The Top Ten Things to Keep In Your Desk

The Top Ten Things to Keep In Your Desk | CorporetteIt’s a perennial question: what to keep in your desk? We haven’t talked about this in a while, so I thought we should discuss reader J’s question:

Can you do a post on essential things to keep in your office/desk? I ask this because I never think of things to bring in until it is too late. Recent example — I’m about to go to a client meeting, and I look down and see my bright pink nail polish half chipped off on every nail. Of course I didn’t have any nail polish remover in my office, so I waste my 10 minutes before the meeting looking around for remover. Other examples include: nail clipper and file, bandaids, Advil.

Some of my favorite posts on the blog are on things to keep in your office — drugstore stuff for your office, tech stuff to buy for your office, food to keep at the office, and the clothes that should live at your office. We’ve also done a fun post on different uses for office supplies (in a pinch). But we haven’t talked about this in a long while, so let’s discuss. Readers, please list your top ten absolute essentials for your office! What have you been surprised to get a lot of use out of?

For my own $.02, if I had to set up a totally new office, I would bring:

  1. Tissues.
  2. Lip gloss.
  3. Nail file.
  4. Extra phone charger.
  5. A shelf-stable snack of some kind (e.g., a bag of raw almonds).
  6. A cup of my own (or, hey, a water bottle).
  7. A framed picture of my loved ones.
  8. Purell.
  9. A silk cardigan or a wrap.
  10. This one’s kind of odd, but I think it would truly come before the bottle of Advil, a little salt shaker, or a comfy pair of pants: I’d prepare a link on DropBox or bring a flashdrive with a few things to personalize my computer — family pictures or silly quotes for the slideshow-when-the-computer-is-idle (I actually have a collection of cartoons I’ve scanned in over the years for that purpose, as well as quotes like this one and this one) a picture for the computer desktop, etc.

Readers, what’s on your list?

Pictured above: Office supplies of blue, originally uploaded to Flickr by 10 things to keep in your desk at work
 We asked the readers what the top ten things were that they'd bring to the office on their first day (or in general if they were setting up a new office) -- these are Kat's top 10 things. What would you bring to work on your first day?


  1. Anne Shirley :

    A suit. I keep my scrubby old one on the back of the door just in case.

  2. A flashlight and a few other things for use in emergencies (not appearance-related emergencies, which are valid but different, but actual emergency-emergencies, as in my building lost power or there was an incident).

  3. Woods-comma-Elle :

    My list is pretty similar.

    Nail file
    Nail polish remover (currently relying on my office-mate for this)
    Hand cream
    Sewing kit (you have no idea how often this has come in handy!)
    Safety pins
    Chewing gum
    Dry Shampoo
    Toothbrush and toothpaste
    Sticky tape thingy to remove hairs off clothes

    • All of this plus:
      Shout wipes (stain removers)
      Make-up (mascara, concealer, bronzer, lipstick)
      Static cling spray

  4. Pads/tampons.

  5. 1. Touch-up products (compact, almost-used-up eyeshadow and blush, and lipstick).
    2. Nail care (file, one of those remover towelettes – like a wetwipe but remover, and cuticle trimmer because I get terrible hangnails).
    3. Basic medicine (cold, allergy, headache, tummy, cough drops), bandaids, tissues.
    ***1-3 live in one of those Clinique giveaway freebie makeup bags in a drawer – very handy.
    4. Snacks/gum.
    5. Small souvenirs from vacation (I got an intricately carved cup that I use for my pen holder).
    6. A few pictures – wedding, family, one or two from vacation – on the not-super-public side of desk.
    7. Extra charger for phone.
    8. Portable mouse for when I need to bring my laptop to a conference room. I HATE using the built in laptop mouse.
    9. Boxes for discreetly stowing office shoes under desk.
    10. Neutral pashmina and, let’s be honest, ALL my suit jackets (I have to wear them only occasionally but they might as well live hanging from the back of my office door rather than getting smelly and wrinkled on the commute).

    • ooh, and I forgot – tampons, contact lens solution and case, and my previous pair of glasses (they’re a decent enough prescription, just not great – but they’re much much better than dried out contacts!).

  6. I’m a contractor at a startup, so while I have a usual workspace I have to keep everything in my bag, but I try to always have:

    Hand cream or lotion
    Lip balm
    5 Hour Energy
    At least one snack bar or bag of chips
    A nail file

    At my old job where I did have a desk, I had a lint roller, a USB cord for my iPod, a stress ball, Pepto-Bismol, hand sanitizer, and Excedrin.

    I’d also suggest blister band-aids. I don’t have any right now but I probably should, they’re a Godsend.

