What do you keep in your office/cubicle that makes work more enjoyable.
February 23, 2018 6:22 AM   Subscribe

I've been a bit of an employment nomad for years and so have never really kept much "stuff" at work - tell me what items you keep in your desk/cubicle/office make it a better place.

I've been used, for geographical and other reasons, to changing jobs every other year. I'm at a point where this is probably not going to happen for another five years or so. It's been pointed out to me that I am beyond minimalist at work - everything at my current job that I've brought with me over two years will fit easily in my backpack on the bus home today. It has been pointed out to me that perhaps this sends a "he's not planning on staying" vibe which has indeed been my mindset but is not anymore. As such - I'm interested perhaps in "nesting" a bit.

I live in a cold climate, so I currently keep two pairs of shoes in the office in the winter, a mug and a french press, a water bottle, a charge cable for my phone, coffee and tea, and a brush for toque hair. At one job I kept a photo of my wife in a frame on my desk (but forgot to bring it to the last two), but otherwise haven't been particularly interested in decorative elements but am open to expanding my mind.

So - MeFites, what items or accoutrements bring you joy or perform vital functions at your desk/cubicle/office?
posted by notorious medium to Work & Money (49 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
No current office, as I’m a student right now, but here’s what I did in old offices: I use calendars to provide rotating art. I liked having lamps and turning off the fluorescent lights. And books.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:32 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

A lamp and a plant
posted by raccoon409 at 6:37 AM on February 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

I liked having a space to display something that changed. For a while, the thing was some leaves I found outside and pinned to the cubicle wall. It was great.
posted by amtho at 6:41 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Lip balm and hand lotion , as a reminder to use both every time I wash my hands. I have a v cute picture of one of my dogs, which makes a lot of people smile and exclaim how cute she is. I have a mug I keep pens in that I got in a crafter's market in Mexico. Oh! and a mini prize wheel, to help me make important decisions ;)

I have a huge private office though, and those are pretty much the only personal touches. I am also a minimalist, and there's nothing wrong with that.

(I'd love to have a couch in here instead of the two business chairs facing my desk, but my boss said that's a step too far, and I'm inclined to agree.)
posted by Fig at 6:44 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I always bring pens I love instead of relying on whatever cheap boring pens they have in the supply cabinet. I keep them (and a lip balm or two) in a pen holder with grippy bits, kind of like this but not exactly. I also tend to be picky about my work notebooks/pads - I don't go full Moleskine, but again, it's nice to upgrade from the supply closet stuff.

A low-maintenance potted plant can be a really nice touch, and it's fun to see them grow over the years.

Nothing wrong with being minimalist, though. One person's flair is another person's visual annoyance.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:44 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of the most charming bloggers ever, Clotilde Desoulier of the food blog "Chocolate and Zucchini", did a whole post about what she decorated her office with. It's a good mix of "practical stuff" and "personal touches" that may give you food for thought.

What I like is that she has useful items, but the useful items themselves are personal: like, she has a few art pieces, but she also uses an antique glass cocoa measuring tool to hold pencils, and she has paperclips in the box from a wheel of camembert that her son decorated for her in preschool as a present; stuff like that.

i kind of have the same approach - right now I am confined to a single tiny desk in a WeWork with 5 other people, so I don't have room for much. But the pencil holder I use isn't a boring thing I got at Staples, it's the tin from some speciality coffee I got while on vacation in Yosemite. And my mousepad is a decorative mousepad i got from a temp gig I had ten years ago; I have no idea where it came from, it just magically appeared on my desk one morning and no one seemed to know where it had come from. I liked it, so when that temp gig ended I kept it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I handle a fair bit of paper; some of these are less helpful if you don't. But I like:

- a special mug full of a variety of writing implements in different thicknesses and colours, from which I can select depending on need and mood
- my own stapler (I can never find one when I need one)
- a staple-remover (mine is shaped like a crocodile and it owns)
- a small bottle of my favourite hand lotion, because moisturising seems to help prevent paper cuts
- a bottle of hand sanitiser because offices are gross (in cold and flu season I keep wipes in my drawer in case someone sneezes on my desk, which does happen, even though I also keep tissues on my desk)
- a small actual-glass water glass (fancier than drinking out of my water bottle!) and a coaster for it
- a few knick-knacks: in my case, special rocks, a mini-dinosaur, a little rosemary plant (which is hardy and also smells nice)

