The joys of a well-stocked desk
March 10, 2008 5:55 AM   Subscribe

WhiteCollarFilter: For the very first time, I now have a desk (and office!) to myself at work. What handy, practical, useful, or fun things should I keep at hand? I'm not really seeking desk toys and the like so much as the kind of creative, thrifty, perhaps unexpected objects, tools, and supplies you've found useful over the years.

I've got some of the basics covered, including:
  • Misc. medicines (Advil, Tylenol, Pepto, etc.)
  • Tide detergent pen for lunch spills USB charger(s) for my mobile phone and iPod
  • Water pitcher, kettle & mug for making tea and a cache of snacks (granola bars) and diet cola to save money and so I don't have to carry as much with me on the way to work each morning
  • A small amount of cash (mostly change)
  • A backup umbrella
  • Lens cleaning solution and cloth for my glasses
posted by onshi to Work & Money (50 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Mints and or breath freshening gum, like Clorets.

Hand sanitizer or hand sanitizer wipes. You can clean your desk and your hands with the wipes.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:00 AM on March 10, 2008

Stapler, red.
posted by orthogonality at 6:03 AM on March 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Screen cleaner (spray pump, not the stupid wipes) and a soft microfibre cloth.
And a nice pack of origami paper.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:05 AM on March 10, 2008

Stamps. Static Guard spray. A couple of Campbell's microwaveable soups. A box of plastic cutlery. Toothbrush and toothpaste.

We end up with a lot of catered food around our office, so I have a roll of tin foil and several different sizes of ziploc bags in case there are leftovers that I can take home.

I'm a girl (can't tell your gender), so I keep a hairdryer, extra nylons and a small assortment of makeup close by.

An old pair of running shoes, in case someone wants to walk at lunch.

A tote bag, in case the take-home pile is ungainly.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:06 AM on March 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

A box of Kleenex, stash of plastic spoons, small fan, nail file/emery board, hand lotion, lip balm.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:10 AM on March 10, 2008

Response by poster: @Sweetie Darling: I'm male, but I'm still interested in hearing suggestions for female officefolk, too, as the motivation behind such items might prove illuminating.
posted by onshi at 6:12 AM on March 10, 2008

Toothbrush, toothpaste.

Deodorant. A small hand towel.

Moisturising lotion - air-con can dry the skin out somewhat.

Bowl of fruit, as long as you eat it and it doesn't go green and furry.

A spare sweater for days when it's warm outside but the air-con is cranked up high.

A pair of lightweight shoes (e.g. Crocs, deck shoes) for the winter days when you wear your heaviest boots into work and don't want to keep them on all day.

One of those lightweight, packaway waterproof jackets/coats.

A little sachet of anti-bacterial wipes.

A (secret) spare toilet roll. Even in the largest company, they can run out.
posted by essexjan at 6:13 AM on March 10, 2008

* bandages
* fork, spoon, chopsticks
* one or two inexpensive, untagged, wrapped gifts for office birthday parties you forget
* a change of clothes
posted by cmiller at 6:17 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm all for cable management. Make that desk look all the more tidy.

Belkin In-Desk iPod dock. Don't know if you can replace an existing grommet in your desk with this, or you could ask for permission to drill a hole for it/have engineering do it.

And here's a nice and relatively inexpensive charging station. I totally freakin' need to get one of these.
posted by booticon at 6:18 AM on March 10, 2008

Not to sound too crazed, but after working in NYC through both 9/11 and dealing with the blackout a few years later, I bought an emergency radio / flashlight combo with a hand-cranked generator. Amazon has them for about 40 bucks. Well worth the investment, in case something unexpected happens while you're at work.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:26 AM on March 10, 2008

If your office has a shower and you *ever* may have to go out to the warehouse or dock or whatever, have a spare pair of drawers, a towel, and a bar of soap. As the low man on the totem pole, I always got sent out on weird little errands, always on the hottest day, and came back smelling like a goat.

The ability to jump in and take a two-minute rinse off, so I wouldn't smell myself all afternoon, was nice.
posted by notsnot at 6:31 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Complete change of clothes (I started keeping this after I got soaked in an unexpected downpour whilst biking to work)

Nthing backup umbrella and lightweight shoes.