  7. Miss Pearl :

    Extra phone charger, tampons, small container of loose change and singles that I keep hidden away (for emergency vending-machine runs), take-out menus for the local lunch spots (so I can order delivery and/or order ahead), boullion cubes, and instant oatmeal.

  8. I don’t have my own desk since I’m at a client every week, so all this stuff has to go in my purse and laptop bag:
    -zantac (i have frequent acid reflux)
    -nail clippers
    -phone charger
    -hand lotion
    -dental floss
    -snack bag of trail mix
    -external/portable phone charger

    I’d never paint my nails if I were to worry that much the second after my manicure became imperfect.

  9. I have an old pair of sneakers and socks. I think that is critical in case, god forbid, the transit system goes down in an emergency and you have to walk a long distance.

  10. momentsofabsurdity :

    My list is:

    – Stamps! I never have stamps when I need them and I always think to mail things (rent checks, bill payments, etc) when I’m at work. So I keep a set of them in my office drawer.
    – Lotion (both face lotion and hand lotion)
    – Purell
    – Wisps or similar tiny toothbrushes
    – Extra laptop charger (I hate getting to work and realizing I’ve left my charger at home)

  11. Diana Barry :

    The things I use most:

    – Kleenex
    – lip balm and lipstick
    – advil
    – band-aids
    – tampax/pads

  12. -Nail polish remover
    -Spare business dress
    -Spare set of undies (for all-nighters)
    -Lady products
    -And yes, the number one: ipad/phone chargers

  13. Razor for when you realize you missed a spot on your knee, deodorant, extra pantyhose for an unexpected court appearance, advil, tea, chapstick, all my work shoes, blazer/suit, tissues, compact, stamps.

  14. S in Chicago :

    The only thing I would add to what everyone else said is a stash of personal stationary. I write thank-you notes frequently to people I do business with, and I think it looks much more meaningful when it’s not on a company card/envelope. It’s also been handy for random birthday wishes/happy retirement/ welcome back after exttended sick leave/”things” that often arrise when paired with some cookies or treats quickly purchased from one of the restaurants in my buildilng.

  15. TO Lawyer :

    -hand lotion
    -lip gloss
    -extra makeup
    -snacks/candy (helpful during long drafting sessions)
    -lady products
    -USB cord for iPhone
    -pocket mirror (to check my teeth after lunch)
    -eyeglass wiping cloth
    -tide to go

    That’s actually way more than I thought I had…

  16. In addition to several items previously mentioned: Tide pen!

  17. I keep most of these items in my purse, so my desk itself is pretty empty. I do have a snack drawer and also keep cough drops at my desk but not much else. Oh I keep a big cozy cardigan I can wear or just drape on my shoulders or legs (which reminds me, I should bring that home to wash.) I’ve been meaning to bring a pair of black shoes but haven’t really had a need for it so not sure if it’s even worthwhile.

  18. Miz Swizz :

    1. gum
    2. Advil
    3. floss picks
    4. tampons
    5. lip balm
    6. spare flip flops (spring/summer) and flats (fall/winter)
    7. nail file
    8. change for the vending machine
    9. hand lotion
    10. hair accessories

    I have a makeup bag full of supplies that lives in my purse so I don’t really need these things but I have reached for each of them in the last week or so.

  19. Anonymous :

    I work right across the street from a CVS, so I can usually grab something if I need it. In my desk drawers currently, I have:

    toothbrush / toothpaste
    lip balm
    earrings (I feel naked without earrings and I hate when I forget to wear them)
    cough drops
    peanut M&Ms
    suit (behind my door)
    raincoat and umbrella
    various shoes, including court appropriate shoes and flats

  20. Just a note on this: my sister made a kit of all these items for me when I started a new job. My start date coincided roughly with my birthday, so it was my birthday present. It was such a great gift to receive. She got a nice box to keep everything in that fit neatly in one of my drawers, and she went out and got all the toiletries, make-up, sewing kit, etc.

    Keep it in mind as a gift for a friend or relative who is starting a new job.

    • What a neat idea!

    • Brilliant idea!
      I am about to be deskless as a client site and was scoping out a spot on my supervisor’s book case for something just like this. Tonight I found the perfect cloth covered box with lid at Target.

  21. All of this and a ring stand. I tend to take off my rings during the day so it gives me a safe place to keep them. I got a really cute elephant one from Red Envelope.

    • That’s smart. I always take my jewelry off at my desk and hide it under my keyboard and forget it about it until I clean my desk. Another thing I like to have is a coin bank for the spare change that appears somehow.