If you can put stuff on the walls, removable vinyl chalkboard stickers are great for planning / calendar-keeping. I prefer them to whiteboards, they're cheap, and you don't have to drill holes to put them up.
posted by halation at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh! I also like to pick up fresh flowers every now and then to put on my desk. Not any grand arrangement, just the bargain whatever at the grocery store, trimmed to fit in a mason jar. Lots of compliments from others on that too, and I see that other people at work have started to get flowers for themselves.
posted by Fig at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

Family photos, a small plant if you have a window or even just diffuse natural light, a decorative jar for pens and pencils, a multi tool. (In addition to my coffee mug and phone charger). I also have a glitter/glue jar because my kid made it for me and sometimes I shake it and watch the glitter settle when I'm on annoying phone calls.
posted by hungrybruno at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2018

I had a big, beautiful pothos and a framed poster from a dear colleague in my cube. I also had a few mementos from traveling (art museum magnets, postcards, things like that).

One colleague with an office had a rotating array of huge, treelike jade plants and big, beautiful, blooming geraniums. I used to go see her sometimes just to look at her plants! It was incredible.
posted by marfa, texas at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hit "post" too soon - WeWork also has coffee cups on hand for everyone, but I brought in my own and use that instead. Everyone else on the floor has the black standard issue mug with the WeWork logo, but I have the really pretty blue big humongo mug that someone at my last job abandoned and moved to San Francisco and I was asked to clean out her desk, so I kept it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:47 AM on February 23, 2018

Snacks. All the snacks.
posted by saladin at 6:54 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Mine are more practical vs decorative. A warm fuzzy work hoodie you love wearing. Your clothing needs may vary (I obviously work in a very casual workplace), but always have something to keep you comfy when the HVAC is being difficult and the place is freezing.

An quality, insulated water bottle that will keep your water cold all day. Warm water makes me sad.

Decoratively speaking, I use tech. I have three monitors, but really only use the giant one in the middle. The other two are set to rotate though my collection of amazing wallpapers. These always get comments from the randoms that come through my space.
posted by cgg at 6:57 AM on February 23, 2018

I like the cubicle life. I don't have anything super exciting, but I do have:
a pen container that is also a cell phone holder
a battery operated oil diffuser
a label maker
family photos
a really ridiculous mouse pad
a decorative jar that I fill with community candy for my coworkers
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 7:05 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I keep dental floss in my desk because when you need it, you need it. It makes me popular too because everyone knows I'm the person with the dental floss.
posted by FencingGal at 7:07 AM on February 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

Snacks. All the snacks.

Oh! Fun snack dispensers! I live near a Flying Tiger store and they have these candy holders that look like an old-school gumball machine, and then another one that looks like shrunk-down versions of the bulk-candy bins you find at candy stores. I've been tempted to get a couple of those as well for work.

Flying Tiger is actually a good source for "useful objects that are decorative as well", although they do tend towards whimsy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm probably about as minimalist in my approach to office decor as you are, and get the same comments. I've only changed jobs once in the last 12 years, so this is purely a function of my personality. So if your interest in nesting is less about what you want and more about reassuring people that you don't have one foot out the door, I'm here to say that they'll get over it.
posted by AndrewInDC at 7:09 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm a big fan of making my office a place I'm happy to spend time. At a quick look around, I've got:

- Fidget toys of various sorts on my desk, mostly from Stimtastic if you're looking for some options there.
- Lip balm, hand cream, a little glasses-cleaning kit, a headband and a little tube of hair gel for very bad hair days, charging cables in my desk drawer
- A small pharmacy's worth of first-aid type stuff: bandaids, ibuprofen, excedrin, Dayquil, cough drops, stick-on heating pads for old back injury flare-ups.
- My own office supplies that make me happy - pens I like better than the office pens, a cute cup to keep them in, pretty note pads and binder clips, colored staples, etc.
- A Sodastream (one of the quiet models, not the ones that make horrible loud honking noises) and a stash of K-cups I like better than the ones the office keeps in stock
- Desk and floor lamps so I can turn off the horrible overhead lighting
- A vase of origami flowers that both makes my office pretty and blocks my view of the guy in the office across the hall so I don't get distracted by whatever he's doing in his office
- A stash of tuna pouches, PB&J supplies, crackers, etc. for Emergency Desk Lunch

In old offices that had light I've had live plants, or in cold offices I've had electric lap blankets. When I worked near a streetcorner flower vendor who sold cheap flowers, I tried to make a point of having fresh flowers in my office most of the time.

