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Affordable, Easy Office Decor Ideas

easy office decor ideasLadies, what are your favorite easy office decor ideas? What’s the first thing you do in any new office, and what ideas would you recommend to summer associates, interns, and others? Decorating your office with cute desk accessories and more can be an essential way to making your workspace happier — and giving yourself more energy. But, if you’re a summer associate, intern, on-site consultant, on a secondment, or any other kind of temporary worker, you don’t want to put in a ton of effort into decorating your desk or office. So what are the top affordable, easy office decor ideas that help you avoid staring at boring blank walls or that ubiquitous cubicle-wall shade of beige-gray-tan?

Obviously, you should make sure not to damage the office in any way, such as leaving behind adhesive residue or accidentally removing paint/drywall when you remove things from the walls. You also won’t want to bring too much stuff, or else by the end of your time there you won’t even want to bring it all home. (Plus, it’s a little weird when a temporary worker looks like they’ve moved in, yes?) So what are the best ideas beyond “colorful tissue box”? (Always an option!) We thought we’d round up some great ideas for cute desk accessories and other simple, fast ways summer associates can decorate their offices.

(Update: as you see in the comments, a lot of readers bristled at the very idea of this post, noting that summer associates or interns should NEVER decorate their office. We’ve updated the post a bit for clarity, but it’s a good reminder to know your office. )

Easy Office Decor: Office Plants and Flowers

  • Flowers: If you’re feeling splurgey, you can also get yourself a bouquet of fresh flowers every week — they add a lot of color and fun to a room. Even a single flower in a bud vase can cheer you up! CB2 has affordable metal bud vases that should be lightweight and easily packed up, pictured below (1).
  • Houseplants: Small, potted plants (such as those sold at bodegas and other convenience stores) are far more affordable than weekly flowers — but look out for bugs first! (For more permanent workers choosing office plants for the long run, we have a zillion different articles on how to choose office plants on our Office Decor Pinterest board!)

cute desk accessories for work

Pictured (all under $20!): 1) bud vases 2) pretty calendar 3) artsy mouse pad 4) colorful desk organizer 5) fun file folders

Cute Desk Accessories

You’ll want to choose wisely here and avoid anything that’s too silly or otherwise unprofessional, but you’ve got plenty of options to brighten up your space:

  • File folders. Maybe buy a few colorful file folders (we’ve featured some over the years) with stripes, polka dots, or designs from Orla Kiely (pictured above, #5) or William Morris. As we’ve noted before, cute file folders probably shouldn’t be given to people at the office, but instead used for personal folders at the office. For example, if it makes you feel happy to keep your billable hours or something else that lives at your desk inside a pretty folder, it’s an easy, affordable way to bring color to your desk space.
  • Colorful desk accessories. A colorful mug to keep your pens and pencils in is a classic item — but note that spots like Poppin have a ton of affordable, disposable items like the cardboard boxes pictured above (4).
  • Mousepads. Depending on how relaxed the company is, you can use your own mousepad decorated with things like bicyclesfine art, or abstract designs. (Pictured above, #3: Van Gogh Almond Blossom Painting MousePad, $11.99.) 

Office Artwork

You have a ton of options for things to put on your bulletin board, in frames, or on the wall, including:

  • Family pictures. We’ve talked a lot about family pictures at the office over the years. Bottom line: put pictures in a nice frame, and consider the content of the photo when you’re placing it — for example, if it makes you smile to see that silly picture with your brother, have it facing your desk, not your visitor. If you’re a temporary worker you may want to default to a computer slideshow from Dropbox, or a single picture in a frame.
  • Postcards or greeting cards. These attach easily to a bulletin board and are easy to take with you and go — but they add a nice dash of color, mood, humor, and (if they were actually sent to you), a nice reminder of friends and family.
  • Colorful calendars. A calendar is a functional, quick, and affordable way to add a lot of color to your office quickly.  Anthropologie has several cute calendar options, including these lovely map calendars that go into 2017; your local Barnes & Noble also has a ton.

Readers: Have you found some affordable, easy ways ways to decorate your office, whether you’re a summer associate, an intern, or maybe just the new kid? Do you aim for color (energy!) or just a nicer decor?

Comments

  1. “We thought we’d round up some great ideas for cute desk accessories and other simple, fast ways summer associates can decorate their office.”

    No no no. Summer associates do not “decorate.” The only “decor” in summers’ offices should be pieces of the endless firm-branded swag that’s given out constantly, or other summer-event-specific memorabilia such as a makeshift “pennant” that’s given out to the winning summer/partner softball team or something. Do not bring in your own office supplies or decor!