If you keep a cache of treats available, people will drop by your office more often. (e.g., high quality choclates)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:32 AM on March 10, 2008

Headphones and a cord long enough to jack into your computer, so you can play music or whatnot. Very, very handy when you need to concentrate, but your work environment is loud or distracting. Also handy for deterring the office bore.
posted by LN at 6:33 AM on March 10, 2008

Sweater/vest to accommodate temperature swings in the office, change of clothes in case of coffee-spill in the lap or all-nighter, spare suit for the unexpected important visitor.

Expanding on jenkinsear, especially if you are in a large metropolis, like NYC, an "Emergency escape pack" to help get home in case of a wide-spread power outage, natural disaster, or 9/11 type event. Contents: pocket am/fm radio (check out, LED flashlight, compass & possibly cheap gps, map if needed, a few hundred $$ cash to bribe cab drivers etc, long distance walking/hiking shoes. Obviously contents will vary depending on where you are, how far from home etc. Re radio: I would go for a very small battery powered one vs a heavier crank-it-for power one assuming you may have to walk a good distance.
posted by Kevin S at 6:33 AM on March 10, 2008

Can opener. Everyone always thinks to toss an extra can of soup in their desk--wonderful for those days you have to stay later than expected or totally forget your lunch when running out the door--but a far smaller subset of people actually think to bring a can opener as well, or to keep one permanently in their desk.

I'd keep a bit more money than just change with you, as well, if you have a lockable desk or a good place to secretly stash about $20. Cars break down unexpectedly, carpooling arrangements flake out on you, buses or subways sometimes stop running or become inaccessible--it's good to have a better emergency plan for getting home (like the ability to get a cab) than "I'll just walk." (On that note, the next time you have to replace your running shoes, throw the old pair in your office somewhere. You never know if you'll actually have to walk home someday, and it's better to do that in old running shoes than in shoes that will give you blisters.)
posted by iminurmefi at 6:35 AM on March 10, 2008

I completely agree with the extra pair of shoes, a set of utensils, umbrella, and can opener.
I drink a lot of tea, and even though my company has free tea as well as coffee, I keep a couple of boxes of different types at my desk, including mint and chamomile for days of stress and stomach unhappiness.
Put up or have handy a chart for desk stretches.
A 'magic bag' for stress and minor pain - I actually use it a lot for lower back aches. It helps for heat relief as well as providing a bit of extra support in the small of the back.
Eye drops.
For those with long hair, some hair elastics to put your hair back if needed.

Also, because you have all this neat personal stuff at your desk, I strongly recommend stashing a cardboard box (with lid if you can) somewhere under your desk if you have room. Some places like to play musical desks, and having a handy box ready to toss your 'stuff' in for that move is great, rather than trying to hunt for one the same day as everyone else. (I have been at my current job for three months and am at my fifth desk).
posted by sandraregina at 6:45 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

One set of real silverware, not plastic. It's so much nicer to eat with, and you won't have to run around finding an extra fork.
Dental floss, in case something gets stuck in your teeth.
Your own tea and a small bear of honey.
posted by hooray at 6:46 AM on March 10, 2008


And grab a stack of paper towels from the men's room.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:09 AM on March 10, 2008

If your back is to the door, a CHIMP is handy.
posted by brownpau at 7:19 AM on March 10, 2008

hooray: "Your own tea and a small bear of honey."

And keep in mind that no matter how secure the top of your honey may be, do NOT store it on its side. I found this out the hard way this past week. I opened my desk drawer to get some sweet sweet nectar and discovered a puddle.
posted by booticon at 7:24 AM on March 10, 2008

I Want One of Those has a great selection of office toys like voodoo dolls and little magnetic desktop dartboards that are really good for relieving stress and/or hexing your co-workers.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 7:34 AM on March 10, 2008

The two most useful items I keep at my desk are a pepper grinder and a pair of chopsticks.
posted by bondcliff at 7:45 AM on March 10, 2008

I have:
A nalgene bottle and a box of those little crystal light single-serving packets.
Books, for slow days.
Plastic utensils.
Lint roller (I have a cat.)
Tampons (you probably don't need these.)
Lotion for my dry winter hands.
Cans of soup (the "Soup at Hand" variety.)
An extra sweater.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:51 AM on March 10, 2008

In addition to many of the above, I keep a small towel and a jar of hair styling product for those days that I get hat hair. I can give myself a quick sink rinse and restyle in the bathroom.
posted by advicepig at 8:16 AM on March 10, 2008

Needlenose pliers
posted by leahwrenn at 8:22 AM on March 10, 2008

A razor for stray chin hairs (guys) or the patch on your knee that you missed (ladies).
posted by kidsleepy at 8:25 AM on March 10, 2008

A "client showed up unexpectedly" outfit or suit jacket.

