Uses for lots of unneeded space on my desk?
July 29, 2015 10:48 AM   Subscribe

I have a rather large desk (probably about 2' x 5') at my new job, but I only need my laptop to get work done. What fun, or useful, things can I put in the remaining space?

  • I don't need any other equipment. For example, almost all of my colleagues have giant 27" displays, but I prefer to work on my laptop by itself.
  • I used to keep books on my desk, but there aren't really any paper reference materials I need in my job.
  • I work in marketing (specifically, marketing technology / digital marketing) at a tech startup in the Pacific Northwest.
My desk is in a large room, near about a dozen other people I work with regularly. Some ideas I had were:
  • Keep an interesting board game (Monopoly? Chess?) set up on my desk and occasionally make moves or set up a department-wide game that last for months and months
  • Buy a 3D printer (I don't want to spend that much money, though)
  • Cheap model train set?
  • Plants? Seems a little boring, though :) Plus I'm not always here to water them.
posted by thumpasor to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that there is a small logistical issue which I'd like to solve: people keep taking things like my power adapters since they think the desk is unoccupied. We have a small post-it that says "thumpasor's desk" on it, but that doesn't seem to be doing the trick...
posted by thumpasor at 10:49 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you at all have a green thumb/any natural light? I would look into establishing a cactus or succulent display, or whatever cheap plants you'd like. Greenery makes things way nicer. as a benefit you could hide your power adapters and stuff among them and that should minimize the stealing of things.

Otherwise the answer is possibly elaborate lego castles
posted by larthegreat at 10:53 AM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

People used to think my desk was unoccupied also when I wasn't sitting at it and would proceed to sit down, unplug my network cable from the PC and use it themselves. This is even after hanging my coat on the back of the chair and leaving a pile of papers on the chair itself.

My solution was to keep every piece of paper I came across on my desk to make it look like I was in the middle of a project. Problem solved but the downside was that my desk looked a little messy. I learned to live with that part.
posted by eatcake at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

For the unoccupied issue, I'd suggest a family photo or something else personal.
posted by that girl at 11:03 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Digital picture frame that cycles through photos?

Plants are nice, but I always seem to kill them.

ThinkGeek has a lot of random crap you can put on your desk if you cycle through the various categories. Maybe you'll get some ideas there.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:10 AM on July 29, 2015

A magic eight ball, a name plate, family photos, and a bulletin board with stuff on it if you can put one up. Stuff can include a calendar (even if only decorative), business cards, and anything motivational. A jar for pens and such that is obviously repurposed (like a peanut butter jar with a ribbon on it) or obviously unique (like a canister shaped like an animal.)

Lego castles are a pretty wise investment, though.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:11 AM on July 29, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks! Not to threadsit, but I'm definitely looking for more of the lego-set suggestions, rather than the family photo ones :)

Subversive or irreverent = good. Some other possibilities that have been suggested just now:
  • A giant pyramid of Campbell's Soup cans
  • A marble run

posted by thumpasor at 11:16 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

A mossarium may be sufficiently low maintenance for you.

If your company has monitors available, you may find it useful to snag one even if you don't plug it in because you can put little D&D figures or whatever you like on top of it. (In addition, your neck and shoulders may eventually rebel against pure laptop screen viewing. Ask me how I know.)

Can you bring in something that looks like it is interacted with/built? Your suggestion of the board game, or the Lego creations larthegreat suggested can work, but you can also try setting up a Jenga game where you pull out and mark up one piece per workday.

Look for or create a perpetual calendar like this or this. Or if you're working on certain projects, you might try creating a customized Advent calendar with little windows and treats for each milestone.
posted by maudlin at 11:19 AM on July 29, 2015

Best answer: Rube Goldberg Machine (search results for RGM kits, because there are many options, and I don't know which to pick or suggest) - something you could modify in your free time to do such important things as move envelopes from "inbox" to "outbox," or just send marbles spinning around for a few minutes.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:20 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Or a really big zen sand garden.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:21 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A puzzle? Although your productivity may plummet. One of my co-workers had a puzzle for a while and the verdict after was 'never again' as no one could resist.
posted by carolr at 11:22 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As a corollary to the Rube Goldberg machine, can you build a Lego Sisyphus and move him one block per day?
posted by maudlin at 11:23 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

headphones and a headphone amp/dac, and a lamp. amp and lamp both plugged into the power strip.
posted by andrewcooke at 11:29 AM on July 29, 2015

They key is to make it look like you are using it and have only stepped away for a moment.

Pictures -- featuring you, assuming your co-workers would recognize you -- would be good. A calendar turned to that day's date might help. But fresh food would really do it! The Japanese use super-lifelike models of foods in the windows of restaurants, like these. Analogously, you need to have something you can leave behind that triggers an instinctive "whoops, not available" reaction in people.

Get a Tupperware-like container and brush some bread crumbs into it. Dab tea or coffee on the bottom of a cup and press it against a paper towel to make a ring, and allow it to dry. Bring these to work, and put them on your desk each day -- in a different spot, maybe folding the towel differently -- when you need to get up to leave, so it looks like you just finished lunch.

Alternately, be blunt and make a small sign that says "Yes, I really am using this desk; I just don't have a lot of stuff" that you can leave prominently in the middle of all the white space.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:00 PM on July 29, 2015

I'd be cautious about putting too many toy-/game-like things on the desk that aren't just simple decor, i.e. figurines/statues and things, just so nobody gets that idea that you're shirking your duties and turning your workspace into a playspace. I say this as a man with a Han Solo Mighty Muggs, a Godzilla, and a Squeaky Monk in my cube at present.

I recently moved cubicles and took the opportunity to reorganize my crap. I bought a few decent-looking paper sorters and a wire desk organizer. If you have a wall, whiteboards are nice, as are tasteful/appealing art calendars (I bought the Gregory Blackstock one this year), and postcards. You might also think about putting in a small desktop shelf as a personal (not necessarily work-related) bookshelf or snack storage.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:10 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Giant Origami Animals
posted by soelo at 1:11 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

An ant farm? An Etch-a-sketch (might walk off though, you should have some way of putting your name on it). A small ecosphere similar to this (bonus no care required just sunlight).
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:29 PM on July 29, 2015

You need to ditch that post-it note and have a trophy shop make you up a gigantic ostentatious golden "THUMPASOR" desktop name plate.
posted by contraption at 2:50 PM on July 29, 2015

If you want a model train set, a small sectional snap set (I like the Kato sectional track for temporary setups

Add a pair of switches, and there are some rather fun logic games you can setup in switching cars:
posted by nickggully at 8:23 PM on July 29, 2015

Fish bowl/tank with appropriate fish for the space. Very relaxing. Or a zen sand garden.
posted by Jubey at 8:57 PM on July 29, 2015

Ooooh yes, zen garden. I'm also partial to magnetic sculptures.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:08 PM on July 29, 2015

Bollocks to the zen sand garden. Kinetic sand for the win!
posted by taff at 11:35 PM on July 29, 2015

Board game - Put up a Scrabble (brand crossword game) with one tray of letters facing out, so people can stop by and make a word whenever they want.

I had kinetic sand in the public space of my desk and it was a MESS - little bits of sand kept breaking off and getting in the carpet and on my papers.
posted by CathyG at 11:19 AM on July 30, 2015

Buy one of those big cans of beans, cut the bottom off and dump out the beans. Carefully clean the can without damaging the label. Fill the can with marbles. Curious people will pick the can up, dumping marbles everywhere.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:13 PM on July 30, 2015

I used to keep pet sea monkeys at my last office job
posted by Jacqueline at 9:51 PM on July 31, 2015

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