how should I decorate my office?

A reader writes:

What, if any, recommendations do you have regarding office decor?

I’m three months into a new position at a distinguished university and I really like it here.

I’m in a small, but bright office, and they’re pretty great about providing small comforts to customize where possible (they added a return and privacy panel on my desk, and are adding hanging shelves and a bulletin board shortly). That said, every colleague who has stopped by has remarked on the lack of artwork in my office. I hear something along the lines of “We need to get you some color in here!” at least once a week.

I find myself paralyzed by indecision! I still live with roommates, so my decorating experience to date has been limited to the walls of my dorm/bedroom. My current collection of personal artwork includes a mixture of huge cityscapes, indie-leaning paint-splattered portraits, and a bunch of nerd-culture/animation/illustration references, and while it’s all me, it’s feels adolescent and too eclectic for the office (and most of it isn’t framed). I’m sure that one day I will find a way to weave my art into a more adult space, but I’d prefer that be my future house, not at work!

Do you have any advice/vague guidelines? Suggestions of places to shop? Would it be weird to bring a small colorful rug (a runner, probably) for in front of my desk, given that I’m still pretty junior? Any suggestions for small physical items for my new shelves? It’s the type of office where many people have a few pictures of their children or pets, but I have neither.

Yeah, if your office is totally bare — no photos, no personal touches, no evidence that it’s anything more than the spare office they put temps in — then it can look like you haven’t quite settled in yet.

But you don’t need to go on a full decorating spree. Here’s an a la carte menu of office decor — put one framed thing on the wall (art print, photo, whatever you like) and then pick one or two of the following and you’ll be good, albeit at a fairly minimalist level:

  • a framed photo
  • a brightly colored mug for holding pens
  • a plant
  • a more interesting mousepad than the one your office issued you
  • a figurine that amuses you
  • a small lamp

And no, a small rug wouldn’t be weird.

If you want to expand beyond that, you could pick more than two. Hell, if you wanted to, you could do everything on that list and throw in another framed print on the wall, and you’d be fine.

That said, you also don’t want to go overboard. If you have 10 framed photos of friends or every surface covered in figurines, you’re going to look out of sync with most offices (and maybe like you’re trying really hard to forget that you’re at work).

A good rule of thumb is to look at the office of a well-respected colleague who’s a level or two above you, and calibrate accordingly.

Also, don’t forget that work-related stuff counts too. Some people “decorate” with a whiteboard with project deadlines or reference books. The idea is just to have your office look reasonably lived in, and not like you secretly might be planning to sneak out at lunch and never come back.

{ 260 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Mike C.

    Ask if your university has an art loan program. You could have some really interesting stuff in your office and have it rotated on a regular basis.

    Also, plants are awesome.

    Reply
    1. Gabriela

      This is a great suggestion. Some libraries also have archives that you may be able to “borrow” from. You could also check your admissions office for any free swag they give out for school spirit.

      Reply
    2. OP

      That’s a great idea! I did a preliminary search + it looks like they offer a student prints loan program. I’ll keep digging to see if staff can take advantage.

      I have such a black thumb! Any suggestions for low-maintenance office plants?

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        Aloe. Also comes in handy as an emergency medical supply (not actually a joke, my mom used to keep an aloe plant in the front sunroom and we used it anytime we had a cut or a scrape).

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      2. Newish Reader

        Nice looking fake plants! I tried having a real plant in my windowless office, but it died. (And while it was in the process of dying but I was still trying to save it, it actually looked worse than not having a plant!) I found an inexpensive but still nice looking fake plant at target in the $20-30 range and it really brightens up my office.

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        1. Florida

          If you get a fake plant, be sure to dust it occasionally. A dusty fake plant of a dead real plant.
          I worked at a place once where we had fake plants throughout the office, and when the facilities man was going out of town, he would look at a plant and say to someone nearby, “Will you take water this plant while I’m on vacation?”

          Reply
        1. OwnedByTheCat

          Obsessed with air plants but they are pretty easy to kill. Overwater? They kick the bucket in mere days.

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      3. Natalie

        If you tend to forget to water plants, try cactus, succulents, snake plant (mother-in-law’s tongue) or air plants.

        If you tend to water too much, try a pothos, spider plant, or peace lily.

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        1. Hotstreak

          +1 for snake plant aka mother-in-law’s tongue aka “Sansevieria” plants. Put it on a spot in your desk that doesn’t get any direct sunlight, and water it once a quarter. They are so hardy it’s hard to believe – I once left mine in a completely unlit room for 9 months! That was about 5 years ago and it’s still sitting on my desk today.

          The real benefit of a plant like this is that you can take out the guess work of watering, which is what kills most house plants (people either over water or underwater, and kill it). Because sansevieria’s are so good at surviving without water, you don’t have to try and guess when the soil is “dry two inches down but not bone try” or other nonsense some plants require. Seriously just set a calendar reminder to water it once a quarter, or once a month if it’s in a lot of light.

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      4. Red

        I have a major black thumb as well, the only plant I’ve ever managed to keep alive was the money tree (a variant of bamboo, I think?) I got myself as a “yay new job” present. It stayed on my desk at that job for eight years, and when I left I gave it to a coworker because the plant had never seen natural light and I was afraid the shock would do it in, hah. So it thrives under fluorescents too.

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      5. OwnedByTheCat

        Philodendron & other types of leafy greenery that you can pick up at the grocery store. Basically impossible to kill!

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      6. GigglyPuff

        Bamboo, in my experience seems to be easier than cactus plants. You could get a mini wall pot and put it in there, Ikea sells stocks pretty cheap and if they’re too long, you can cut the bottom off and the top half with leaves regrows the roots.

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      7. CanadianKat

        The spider plant is pretty good. It tolerates low light (though it seems that isn’t an issue for you), and can go for a week or more without watering. If the leaves start getting limp and yellowish, you’ll know that you should have watered it long ago, – but once you do, it will recover fairly quickly.

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      8. Collie

        Cactus or bamboo! I’d avoid something that needs a lot of care, anyway, in case you go on vacation. I don’t mind picking up work tasks for coworkers, but watering their plants — ehhh (though others may feel differently!).

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      9. Chocolate lover

        I have a peace lily, and just water it once in a while. I needed low maintenance since I don’t have a window or natural light.

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        1. Person of Interest

          Ditto the peace lily – a great office plant, doesn’t need direct sunlight and generally can survive when you forget to water it for a while or go out on vacation. I’ve managed to keep one alive for the past two years – probably a personal record.

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        2. Lily Evans

          My mom has one of those that hasn’t died yet, so they must be pretty resilient! She can never keep plants alive either.

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      10. BadPlanning

        If watering is your weakness, get a self watering container — the kind with a water reservoir at the bottom. Then put a pothos in it. Just fill the bottom with water once in awhile and the plant will suck up water as it needs.

        Example self watering pot — look up Misco 1154/3-072 Flare Self Watering Planter on Amazon.

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      11. Mpls

        Pothos. They are really hard to kill. Water it every so often or when it looks weepy. Peace lilies are good too, though they get weepy/wilted looking much quicker.