Personal stationery to write a quick thank you note. You can put these notes on your office stationery, but I prefer to use my own. If you've got the paper and the stamps at your desk, you'll write those notes much more frequently.

I also have an international business etiquette book and guide to professional letter writing. I don't use either one often, but I'm happy they're there when I need them.
posted by 26.2 at 8:29 AM on March 10, 2008

ThinkGeek is a US-based counterpart to I Want One of Those.
posted by WalterMitty at 8:35 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Plastic forks, knives, spoons. Chop sticks. A few versatile spices.


A book that does not require continuity.

Laminated map of the city.

Universal cell phone charger.

Bowl of candy on my desk.

T-shirt for when I need to dress more casual after work.

I use a small swiss army knife for nail clipping purposes.



Great question!
posted by qvtqht at 8:39 AM on March 10, 2008

Buy a mini fridge. This one is cheap and it fits under a desk. I put fruit and beer inside my fridge. I also have a Nalgene bottle that I fill at least once a day to keep hydrated.

I highly recommend keeping some alcohol in your office. The guy down the hall has a bottle of scotch. There is no better way to make friends on special occasions than by offering up a drink to your fellow man.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:18 AM on March 10, 2008

Sugarless gum for the times I crave something sweet and do not need to visit Mr. Snack Machine.

A #11 (pen-sized) X-acto knife. Very useful for opening packages, digging out splinters, removing stickers and labels. Just don't stab yourself.

A box for recycling paper.
posted by Salthound at 9:40 AM on March 10, 2008

CrazyCanuck beat me to the punch. The mini fridge in my office is the one single item that everyone (and I mean everyone) who works here covets. Even though they are all free to buy one just like I did and put it in their office. I have cold drinks, and can stash my lunch in there instead of the gross community fridge.

I also have batteries of all types, and a collection of neodymium magnets that I use for all sorts of things. I have paper plates, plasticware, cups, copier paper, all kinds of office supplies, plants, you name it. People joke that if my wife ever kicks me out, I could live in my office quite comfortably for a while (and sleep in my Beautiful C class Aeron chair)
posted by genefinder at 9:47 AM on March 10, 2008

I highly recommend keeping some alcohol in your office.

I highly recommend finding out what your company policy is on this first. Many companies do not allow employees to bring booze into the office. My employer has a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol in the office, the exception being work-related occasions.
posted by essexjan at 10:20 AM on March 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

- Tube of Chlorox or other brand wipes for desk/phone
- Deodorant
- Chapstick (I usually have at least several tubes and rest them on the keyboard for easy access)
- Lint brush/tape
- Small mirror
- Shoe box with extra pair of shoes
- Lotion (it gets really dry in offices)
- A space heater/fan
- A little desk lamp
- Document holder
- Tote bag or plastic/paper shopping bags
- I once had a phone cord de-tangler (like these) and it was the best thing ever

Probably more for us ladies:
- Double-sided "fashion" tape (for women)
- Nail file
- Hair gunk for whenever I need to pretty up
- Concealer

I can't live without my chapstick, my red pen, my ruler or my scissors. YMMV.
posted by ml98tu at 10:24 AM on March 10, 2008

Lint brush or roller, even if you don't have pets. Someday you will sit in the chair of someone who does have pets, probably right before you need to look your best.
Needle, thread, buttons, safety pins.
Basic toiletries in case you need to freshen up at work.
Spare set of work clothes.
posted by yohko at 10:40 AM on March 10, 2008

bread! apples! very small rocks! gravy! churches! ...a duck!


How about an electric water pot for the tea?