    • Agree! It looks way too presumptuous like you think you have a job offer in the bag!

    • Aside from my specific complaint below, I also agree with this as a general rule. Your own pen? Sure. Your own file folders? Nononononono.

    • You sound like an AWESOME person to work with. I brought in a cute file folder or two as a summer associate and definitely hung postcards on the boards. It’s not like I brought a couch.

      • Thanks! I am! I wanted to give a strong reaction to this because I don’t want college students that read here thinking they should show up with a tote bag full of “cute” office supplies for their internships. If you’re going to err one way as a summer, you should definitely err on the side of Not Decorating.

        Bringing your favorite highlighter, notepad, or sticky notes from your law school study habits is one thing. Following Kat’s advice above is another.

      • I 100% agree with Cat and believe she is doing a kindness to those summers/interns who may be reading this and potentially shooting themselves in the foot by following the not-so-great advice.

    • Senior Attorney :

      Yup. One framed picture on your desk, maybe (subject to sharing space as noted below). But don’t decorate your summer office.

    • anon in SV :

      +1. Summer Associates should not decorate their offices. Period. What a presumptuous and entitled move, and helps feed into the sense that the partners already have that millenials are entitled special snowflakes.

    • So agree. Do not decorate. Do not use pretty file folders unless you want to be seen as “playing office.” You can be as girly or twee or whatnot _once you get the job_ (and even then, at your own peril). I promise that until then, you can use the firm-issued pen cup or plain manila file folders and make it through.

    • Just chiming in to say I am in total agreement with Cat.

    • working momz :

      totally agree with Cat.

    • If you’re an intern and feel a strong need to decorate, bring in a nice wall calendar. I’m 5 years out of college, and wouldn’t think twice about an intern having a calendar with some kind of nice image next to their desk. And maybe a mug or other cup for holding pens, if not provided by your company.

    • Babyweight :

      100% Do not decorate your office as a summer clerk or intern. You are a temporary guest and should act as such. Do you decorate a guest bedroom at a relative’s house? No. Also, if you want to use anything “cute” or “girly,” know your office and industry.

    • My first summer, I had three personal items at my desk: A small zippered bag with highlighters and pens inside (which did not have anything written on it), a notebook (one of the soft covered Moleskines with “BUILD” on the front) and a discreet pill case (I have to take pills with every meal and I kept forgetting them). Everything else was brought each day- charging cord, water bottle, etc. This lasted throughout my entire first year interning with the nonprofit I was with, even though I had an office that was essentially “mine” (I shared it, but I was there 20ish hours a week and the other interns were there 5-10). At one point or another I think I left a sweater at work because I only needed it in the office.
      My second summer with the same org, different unit, I had a notebook, a charging cord, an eos lip balm, the same small zippered bag, and a coffee cup I “borrowed” from the kitchen to store pens in.
      My last quarter- after I found out I had a job with the org- I picked up a small (Polaroid size) Instagram photo of the area of our city our office is in mounted on a block of wood and set it on the desk, as well as a coffee cup my boss gave me.
      During all of this, however, I did grab a couple of things I needed daily from the supply room and kept them neatly organized on the desk or near it.
      I’m STOKED to decorate my real office (….may or may not have a running list of things I want to bring/hang/have on the shelves), but when I was at my internship, I was there to work.

  2. When I was an intern during law school, I left for a semester and overlapped for about a week (we shared a cube but worked different days) with the person who replaced me. She brought in three framed pictures of her and her husband and left them on ‘my’ desk. She could have at least waited until I was no longer using the space at all. Don’t be her.

  3. For summer associates and interns? Do nothing. Arrange your standard issue office supplies nicely if you want but not decorating.

  4. Name Goes Here :

    Do not decorate. Bring a cheerful coffee cup if you want, but do not decorate. Really.

    You will be there for a handful of weeks. This is not the time to bring photos, plants, personal office supplies, etc. Bring a favorite pen or highlighter or similar item if that that’s somehow essential to your work process, but decorative folders? No. That is not the place to be ‘fashionable’.

  5. Sydney Bristow :

    I’m in the market for a digital picture frame for my desk. I’d rather have one item than several pictures but have a bunch of appropriate travel pictures I’d like to see at work (to remind me why I’m working long hours!).

    Reviews on Amazon are all over the place. Anyone have one they like? I don’t need wifi or anything. I’ll load them manually.