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      12. Kyrielle

        Recommendation *against* china doll. It will almost certainly survive your black thumb. And when you ask at a nursery and they tell you anyone can keep it alive, run. They treat that sucker with growth retardant at the nurseries for a reason. And it looks weedy unless you keep all over it once it starts growing (and growing, and…I gave mine to a coworker when I left, I’m sure she gave it to another when she left, because it was too big by then to easily put in a car, and it’s an easy-to-maintain pain…lol).

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      13. V

        Surprisingly, orchids are low maintenance. Half a cup of water a week – that’s it. The blooms last for months.

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      14. pnw

        Those specially shaped bamboo plans are very easy to take care of and if they go bad after a few years you can just dump it and get another. Ikea is a good place to get not-too-exciting but contemporary art at a good price.

        Reply
    3. MAB

      I work in a building that has been a food processing facility since 1917 and I found a stash of old photos. I now have a nicely framed newspaper clipping from 1921 of the building, some photos from 1918 and 1922 showing what they where processing at the time, an advertisement for a 1911 seamer, photos from the 1970’s showing canning and a poster from the 70’s that shows can defects. I also got a bunch of labels and packages showing our current products. It looks very cool and is a conversation starter.

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      1. SallyForth

        This was going to be my suggestion. I work in a library and we have wonderful photos in our archives. It’s a great conversation starter.

        Reply
    4. ZuKeeper

      Look for a Pothos plant, mine thrives on benign neglect. They don’t need a ton of light either, so they’re good if you don’t have a window. They do trail though, so you’ll either need to cut it back if it gets too long or train it on to something as it grows.

      Reply
      1. LibraryChick

        I can attest to the fact that the Pothos plant is nearly impossible to kill. I have a very black thumb, but have managed to keep the one on my desk alive for a couple of years now. Our office had a problem with little flying bugs that were reproducing in the plant soil, so now I have my plant in just water and rocks. It looks modern and very chic.

        Reply
        1. irritable vowel

          Those bugs are the worst! They usually come from cheapo potting soil. You can get some yellow sticky strips that mount on stakes in the soil; the bugs find them irresistible and it is SO SATISFYING to see how many are collected (and a little gross).

          Reply
        2. GigglyPuff

          Apple cider vinegar with saran wrap with couple holes punched in them works great. I had a little fruit fly infestation at home couple weeks ago, and they were gone in two days (well dead in the vinegar). It might work with those types, I had them a few years ago, luckily winter killed them all since I love my apartment cold.

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        3. Jaydee

          Those are fungus gnats, which feed on fungus in the soil. Usually that’s the result of overwatering. I rid my plants of them recently by just letting the soil dry to the touch on all of my plants. It’s tough in an office environment because if lots of people have plants you all have to be willing to go a week or two without touching the watering can (so they don’t just move from plant to plant).

          Reply
    1. OP

      That’s kind of cool. I don’t really have a place to hang it from where I could still see it + it wouldn’t be in my way, but I’ll keep it in mind.

      Reply
  2. Floral Laurel

    OP, I’m in a similar situation like yours. I recently got a new job with my own office to customize however I please. What helped me the most was looking at office Feng Shui for inspiration. From that, I have an indoor plant, my nephews’ artwork, framed pictures of important people in my life (no more than three), and books that have inspired me (I work as a writer).
    One of my biggest pride and joys is my desktop calendar that has a different quote each month. I’ve color-coordinated my deadlines and events :)

    Reply
    1. MillersSpring

      My bulletin is decorated with postcards from art museums. I also have a framed picture from Target that is modern and was very cheap, plus a plant, my framed diploma and two framed family photos. Just say no to silk flowers and plants.

      Reply
      1. KarenD

        YES! I was just scrolling down to see if someone had recommended postcards.

        They are fun. They are cheap. And the ones I used in my office are all old ones, from local landmarks. Got them off eBay for as little as 99 cents apiece (one particular score was a envelope full of cards for about $10 shipped). Since OP is at a university, old postcards showing the campus would probably be cool.

        I made up 3 sets of 3-4 cards each, and then mounted them in inexpensive shadowbox frames that are almost always on sale for $5 or so somewhere. People passing by my office often step all the way in to peruse the postcards.

        Also – and this may depend very much on office culture – I have my door almost completely covered in irreverent whatnots. It started with a greeting card featuring the Mozart quote “Whoever is most impertinent has the best chance.” Now there are printouts of memes that made me laugh (like this one: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/A2GfdNmCUAA8kLE.jpg or this: http://ct.weirdnutdaily.com/ol/wn/sw/i50/5/6/15/f_7c96fe9bd5.jpg ) a few bumper stickers, cartoons and quotes that I like, etc. You always have to be mindful of the potential to offend someone, but I shoot for a sassy vibe and again, folks will stop and read stuff and laugh. I have only ever had one person say anything negative about it, and 99 percent of it was free.

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        1. Laura

          I do postcards as well. Having friends & family send them to me and picking them up when I travel. I have a bulletin board where I put them. I find it helps start conversation when people stop by my desk.
          I was promoted to Internal Audit at one point in my career, some of the auditors were disappointed that I started the collection over. They knew me as “the accountant on 10 with the postcards”

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    2. bridget

      I am forever getting those little wallet-sized school photos of my nieces and nephews. I tape them to the bottom edge of my computer monitor and cycle them out with new photos every school year (they aren’t permanent or large enough to bother framing). I similarly cycle 1-2 pieces of recent artwork from them on my bulletin board.

      Reply
  3. Newby

    You could try to find some artwork related to what you study. I had a professor that had a 3D printed model of a viral capsid, another that had a poster of a cell and another that had some framed journal covers on her wall (it was her work on the cover).

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    1. Judy

      If you’re in the sciences, there’s a really cool minimalist poster series by Hydrogene. I have the Grace Hopper one, my sister in law has the Rachel Carson one in her office.

      Reply
    2. LizB

      Lots of professors at my college would have cartoons, posters, infographics, etc. related to their area of research posted in their offices (or on the bulletin boards outside their offices). They provided a nice pop of color and something interesting to read while you waited for an appointment.

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    3. Red

      I cross stitch, my degree is in public health and I work for a hospital – I’m working on a wall hanging of cross stitched germs. :) my mother thinks this is beyond bizarre, but my boss loves it.

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          1. Clumsy Ninja

            Which ones are you doing? This is amazing and I probably need it in my life! (I’m a veterinarian and cross-stitcher.)

            Reply
            1. Red

              I ordered her 12-month package, which consists of:
              January: Common Cold
              February: Mono
              March: Salmonella
              April: Strep Throat
              May: Measles
              June: E. Coli
              July: Malaria Gametocyte
              August: Syphilis
              September: Bird Flu
              October: Herpes
              November: Flu
              December: Typhus

              I also have done the HIV pattern and a couple others as well to add – my plan for it is a multitude of little pieces looped together, rather than one big one, so I can expand it :)

              My bathroom has her Wash Your Hands sampler, featuring e.coli, salmonella and c.diff. I get a lot of comments on it – and the hand soap in that bathroom goes down a lot faster than it used to. :P

              Reply
      1. Person of Interest

        I think my subversive cross-stitch piece is probably inappropriate for the office (“B!@#$, please!” with a rose border) but I do love it! I’m doing another one now that says “Stop, Collaborate, Listen” with a script border reading “ice ice baby” over and over, which I do plan to bring in for my desk, to see who gets it.