    • I think I have the same ring holder :)

  22. One item that I haven’t seen anyone mention so far is a stash of plastic bags. I always keep a couple of extras in a drawer – they come in handy for all sorts of things and people are always asking for them.

    Also, I keep my own chopsticks and cutlery at my desk so I don’t have to use disposables.

  23. Anonymous :

    I’m a little surprised it hasn’t been mentioned but I keep an extra pair of underwear and panty hose in my desk (in a non-descript cosmetic case). Things happen.

    • Me too! Also, an extra shirt (added after a July day when a coffee mishap meant I was wearing my office sweater all day).

    • Maybe I’m weird but when I’m nervous I sweat a ton in the whole underwear region. Nothing like having to sit for hours in damp underwear because of a stupid court appearance. I now keep a change on me with a plastic bag and swap out after nerve wracking meetings. I can deal w/ damp pits. I can’t deal with damp crotch.

  24. Anonymous :

    Free seating is a common office set-up in some x

    • Sneakers! :

      I didn’t see this mentioned.

      I took transit to work and had to walk home on 9/11. Even people who drove in couldn’t get their cars out of parking garages, so they were stuck, too. I also had some sort of elevator outage in my highrise and one no-elevator drill and my legs took a week to forgive me (I was in shape then!).

      Since then, whenever I get a new pair of sneakers, I bring the old ones to the office and keep them in a drawer with some socks.

      • SoCalAtty :

        I do this too! In my car, which is parked near my office, I also keep a pair of sturdier hiking shoes, a change of comfy clothes, a few extra bottles of water, and 1-2 days worth of snacks. If we had a bad earthquake, or some other disaster, I could walk the 12 miles home if I had to.

        Really I should be keeping another set of these in my office since there is no guarantee I could get to my car (it is a new garage, but still) if there was an earthquake.

        • I have been trained as an in-place first responder for my high-rise office in a west coast city. We were told that it might be 72 hours before we could leave our high-rise after a big quake, and were trained in childbirth, bodybags and sheltering-in-place.

          I have a full emergency kit:

          Leather gloves (to deal with broken windows)
          packages of disposable latex-alternative gloves
          Dust mask
          Sweat pants, sweatshirt, t-shirt, shoes, socks, underwear
          Knit hat (blown out windows = cold winter air)
          Emergency blanket
          Bandages, aspirin, ibuprofen
          Flashlight, headlamp, extra batteries
          Pocket knife
          Gluten-free protein bars for me
          All packed in a backpack

          The company provids body bags, stretchers, protein bars and water.

          • You might want to add one of those hooded rain jackets you can pick up pretty much anywhere. I got a safety yellow one since I am a part of the emergency response team at my HQ.

  25. tinylawyer :

    Dental floss.
    Lint brush.
    Compact mirror (to quickly check your teeth for food before a meeting).
    Drugstore box of 10 knee highs.

  26. Pair of sturdy slip on shoes.

    We had to once evacuate from 39th floor and walk all the way down for a bomb scare (nothing happened luckily)
    Some sturdy yet quick to put on shoes would have been so helpful. I was scared of loosing my balance and tripping over in my flip flops as we were rushing down the stairs. There was no time to put on socks and tie laces on my gym shoes, our floor was empty in a moment as everyone ran for the stairs.

  27. Anonymous :

    My workplace generously provides things like pads/tampons, tissues, flossers, pain meds, allergy pills, bandaids, first aid supplies, purell, snacks, lint roller, umbrellas, etc., so my list of must-haves is a bit smaller:

    hand lotion (work provides this, but I don’t like the scent)
    chap stick
    sewing kit
    touch screen cleaning cloth
    nail clippers
    instant oatmeal
    family picture (one for the frame on my desk, extras in my drawer for when I need a boost)
    meaningful notes from coworkers (kept in my drawer, also for when I need a boost)

  28. Double check before bringing a flash drive from home and putting it in your work PC. My workplace has a policy expressly forbidding this.

    I keep a lot of things like Advil, band-aids, lip gloss in a little bag in my handbag. But I do leave a Tide pen, mini-hairspray, hair brush, clear nail polish, and an emery board in my desk drawer.

  29. hellskitchen :

    1. An extra pair of headphones. I like to listen to music while working and on my commute and sometimes forget to toss my headphones back into my work bag when I get home.
    2. A pack of thank you cards and stamps – never know when I might need to dash off a note to a colleague or a client and if I have a pack handy, I am not likely to forget
    3. Some work related magazines/books as well as some fun books that I can skim through to take a 2 minute break. These are all office appropriate (compilations of cartoons, old museum guides etc)

  30. These nail polish remover pads are really helpful.

  31. midwest mom :

    A few more

    I keep baby powder… great for those smelly summer shoes, when your hair is greasy or if you get really sweaty.

