Cute Office Supplies: When To Use Them

Cute Office Supplies | Corporette

2017 Update: We still think this is a really interesting discussion of when to use cute office supplies — but you may also want to check out our most recent roundup of the best places to get cute office decor.

Our post the other day about the cute file folders got me thinking: When should a professional woman actually use cute office supplies? Should you use them only in a home office? Only for presentations? As part of a cohesive system for all of your office work? (Pictured: Smiley Face Binder Clips, $4 for 40 at Amazon.)

For my $.02, I’ve always loved cute office supplies — something about going to Staples or Kate’s Paperie or the like takes me back to the happy feelings of back-to-school shopping. (Yeah, I was that kid.) But once I got to my law firm, this is how I actually used them: for personal things in my office only. I had a nice folder for keeping track of my CLE credits, and a nice folder for holding my old timesheets and the like — things that I filed myself and didn’t need to hand off to someone else. They sat on my desk (as part of my organized office system) and made me happy — but they were but a small pop of color amidst the seas of red Redwelds, brown Bankers Boxes, and beige manila folders. It was still worth it to me to seek out pretty things and buy them, but it was just for a bit of silliness to cheer me up at the office.

Ladies, when do you use cute office supplies? Do you have a place for them in your life?



  1. You do you. Personally, I don’t want to spend the money if I can get the same (albeit more boring) stuff at the office for free. But this is not dissimilar to bringing your own cute mug, artwork, etc., to brighten up your office.

    • +1. It’s not something I’d choose to spend my money on, but as long as your stationary supplies don’t look like you went nuts buying vintage Lisa Frank on eBay, I don’t think it is a problem.

      • But that would be awesome!

        • Wildkitten :

          My work friends call my levenger my trapper keeper. But, it’s not neon with unicorns…yet.

          • A colleague calls my Staples Arc notebook (similar to the Levenger) my Trapper Keeper too!

          • Shopping Challenged :

            If I could make myself use and stick with something like that, I would feel so organized and proud of myself for keeping everything in order!

  2. My use is about the same as Kat’s. In-office, for make-me-smile purposes.

  3. I realize that this is pretty dumb, but I get a little bit of a transgressive thrill by using things that would be “unprofessional” in the wider office world. I have a purple pen that I use to make notes that only I will see, and if I’m creating a word document only for my own purposes, I might make it in comic sans. Like Kat says, it just sort of cheers me up for some reason.

    But I probably wouldn’t fuss with too many office supplies that are just cute, because I don’t like to spend the money or add more clutter.

    • Lawyer. I use many many colours of pen for litigation purposes: direct examination notes in green, with pink or orange notes on the same page for follow up/cross-examination/redirect and blue to underline things that will be important in argument.

      I buy them myself now, but my last office would order me green pens. (I supply the bright colours myself.)

  4. Yup. I think rejecting the common supplies provided by the office for your own cute items would look mildly unprofessional and would raise questions about your priorities (assuming the common supplies were provided free but you chose to spend money on cuter stuff). I have the best colored pens that I got as a gift. I keep them on my desk, but I only get to use them for writing myself notes on post-its and such, because anything I write for work needs to be in black ink. I would love to have cute desk stuff but I feel I need to save it for the home office.

    • Is there a line here between cute folders and binder clips (things that could leave your office) and a cute pencil holder (things that stay on your desk)? I had an office supplied stapler, tape dispenser, and pencil holder which were all ugly and didn’t work that well. I received the Kate Spade “ghost” accessories (clear but with a little bit of gold if you look close) as a gift. They are noticeably cuter than the ugly black basic ones, but it’s not like anyone else has to use them. Is this any different than a cute mug or a framed picture?

      • I think so. Static things seem fine, as long as they’re not cutsey. (Colored is fine, Hello Kitty is probably not great.) I would think it was a little off if, say, I was in someone’s office dealing with some documents, and she had to rummage through the neon colored paperclips to find professional ones or change them out before handing the documents off. So I guess it really goes more to functionality.