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  4. K.

    Definitely plants. Greenery goes a long way toward perking up an office.

    I love having a whiteboard up, and I have a few work-related books that come with me to every work space. A few pictures of family and a few pictures of places I’ve visited round things out.

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    1. AnAnonTodayBecauseReasons

      Plants only if you can keep them alive. I can’t keep a plant alive for anything, and there’s something about dead plants that will do the opposite of what I think the OP is trying to do. If OP is like me, gettings some realistic looking fake plants from Target can do the trick.

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        1. De Minimis

          We have a vendor who provides office plants and cares for them. He rotates them out with the seasons, it’s really great and not all that expensive.

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      1. OP

        Yep, this is me. There’s a farmer’s market on campus this summer/fall, and I’ll be taking advantage of buying some cut flowers for a small vase I bought this weekend, but I have a horrible black thumb.

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        1. The Butcher of Luverne

          Fresh flowers are the perfect thing. Totally appropriate and a conversation-starter as well.

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          1. Hotstreak

            You do need to replace them frequently, though, which can end up being a lot of work and/or expensive.

            Reply
      2. motherofdragons

        Ikea also has some great fake plants of all sizes. I have a small one in a wicker pot I keep on my desk, it’s lovely and adds a pop of green to an otherwise boringly beige setup.

        Reply
  5. Construction Safety

    A pic from a vacation moment or someplace you’d like to go.

    Prolly not for the faint of heart, but I have a Battle Mug complete with appropriate handle & pistol bayonet to keep the predators away. It’s a great conversation piece.

    Reply
    1. Honeybee

      I don’t use a mouse pad. I have an optical mouse that can operate on any surface. I find mouse pads more annoying than useful.

      Reply
    2. Kyrielle

      I do! But…only at work and only because it came with the office. Otherwise I just use the desk. Although I think a mousepad at home would be good – as a signal to me of “this space is used” because otherwise I find myself with a mouse occupying a space that’s maybe 1″ wider than the mouse…and then I end up mousing on a notepad or book on my lap.

      Reply
    3. OhNo

      One of my coworkers uses one (it has a special handrest to help with carpel tunnel issues), but aside from that I don’t know anyone that uses one on a regular basis.

      Maybe they’re not as popular (or necessary) anymore?

      Reply
    4. Aurion

      I do! My mouse glides better with a mousepad. Also, a mousepad keeps the mouse from scratching up my keyboard trays :)

      Reply
      1. JessaB

        I have one but it’s the kind that has squoushy gel for my wrist. Otherwise no. My other computer (the one that has all the family drives attached to it and acts as a server,) does not have a mouse pad.

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    5. NJ Anon

      I don’t use one and I have an ergonomic mouse that no one likes to use but I love it. Not into decorating. My office looks basically the same as when I first took over. Anything in there was left by a former employee.

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    6. nicolefromqueens

      I didn’t until They gave us mouse pads with a gel rest for the wrist. I’m always falling off the mouse pad nowadays because the monitors are so big.

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    7. animaniactoo

      At home yes, in order not to scratch up the desk surface. At work yes – if you count a Wacom tablet as a mouse “pad”.

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    8. OP

      I have one with the gel wrist-rest, but only because the sound of the mouse on the desktop drives me bananas.

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    9. hayling

      I didn’t for a long time until I moved desks and needed one because the surface was weird. Now I just have it out of habit.

      Reply
    10. Jen RO

      I have a World of Warcraft one at work and a Discworld one at home. Mostly because I like them, but my old desk was also too shiny for the mouse to work properly.

      Reply
  6. Janice in Accounting

    Once you get the bulletin board hung, one inexpensive idea would be to get fun thumbtacks (or make them with decorative items or buttons and some hot glue). You can tack up a mixture of work items and pictures or postcards; that will go a ways toward making your space feel more lived-in. The runner is a nice idea; I bought a colorful table runner and put it on top of a low filing cabinet, under my printer, which gives a little pop of color. Maps are always nice for wall decor, they’re colorful but “adult” and don’t necessarily need to be framed.

    Reply
    1. TheAssistant

      I have a Work Scarf that goes with me to every office, that I throw over my filing cabinet or something. Gives the place color and personality without having to frame photos or pick my least-weird art to come to work.

      I regularly “decorate” my space with post-its of important info, which always gets me made fun of but then everybody from our admin to our Executive Director can be found trying to covertly copy the info for their own use…

      Reply
    2. motherofdragons

      Target has cool animal-shaped push pins. They are white and gold so they say “classy,” not “preschool.” This set includes a unicorn, so they’re pretty much the greatest pushpins ever.

      Reply
      1. JessaB

        I have a set of those that are monuments (Eiffel tower, pyramid, statue of Liberty etc.) got them at Staples. You can get some pretty nice office supply sets that come in whatever colours you want for very little money. On the other hand I put my pens and things in either those little metal buckets ($1 at Target in solid colours or patterns,) fancy coffee mugs or those kids tumblers that you get at Wally World with patterns or comics/movie characters on them. I have a bunch of them with Snoopy.

        Reply
  7. Kyrielle

    I have a framed photo of a gorgeous waterfall, a collection of little toys on my windowsill (Peanuts and some public-safety themed vehicles since I used to write dispatching software), and a page-a-day calendar. An inspirational magnet hangs out on my interior window frame (the one to the relite window), and I have a shelf-full of books related to my job. (They must be decor, I don’t reference them nearly as often as I do when I started a year ago. Heh.)

    Reply
  8. Collie

    A calendar can not only be useful but a piece of decoration, as well! I would add that, if you have figurines on your desk (I have one of those Pop figures, for example), be prepared for people to touch it/pick it up. Framed quotes can be nice, depending on the culture of the office and the content of the quote. You may also want to try to go to a thrift store for inspiration. Sometimes you’ll find unique pieces that are great conversation starters.

    Reply
    1. Al Lo

      I love looking on Etsy for printables. You can find some nice graphic design quotes for a few dollars, and print them yourself on nice paper. I’ve put a few of the command strip clothespins on my wall, and I have some fun quotes/prints that I can switch in and out. Right now, they’re all Parks and Rec quotes, including, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing”, “I’m more of a Harry Potter girl myself”, and “Friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Either way, work is third.”

      Reply
      1. Chaordic One

        At my old job we were informed that posters with quotations on them were “not professional” AND a sign of neurosis.

        That said, the cynic in me has always liked the demotivational posters offered for sale at: despair.com. The poster titled, “Change” nails it election season.

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    2. Emmie

      I want to add a biggie quote to my WFH office: to all the ladies in the place with style and grace! So bad!

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    3. INFJ

      I agree completely. I’m not one to put personal items in my workspace (like framed photos). Thus, I do use more “functional” and “work-related” decorations like a day calendar and a photobooth strip of me and some coworkers at a work event.

