limeonaire, but 91% rubbing alcohol (not the cheap 70% or less stuff), some Q-tips, and some wooden toothpicks work a lot better, and don't leave behind the silicone softener agents so common in many "non-drying" hand sanitizer formulations. And please, on behalf of your IT department, and anyone else who might have occasion to use your phone, or your keyboard/mouse, if you are a regular user of hand lotion, do clean your keyboard, phone dial pad and receiver, and mouse weekly. There's nothing nastier than the dirty keyboards and phone pads of many hand lotion wearers, which I've personally seen have layers of finger soil and lotion so thick, they obliterate the keycap letters.
posted by paulsc at 12:56 AM on July 6, 2013

When I worked in an office I loved my Mr. Coffee iced tea maker. It's cheaper and better than vending soda.
posted by jgirl at 6:22 AM on July 6, 2013

Contact lens case and cleaning fluid, plus a spare (old) pair of glasses, if you wear contacts and they suddenly get irritated or something.

I keep a little tube of ibuprofen in my briefcase and aspirin in my desk. (Ibuprofen is for headaches, aspirin is for hangovers; at least that's how it works for me.)

About $20 in small change, mostly for reimbursing people for lunch when it's not worth splitting the check.

If you have an office with a door, install a hook on the back of your office door (assuming it doesn't have one already) and then hang a spare shirt / blouse and a jacket there. For spills or if you get sweaty or whatever. If you are afraid of getting in trouble for installing a hook (in most offices nobody would ever notice if you were crafty about it) you can use a wreath hanger but I think that looks kludgy.

If you want to keep 'emergency food' in your desk, get stuff that isn't your favorites to eat. Otherwise it'll just be gone the first time you have a boring conference call... or at least it would if it were me.

I keep a personal stash of Keurig K-cups for the office coffee machine (purchased on my own, of course) so that I don't have to drink something crappy when they run out of the decent stuff. When I worked at an office that didn't have a refrigerator, the shelf-stable creamers were key.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:40 AM on July 6, 2013

I keep:
extra bike lock & key in case I forget mine
extra slip on dressy shoes in case of rain on the commute
toothbrush, floss and tooth paste
bodum coffee maker
posted by chapps at 7:46 AM on July 6, 2013

Oh, here's a good one - single serving Parmalat milks for when there are no coffee milks or creamers available at the office coffeemaker.
posted by Miko at 7:51 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I keep a stash of Null Modems and hand them out when people ask me why they can't get some piece of equipment to talk to their laptop.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:29 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

A bunch of $1s, for yourself or to make change for others, especially if you have vending machines.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:53 AM on July 6, 2013

Cable Ties
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:08 PM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of great ideas above. I like to keep my desk pretty well stocked as well.

- I highly recommend keeping an assortment of OTC meds (pretty cheap when you buy generic at Target) including Pepto Bismol, Immodium, and Tylenol.
- Deodorant in case you forget to put it on or get really sweaty
- I keep a nail file and nail nippers (for hangnails) but not nail clippers.
- I didn't have an extra pair of tights, but I do now because I got a run once and had to go to the drugstore in the middle of the day.
- Extra phone charger
- I have neck problems, so having Thermacare wraps on hand is useful
- Toothpicks or those little disposable floss/pick things
- Mini compact
- If you keep lotion and hand sanitizer, make sure neither has a strong smell, or at least let your coworkers know to tell you if the scent bothers them.
posted by radioamy at 2:59 PM on July 6, 2013

I second the plant suggestion. In both my cube and windowless office, the green living things made me happy. Plant maintenance is good to do during boring conference calls! Spider plants do well indoors and are easy to clip and share with co-workers when they get too large.
posted by natasha_k at 8:05 AM on July 7, 2013

To add to the above OTC medicine suggestions - I sometimes have DayQuil and always have a cough suppressant. Not only because I hate being the one coughing and annoying the whole office, but because I also hate being annoyed by other coughers.

I always try to keep some extra napkins and/or paper towels for immediate clean up of spills - no time wasted running to the office kitchen.

Rubbing alcohol is great for cleaning your mouse and keyboard, as others have mentioned. I've taken to keeping some alcohol swabs at my desk (the kind that come individually wrapped - like they use at the doctor's office when you're about to get a shot). You can really get between your keys with them and they're fairly cheap. This came from working at a medical supply company - we used these suckers to clean all the things.

My old CFO was a gum chewer, so I kept a big container of gum even though I never chew it. It was nice to be the one he came to when he wanted some, and I think it went a long way in bettering our working relationship. Note what treats your higher-ups are into and keep some around.
posted by youngergirl44 at 9:09 AM on July 7, 2013

Oh, and a bottle of vodka or other easily mixable booze (if your office culture allows) - nice for a late night stuck at the office or a toast when Big Project is finished. Keeps without refrigeration and a screw top seals well for storage without worrying about leaks.
posted by youngergirl44 at 9:14 AM on July 7, 2013

Just remembered another one: blank note cards. I can't count how many times I've needed to send a relative a birthday card or some other thank you type of thing and having a supply of neutral, pleasant note cards that I can customize for the occasion has saved me dozens of trips to the drug store for a $3 Hallmark card. I never remember until I'm at work that I need to send a card to someone and this has proved itself to be a very useful resource.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:01 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Pen and post-it notes.

Headphones. Earplugs, as well.

Extra cash, stashed where it's a bit hard to find.

Alcohol based hand sanitizer also works as a fast-drying stain remover.

Dental floss is always awesome.

Eye drops help in the winter when most office buildings are bone-dry.

A swap of shoes is nice in the wintertime.

Snacks; usually some almonds, but anything that will get me through an extra hour.

And Immodium AD, as that's the only illness-preventer that both works... and if you need it, you cannot do without.
posted by talldean at 7:25 PM on July 12, 2013

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