  6. I agree that summer interns should go really easy on the decorating. That said, a decent desk lamp can really make a space feel much cozier and more pleasant. And, since it has a practical aspect too (brighter light for reading) I think that’s something you can bring that strikes the right balance but also makes a big impact decor wise.

    • Ohh, likewise a small tasteful wall calendar. I use outlook on my phone for appointments but I frequently find myself flipping through the wall calendar if i need to check back and see something like, “was the 24th a tuesday?” or to count out the days to determine what date something is due. So- very useful + can be pretty (though I just use the plain boring one issued by my company).

    • Anonymous :

      No!! No desk lamp for a summer.

  7. We are not allowed to bring in house plants – they must be company issued and you have to be a certain grade level to qualify. At 17 years and a senior engineer, I’m not there yet. My noncompliant plant was confiscated while I was on maternity leave, so it is enforced.

    Anyone else have this craziness?

    • My old firm required that all plants be purchased or rented (!!!) through a specific vendor. Whether purchased or rented, the vendor was responsible for coming around to tend to the plant and ensure it was in good health. If the plant was rented, you paid a small amount monthly and it could be replaced if it died; if the plant was purchased, it was a one-time fee and no replacement if it died. Houseplants/plants not serviced by the vendor were not permitted and (theoretically) could be confiscated — though I never witnessed anyone breaking the rule or having their plant confiscated.

      So a different flavor of crazy, but still pretty crazy…

    • That sounds crazy-making. How on earth is 17 years in not senior enough? Are they this controlling in other aspects?

    • BeenThatGuy :

      Same here. Company issued desk accessories, artwork, plants, calendars, e v e r y t h i n g. If it’s any comfort, I’m about to hit my 17 years next month (am a VP).

  8. That’s bizarre, and I am so sorry for you. I can’t think of a rational reason for it. Some people just like rules for the sake of rules, sounds like the situation you are facing there. I would be so sad to lose one of my little leafy friends…(I am perhaps a little too attached to my plants, though at this point I’ve accidentally killed enough of them that I’m starting to be less attached. )

  9. My rule of thumb, given to me by a sage colleague, is never to have more personal items in your office than will fit in a standard cardboard box. I have three books, two pairs of shoes, lipstick, hand lotion, and one picture in a frame.

    • Anonymous :

      This. When fired or laid off, our employees get very little notice and they are walked straight from their desk to the door and their badges are taken. I have one picture and a vase with live flowers in it. I don’t care about the vase, but I would be able to grab the picture frame and go very easily!

  10. Just got a job offer that will substantially increase my salary AND has a three mile commute! I’ve never had a commute shorter than 45 minutes, I’m so excited :-)

    • Senior Attorney :

      Oh my gosh you are going to be so happy! This is going to be life-changing for you.

      I am here to tell you that there is NOTHING better than being able to run home for lunch!

      Congratulations!

    • Congrats! My husband just did this and is SO HAPPY.

    • lucy stone :

      I have a four mile commute in no traffic and it is the best thing about my job some days. I will call a girlfriend as we’re both leaving work and in the time it takes her to drive or transit home, I’ll have made it home, started a load of laundry, changed into comfy clothes, watered my plants…

    • Thanks everyone! Me, my husband, and my dog are pretty excited that I’ll gain nearly two hours back in my day :-). Only potential downside is that I’ll have to make time for my NPR fix!

      • You are me 6 months ago. From the other side: you cannot believe how much a short commute changes your life. Seriously. I am so happy for you. Congratulations! And agreed about NPR. I had to do a longer drive yesterday and simultaneously remembered why I hated commuting and realized how much I miss NPR. It was an odd feeling.

  11. Anonymous :

    We have a rotational program, which is a very enhanced two year paid internship program where they move every 6 months to a new position and generally a new location. There is no guarantee of a FT job at the end, although that is the idea. The new rotational next to me put up twine to hang pictures from with clothespins, brought in colored major jars as pen holders, and a few other things that are reminiscent of this post. All within a day or two of moving in. I have been here a year and a half and have one picture and some flowers. I’m not saying a permanent employee has to be as bare bones as me (especially in my business CASUAL office), but the rotational’s decorating is a little intense for a non-perm employee. It also visually reminds me that she is 22.

    • Anonymous :

      I wouldn’t consider rotational/leadership programs the same as internships at all. They are full-time employees. That said, the twine thing is a little intense.

      • Anonymous :

        This is for new college grads only. I would hardly call it a leadership program – entry level.