      Also, my company always has events in which I end up with random swag (books, those rubber bracelets, beads, typical party favors) that I have no use for at home, so they decorate my cube.

      Clippings of cartoons that have puns/jokes related to your work are big at my office, too. (Think grammar puns for writers and editors.)

      Reply
  9. Marcy Marketer

    I used to get these comments as well. What I ended up doing, which has worked really well for me, was go to the dollar store and get a bunch of different sized frames (you can even spray paint one or two of them). Then, I found free printables on Pinterest and printed out a bunch I liked and framed them. I went for one or two with some business-y themed sayings. Then I hung them up. Cost me less than $10.

    If I had any cute decorative items in my house I couldn’t find a place for, I brought those in as well, along with a fun mug (I have far too many mugs, as do most people) for pens.

    Reply
  10. Grey

    I’d add a calendar to that list – either a nice desk pad or one that hangs on the wall. Maybe a nameplate too if you get a lot of first-time visitors.

    Reply
  11. AnotherAlison

    Ugh, I answered that question for years, despite having a multiple personal items (family photo, kids’ clay projects, kids’ drawings). I had a huge white wall that you faced when you walked into my office. My company was famous for moving people around, so I always answered that I don’t put up much because I never knew when I’d get kicked out of my spot. People hate white space, but I liked it, so I didn’t add anything to the wall. It’s MY office. After 4 years in that office, I ended up moving to two more offices before getting knocked down to a cube. I took every personal non-work item home (still have a couple work awards and a cardholder a coworker gave me). Strangely enough, no one has said a single word about it being bare in my cube. I guess they expect cube dwellers to be poised for departure at any time.

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    1. sunny-dee

      I think it’s because there’s less surface area, so it looks less empty. (Although I have seen people with cubes that looked like a garage sale.)

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      1. The Butcher of Luverne

        There’s nothing like being part of a mass staff reduction to get a person to kick the habit of bringing all the things into their cubicle.

        Never again. Plus, my next work space was a new building with minimalist design, which I heartily adopted.

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        1. Cautionary tail

          I had the same reduction experience. I will never put another personal item in my office. I currently have exactly nothing in my office, not even a paper clip and its been that way for four years.

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    2. SusanIvanova

      Yeah, I was at Apple when they were reorganization-crazy, and after the 3rd office move in under a year, the personal stuff just didn’t come back out of the box. (I’m also not all that visually-oriented. I’ve heard people can actually imagine pictures in their head; that seems so weird.) But I had books and papers on the desk, the whiteboard was covered, so it did look lived-in.

      Reply
  12. Carly S

    Putting your framed degree always takes up space. Check out search etsy for whatever nerd like items you may have at home? The home crafters may have a more sublte option. Or is there a quote you like? Google it, print and frame. I used a quote from Mary Poppins in my office “Well begun is half done” a quote from a movie I enjoy yet work focused.

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    1. some1

      I always thought putting up your degree in your office looked a little pretentious unless you are a doctor or lawyer or in academia.

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      1. CMT

        Yeah, but where else are you going to put them? I don’t think it’s any more or less pretentious depending on profession.

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        1. fposte

          Not many people have them in their workplace offices at my university department. Mine are all in a box in the basement; some people display them in their home office. Definitely check out the norm on this, including specifically what is displayed–it might be all alum diplomas, or diplomas in that particular field of study–and if you put diplomas up in a place where that’s not the culture it can hit a sour note.

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          1. Tau

            Yeah, I can’t even imagine hanging up any of my diplomas anywhere I’ve been. It’d just be completely out of touch with the norms, and now that I’m in a field where PhDs are not common I worry about accidentally coming off as pretentious or superior as is!

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      2. sam

        This is the sort of thing that REALLY depends on the office. When I was at a law firm, everyone hung up their diplomas and bar admission certificates, so it was the norm. Where I work now, even though the law department is in its own area, no one does it. So my really nice framed diplomas that I paid an arm and a leg to custom frame in matching frames are now packed away behind my dresser at home. Because I’m certainly not hanging them up at home!

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        1. De Minimis

          I would see some of the higher-ups at the CPA firm have their license on the wall, but they were about the only ones who had actual offices with walls on which to hang anything.

          Saw other partners with law degrees, etc. not have them. My fancy CPA license certificate is still in its tube….think it’s in the trunk of my car.

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      3. Mike C.

        Why is it pretentious? Lots of folks worked really hard on that stuff and it’s no different than putting up a marathon medal or anything like that.

        Reply
      4. CanadianKat

        A diploma IS pretentious if you’re a doctor or a lawyer (I’m one). Not sure about academia, – it’s a pretentious field to begin with. If you’re in a doctor/lawyer’s office, you already know that they have an appropriate degree/license, so who cares about their diploma (especially if they also hang up their pre-law/med diploma). A doctor/diploma, to me, says that either “I have really no imagination at all” or “I’m really focused on impressing you with my credentials.” (Or it could be “I got this enormous piece of paper that I don’t know what to do with and don’t want to throw out, so I’ll place it on the wall.” But that’s not much of an excuse: you can stick it in the bottom of your t-shirts drawer, as I’ve done with my 3 unframed diplomas and a Notary certificate.)

        On the other hand, if you’re in a field/profession where a diploma is not expected or required, and you’ve worked really hard to obtain yours, – maybe then hanging it would not be pretentious. (Though I’m still not sure it would give you more credibility. You earn that through your work.)

        Reply
        1. twentymilehike

          “On the other hand, if you’re in a field/profession where a diploma is not expected or required, and you’ve worked really hard to obtain yours, – maybe then hanging it would not be pretentious. ”

          I really enjoying seeing where my doctors went to school and what other things they might be involved in. I know I can probably look it up, or even ask, but I like to look at these things while I’m sitting around waiting. For example, until I was sitting in my therapists office, I didn’t know we actually attended the same undergrad program. If I hung my psych BA up in my cubicle, though … that would be weird (since I’m not even remotely a therapist).

          Reply
          1. JessaB

            I know a lot of doctors that do them down a hallway in their offices and include their fellowships so you know what kind of credentials they have. Other than that some general licencing papers do need to be posted where they can be seen. So maybe not the diploma but the state licence absolutely.

            I do however think the older ones are cooler, diplomas lately just don’t look as neat as they used to when they were all hand done and seals and stuff.

            Reply
        2. GrizzlyUrsula

          I would consider putting mine up in my office, because I don’t really have another place to put it, but, with the frame it is ENORMOUS – You can’t miss the damn thing.

          Based on what I’ve seen around in my industry, it seems to me that you put up a graduate degree or PHD, but not an undergrad – people tend to put up education only if it’s higher than the standard for that job in that industry. But that could just be me.

          Reply
        3. specialist

          I actually had to put all my diplomas up. I had a few patients who didn’t schedule their surgery because they didn’t know who I was. I guess they were just too lazy to look it up on the website. Or pay attention to the board certification information in their handouts. It actually did make a difference. I have fewer people questioning my abilities. Except in the ER, where the question about my ability is usually delivered in a rude manner which correlates highly with a lack of insurance.