I also have a little desk humidifier that comes in handy when the office heater's on all day.
posted by edjusted at 11:14 AM on March 10, 2008

Oops, sorry, I noticed you already said kettle. Didn't quite associate "water pot" with kettle. Duh.
posted by edjusted at 11:16 AM on March 10, 2008

Jeweler's screwdrivers. You'll probably only use them once a year, but they are invaluable when you need them.

Seconding sandraregina on getting a box for all of this stuff. My recommendation: go to a cigar store and buy some cigar boxes. They may charge a couple of bucks per, but you get a fairly wide range of sizes and shapes.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 12:26 PM on March 10, 2008

Small portable whiteboards are really useful. Get a whiteboard somewhere between poster sized and sheet of paper sized and hang it on the wall with velcro tabs. You can take it down and write on it whenever you need, collaborate easily with other people, and keep track of the information easily.

If you're like me and a little whiteboard-happy, you can go to the hardware store and buy a 4'x8' piece of melamine board (which looks just like a giant, very thin whiteboard) and have it cut into appropriate sized pieces. Then get some sort of tape (cloth tape works well), tape over the edges, and attach the ez-remove velcro tabs to the tape part of the backside and to handy bits of wall. You only need 2 or 3 pieces of velcro to hold the board solidly in place. You can also attach velcro to the front and to your favorite whiteboard pens. Because these boards are so flat (no raised edges, no little trays), they're very portable and easy to use in places other than on the wall.
posted by lorimt at 12:50 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

- Disinfectant wipes. Office desks have been found in studies to have hundreds of times more germs than toilet seats. Wipe down daily.

- Good tissues. If your office supplies tissues, chances are they're the cheap, scratchy kind. Buy yourself a nice box of whatever you use at home when you have a cold. The first time you have to come to work when you have the sniffles, you'll appreciate not rubbing your nose raw.

- Business card holder. If your company doesn't supply one, get yourself one of those little racks so that you can have some business cards out on your desk, easily accessible to visitors. It'll encourage people to get your contact info, which makes it more likely that they'll get in touch with you.

I also lived in NY during 9/11 and the blackout, and I also recommend the full-on emergency bag. Have a change of comfortable clothes, sneakers, a couple of days worth of your daily medications, a spare set of keys, and anything else you would need if you had to evacuate your town without being able to stop at home first. Add some nonperishable food, a flashlight, batteries, a whistle, a bandana (to protect your face from dust) and a couple bottles of water. Throw it all in a backpack, shove it in the corner, and forget about it. The chances that you'll ever need it are slim to none, but it's basically costless to have, and if you do ever need it, you'll be extremely glad you took the time to put it together.
posted by decathecting at 1:46 PM on March 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

t-pins - you can find them in the sewing section of department stores for quilters - great for cork panels or for soft fabric cubical-style walls.

A small sewing kit and a rainbow thread braid, this will give you lots of different colored threads already precut for hand sewing. Plenty of safety pins for quick discrete repairs.

A small spray bottle, a bottle of Isopropyl Alcohol, cheap q-tips and a roll of paper towels. A spritz of isopropyl is great for cleaning computer screens and cds but make sure you cover the keyboard first. Q-tips work great for cleaning small areas.

Small shoe-shine kit or one of those polish sponges in neutral for quick touch-ups.

Emergency spare tie.

10 - 3x5 index cards on a binder clip - great for taking quick notes. Check office supply cabinet.

Small travel kit with comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. Refill mouthwash from home supply. Add a small camp mirror to discretely check your appearance.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 2:04 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Keep your mp3s off your work computer - purchase a cheap usb flash drive, at least 2 gb in size and install VLC Portable Media Player on it, then copy your favorite mp3s to it.

At work or at home, you just need to plug in the USB drive to play your favorite tunes without having to invest in an ipod.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 4:04 PM on March 10, 2008

These may be bought for you by the company. If not, they are probably worth your own money.

