what’s the weirdest thing a previous occupant ever left in your desk?

by Ask a Manager on April 26, 2011

In the earlier post about someone leaving fingernail clippings in our reader’s desk, commenter Jamie noted, “I have found some truly bizarre things left behind from previous occupants when I’ve moved into a new desk” … and then went on to relay a fairly disturbing story about what she once found. You can read it here. It’s gross.

So now we must hear from others:  What’s the weirdest thing you ever found when taking over a desk or office space?

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Wilton Businessman April 26, 2011 at 9:43 pm

A previous company had lots of IT contractors in and out (back in the 90′s). When I showed the next guy his space there was an unrolled condom lying in the drawer. Don’t know if it was a practical joke or what, but it was pretty gross.

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Working Girl April 26, 2011 at 9:46 pm

An itty bitty little tiny mouse (dead).

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Sabrina April 26, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Having been an admin, I’ve cleaned out my fair share of desks. I’ve never found anything too exciting besides stamps and some loose change. One time I found a whole drawer full of ketchup, salt, and pepper packets. Like full all the way to the back and up to the brim. A fellow admin found urine soaked underwear. Clearly meant as a commentary towards management but management aren’t the ones cleaning those things out!! Another admin found used diabetic needles. Yeah. Happy Administrative Professionals Week.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Thought it was a day, now it’s a week?

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I only say this because the management doesn’t give a crap about these days/weeks. My wife is admin and doesn’t get a squat, and I’m in IT and don’t get a squat on sys admin day either. Not asking for free lunch or money just, maybe just an additional “thank you” per year to make up for all the unappreciated moments but meaningful words are expensive these days, can’t afford to use them on office or sys admins.

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Kurt April 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Coloring books. In a 28-year-old, reportedly strange loner’s former desk.

*shudders*

I’m assuming the FBI had already claimed the more incriminating evidence.

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michael April 26, 2011 at 10:05 pm

used qtips.

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esra April 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm

So. Much. Hair.

When I started my current job, I got the ‘intern’ desk. Accompanied, naturally, with the ‘intern’ chair. I was chatting with a coworker and futzing with the chair and noticed the edges and bottom are covered with human hair. Big long clumps of it. Euuuugh.

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Anon April 26, 2011 at 11:19 pm

So in college I worked as a lifeguard and I took over the locker of the girl that left. In addition to dirty towels and general filth, she left a pair of panties with a used pad inside. I would say they had been there a while from the smell. GAG.

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Anonymous April 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm

nail clippings.

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Charles April 26, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Lucky me, I have never found anything that unusual – had people eat at my desk spilling crumbs all over, leaving half-full coffee cups, etc. but nothing really gross.

However, a friend of mine went to work for a “unnamed” museum in DC (your neck of the woods, AAM?) as she cleaned out the desk she found an old (1920ish?) cigarette box, opened it up and dumped out a mummified finger; or at least a small part of one. Its turns out that the previous occupant of her desk specialized in Egyptian antiquities. The finger was returned to the proper storage unit.

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Jessica April 26, 2011 at 11:39 pm

A pair of stinky, dirty tennis shoes. They weren’t technically in my desk, but they were in an empty filing cabinet drawer in my office, and I could smell them from my desk. It took me a few days to discover the source of the smell.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 12:35 am

Man I gotta make sure I clean my desk out GOOD when I leave my current job.

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mouse April 27, 2011 at 12:47 am

I’ve worked in food service; you probably don’t want to know.

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michael April 28, 2011 at 1:09 am

i most assuredly *do* want to know.

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Jamie April 28, 2011 at 9:51 am

I kind of do, too…even though I know I’ll have to read it through my fingers while wincing.

I’m already afraid to touch anything at work, Mouse’s stories could put me off food entirely.

Easiest plan ever – reading forum stories about tales of food service.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 4:01 am

My first real librarian job, I discovered that one of the previous holders of that position (who’d been laid off & then fired off a nasty send-all e-mail) had years and years worth of fantasy baseball statistics and notes.

Another librarian/archivist friend discovered that the person she’d taken over for in that job had left a huge file with years’ worth of correspondence from an affair this (married) person was having. Not that she ever ran into this person after the job interview, but some of it supposedly left nothing to the imagination about what was going on. Guess keeping it at work meant it was around as a keepsake, but not in a location where the spouse could find it. Although funny they left that job and totally forgot to at least destroy the evidence.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 6:48 am

I found a 6 year old holiday fruit cake left at the desk of a previous employee that I was preparing for a new hire. Worst part: the previous employee had only worked for the company for 3 years…

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Liz April 27, 2011 at 9:59 am

I would have been compelled to leave it for the next occupant, as a social and scientific experiment.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 11:00 am

How do you know it was 6 years old? Did you have it lab tested?