          Reply
      5. Cassie

        I can’t recall seeing any PhDs hanging up in any of the faculty offices I’ve been in. Some faculty do have awards or plaques hanging, but not degrees – probably because all of our faculty have PhDs so it’s no big deal.

        One coworker who got a master’s in education put her degree up on her wall. It seemed pretty clear she wanted to show it off, but in reality, I don’t think anyone cared.

        Reply
    2. OP

      Thanks! I doubt my degree would impress anyone around here (in fact, I don’t think I ever took it out of the envelope it came in beyond “did they spell my name right? Ok good.”) but maybe if I take advantage of their tuition remission + get a fancy pants graduate degree I’ll do that.

      Reply
  13. TotesMaGoats

    I know you said you’re junior but you are probably overthinking this a bit. All of the suggestions are great but don’t stress about it. And you can do it bit by bit. Much like when moving from job 2 to job 3, you don’t bring all your office stuff with you on the first day. You get the lay of the land first then bring stuff in. You are clearly getting the vibe that you don’t have enough personality in your office. Desk stuff is easy to start with. I’ve got half a dozen pictures of friends, family and my kid. Awards. Diplomas. A giant wall calendar for the year that is dry erase. My demotivator wall calendar. I also have season appropriate decor. Pumpkins. Generic non-religious winter things. Bunnies. Patriotic stuff.

    Reply
  14. all aboard the anon train

    I’m incredibly minimalistic when it comes to decor, so I get comments like that a lot at work. Though I have found that a calendar (whether it’s a dog themed one or an artsy one from PaperSource) go a long way. So do smaller touches like a colorful tissue box or a coffee mug or a tube of hand cream or a box of tea or a shawl/scarf I wear when it gets cold. Small things that show I’m here to stay and don’t have one foot out the door.

    It helps because I’m awful at remembering to water plants and I semi-sarcastically live by the B99 quote of “If you love someone, you’ll remember what they look like.” (Plus, I’m just really awful at taking pictures in general and it makes me a little uncomfortable to display pictures of people and events in my life, so)

    Reply
    1. Chinook

      I am minimalistic too, though my office personalization kit has grown as I moved around. I have a nice pewter desk set from three jobs ago and a personal mug. My biggest addition over the last six months are my “paperweights” currently guarding my wall of paperwork waiting for signatures (I give them out in small batches to people). They are all Pops (which don’t really look like toys) – Felicity (which is a great conversation starter because she looks like generic office lady but I point out that every super hero needs great tech support), the Arrow (who is currently staring at Felicity in his mopy way) and a plush Anger I won at the department Christmas party. People come and play with his troll doll like hair plus I love being able to threaten people by saying “don’t make me throw my Anger at you.”

      I have contemplated bringing in artwork or my degree but I am also aware that I am a temp (even if it has been 3+ years) and don’t want anything that may not be returned.

      Reply
  15. Stephanie

    Yeah, I went overboard at my last job. My friend came to my job one day and saw I had nothign on my walls and was like “You HAVE to decorate this. It makes me sad to think you’re just sitting here in an undecorated cubicle.” So I brought in a bunch of postcards and stuck them on a wall in my cube (just one wall that was only visible from my vantage point). I imagine it didn’t look the most professional.

    I actually don’t have my desk decorated at all at my current job. I work on the night side and someone else uses the desk during the day, so I felt a little weird leaving personal effects up. (Although plenty of people do it.)

    Reply
    1. CanadianKat

      I decorate my office by setting my Desktop background to rotate between a number of beautiful pictures – National Geographic photo of the day has a great archive. Does that count? :)

      I guess I could print one of those. But a 8.5 x 11 office-printer printout attached to the wall with thumbtacks may look even more lame than bare walls. Besides, I have about 100 favourite pictures – how can I choose one?

      Reply
      1. Katie

        National Geographic sells prints (and framed prints, though they are somewhat pricey). If you search their online store, they have a lot of beautiful options if you’re a fan of their photography. I have one of their big maps hanging up in my cube.

        Reply
  16. Bwmn

    I have personally taken office decoration also a way to steer conversation towards aspects of my personal life that I enjoy talking about in the office. I have a large bulletin board in my office and I put all of the theater tickets of events I attend up there. It’s been a fun way to decorate my office, and also when I need to engage in generic office “do you have any plans” conversation – it’s a safe topic that I’m happy to talk about (and in my office, no one will ever ask to join).

    Reply
  17. AFT123

    I vote plants too! Grab a few and put them in colorful pots. Throw a nice throw blanket over the back of your chair. Get a colorful mug to keep on your desk. And of course, if you have pets or kids, put up one or two cute pictures of them. :)

    Reply
  18. C Average

    If your office doesn’t have a window, find a weathered window frame and rotate posters of interesting landscapes behind it. I used to have such a “window” in my windowless office back when I worked in advising at my alma mater, and it always made for interesting conversations with students and colleagues.

    Reply
  19. GigglyPuff

    Only thing I would worry about with the runner is, who vacuums? Are you responsible or is janitorial staff? Because I can see that being a little annoying to the janitorial staff, especially if it is one that will get sucked into the vacuum.

    Otherwise, I do stuff didn’t have a place for in my apartment, funny magnets on my file cabinet, couple of printed out comics, or little knick-knack signs I’ve picked up at antique stores, and little souvenirs I’ve gotten on vacation like the Oxford library oath. And I have one of those indoor creeper vines, oh and totally a little Lego figurine I got for the holidays.

    Reply
    1. YaH

      I agree about the rug. It causes more work for the custodial staff and in my very own personal opinion looks strange in a small office. Plus it can be a tripping hazard.

      Reply
    2. irritable vowel

      Depending on the persnicketyness of where you work, an area rug might also be considered a fire hazard (since it is not likely manufactured to the same flame-retardant standards as the wall to wall carpeting). That being said, I had an office once where the previous occupant had visibly worn down the carpet in some spots and I brought in an area rug to cover it, and no one said anything.

      Reply
  20. AnotherAnon

    A bit off topic, but one of my career dreams is just to HAVE my own office (i.e. four floor-to-ceiling walls and a door that closes, preferably also with a window; bonus if it’s not in a basement and/or if I have a nameplate outside the door) in someplace that’s not my home.

    Reply
    1. CMT

      Ha, at one internship I had in grad school, I had to do an impromptu introduction in front of the whole office. They asked a few questions, including “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and to answer quickly I said I hoped I’d have a job with a window and health insurance.

      Reply
  21. Naomi

    You could get one of those page-a-day desk calendars that has a quote or a cartoon or a trivia fact for each day. Or a small toy, like a Rubik’s cube, as long as you won’t be distracted by playing with it. Bobbleheads are fun, too.

    Reply
    1. nicolefromqueens

      My birthday is in January so I get a lot of calendars. At work I have a landscape monthly(where I keep track of appointments) and a sarcastic daily (also doubles as scrap paper). I also get magnetic calendars for each of my favorite teams.

      Reply
  22. FC

    I would check out Pinterest for inspiration too. I received the same comments when I first started at my current place and it was helpful getting an actual “template” of what colors, items, art, etc. to purchase, duplicate or at least look for. There are a lot of creative, but professional, ideas on Pinterest. I received a lot of compliments from people at all levels of our organization that commented on the cohesiveness and for having a “theme”.