      • In my mind I’m only extending this to sort of “consumable” office supplies that are already provided (paper clips, folders, etc.) that you decline to use and buy your own cuter versions of them. I don’t think the same is true for stuff you keep on your own desk – I use my own personal mug and pencil holder too. I think showing a little personality with your desk decor is looked on favorably in most offices. Since you don’t change it out as often you’re not setting yourself up for people to think “really, she was late with x report but she had time to buy pink paper clips, hmm….” in the same way.

        • KateMiddletown :

          Plus that would be so damn expensive if you had to buy all your own fancy file folders. I’m not even an atty but I would spend more than I make on those.

          • Wildkitten :

            I own six pretty folders for my frequent flier docs and use the standard folders for the stuff that sits in my filing cabinet. I don’t remember what it cost but it couldn’t’ve been more than $5.

      • Sydney Bristow :

        I think there is and I totally want that stapler. I’d put it more in the desk accessories category where I think it is fine to be a little different.

    • Anon Midwest :

      Black ink only? Wow. Ever since my pre-law school office jobs in the non profit sector I have had a preference (bordering on compulsion) to sign and use blue ink pens.

      As for personal accessories. I sort of mix and match. I like particular sorts of memo lists, etcetera. As well as better office supplies than are provided. But anything leaving my office is standard issue.

      • Anonymous :

        +1 blue ink is clearly superior to black

      • But if you only use black ink, how do you know what document has the original signature? #lawyer

        There’s literally not a black ink pen in my office.

      • Same. I knew an older lawyer who owned a small firm and he banned black pens from the office and would throw a fit if he so much as saw one laying around. Obviously that’s over the top but I also try to avoid blue pens as much as possible, and never sign in blue.

      • Coach Laura :

        Yep, in banking and use only blue ink for formal documents, letters, anything that gets recorded. I use black for some reports. I also have a rainbow of colored Pentel pens for highlighting, writing on sticky notes, to-do lists. I buy these myself because I have such bad writing that ball-point is illegible. Fine tip pens all the way, even if I have to buy them myself. I also buy lined sticky notes in a bigger size. But that’s the extent of my spending my own money on supplies.

      • No-black-ink used to pop up in my parents’ jobs as IT in secure facilities.

        I use it as an excuse to indulge in purple, green, and blue ink at work. I’m also a file clerk headed into IT, so nobody cares.

  5. I think cute often reads as unprofessional. I’d hate for my superiors to think I was spending time/energy on office supplies when could be doing productive and useful work.
    In addition, items that are cute are often somewhat less effective than the regular version. If I’m going to spend money on something I could get at the office for free, I’d prefer to use it on something that’s truly an upgrade- nicer pens, for example, or a beautiful glass tray for loose bobby pins and paperclips.

    • I respectfully DISagree. Everyone has their own personalty, so the manageing partner ENCOURAGES me to be myself. So he got me smiley-faced POST-ITs as well as partner stationary with MY OWN Name and my OWN personal legal designation “NYS Worker’s Compensation Defense Counsel”. With this designation, I am abel to command alot of weight when I send out a letter to Plaintiff’s counsel, who usueally his a PI Schlub rather then a WC schlub. YAY!!!

  6. WestCoast Lawyer :

    Not really cutesy, but when I moved in house I searched high and low to find the multicolored triangular plastic paperclips that many of the big law firms use. After using them for so many years I just couldn’t go back to boring metal paperclips.

    • +1. When I moved to a small firm from a mid-sized firm I hunted down and bought my own Plastiklips (TM). Still have them and love them. I release them out of my control judiciously….

  7. I think this depends on the probability that your cutesy office supplies will be seen by anyone else at your office or by a client. Hello Kitty folder, which might accidentally get send up to a partner with a brief that needs to be reviewed – not cool. Hello Kitty pencil that you use to scribble notes within the confines of your office – ok.

  8. Is it possible that we are all overthinking this a bit? I certainly understand no cutesy office supplies on court filings or whatever may be your industry’s equivalent, but if my boss really cares that I have a hello kitty mug on my desk I think I’m going to find a new job. Maybe the hello kitty mug was a gift from my kid, or my niece, or a client, etc.

    • That has been my logic in getting some cuter supplies – the people with kids have kid stuff on their desks, so why can’t I have stuff that makes me happy?