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fposte April 27, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I’m thinking this is also a Tale of Regifting Horror. I’d check the sell-by date on all of the boss’s gifts.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 7:23 am

A guy where I worked years ago used chewing tobacco. He left his spit cups on his desk & in the cabinet. He also ate pork rinds & left the evidence on his desk (empty bags, crumbs, etc).

His office was a pigsty. When he changed offices, he left his mess.

And get this – he was in HR. If any of the women in HR had an office as dirty/nasty as his – they would have been held responsible. But not Mr. Teflon.

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marie April 27, 2011 at 7:48 am

Client files which were still active, and unwanted team-building t-shirts (not altogether surprising, considering that the shirts were about 8 sizes too big for the person)

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Chris April 27, 2011 at 8:23 am

This was all in the same desk. Dice you use in a *s–ehem cough cough* game and underwear made from a fruit rollup like material. Some other materials from some of the local adult entertainment establishments.

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Tami April 27, 2011 at 8:46 am

Boogers….smeared under the desk and on the walls. Needed a putty knife to scrape them off.

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SME April 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I was doing okay with all of these until I got to this one. So gag-worthy.

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Liz April 27, 2011 at 9:57 am

The previous occupant had a habit of picking his nose and wiping the contents on the side of the desk, or the underside. When I called building maintenance and asked to have the desk cleaned, they suggested I do it myself, “There’s lots of paper towels in the bathroom….”

Oh, and the desk wasn’t even in a cubicle, let alone an office. It was right in the middle of the room.

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Liz April 27, 2011 at 9:58 am

Ha! I didn’t see Tami’s post until after I left my comment – is it possible this is some common practice? Ew!

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Jamie April 27, 2011 at 11:48 am

Between your story and Tami’s I have officially become Howard Hughes.

I am never touching anything again without latex gloves.

One anecdote can be a crazy person…two posters with the same story? It has to be the grossest epidemic in the world.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Not sure if leaving them under a desk is better or worse than a former boss of mine who was caught on a regular basis eating his…

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Abby April 27, 2011 at 10:02 am

This isn’t gross, but I inherited the office of an woman in her late 70s. The entire office was full of her stuff most of which didn’t seem worth saving. She had left the sign in guest book from her husband’s funeral.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 10:24 am

My husband used to desk share at his old job. The girl who used the desk before him was a complete pig. Once, she left some old coffee at her desk with a note to not clean it because she would clean it in the morning, so he had to smell old coffee from 330 PM until midnight. Another time, she left MILK under the desk in this box of junk she had, and threw a fit over him throwing it out. She was also not the cleanest when it came to, um, feminine hygiene, and her chair smelled rancid. You could actually smell it from several feet away sometimes.

I currently have a co-worker who leaves uneaten food EVERYWHERE at her desk, for several days at a time. They pick up trash in my office only once a week… so by the day trash pick up comes around, it smells like rotten chinese, mexican and american food.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 10:43 am

A very large knife, which was a bit disconcerting.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 11:03 am

At my first job, I found about $15 worth of quarters in a desk drawer. Cha ching!

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Lesley April 27, 2011 at 11:17 am

I’ve found pay stubs and offer letters in every new desk I’ve occupied over the last 8 years. I call it my “unintentional salary survey.”

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Jamie April 27, 2011 at 11:43 am

Bonus – this is the best ever. I wish that would have happened to me.

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Helen April 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm

One of my colleagues was (literally) hit by a bus and predicted to be out for 10-12 weeks, so HR and the department head went through his stuff to reallocate things and make sure matters were dealt with.

Where I worked, we used to have drinks parties for staff and clients on company premises. Apparently, all the half-drunk bottles of wine, juice etc were ending up in Colleague’s desk drawer, partially concealed by his hanging files. In addition, he allegedly possessed a startling collection of women’s lingerie catalogues, ranging from your standard plain white cotton to the more, er, exotic.

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Jamie April 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

People actually get hit by buses? I thought that was just the euphemism we all use about why we should create adequate documentation.

I don’t know why pretending to prepare to get hit by a bus is apparently more palatable than acknowledging that people sometimes quit or get fired.

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JessB April 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I created a ‘Tattslotto’ file at a place I worked where I had two managers, and neither understood the whole of what I did. It was for when I won tattslotto and was a millionaire – I would have quit that place in a heartbeat.

I prefer to think positively. And hey, I can dream, right?

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Rana October 31, 2011 at 2:17 am

Yup. Last year I had to fill in for a colleague when she was in an accident with a school bus and ended up with a fractured pelvis.