    Reply
  23. Snarkus Aurelius

    I have minimalist decor, and that’s equal parts intentional and lazy.  The only things I have in my office are four Ikea lamps (because I hate the overhead light), a plant my ex-boss gave me when she quit, and my mini-fridge.  There’s nothing on the walls except a bulletin board that has work-related stuff on it.

    I know there’s a school of thought that says you have to personalize your work space more than I do, but it’s not my thing.  As people get to know me, they get that.  My house looks the same too!  It’s not a judgment on interior decorating.  Plus I go to great lengths to keep my personal and professional life separate so no personal photos, especially now that I’m pregnant.

    While AAM gave you a good list of suggestions, I’m offer things I’ve seen since 1998 that were over the top:

    *I once counted 48 framed photos in a big boss’s office.
    *An old co-worker covered all of her cube walls with brightly-colored tissue paper and covered that surface with wedding and drinking photos.  Literally floor to (almost) ceiling) photos.
    *Another old co-worker had over two dozen photos of her drinking with her friends and boyfriend.  She loved to do shots.
    *An ex-coworker had her cube walls and regular wall covered in photos of her with lots and lots of different people.  She later admitted she didn’t know who most of those people were.
    *A guy I knew only had pictures of him with famous people.
    *A lawyer I knew decorated her office like her living room.  (Not in the good way.)  There were lots of throw pillows and plants.
    *My terrible boss had a huge portrait of…HERSELF hanging in the conference room.  No joke!

    But most of the time I don’t notice someone’s office decor.

    Reply
    1. C Average

      Your line about the colleague with the people she didn’t actually know jogged a distant memory.

      My sister and I roomed together in college and wanted to put something interesting on our apartment walls, and we were sort of broke. We bought this gigantic grab bag of old pictures at an antique store and framed them in old-timey frames we got at the Goodwill. When people came over and asked about the pictures, we made up stories about our sainted great-granny and our weird cousins and our forebears from the Old Country. We of course didn’t know these people from Adam, but it was all very entertaining for us.

      Reply
      1. Me2

        I have a table in my entry hall with black & white photos of all the parents, grandparents, and great grands on each side. People always ask who they are and as I’m going down the list, I always add, “And that’s the guy that came with the frame.” By now, I think of him as one of the family.

        Reply
    2. Brandy in TN

      I went over the top in my cube once. Its was fun and I was just a rep. But I had a lot of calendars. They were fun to look at like wallpaper and most were the small ones. They cost little. And I was easy to find should anyone need me, head for the calendars. Just that one year. As I sit here I have 5 up in my cube now, but 4 are the small ones.

      Reply
    3. AnotherAlison

      My over-the-top dream decor would be to cover my walls in vintage Bill Jones motivational posters. . .but only the ones that I thought were completely ridiculous. (Such as “52 Saturdays/Opportunities for increased earnings/Why waste them?)

      Reply
    4. Newish Reader

      Wow. I have a coworker that I think decorates excessively, but now I need to reconsider my idea of excessive.

      Reply
    5. all aboard the anon train

      I once had one of our interns use up all the color ink in our printer so she could print out a lot pictures of her friends to post on her cube walls. It was legit a wallpaper of her friends and worst of all, it came during a week when the office supplies were waiting for refills of ink and we needed to print some marketing materials for a client.

      A current coworker covers every space inch of his desk with those Funko Pop toys. It’s….a bit off putting to have probably about 50+ of them in his office. We’re in an open office plan and I feel bad for his cube mate tbh.

      Reply
    6. Lia

      I am also a minimalist. I have a shared office and the only personal possessions I have out are a couple of shelves of reference books, a tin of altoids, my coffee mug, and my water bottle. Oh, and I bring my own box of tissues. I’ve been here 3.5 years and this is about as decorated as I get. I just don’t like a lot of clutter.

      Decoration varies wildly here. My boss has a 4 shelf bookcase filled with pics of his kid and wife, and others have lots of university swag on display. Most are somewhere between my level and “hoard” though.

      Reply
      1. Sherry

        I also feel like having personal possessions in my workspace is “clutter.” The only personal item I have at work is some tea in the desk drawer. I’ll also change the desktop background to a photo I took (nature shot, usually, nothing personal), and that’s it!

        I don’t mind that others decorate; it’s just not for me.

        Reply
        1. Snarkus Aurelius

          This sums me up perfectly. And I really don’t mind when others decorate, and it’s only really noticeable in the examples I mentioned. That doesn’t happen very often, and I really had to think long and hard for those examples.

          Plus, as a woman, I worry there’s a predisposition to wanting to getting personal and touchy feely. I want to remove any opportunity for that. When I was engaged, hardly anyone knew at work because talking about that event wasn’t my thing just like talking about my pregnancy isn’t my thing. I’m already overloaded with my family members who know so I can’t take much more so much so I wish I could take back the announcement.

          I’m not trying to come off as frosty either. I want that happy medium.

          Reply
    7. literateliz

      Hahahahaha. I always feel a little funny reading these threads because everything people mention as being “inappropriate” would be a perfect fit for my office (example: the “Bitch Please” cross-stitch someone mentioned above – it could sit next to the “Fucking Brilliant” gold foil notebook that we were all given by the company one year), but you have actually managed to compile a list of things that would be frowned upon even where I work. Congratulations?

      Reply
    8. Chinook

      I have had two colleagues like that. One did up her entire cubicle with various ladybug things (including stuffed toys), Another currently houses a collection of dragons (because one caught her eye and then he was lonely so…) and Dr. Who items. Both were women who embraced their quirkiness and awesome at their job. My aim is to one day be like them.

      Reply
    9. anon4now

      I had a coworker once who came in during his first week and hung up a bunch of stuff immediately – including an album cover with someone holding a handgun that they hung right on the outside entrance to their cubicle. It was an allusion to a famous Malcolm X photo (I’m sure some of you know this album), so a reasonably intellectual and not-gratuitous piece, especially for academia where we worked… but seriously made people question this person’s judgment.

      Reply
  24. Gene

    I’ve had a running disagreement with my wife about a white wall. She is one who has framed stuff on every vertical surface and I’ve spent the last 20 years insisting that the walls behind my computer remain bare (it’s a corner desk.) Every once in a while she’ll try to put up something and I’ll remove it. It’s become sport, I think.

    And don’t do what a new hire admin here did, bring in a box of Beanie Babies ™ and spend an hour arranging them around your workspace. She lasted less than a week (REALLY unusual around here) and it took nearly that long to remove them and place each lovingly back in the box.

    Reply
    1. AnotherAlison

      I can relate. My husband has a wall dedicated to pictures of himself in our office (pics with friends doing fun stuff 10 years ago, mostly). His wall isn’t big enough so there is a large framed picture of some lake in CO, which he took himself, over my desk. I said no, but it ended up there anyway.

      I hate clutter & he wants the place to look like an Applebee’s circa 1997.

      Reply
      1. irritable vowel

        OMG, you have just described my husband’s decorating style so perfectly, I’m dying! I never knew exactly how to define it.