    • I’m with you on this one. Unless you are completely decking your desk out to look like a Hello Kitty shrine, I think some fun items are completely okay. They should hire a robot if they want someone completely devoid of personality. And yes, I worked at a law firm with 500+ attorneys for a while, so I am not totally oblivious to that culture..

    • THIS +1k.

      If a few cute office supplies are actually going to hurt how you’re perceived on the job, whoa, there are some big problems with the office culture wherever you are. Get out while you can.

    • hoola hoopa :


      I have a neon clipboard that I use at meetings. Behave professionally, know your stuff, do good work. And use whatever color sticky notes you want.

    • this isn’t exactly an “office supply”, but I have a mug (from pregnant chicken) that says “Don’t worry it’s not coffe it’s decaffeinated whiskey.”
      I carry it EVERYWHERE in the office, but I would never carry it to a client meeting. So, for cute office supplies in-house? why not. for client deliverable products? nope.

    • +1000000

      Also, I am sometimes amazed at these topics. No one in Asia would think twice about this stuff. I think women allow themselves to be more “themselves” here without fear of what people are thinking…..

  9. Wildkitten :

    KonMari is about discarding things that don’t spark joy, but it’s also made me realize I can and should surround myself with the little things that *do* spark joy. I wouldn’t turn something in to my boss with a pink binder clip, but I use pretty folders to corral the documents I frequently access so they are both easier to find and also make me a little bit extra happy to do the mundane things. I also buy things like my levenger notebook even though I can get a regular notebook for free in the supply closet, and I don’t think that’s remotely unprofessional.

  10. Anonononon :

    I definitely think this reads as unprofessional. We have one woman at our firm who does this; she works in trust and estates and even in that woman-heavy department it’s frowned upon. I would say anything more than art (framed, not kid-drawn and thumbtacked) on the wall and a personal coffee cup is too much and would not read as professional for a lawyer in my northeast city.

    My biglaw firm also has a pretty bad woman problem overall, so I usually also advise female junior associates to skip the photos of their significant other (especially wedding photos) on their desk until they are more established. No need to fan the absurd “all women will just leave to have babies” fire that we have.

    • Every lawyer in my east-coast office who has kids, male or female, has kid-drawn art tacked to the wall, including managing partners whose kids are now in high school. I really can’t imagine it being seen as unprofessional. Also every single attorney who has a partner has a photo of that person in their office.

    • I always hesitate to say “this can’t be real,” but seriously…this can’t be real. I worked in a crazily misogynist firm (like, employment lawyers literally don’t believe the stories I can tell), but it was never this bad.

    • sounds like your firm is already on the brink of firing any woman who has babies if you can’t put kid pix up on the walls. wow.

    • Anonononon :

      To clarify, all the guys have kid-drawn art on the wall and some of the female partners do. But it’s tough for women to get ahead here (they don’t get fired; they just also don’t make non-equity, never mind equity). Many people do have pictures of their partners/kids, but it is seen through a totally different lens in a guy’s office than it is in a woman’s. No one is going to come tell you to take those pictures down, but it definitely contributes to the issues my firm has seeing women as candidates for advancement.

      Office decoration is different from an associate vs. partner perspective in my view. I should have specified that my original comments about what’s appropriate in an office were more along the lines of “for an associate” (I guess it’s fairly ageist of me, but it didn’t cross my mind that a partner would be using frilly binder clips). Of course the managing partner has kid drawn art in his office – he has made it all the way up the chain and it’s not going to hurt him. People think it’s cute that he likes his kids so much. On the other hand, with the woman in my office who has been turned down for NEP 3 years running people definitely see the kid drawn art on her walls as a statement that they are more important to her than work. It’s a shitty perception issue and I’m not endorsing it, but it’s the reality here.

    • Anonymous :

      My firm is also like this and not in a NE city.

  11. I have our secretaries and office managers order multi-colored folders and post-its for us – it costs the same as the boring colors, so why not? It’s especially satisfying to have a male officer manager follow up on an order for neon post-its – all of the male engineers stole mine.

