How to Decorate Your Desk

How to Decorate Your Desk | CorporetteHow do YOU like to decorate your desk?  Where is the line between “plain vanilla robot” and “crazed Cathy fan”?

You covered desk essentials recently, but what I’ve really been wondering is: How do you “decorate” a desk? Where do you draw the line between professional and tacky?

I’m a young (25) legal professional working in a very casual environment where most of the other people in the building are not lawyers. Most of these other people are women who are fairly close to retirement age, so their desks are…. well, tacky. Think small animals holding signs with “witty sayings” and billions of pictures of grandchildren. At the moment, I only have some nice letter holders and a pretty inbox on my desk. I’d like my desk to look professional, but I have no idea what a professional desk has on it!

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We’ve talked about how to personalize an office before, as well as liven up your office walls, as well as how to choose your own office furniture, but not in a while, so I’m curious.  For my $.02, my desk/office space (even in BigLaw) has always included these things:

  • personal photos facing me (not my visitors)
  • Wacky paperclip holder/tape dispenser (such as the Koziol Designs Elvis the Tape Dispenser, pictured above, available at Amazon for $25)
  • Personal mug as pencil holder (which for me, weirdly, has always been what would be my next job — while in BigLaw I had a mug from the 25th anniversary of the nonprofit I eventually worked for; at the non-profit I kept a Corporette mug on my desk).
  • A small monthly calendar (I always had artsy/travel mini-calendars when I was in BigLaw; since having a kiddo I’ve had VistaPrint desk calendars)
  • A stress ball (right now I have one that says “Just Say Fooey and Move On” on it from VistaPrint) (just tried to take a picture but my computer is being wacky and won’t upload the photos)
  • Fake keys on my keyboard, including one that says “Panic
  • Post-It notes taped to my monitor.  I’ve had a growing collection of fortune cookie fortunes for a long time now (there are currently five — the first very faded one says “Say hello to others. You will have a happier day.”). When I was working as a lawyer I kept a PostIt of relevant BlueBook notes for whatever regional reporters I was citing most often; now I have the computer codes for the different Corporette colors, as well as other notes and things to remember.

Now: does any of this make me a stylish professional?  Not necessarily, no.  I suppose at best an outsider might think I’m a wacky dork; at worst a frazzled mom.  Ultimately: it makes me happy, it keeps me productive, and ultimately very few people sit directly in front of my monitor and get the full effect, so I will probably always have this kind of stuff.

I’m curious, readers — what are the little things you have to personalize your office?  Can you describe examples of colleagues’ offices that you thought gave you a strong negative or positive impression?

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  1. I always thought it was most professional to not decorate your desk (plus I’m lazy so added bonus of not having to think about it), but after a few people mentioned this gave off the impression that you were not planning on staying with the firm long I amended my stance. Mostly just if I got something during the day I kept it on my desk instead of take it home.

    • I used to follow a strict “No decorating” policy, but I got some feedback once (twice?!) that I come off as “cold”. I added a funky calendar, bottle of nice hand cream, a cool pencil hold and a pic of my partner and I. I like it now, and I think it adds a little “me” to an otherwise beige desk.

  2. I only have a few items at this location. (I may have posted about this before – but I am not always in the same office building, as our company has more than 1 location in this region.)

    So, definitely no personal photos (I would feel weird about some stranger staring at photos of my loved ones.)

    On the plus side, one of the other people who use this space left it cleaner than I left it. (There had been a few dustbunnies behind the computer monitor and they got cleared away.) So yay for my having tidier-than-me coworkers. :-)

  3. Are these “Just Say Fooey and Move On” stress balls available for purchase? That would be awesome!

  4. Mandatory for a professional desk:

    1. Nicely framed photo of your cat facing you
    2. Many framed photos of yourself everywhere
    3. XJS 5000 Dictaphone

  5. Diana Barry :

    I just have files on my desk, office supplies, and random makeup (lip balm) scattered around my monitor. I don’t have a very big desk so not a lot of room for stuff.

  6. Just don’t leave food out. Because that’s how you get ants.

  7. My desk has a plant on it (it’s my assistant’s but I am its foster desk), a business card holder, and a drink coaster. Everything else is paper or business related supply like a stapler. I have a private office so I can reserve my desk for work and put decorative touches elsewhere.