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Leigh April 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm

We discovered a former co-worker had super-glued his desk to the wall. I guess he*really* liked the feng shui the arrangement provided and didn’t want anyone to mess with it!

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lapreghiera April 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm

The desk apparently was once HRs desk, so resumes of candidates – some current employees, and others who didn’t make the cut were still in these file slots … interesting

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Tigger April 27, 2011 at 2:21 pm

This isn’t a desk story, but a shred bin story. Someone resigned so we transferred someone from another office into our location. A couple days after the person arrived and the other person left, we needed to open up the shred bin because someone had lost a document and thought it might have been tossed into the bin. After about five minutes, the new person came to my office and asked me to come to the shred bin. She had found several original documents. We dug a little deeper and decided that this warranted dumping the entire contents on the floor so we could look through it all. We found reports (THAT’S where they went!), original documents (with signatures and notary stamps), checks received for payment, stamps, office supplies, etc.

The person who resigned had an organizational problem and was written up several times so I was getting close to terminating her anyway. When she resigned I gave her a list of all the things that had to be done before she left, filing being one of them. Apparently she decided to just “dump” her desk rather than take the time to go through it and file stuff. Guess she didn’t want to file. All the while she told me that she had filed everything.

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Kate April 27, 2011 at 2:56 pm

A carving of Vlad Dracul. Photographic proof: http://www.defendingpandora.com/2008/02/redecorating.html

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Ask a Manager April 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Your expression in that photo is awesome!

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Chris April 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm

I admit that I would actually like to put that at my desk.

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bob April 28, 2011 at 4:34 am

What’s REALLY funny are the Google ads at the bottom of the page for traveling to Transylvania and visiting Vlad!

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Mary Sue April 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Breast implants.

It was a cubicle in a hospital’s procurement department, so it wasn’t that unexpected some kind of medical device would turn up (I’ve got my feet resting on a case of 300 syringes as we speak), but it’s a fun one to talk about to non-medical people. We use the breast implants as a frisbee sometimes, because they don’t come filled it works quite nicely.

I also found a dead fly that someone had shellacked and attached to a small magnet.

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Mary Sue April 27, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Also, is anyone else suddenly frantically cleaning their desks? Or is it just me?

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I once received an email asking me to ensure that I’d cleared all of my brains from a fridge, so that it could be replaced.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 3:25 pm

A batch of documents proving that they had been under-reporting the company’s tax liability by about £500k or so. Not good!

Not when leaving but a member of the department took a month long holiday leaving a stockpile of fruit in their desk. We found it in about week 3…

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Kevster April 27, 2011 at 5:22 pm

A dead mouse once. It was mummified.

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Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Not quite disgusting, but interesting non-the-less. Moving desks I found that the previous occupant (who had left for greener pastures) had a number of pay slips still in his desk (but not from this employer, but the previous one).

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Sarah April 28, 2011 at 6:04 am

Not a desk story, but here goes… I once was promoted into a position previously held by a man who left the company over a salary dispute. Apparently a dispute that he was extremely angry about, as I discovered when I went through the files on his former computer. He had pasted pornographic / scatological photographs in literally every spreadsheet and document he had ever created in his five years in the position; I’m guessing that this was supposed to be some sort of commentary on the job and his feelings about it. There were upwards of 1,500 files that he ‘decorated’; I wasn’t sure whether to be disgusted by the images or impressed by his diligence in carrying out this bizarre task. It turned out to be a little of both.

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Eileen April 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Two promotional DVDs from magicians and 3 years worth of unfiled documents. Apparently she was “allergic to filing”.

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Anonymous April 30, 2011 at 11:35 am

My own sports coat hanging on the back of the door. I’d loaned it to a coworker years before and he hadn’t returned it when he left the company. There had been a half dozen other people assigned to that office in the intervening years but none of them had bothered to do anything with it. Unfortunately I’d grown several sizes so I just donated it to Goodwill.

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Theresa May 1, 2011 at 1:59 am

Correspondences from one of my predecessors between himself and a liason in North Korea explaining how much he adored their dear leader, Kim Jung Il, and how he wanted to come to North Korea to work for them. This was when I worked as an ESL teacher in Japan. Bizarre.

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Julie October 9, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I always clear out my desk out of consideration for the next person (plus I don’t want to lose anything by leaving it behind), so I’m usually disgusted when I move to a new desk because I have to clean it out and then clean it with paper towels before I can move my stuff in. My work area was moved last week, and there were a bunch of heavy books and the person’s work ID. He still works there, so I don’t know how he’s getting into the building…

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