In order of importance for me from most to least.

i) Scanner. A cheap flatbed scanner is $50: decent ones cost $100. This means you never need lose a doccument again. Every little thing that you think you need, scan and back up. I find it much easier to find things like old receipts (for expense account claims) letter of congratulations (for performance reviews) or memos from the guy that doesnt use email (for quoting people) or handwritten notes/jottings from meetings (ditto) when it's on a hard drive than when it's in a pile of papers or lost. Also keeps the office tidier: can toss old doccuments. Backup and organize your stuff in folders properly.

ii) A phone with speakerphone, last # dialed and with caller ID for the internal network. Ever spent time cradling the phone, on hold, listnening to muzak while some drone is looking stuff up for you? Ever pick the phone up and wish you hadn't because it was bob from accounting who will waste an hour of your life every week? A speakerphone/caller id phone will cost between $30-$150 depending on your office network and it was the single most sanity saving device I squeezed out of my organization.

iii) A larger monitor. 23" monitors are about $300 now: I have a great samsung. I can do a lot more work on more screen real estate and it converts my laptop to a usable design machine.
posted by lalochezia at 6:04 PM on March 10, 2008

I got a small lamp at Ikea for ~$8 and everyone comments how great my cubicle looks. I cannot recommend having a small light enough - it eases the strain on the eyes, and makes it feel like a clearer start/end to a day, since you turn it on and off.
posted by olya at 6:21 PM on March 10, 2008

A small, hard to kill houseplant, like a cactus or something. Hey, if you can find an aloe, then you have burn remedy!

Seriously, a bit of living green can cheer a place right up.
posted by bettafish at 7:19 PM on March 10, 2008

Second the kit of little screwdrivers, because when you *do* need them, you'll really need them. They're the must have of every office ninja.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:50 PM on March 10, 2008

i made a photo calendar using iphoto to kill 2 birds with 1 stone with regard to cubicle real estate (photos, always-in-view datebook) and i've found it's the perfect size calendar (not a normal wall size to eat up cubicle wall space, nor so small i can't add a lot of info and dates to it) and i could customize the colors and events/dates preprinted on it. i'm sure other places do this too, but i've been really pleased with it. you can start it at any month too to get a full year.

i also recommend a lumbar roll and wrist pad. anti-glare screen cover might be good if you get eye strain. empty bags for when you need to take more stuff home than you anticipated and only realize it just as you're dashing out the door. i have a back up non-perishable lunch too, containing a microwavavle tupperware container, big can of decent soup, a plastic spoon, soda, a spill-proof heat-retaining mug and tea bags in case i forget my lunch and don't feel like going out. if your workplace doesn't have a hot water dispenser in the cafeteria or whatever, and it's allowed, i'd also have an electric kettle for the tea. a cozy throw blanket or hoody/jacket for when it gets cold in the office. something that smells nice--a scented pillow or something. i also have drawings up people have made for me, so i always have something to laugh at in the middle of the day. a back up pair of comfortable walking shoes in case you need to make an errand on lunch and realize you've only got your impractical work heels on. panty hose in case of a run and maybe those adhesive heel guards if in the middle of the day you realize your new shoes need breaking in and are ripping your heels to pieces. an umbrella, because it doesn't do much good in your car (which is where it will be if it was sunny when you walked in but then starts pouring during lunch).

floss. breath mints/gum. a mirror. a brush. band aids. stomach relief medicine and headache medicine (i know you mentioned these already).

post its, always. the guy who came up with those totally deserves the zillions of dollars he made. push pins, paper clips, rubber bands, white out, stapler and staples, yadda yadda yadda. a usb keychain drive or two if you have a job where it's helpful. what a great, fast way to copy data if you need to take it home from work. (disclaimer: if your company's obsessively proprietary about their info being taken off premises, you should make sure this is kosher first.)

stuff to send off a thank you note or card immediately--stationery/cards, envelopes, addresses, and stamps.

change for vending machines in case you get a craving for some crappy hohos or chocolate or something. it happens! ...or for metered parking midday on an errand.
posted by ifjuly at 8:09 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A fish. (Or, you know, several fish. In a small tank.)
posted by anastasiav at 12:28 PM on March 11, 2008

A little multi-tool like a leatherman, or a swiss army knife. If it has a blade and a screwdriver you're set. Choose either the pliers or cork screw depending on your industry.
posted by bystander at 9:45 PM on March 11, 2008

I keep some small gifts for coworkers kids when they come in (stickers, sparkly bits, whatever I come across around the house.)
posted by letahl at 1:10 PM on March 25, 2008

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