    Since our boss has instituted a no-black-pen rule for signatures and markups, etc., using non-traditional pen colors has sky-rocketed. Of course, my color of choice is green. Purple is common. Some have used pink but it’s hard to read.

    • TO Lawyer :

      +1 – My firm used to use all yellow stickies until I got here. I asked the receptionist to order me coloured stickies and my boss stole them so now we all use neon post-its

  12. A friend of mine has this and it’s kind of amazing:

    • Senior Attorney :

      That’s crazy awesome. Did you see it also comes in rose gold?

    • Yes! I have a very similar pen from them (that comes in seven colors) — I got it as a gift and love it! It’s fun and it writes really well, too.,_Light_Lilac.html

    • My old team bought me when I moved on. I whip it out occasionally in my new role and lots of people admire it.

      I love it, I have the rose gold.

      Banker, and for what it’s worth, cash never goes missing but pens walk off all the time. Lol

  13. The discussion of kid art above made me think – I’ve sometimes thought of getting my kid (almost 3) to splash some paint on something and then frame it and hang it all nice – I’m thinking that it would just look like abstract art to most people. Has anyone done something like that?

    • Wildkitten :

      Nope but I think it sounds awesome.

    • hoola hoopa :

      I have two paintings (finger paint and watercolor) nicely framed, and they do resemble abstract art. The tempra-ish finger paint is a give-away that it’s kid art (to people who ask… there are probably many who don’t even notice), but it still looks great.

  14. Anonymous :

    I have a pusheen calendar in my cube and far be it from anybody to tell me not to…

    Government worksite, so I use their materials (and blue/black pens). I have other fun things though like a pink water bottle, maps from my trips posted on the walls, etc.

  15. Anonymous :

    Amen to neon Post-Its.

    My office is very big on reusing supplies so I find it’s actually more difficult for me to find boring manila folders (which I prefer with clients) when searching our stack of mismatched yellow/orange/purple ones.

    My favourite desk personalization is definitely the 6″ stack of wedding magazines going back four years that I use to heighten my monitor. I’m an event manager so it’s appropriate – if I wasn’t, perhaps a stack of books would be fun. Hardcover classics or industry favourites.

    Other than that, I’ve gotten away with using a fun vase for pens and a nice dish for paperclips.

  16. I disagree that you should have different office supplies for yourself vs. stuff that circulates in the office. I do bring my own stuff to work (getting office supplies can be a hunt), and I choose to buy things (paperclips/binder clips/ folders, etc) that have more personality simply because 1. I like them, and 2. I can tell my stuff from others’. Rule of thumb: if I’m not comfortable with others seeing anything at my desk, it shouldn’t be at my desk.

    Example: My binder clips are an assortment of purple, light blue, light yellow, and white. Not pink smiley. When I hand my boss reports, I will generally choose matching colors (like all blue). But I won’t go find black for him. Not something I should be spending my time on at my salary level, because who cares if I choose blue or purple vs black?

  17. Shopping Challenged :

    If I use colored supplies, it’s generally in a way similar to what someone above wrote about green ink for depos, other colors for cross-examination, etc. I live the post it tabs that are mostly clear, and will use different colors of them to mark up articles without writing on the originals. People have rolled their eyes at me for my insistence on this color for this kind of comment, but I see it as similar to the way MS Word uses different colors for each person commenting on a doc.

  18. I fell in love with Japanese paper goods after studying there in college, so every year, I buy a paper planner at Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore, because they are small, cute, and have both weekly and monthly pages. Although many associate Hello Kitty with cute Japanese paper goods, there are more mature choices available. There are calendars with pictures of teddy bears decorating a Christmas tree, but there are also others with subtle seasonal designs that evoke seasonal changes.

  19. Good advice. In a professional setting, cute does not go over so well. Others will perceive you as immature or unprofessional. I would be careful even in a personal office. You leave yourself open to interpretation.

  20. I’ve always loved cute office things and especially back-to-school shopping.

  21. The use of cutesy office supplies makes me want to cringe. I work in an extremely male dominated field where I already have trouble getting men to take me seriously to begin with. The last thing I need is to “other” myself further. For work/client use, I’ll stick with regular binder clips and black/blue ink.

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