        Reply
  25. AnonyMeow

    I don’t have anything personal in my office (other than a mug on the desk), but I seem to have enough piles of paper accumulating on my desk to create a false sense of “personalization.” No one commented on the banality of my office yet. Not that you should go this route. :P

    I’m really bad about keeping my desk free of paper. Ever since childhood. It’s sad.

    Reply
  26. Joseph

    Since you mentioned it’s a university, some (simple!) university merch is usually appropriate as well. Nothing too massive, but a pennant with the school logo, a photo of something on campus, or a small flag are all fine. This can be either the school you work for or the college you graduated from.

    Reply
    1. AnotherAnon

      That’s an awesome suggestion! Including some of your current university’s memorabilia – from the campus bookstore, or from Amazon – also sends a subtle message that you’re aligning yourself with your new job’s culture/campus identity.

      Reply
    2. Mona Lisa

      Here at the university where I work, the athletics team are happy to hand out posters of their team members with the upcoming year’s schedule on it. Many people have basketball ones since we’re known for that team, but my officemates and I have decided to take on some of the less popular teams in an attempt to get some things up on our walls. (I’m pushing for soccer and swimming schedules come fall. ;) )

      Reply
  27. TheNavs

    I say pick a theme, and then you can have fun running with it. In my last office, I had all Washington, DC maps and travel posters.

    Reply
  28. SL #2

    I really like Funko Pop toys; they have figures for nearly every pop culture reference under the sun these days. The Star Wars and Marvel lines in particular are bobble-heads, which make them even more office-appropriate (less of a “toy” than a “collectible”). They’re a fun conversation starter if you have 1 or 2.

    Otherwise, framed photos are always good. It doesn’t even have to be of a relative, it could be of your dog, or a nice landscape that you saw on vacation. Since you’ve got an office, maybe a tack board where you could pin up photos or other little things you like?

    Reply
    1. Oryx

      The Pop figures are all over our office (including my cube) and I love seeing which ones other people have.

      Reply
    2. Noah

      Yes, I love Funko Pop those things, and they are not crazy expensive either. I currently have Captain Cold and Black Canary on my cube shelf.

      Reply
    3. Drink the Juice Shelby

      I love Pops. I had 8 regular sized and the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man on top of my overhead in my cube. We’re moving offices so I brought them home. I need to rotate in new ones at work – Bob’s Burgers and Regina (Mean Girls). A cube over from me had all the Guardians of the Galaxy Pops. So cute.

      Reply
  29. Newish Reader

    My current office had several empty walls when I moved in, including over a fireplace. I had comments for almost a year about needing artwork over the fireplace. I finally found a print of a generic beach scene at Lowes for about $40. My diplomas went on the other blank wall. I brought in a fake plant (I never remember to water live ones), an abacus a previous office had given me when I left them, some pretty coasters I found at a dollar store, and a dog-themed calendar. It’s not much, but enough to stop the comments.

    Reply
  30. another minimalist office

    Small or subtle nerd-culture gear is usually ok. I have a little TARDIS up on top of a bookshelf in my office, and people either (a) don’t notice it at all or (b) love it.

    Also, never underestimate the decorating value of a curtain. I have a shower curtain (just a blue gradient) hanging down in front of a bookshelf to make it work like a cabinet, and it ads a splash of color to the room and has become a visual vocal point that visitors usually compliment. Cost me about $15 worth of parts (curtain, cheap collapsible rod) and took a whopping 30 seconds to hang up.

    And a small IKEA desk lamp with an interesting shade — that added a lot of character (and badly needed non-fluorescent light) for cheap, too.

    Reply
    1. Sparrow

      Just chiming in to second the endorsement for nerd paraphernalia. I don’t know what OP does within university admin, but I think a small item or two would be fine in most positions, especially if she has any interaction with students. I have a bit of space on one of my (many) bookshelves with a couple of small items – including a TARDIS pencil case – and they’ve kicked off a number of conversations with both students and colleagues. There are tons of nerds in academia, so it’s likely welcome as long as it’s kept understated!

      Reply
  31. Gandalf the Nude

    I have four paintings from one of those BYOB paint classes up in my office. They’re great conversation starters without requiring anything too personal, if that’s your thing.

    I’ll also echo the suggestion for a personal calendar. I’m a particular fan of the Wild & Scenic [state] series, but that would also be a good, low-key way to let your geek flag fly.

    Reply
    1. Gandalf the Nude

      Oh, and I also have a few seasonal door hangers that I rotate throughout the year. Cheap at Rite-Aid.

      Reply
      1. Gandalf the Nude

        Oh, also also, never underestimate the power of a pretty tissue box. Though, buyer beware, it may attract the diseased to your desk. :)

        Reply
    2. Arielle

      Heh. I used to work at one of those companies until a few weeks ago and we all had at least one painting at our desks. My new company has an open plan and a “clean desk” policy, which makes me sad. I have one little photo of me and my SO taped to my computer monitor and a water bottle, but we’re not really allowed to bring in personal effects beyond that.

      Reply
  32. ManderPants

    Framing art prints makes them 100% more professional and appealing, even the cheapest frames work wonders. You should take one or two of yours and hang them in your office. I have art prints of Mufasa and Scar from The Lion King and Scar is positioned right behind me to those who enter my office…

    I have a whiteboard calendar I put deadlines on and draw on holidays, like a turkey for Thanksgiving. My first decorations were a $1 mini bucket I keep my favorite pens, lotion, and scissors in like AAM suggested, and I tacked a photo of my and my boyfriend at Disney as well as a pic of my nephews and niece on a cork board. I have a framed photo of my bf and I on my desk too. It also helps to have colored folders, paperclips, post its, etc to brighten things up professionally.

    After over 2 years here I finally placed two pokemon figures on my computer and a mini gacha ball Zelda figure on my window sill next to my plants. I have so many geeky things at home like you OP but I think I struck a good balance at picking a few choice items for work.

    Reply
  33. Library Director

    You don’t need to rush or commit to anything splashy right now. A digital photo frame might be the right touch right now. It can be personal photographs or artwork you like. It will rotate according to your settings. It will give you a chance to see what you want in your space. When I first took my position I put up a few dignified prints, my diplomas and certificates. I wanted to see how I lived in the space before hanging my more personal items. After a year up went my Batgirl poster. My office is now nerdvana.

    Reply
  34. ResoluteMag

    This is a timely post for me! I’m in my second week of a new job in a pretty bare workspace so far. My last job was in an office while my new one is more open-plan – I don’t really have office/cube walls on which to hang things. Most of my old decor was hanging on the walls, and I’m having trouble finding ways to add a little personality. Any open-plan folks have any ideas?

    Reply
    1. MsMaryMary

      I like to have what I call “fidget toys” around. Things like a stress ball, slinky, magnetic toys, or I have a plastic thingie called a tangle. It gives my hands something to do on boring conference calls, and people love to pick them up and play when they come over to my desk to ask a question.

      Reply
      1. AFT123

        I just bought a tangle!! I’d like a few more fidget toys too. They really help me when I have to be on conference calls or watch training videos.