FWIW, the origami flowers, fidgets, and Sodastream are the things that tend to get the most "ooooh, why don't I have that in MY office?" comments from people.
posted by Stacey at 7:09 AM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wireless noise cancelling headphones.
posted by trbrts at 7:20 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also have a big private office, but I have very few decorative or personal items. Mostly i have practical items:
a coat rack (for coats and biking gear);
two full changes of clothes down to underwear and shoes (a suit for days it happens I need to wear a suit and am not; one office appropriate outfit for days when I splash through a mud puddle, spill coffee on myself, discover there's a moth hole in my sweater);
a giant shawl that doubles as a blanket for migraine days I need to lie on the floor and have a nap;
a buckwheat pillow & yoga mat for the same reason;
a briefcase for going to meetings so I don't have to worry about transporting that on my bike;
reusable grocery bags for lunchtime errands;
my shower kit and pharmacy kit (including towel--we have showers at the office HOORAY);
my own lighting so I never have to turn on the overheads;
plate and utensils (we have a kitchen so I can wash them and not use disposables);
back-up chargers for phone, Kindle, bike lights.

I really miss having an office fishtank, though.
posted by crush at 7:25 AM on February 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have a few things in my cube that bring me joy. I've got an original James Kochalka painting of Mario jumping on an alien. I've got the Lego Curiosity Rover, my original Star Wars Jawa toy from when I was a kid, and a Green Lantern action figure. I also have a breadboard-in-an-altoids-tin electronics kit from Minty Geek (which sadly seems to be out of business) that I make little projects with when I need to clear my head.

I don't actually spend all that much time playing with my desk toys or anything, but just seeing them there brings me moments of micro-joy throughout the day.
posted by mrbeefy at 7:29 AM on February 23, 2018

Best answer: I have a lot of paper stuff on my cube walls. Art postcards, regular postcards, small prints, fancy bookmarks, personal photos, calendars for different projects, souvenirs from recent vacations or events (e.g. train or concert tickets), and cheat sheets for software I use often but don't know by heart.

I also have practical stuff in my drawers: personal care/hygiene stuff, some makeup, extra (daily wear) contacts, sunscreen for if I want to go for a walk or something after work, extra shoes, an umbrella, etc. In the warmer months I keep a shower kit (body wash, deodorant, and a quick dry towel) around, because I bike to work and sometimes get sweaty. Also I keep an extra bike lock at work. Oh and an umbrella and a sweater.

Also out on my desk are a lot of charging cables - both kinds of mini-USB and a lightning cable, my headphones, and a few (semi-)useful knickknacks - an old creamer that used to belong to my grandmother for pencils, a Hummel figurine for "rubber duck debugging," a mini bean pot for my business cards.

Definitely some of my coworkers (who have been here just as long and are just as established as I am) have much less stuff in their cubes. One guy who started at the same time as me always looks like he just moved into that cube. It's nbd if you're not inspired to keep stuff in your cube.

Oh I always have a roll of paper towels in here, too. Coffee spills happen.
posted by mskyle at 7:37 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I keep a cardigan on the back of my chair, a painting on the wall, all my grad school textbooks, so a lot of books. I have a bulletin board with a month per page outlook printout with 3-5 months of scheduled (I also write stuff there, in erasable pencil crayon. The most important thing is a candy bowl full of candy I hate, for visitors.

I think a piece of (cheap) art or a poster really personalizes. Also, my office has a set of 2 layered shelves up against the ceiling, (so visible but only accessible via standing on a chair), and most of us put securitize stuff/ books we never use up there.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 7:48 AM on February 23, 2018

Colored staples are my weird, favorite office supply.
posted by Mouse Army at 8:17 AM on February 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

I am in a 4-person cubicle area within a small room. I have a cat toy, a bell inside a mesh ball, with a little feather on top. When things need to get silly, I toss it over the wall to my cube mate. It then gets tossed around for a few minutes, until the need passes.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 8:18 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I keep dental floss in my desk because when you need it, you need it.

I keep a nail file in my desk, because I hate it when my nails get scraggly and I always seem to notice it when I'm on hold on the phone. It's the kind of thing (similar to needing floss) that will bug me all day if I can't take care of it.