        • although it’s entry level, a 2-year stretch of 6-month assignments is a lot more “permanent” than an 8-12 week summer internship. You can suck it up and deal with blank walls and boring office supplies for a few months.

          I agree with both of you that twine and mason jars is too much even for a full-time entry level person, but at her stage, I think some personal items (like photos or postcards tacked up to the cube walls with pushpins, NOT twine!) would be totally fine if not expected.

  12. The head of my department is inviting all of us, including our families, to his house for an afternoon pool party. We’ve discussed this before and there’s no way I am going to be swimming, but my DH will likely be swimming with the kids. What do I wear? Shorts and a t-shirt? Also, what do I bring? He is way wealthier than I am so there’s no way that he’ll care about any wine that I bring to the party. He likes chocolate though – would a box of chocolates be weird?

    • I would bring a bouquet of sunflowers. They strike the right note–cheery but not crazy expensive; summery. Thoughtful but not OTT. Easy to stop by Whole Foods or TJ’s and then have them wrapped with nicer ribbon.

      I would wear capris and a flowy blousy-top or dressier shorts and nice sandals. I would think “dressy casual” unless you have really tiny tots that will wreck your outfit. If you like to show skin, and casual sundress, like a maxi, might be fine too.

    • lost academic :

      A box of chocolates might be weird unless you can find a way to make it look more obviously sort of gift basket-y: does that make sense? I’ve seen others here recommend wearing things like sundresses or whatever to said pool parties. That sounded like good advice.

    • Senior Attorney :

      I would wear a sundress or capris/shorts with a dressier-than-a-regular-t-shirt top.

      I think a (small) box of chocolates would be great since you know that’s what he likes. And maybe a bouquet of sunflowers for the wife.

      • Thanks for the advice! I am totally going to do exactly this (small box of chocolates and a bouquet of sunflowers). Now I need to and find some capris.

  13. Is Ebates real? It is offering an 8% cash back deal for Sephora… would give me $8 back on my $100 order sitting in the cart. Has anyone used Ebates? This seems weird.

    • Yes it is real. Please don’t hara$$ people here with links. There was a historical commenter (RIP Shayla!) who got overly aggressive about it and then left. Don’t be her.

    • Bewitched :

      It’s real and my colleague’s spouse uses it all the time. I can’t be bothered to go to their website first prior to my order but it’s definitely real.

      • You can install a button in your browser and it will pop up with a reminder and a button to click for any eligible websites. It’s legit and free!

    • EBates is real and it works. In fact, I often forget to use it and then smack myself.

    • Totally real. I’ve gotten over $600 in the last 4-5 years. I love it.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Totally real, though I prefer to shop through airline portals for the frequent flier miles.

    • It’s real! You have to accumulate more than $X before they cut you your rebate check, but when I remember to use it I get like $20/quarter back. Why not?

    • I heart Ebates, especially during the Black Friday/post-holiday sales. It also can pay to compare Ebates and Mr. Rebates because sometimes one site offers more back than the other.

    • Anonymous :

      Ebates + using a gift card purchased through United MileageX app (5x miles on Sephora) + paying for that with my Amex Gold Premiere Rewards, where the United app codes as an airline so I get 3x rewards…

      I don’t remember to do all those steps all the time. But ~16% back in one form or another is pretty useful when I do.

    • lucy stone :

      Totally real. I signed up 8 years ago and have made over $1,000 on stuff I would have purchased anyway.

    • Babyweight :

      We use this as an extra painless way to contribute to the kids’ college funds. In addition to the standard monthly contributions, we put the rebate money into college funds. About $2k in the past 4 years.

  14. Wanna use my referral link and get me a cash back bonus? I thought you’d get a bonus too but now I don’t see it. http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=6qDOq2hsbAxQqJQzm0e6dQ%3D%3D&eeid=28187

  15. Agree that a temp employee should not decorate. When I moved into my (executive, permanent) office, I was responsible for putting things on the big empty walls if I wanted to. I didn’t have anything to put up and didn’t want to spend a lot, but I think it’s a little looked down upon here to leave a big office empty…maybe sends the message that you don’t plan to stay for long. So I ordered some large prints of succulents from (of all places) the Costco website. Framed them in large Ikea frames for cheap. They add a nice pop of color in the office and don’t cause any waves. It’s hard to find neutral office appropriate artwork but this has worked really well!

  16. Wildkitten :

    Agree that temp employees should not decorate, but I am a permanent employee and I love this crap.