    • Myrna gave me a decorative PLANT for my desk, but then I got so much work that I could NOT keep it any more on my desk, so I gave it to Frank. He did NOT take care of it, and he put his COLD coffee in it at the end of the day instead of WATERRING it with WATER. The Plant died, but he still dump’s what is left of his coffee in the dirt. It is smelley and moldy and I told him he should get rid of it but give me the pot back so I can put something new in it and bring it home so MYRNA can see it again. I wish I had more room here, but it is cramped and I am doieng all the work so it is messey.

      The manageing partner promised me a desk with a window and space to close my door when we move. He is leaneing toward’s a place on 3rd Avenue, but said he may ask me (and other’s) to UP our billieng’s to 3800 – 4000 hours per year. That will mean that I will probabley have to spend an extra 1/2 hour each day at my desk or at home. FOOEY!

  8. I don’t keep many person things on my desk but I do have a ring holder. I like to wear rings and take them off throughout the day. It’s a bad habit.

    My ring holder:

    Once upon a time, everyone received an electronic picture frame for our offices. Everyone else loaded it up with kid photos. I loaded mine up with cat photos–it took me a few weeks of stalking my cats and catching them by surprise with my camera to get enough for a good rotation. My cats now hide when I pull out the camera.

    • Purple Shamrock :

      Sorry! Accidentally hit report instead of reply.

      What I meant to say…Love the idea of putting cat pics on the electronic picture frame! I would do the same thing. My cell phone is now my virtual wallet with tons of pics of my cats. Only one of mine hates getting her picture taken. The other two are used to it.

    • That’s amazing! Our cat is going to end up in that pet shaming blog. Woke up this am to destroyed and empty treat package.

  9. I’ve got a couple fun desk accessories from A set of three little handmade boxes of different sizes (think like the kind of boxes that jewelry gifts come in) that my husband bought me at some art fair. I keep paper clips, etc in them.

    • Wildkitten :

      +1 I “decorate” with functional desk organization.

    • +1. I’m also a functional decorator. I have a small galvanized metal bucket for my pens/scissors, a nice coaster and two ceramic kitchen pinch bowls from Anthropologie that hold my clips and paper clips (in two different but coordinating colors).

  10. Gail the Goldfish :

    mine has piles of paper as a study in organized chaos. And a water bottle.

  11. How does this apply to a cubicle though? I have been told that offices and cubicles are two completely different stories when it comes to “decorating/personalizing”. While it is acceptable to personalize your office, cubicles should not have anything of a personal nature in them such a photographs and non-company issued pencil holders/office supplies because they’re considered a shared space with your other cubicle buddies.

    • Definitely not the case at my company. People go to town decorating their cubes.

    • I think the only real difference in cubicle decorating is you should have nothing that distracts co-workers (I’m talking to you, chirping bird clock lady three rows down…)

    • Purple Shamrock :

      My cube is my own personal space and not shared with anyone. There are “walls” that separate each person’s space.

      I have a few personal framed pictures, some thank you and birthday cards given to me by co-workers, a small calendar, box of tissues, lotion, office supplies.

    • Cubicles aren’t shared spaces if you have your own assigned cubicle.

    • That sounds way, way too uptight. There isn’t that much difference between an office and a cube – some people use the office as a personal cell, but really you get as much visits there as anywhere, and decorating is a matter of visitors at least as much as you.

    • If your desk is a permanent assignment that you don’t share with anyone else (that is always your seat and only your seat) you can personalize within reason. The odd picture or fun desk accessory. I agree with some of the earlier comments that even when you are in a cube, if you don’t take any steps to make the space “yours” that people will get judgy about whether you are putting down roots at the company or are a little too cold. I have personally received those comments. I personally like a picture or two and some art cards as a starting point. I also have a TARDIS bank on my desk along with all of my desk organizers.

      If in doubt, start with a couple of small touches that make the space more comfortable for you and gauge any reactions from there.

  12. I don’t have a ton of personal stuff on my desk itself because it is mostly so jammed with work, but I do have some snapshots of my kid taped to the inside panel of my computer hutch (so really only viewable to someone sitting in my chair facing my monitor) and then some nicely framed family photos on my desk and bookshelf.

    The biggest personal touch in my office, however, is my door, which is covered in my son’s daycare art projects (only the especially cute ones). I know for a lot of people, this would verge on overly familiar, but I work in family law in a very small firm in a very small town, and I think it helps develop a rapport with my clients for them to see me as someone with a family of my own. I get tons and tons of compliments on them, and they are a good conversation-starter with new clients.