I have pics of my kids in my office because I love seeing their faces during the day and I like to remind myself of why I am here. I have them taped up on the walls that face into my office, as opposed to the walls that face out towards the hallway. I can see them, but passers-by and visitors can't unless they come all the way into my office. I feel it's a way of maintaining a professional appearance; it's a personal touch but it doesn't make my office look overwhelmingly like I'd rather be anywhere else but at work.
posted by vignettist at 8:19 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Be sure the view from the visitor's seat is interesting--as in actually sit there and look around. I'm specifically moved things to be in visitor's viewing range, such as my collection of colorful small animal "gimmes" from various companies and my plant groupings. But honestly everything that I actually would care about taking with me would fit in my large tote. I really don't care if the animals and plants stay behind for the next person or are split up as commemoratives of my tenure.
posted by beaning at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2018

The Met's 365 Days of Masterpieces calendar. It's a nice small daily treat to see what the new picture will be.
posted by CheeseLouise at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I last worked in an office I loved my lava lamp.

A coworker at that job would go all out with seasonal Barbie dioramas, complete with beach sand in the summer.
posted by jgirl at 9:06 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Loose tea and paper tea bags. (For a while I had a hand-crank coffee grinder and an Aeropress.)

A game-changer for winter in a cold place: this travel humidifier. I don't get gushing nosebleeds at work anymore, it rules.
posted by clavicle at 9:11 AM on February 23, 2018

I have a kinetic sculpture of a bug hanging from the ceiling. Amuses the hell out of the coworkers. When they did a scavenger hunt it was one of the objects.
posted by doomsey at 9:18 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I inherited a "dorm fridge" (basically a little refrigerator cube) from a departing co-worker and stuck it under my desk. I would fill it with pop and bottles of water, and made sure that my friends knew about it and felt welcome to raid it when necessary. It was a popular little secret.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Every day when I sit down, my Mycroft Holmes Funko Pop gives me a disdainful glare from atop some paperweights from a prior job. You may or may not be able to get away with having action figures in your office. Possibly you may want someone more supportive.

I have postcards tacked up of art I like in complementary tones. As others have mentioned, a daily or weekly calendar from an art museum is an excellent idea even if you don't write on it, just as an easy source of something new and pleasant to look at.

I used to basically live at the office and I never quite pared down my practical stuff afterwards. Looking in drawer: makeup, a Swiss army knife, hand cream, skin cream, eye drops, a small squirt bottle (excellent for reducing minor clothing wrinkles), a Tide to Go pen, a flashlight, spare contact lenses, a soft cloth for wiping my glasses, a shawl pin (but I lost the clasp, boo!), hydrocortisone, a grown-up first-aid kit (don't trust the office stock not to be expired), my own stapler, my own high-powered stapler for bulkier documents, a 3-hole punch, and a country-sized supply of ibuprofen. I also have an emergency blanket and food/water, but I work in a city that has bombings from time to time, so.
posted by praemunire at 10:07 AM on February 23, 2018

Oh, and I have a gorgeous scarf and a swatch of Liberty fabric covering a couple of the more workaday surfaces in the office.
posted by praemunire at 10:08 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

One thing that I don't have but keep meaning to get is a coaster or two, to make my waterbottles and coffee cups more...put-together looking. Also so I never have to clean mug rings from my desk.

(a really put-together version of me would have some pleasant but basic cleaning items for the desk and my computer, but for now I just raid the kitchen's lysol wipes.)
posted by mosst at 10:09 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Business Cats calendar for my cubicle wall.
posted by old_growler at 10:30 AM on February 23, 2018

Best answer: What's at my cube-style desk right now:
  • Dental hygiene stuff
  • Glasses cleaner spritzer and lint-free microfiber cloth
  • Napkins, forks, knives, spoons, mug
  • Emergency caffeine supplement in bottled soda form
  • Small desktop fan, for blowing air into the face part of my face
  • Cats-photoshopped-into-famous-photos calendar that is a yearly gift from a buddy
  • A miniature reproduction of the best dormroom poster of all time
Not all of these are visible at any given time.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:30 AM on February 23, 2018

Things in my office which are personal or otherwise give joy:
- Hand cream, chapstick, cuticle cream, and nail clipper in a little pottery bowl picked up while on vacation
- Highlighters in 4 colors (some day I'll find purple in the copy room...some day)
- A significant amount of greenery (chia pet, 7 plants)
- USB cables in an assortment of sizes
- Crystalized fruit juice packets for flavoring water, stored in a ceramic jar also picked up while on vacation
- Assorted teas
- Bucky balls
- Funny books about meetings for when I need to lolsob (Ladybird Book of the Meeting, 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings)
- Good-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with aloe, with a pump to minimize barriers to use (starting to run low...not good)
- Twinkle lights
- Bluetooth speakers
- And finally, perplexing art. YMMV. I used to have a couple of prints of fractals but decided to switch it up.