    A trick I have used many times… if you don’t have dental floss… use a hair… pluck out one and go for it. Usually works.

    I second, third and fourth the note cards … I use them to cheer fellow employees or if I forget a birthday. Always a hit.

    Clear nail polish… I wear hose in the winter.

    Static guard.. although it stinks….one of the greatest inventions.

  32. These are all such GREAT idea’s! I also always have a pack of sugarless gum in my desk b/c it is good when you do NOT have time to brush my teeth before meeting with a cleint, or when I come back from LUNCH and have to go into a meeting.

    Chewing with Sugarless gum helps to clean my teeth and prevent cavetees. But more importantly, it also promote’s fresher breathe and that is a good thing. The manageing partner alway’s eats, but does NOT brush his teeth or chew gum. So alot of time, there is food stuck in his teeth and after a while it smells BAD. FOOEY! I have often ofereed him a stick of gum, but he just says: “Oh, PISHAW, gum is for kids!” I told him it is NOT and the cleint’s will prefer if he does not smell like white fish! FOOEY! Frank also could use a good tooth brusheing, but he does NOT meet with cleint’s! YAY!

  33. Not a lawyer :

    My must-have list includes:
    Baby wipes- good for getting spots off suits, wiping anything down, cool face rag when you’re sweating or about to cry; well, really, what aren’t baby wipes useful for?!
    Hand cream
    Leatherman- all purpose tool with knifes, screwdrivers, corkscrew
    Personal checks and stamps
    Bottled waters

  34. I have many of these at work (favorites are clear nail polish, oatmeal plus bag of shredded coconut and bag of dries cranberries, lint roller, mouthwash, storage ottoman for keeping shoes in the office, and definitely whatever picture or decorations help you remember why you work so hard – for me it’s a framed collection of pictures taken while traveling).

    Here’s a cheat – grab your packing checklist that you’d use for a business trip. If you can survive out of town on business with those things, you can survive a day at the office, so just scan through that checklist for what is necassary or would be handy, and there you go! Easier to narrow that more detailed list down to what makes sense.

  35. 1. Hairbrush
    2. Mirror
    3. Tweezers
    4. Chappy
    5. Breathmints
    6. Flossers
    7. Hand lotion
    8. Hand sanitizer
    9. Bobby pins
    10. Snacks (pistachios)

  36. Alanna of Trebond :

    1. Lip balm (vaseline)
    2. Extra phone charger.
    3. Kind bars
    4. A pashmina
    5. An umbrella
    6. A suit (or at least the suit jacket…I recently went to visit the client in a a mini-skirt and a suit jacket)
    7. Lotion
    8. Hairbrush

  37. Basic food – instant granola (and craisins and pecans for breakfast), tuna/cracker kits, lowfat soup, fiber bars, dark chocolate, balsalmic vinegar spray (for salads), pepper grinder, greek yogurt (we have a small fridge), herbal teas. I often eat breakfast at the office, don’t have time to grab a lunch, and get stuck working late and missing dinner.
    Basic health – vitamins (easier to take them at work), advil, tampons/liners, tissues (I also keep migraine meds, tampons/liners, advil, and allergy meds in my purse)
    Basic tech – second iPhone cable with dock. I have a soundbar on my monitor so I listen to Pandora in my office
    Basic beauty – mineral foundation, blush, lipstick, small compact mirror, hairbrush, ties, eyeliner, mascara, eyeshadow in a small bag to go. Knock off perfume spray, breath spray, toothbrush & toothpaste (also in my purse), chapstick, lotion, a small dry shampoo, a hair clip, bobby pins. Spare hose.
    Other – plastic gladware containers. We host a lot of catered events, and there are a ton of leftovers that get tossed. I bring them home to happy kids!

  38. Seattle Lawyer Mom :

    A lot of people are mentioning breathmints or gum, which is great in a pinch, but actually brushing your teeth after lunch is (I find) invigorating plus it discourages me from snacking. And my dentist tells me you are “supposed” to brush after lunch. (Not sure I buy that, given how few people do, but just passing it along . . . .)

  39. I keep many of the same things either in my purse or at my desk, but at my desk I also keep a spare comb and curling wand and heat cover for the wet days when the umbrella vs. the wind blown rain goes to the rain.

    Oh and travel toothbrush and toothpaste.

  40. Kate Anne :

    Double stick tape is an absolute MUST! Fallen hems, gaping shirts (that you didn’t realize until you arrived), keeping things in place… an absolute staple for me.

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