  13. Baconpancakes :

    One of my coworkers’ desks manages to hold a bluetooth headset stand, a bobblehead doll, a 2.5 ft Cleveland Indians vertical pennant, a rubber band ball, an ironic mug, a stack of sports magazines, a cigarbox, mini models of various DC landmarks, multiple empty water bottles, a business card holder, a pro bono service award that has nothing to do with the career he’s in now, and a prodigious amount of paper trash. This is in addition to the three monitors and necessary file folders and normal office supplies. Consequently, one can’t see any of his actual desk.

    I take his desk as an example of what not to do.

    • I see a spinoff series: Office Hoarders!

    • 1948 world series? (Indians Burn)

    • This is the cubicle decor equivalent of Comic Sans font.

    • When I was still in law school, I interned at this one government agency where one of my supervising attorneys had an office that was basically a shrine to the Simpsons. He had every figurine lined up all over his desk and shelves, lots of random mugs, pencils, calendars, stickers, etc. Every place you looked, there was a little yellow cartoon figure. The best/worst part was that he didn’t like overhead lights (which I can understand) so he kept his lights off and just used two desk lamps and several yards of christmas lights strung up all along the shelves and around his desk. It was awesome and really creepy all at the same time.

  14. Where’s SunnyD? Cuz she got me this awesome b8tt station that is currently adorned with a huge orange flowery pen. Add in Dilbert comics, a toy train, toy airplane, piggy bank, tiny Eiffel tower and tiny pyramid, I have a fun arrangement of stuff keeping my paper piles company.

  15. I have lotion, business card holder, and a shot glass someone got me from Vegas that holds paper clips.

  16. My desk has a few personal touches. A digital photo frame that I usually forget to turn on that’s full of family & travel photos. A vase of dried roses my dh gave me for our anniversary last year – only the 2nd or 3rd time he sent me flowers, so I want to keep them somewhere our cat won’t destroy. On the table behind my desk I have 2 framed family photos and a mini Mickey Mouse hat. I have a few personal magnets on my white board, and a picture dh’s grandmother painted on the wall. I think my desk is pretty sparse, actually, except for the piles of paper all over it.

  17. I have seen all of the extremes among my co-workers. The completely bare office to the ridiculously overly decorated office. I like to think my office is a very happy in-between. I have several nicely framed photos of my son/family, my work-anniversary clock, an award for completion of a work-related project, a lamp I got in Vietnam, attractive pen/highlighter holders, a bookcase full of work-related textbooks, and a crystal candy dish. I find that attractive folders and notebooks help keep me organized so my floral folders add to the overall office warmth.

    I think adding a plant and a nice lamp make an office seem inviting and not overly personalized. The owner of my company has a fantastic office with just the right combo of work-related things, things from his world travels, and touches of family. It really striked the right tone in my book!

  18. I have a ton of random stuff on my desk, most of which I should probably get rid off but my non-negotiables are:
    – a nice wall calendar (I write most things in my desk calendar and the iphone but I still like to have one)
    – a nice desk lamp to counteract the horrible fluorescent lighting
    – a pretty mug for my tea, and
    – a red stapler just because it makes me happy

    I also got one of those “persian rug” mousepads but I never use a mousepad with my mouse so now it’s more of an oversize coaster. Someone gave me a little bamboo plant and so that also sits on my desk now. The rest of my plants are not on my desk but behind me but it is nice to have a bit of green in my direct line of sight.

  19. Decoration? Hmm…I have: two photos of my kid, my PhD diploma hanging on the wall, coffee mugs, three monitors, two computers, one phone and lots of paper. And a desk organizer for pens, paper clips. etc. I work from home, though, so I can define my own “professional” decor.

    • Aha! I was about to say “I had never thought of bringing my PhD to work” when I read that you work from home :) I have mine framed in my home office, too, and I’ve never seen anyone (outside of professors) bring theirs in to put up at work. Too bad, though, bc it takes a long long time to get it.

  20. My desk has a couple of pictures of my kids (an individual one of each of them and then a hinged frame with two photos of the three together including one on vacation), a lamp, a water bottle, a stapler and a hole puncher, and a folder organizer thing. I also have other stuff (like a plant and a lady of justice statue, art done by my kids, etc, on the book shelf in my office.) But that is what is on my desk.

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