I've been in the same office for almost 5 years but decor accumulation plateaued around year 3.
posted by esoterrica at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2018

Hot sauce.
posted by vunder at 2:06 PM on February 23, 2018

- Pictures of family, incl. dog, but this might be digital.
- Bandaids, naproxen, aspirin, tylenol, ibuprofen, usually have in my bag.
- A big wide coffee mug for heating a can of soup in the mic.
- Can of soup, tube of saltines, just in case I have no lunch and no money.
- Straight pins to pin pictures to cube walls.
- K cups of preferred coffee or k cup insert widget so I can use regular coffee and not waste so many stupid little plastic cups. My travel mug will be with me from the car.
- Plastic or stainless fork and spoon because disposable is nope.
- Phone charger.
- Sweater or shawl.
- Hand lotion in a pleasant but not loud scent.
- Lip balm.
- Cheap fake leatherman. They are ubiquitous in the run-up to Father's Day in the US. May live in the car.
- Tiny silly objects to tape to the top of my monitor.
- Fairy lights, esp. seasonal.
- Silly mug with nice-ish writing implements and scissors, which will be swiped. Tape, same.

My lunch bag has extra decaf black tea bags, and packets - sugar and/or stevia, taco sauce(the main purpose of Taco Bell is providing packets of sauces), salt/pepper, mayo, mustard.

I was not fond of my last job and made sure everything I might want to take home would fit in my bag. It did.
posted by theora55 at 2:25 PM on February 23, 2018

Stendig calendar (be prepared for some surprising reactions to a calendar that is large), rock salt lamp, wall shelf in a kind of hashtag shape to store planners, small succulents, mini photo frames, etc.
posted by moons in june at 5:33 PM on February 23, 2018

You can personalize but still keep it minimal if you like. A wall calendar of some kind. A mouse pad (mine has a world map on it). A vintage Swingline stapler: example one a small one; example two a larger one. I have a footrest that plugs in and heats up, since my office is sometimes cold. Mr. gudrun has a plant and an ugly tie collection decorating his cube. We really like American Stonecraft trivets and coasters which are attractive and functional. I like to use one of their smaller trivets as a coaster, since you can still see the stone under/around the mug.
posted by gudrun at 9:09 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Deodorant and a sweater in my drawer. Teabags I like.

But definitely the best thing on my desk is art by my four-year-old, the presence of which Deeply Moved her little soul when she discovered it there on some take-your-kid type work day.

Also I have a weird little lifelike stuffed stoat that I keep in a square glass vase? The crazy thing is, I wish I could say it was a conversation piece, but nobody has ever asked.
posted by potrzebie at 10:10 PM on February 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

A french press and some good coffee (there's sufficiently hot water available).
posted by rjs at 3:32 AM on February 24, 2018

I kept pet sea monkeys in my old office and loved them so much.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:58 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

A microwavable heating pad (I think it has rice or something in it). This is great for cold days (i.e., in the summer when the air conditioning is on and I can't feel my fingers), assorted aches and pains. It became so popular with my coworkers that I got a second one just for lending.
posted by Frenchy67 at 8:22 AM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you like cats, you need this. I replaced all my boring office-provided office supplies with nice ones from Amazon and Target, and by far the best one is this paperclip holder. Every time I look at it, it makes me happy. Plus coworkers always comment on it when they see it, so it's a conversation piece.
posted by catwoman429 at 11:52 AM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: - I like to have a small plate and a set of stainless steel cutlery. I don't like using (and throwing away) plastic utensils or styrofoam plates.
- aspirin, vitamin C
- a set of eyeglass screwdrivers, eyeglass cleaner spray, and microfiber cloth
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:39 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all - I marked a few answers as best because they had things that I ended up getting, but in general y'all have some pretty great cubicles!
posted by notorious medium at 8:40 AM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

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