I wanted to talk about office supplies for a moment.
As writers, we collect a lot of office supplies. It’s not just “pens and paper.” It’s everything:
- rubber bands
- push pins
- Scotch tape
- paper clips
- Post-it notes
- note pads
- return address labels
I could probably spot 50 different items on my desk right now that count as “office supplies.” (Admittedly, it’s a large and somewhat cluttered desk, but still….) Mind you, this doesn’t count the paper products in the office: reams of papers (three-hole punched, cheap bond, expensive extra-bright bond, granite finish, cover stock, colored papers, and a big carton of stuff printed on one side that I use for drafts where I just need to see something on a page before I recycle it), a dozen kinds of envelopes for letters, an equivalent number of manila and padded envelopes, stacks of legal pads, notepads, transparencies, blank CDs and DVDs, binders, folders, specialty papers… and that doesn’t even begin to get into the label stock!
For any number of years, I tried putting things on shelves or areas of the desk, but the small items were difficult to deal with. They spread too easily, sometimes on their own. Office supplies tend to breed and multiply as badly as hangers when you’re foolish enough to look away. And I know that I will bring more home, too: every conference I go to has pens (I’m a sucker for giveaway pens; they’re easy to carry and always useful), customized Post-it notes (including some beautiful cased sets of Post-its of sizes and colors), and note pads (hard to have too many notepads).
Over the years, a lot of the stray conference giveaways, such as pens that light up, bouncy toys, erasers, funny pencils, novelty pencil sharpeners, and squeezy toys, would end up being given to the kids next door or across the street. At the moment, I’m without a good destination for these things, so they’re stacking up until I find a suitable destination for them again.
Surrounded by an increasingly tall and unwieldy stack of office supplies, I finally hit on a multi-pronged solution that works very well for me. On the desk, I have:
- A collection of pens, highlighters, markers, the letter opener, scissors, and a couple of screwdrivers that get pressed into service frequently when working on the computers are all in a couple of large pencil cups on the desk.
- Small things that both accumulate and spread quickly–paper clips, rubber bands, small bulldog clips, and push pins–are in small glass apothecary jars.
- Larger typical desk-y things: a stapler, a Post-it note holder, a small wooden tray that holds 3″x5″ cards that was a gift from someone I’m very fond of at one of my publishers years ago, and a small vertical file that holds sheets of address labels, postage stamps, and a small collection of notepads.
- A few cakebox containers of blank CDs and DVDs of various types, and one cakebox for work-in-process backups.
- A brass bowl and large yogurt container with undifferentiated kibble: things like the sewing kit, sun glasses, dental floss, and packets of Emergen-C. I also have a container for spare change, which always seems to accumulate up here for some reason.
For all the rest of the small office supplies, I purchased a six-drawer supply cabinet at IKEA in the late 90s that fits neatly under the desk. It’s a lovely little blue metal unit on casters a smidgen more than 2′ tall on casters with 6 wooden drawers. The one I bought is no longer available, although they have something similar, even if it’s not as pretty. All of the small office supplies go in this and it’s right there when I need it. The drawers are labeled clearly and it’s all kinds of convenient. (Question: How many pens can you squeeze into a drawer 11″ x 4″ by 7″? About 350. How many pencils? Only about 150, but that’s because the Post-it notes, sharpeners, and erasers go in the same drawer… and I rarely use pencils, anyway.)
Dedicated shelves work pretty well for paper products. I’m currently occupying a couple of 4-shelf pine bookshelves, but I recommend that you also try a bunch of the stackable trays for small quantities of special papers, label stock (such as address or CD labels), transparencies, notebook dividers, and so on. They make things easy to see and you don’t keep having to straighten the shelves because you pulled something out of the middle of a stack. Remember, though: you don’t need to have things like paper products in the same room if you’re not using them that frequently. When I had an office in my last house in Seattle that was 26′ by 14′, I still kept the paper products in another room.
You may not have the love of office supplies that I do, nor, if you’re just starting out as a writer, will you have the zillions of oddments that inevitably seem to accumulate. But I guarantee you that you will sooner or later. [insert maniacal cackling laughter that fades off in the background here.]