  17. Would it be frowned upon to put a BIG piece of art in my office?

    I do plan to stay a long time, and the art is (1) a landscape (so about as inoffensive as can be), (2) thematic (as in, it touches on the topics that we work on), and (3) by a local artist I know personally. It would go on the wall across from my desk, so it wouldn’t be visible from the hall really. But it’s definitely way beyond “can fit in a box to leave” size. Maybe 3’x6′? Is that overstepping?

    Other people don’t have large art works, but they have lots of large-ish family and vacation photos, and even a commemorative sports arena photo-thing. The other art I have up (a smaller piece, about 16″ x 3, by a relative) has got rave reviews and earned the artist a commission.

    • I say go for it. I would need a moving truck to get my stuff out of my office (okay, slight exaggeration) but I’m a name partner so don’t have to worry about being shown the door with no notice. But if that’s unlikely for you, too, just decorate the way you want.

    • Senior Attorney :

      I had a huge print on my office wall for years. I loved it and as far as I know nobody ever batted an eye.

      • Senior Attorney :

        And honestly? Unless you are very very junior or in an industry where unexpected terminations are not unusual, I don’t think “live your life as though you expect to be escorted out of the building before quitting time” is the best way to go.

    • Go for it. Larger-scale pieces are commonplace in the offices I’ve experienced. I disagree with the “you must be able to pick up your work tote and depart” advice — I have large framed pieces of my own in my office, as do many of my colleagues, not to mention the filing cabinet drawer full of heels (I have a walking commute…)

    • Absolutely! Go for it! Since this will totally out me I’m not using my normal posting name, but I have an “art wall” installation in my office — basically several pictures I took on various vacations suspended from a wire that runs the length of the long wall in my office. I love the pictures, they make me smile. Life is too short. Also, other associates have mini fridges, couches, lamps, etc. etc. and I can’t imagine an associate being escorted out of the building.

  18. I always have an orchid at my desk, which I keep in an antique Chinese pot. I buy them from Trader Joe’s for $13, and enjoy the blooms for 2-3 months. When the blooms fade, I swap them out for a fresh one and take them home to try to get them to rebloom. It makes a big impact and looks elegant.

    In addition to the orchid, I also have a very small jade plant, three family photos, a bookend, a pottery pen cup, and a 10×10 abstract seascape done by a friend. That’s a typical amount of stuff for a manager to have at my company, though it’s more common to see sports memorabilia or photographs than a painting. Developers actually tend to have a lot more crap than managers — they’ve got tech toys and desk gadgets and nerf guns, but that’s life in tech for you.

    I wouldn’t really think it would be a big deal if one of my interns got an orchid or a very small plant, but I think you should keep it to ONE thing. If you have a family photo, skip the plant or funky desk accessory. Keep it small enough that you can pick it up and move immediately if I need to relocate you on very short notice.

  19. Wish I had my own office to decorate :

    I wish I had an office to decorate. :( I am a pretty well-paid patent attorney ($200k+) working in-house with over 8 years experience, but the company just shifted us to a “hoteling” office situation. There are fewer offices in the office space than there are attorneys. I literally have to set up my laptop, mouse, phone, etc. every day that I go into the office. None of it is my personal space anymore. I even have a locker at work that looks very much like the locker I had in high school. I feel like such transient. At least I can work from home a few days per week.

  20. What do you think of the opposite situation? Where I work everyone turns their office into their own little living rooms while I would definitely meet the one box rule aside from one large framed poster. Most of the décor was left by the previous occupant (large mirror and a small table). To me the poster and the mirror fill the room but in a place where my coworkers put up wallpaper borders and cozy throws do I need to do more?

  21. Anonymous :

    I’m a partner in a biglaw firm’s Chicago office, and I do a lot of recruiting. Most people are not really going to notice what a summer associate or new associate does as far as decor in the office. I wouldn’t do anything permanent, of course, but if a summer or junior associate has photos in frames on her desk, plants or potted flowers (just protect any wood surfaces), or other tasteful personal items, no one is going to mind (if they notice at all).

    Once you’re past your first year, you can definitely feel free to decorate. Hang pictures by all means — just nothing weird or offensive, of course. I bought five magnetic bulletin board from Container Store to display all my cheesy souvenir magnets from my travels over the years. They look great and are a little different, and often prompt people to say they’ve also been to this place or that and to talk about a vacation they really enjoyed.

    I know a lot of partners in Chicago, and I’m willing to bet this is a safe strategy at all the biglaw offices here. But of course the best rule of thumb is to scope out what successful people just above your level are doing.

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