        Reply
    2. Joseph

      “Most of my old decor was hanging on the walls, and I’m having trouble finding ways to add a little personality.”
      Yet another casualty of the open plan office…

      I think you’re stuck with just a couple of photos, a little desk toy, or maybe an interesting pen holder. I’ve seen people put a brightly colored mat under the base of a monitor almost like a table cloth*. You could also do a little jar or bowl with candy, but that comes with the risk that people will constantly come by to “chat”.

      *Only if you have an actual monitor. Do not put do this if you use a laptop, since cloth under laptops can cause your laptop to overheat or even be a potential fire hazard.

      Reply
  35. MsMaryMary

    Since you work for a university, you could always find some school-related memorabilia or art. A scenic picture of campus, a banner or pennant, a goofy list of the top ten inside jokes about your school/department… Maybe you could find something similar from your alma mater and display both to show your divided loyalties.

    If your university has an art school, they probably do a show at least once a semester. You should be able to find fairly inexpensive student art.

    Reply
  36. Chalupa Batman

    If you’re student facing, it may be appropriate and even wise include some of your fandom art. I have a large framed Han Solo art print and a few autographed photos from various conventions on display, as well as a couple of non-nerd decorative items and standard “I work in academia” swag like old textbooks/journals, awards, conference nametags, and university memorabilia. I work with first year students who are a little overwhelmed by the whole university process, and I think having some personality on display makes me more accessible. I also often get compliments from their parents-because my fandom tends toward longstanding franchises, many of which are back in vogue right now, it’s a safe way to make both parents and students feel like I’m a real person (and kind of a cool one), not just a cog of the Man. YMMV-I’m sure some stuffier institutions may not look so kindly on my signed Captain Kirk-but I really like having a little bit of me on display, and I think students like it, too.

    Reply
  37. JMegan

    I got my current office-art at Bed Bath & Beyond, and IKEA has some good stuff as well. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, or even necessarily very personal – a generic print of the Eiffel Tower or some trees or something should be enough to get the office-decor busybodies off your back. If anyone asks, you say “Yes, I’ve always liked Paris” or “Aren’t those trees lovely?” and then change the subject.

    It’s like the wedding question in the short answers below – a social convention that people are mildly interested in, and may use as a conversation starter, but that’s usually all it is. Get something you like, even if it’s not something you love, and you should be good to go.

    Reply
  38. Elder Dog

    Whatever you choose to do, maintanance isn’t going to nail your art to your wall. Don’t be afraid to change things out occasionally. Don’t be afraid to try something out, live with it for awhile, and decide in six or eight months you’re not in love.
    Other people will notice you change things, and will see you as more discerning and growth oriented. That’s always a good thing.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      They will at my university–in fact, you’ll get in trouble with the union if they know you nailed it up yourself.

      Reply
      1. OP

        Yep, same here, though I suppose there’s nothing that says I couldn’t take it down + replace the artwork within the frame.

        Reply
      2. zora.dee

        I think Elder Dog meant they aren’t going to bolt it down. ;o) It will be possible to change it in the future, this isn’t a permanent decision.

        Reply
  39. Steph

    I printed out three of the JPL NASA “Visions of the Future” posters in color at Staples and bought inexpensive poster frames on sale at Michael’s to finish them, and then brought in a mug for my pens, a picture frame with a photo of my daughter for my desk, and a small plant.
    The entire setup cost me less than 40 bucks!

    Reply
  40. Erin

    I think you have to go with the work norm on this one and see what other people are doing. If you’re getting comments once a week, definitely you’re out of the norm.

    If you don’t want to show your animation/nerd side, stick to things like the cityscapes you’ve mentioned – I saw some great framed cityscapes at my last office. Shows some personality and livens the space up without getting too personal.

    At my last job nearly everyone had at least one picture of their spouse/significant other, among several other decorations and personal items. I didn’t put anything up for awhile in my own cube until my coworker remarked, “I feel like you’re going to leave at any moment!” so I put up a wedding picture.

    At my office now, no one seems to decorate too much at their cubes/offices that I can tell – or if they do it’s very minimal, for example, a calendar of their favorite sports team – and that’s it. So I haven’t put the wedding picture back up. I did bring in my own (semi colorful) mug I have out, that a former coworker gave me as a gift, so there’s at least one spark of personality.

    Just start out putting out two or three things – a cityscape, a plant, a little knickknack from somewhere you traveled on one of those shelves. You don’t have to go nuts – just a few things. You can always add more over time.

    Reply
  41. Karo

    Things that are both useful and decorative really hit the sweet spot, I think. A lot of people have suggested calendars, but also things like bookends for any reference books you keep out, colorful/fun coasters, and my personal favorite: decorative boxes to store things you don’t really have a better place for (at my work we don’t have standard desk drawers, more mini filing cabinets, so small desk things like rubber bands, thumb tacks, paper clips, don’t really have a home. I even have one dedicated to personal things – extra hair things, nail files, glasses cleaner, etc).

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      BOXES. I’ll admit most of mine are in my home office, rather than at work, but they are such an interesting way to store things. I also have a little crystal dish that was probably supposed to be an ashtray that I found at a thrift store that I use for rings and earrings and the like. Something like that would also be a good way to keep track of paper clips or pushpins that looks way snazzier than a plain old plastic compartment tray.

      Reply
  42. Simplytea

    I really want those mousepads to rep AAM so people can ask me about it and then I can refer them to this website. I mean… all my coworkers know about it anyway, but regardless. And a nice cushy wristpad would be nice too :)

    Reply
  43. squids

    I’m in so much the same position, so will be watching the comments.

    I actually have access to a reasonable art collection — but my office has so much natural light that I am reluctant to put up anything of value. I won’t be bringing in any of my art from home, for the same reason.

    Reply
  44. Pwyll

    One thing that drove my nuts about one job was we were REQUIRED to “personalize” our office. As in, we would be penalized for our office not looking “lived in” because it implies it’s “just a job and not a career.” This, of course, was a place with toxic culture. In the end, I put a photo of family and large coffee mugs from each of the universities I attended filled with pens, and it stopped the complaints.

    At my current job, the only thing on my wall other than my law license (which bosses requested, even though clients don’t ever see my office) is an artist’s rendition of the major thoroughfare of my hometown. Just a little bit of nostalgia mixed with a conversation piece.

    Reply
    1. Natalie

      Did you work for Veridian Dynamics?

      “The company thought it would be too risky to just let people do whatever the hell they wanted, so they’ve expressed your individuality for you in four exciting and inoffensive themes… Green Bay Packers, cats, space, and classic cars. Isn’t that great? Enjoy your new personalities.”

      Reply
    2. Anxa

      Ugh. I personally detest be surrounding by others people’s desks and all of their photos and tchotkes. But I always figured that was on me and they should enjoy their little area. The idea that I couldn’t even have one spot of refuge among all the office clutter would irk me pretty badly.

      Reply
  45. Trig

    Some plant advice:

    If you don’t get a lot of natural light, there is nothing better than a pothos plant. Fluorescent light is plenty for them, and they don’t need a ton of water. They get pretty wilty when they’re thirsty, so it’s pretty obvious when they need to be watered, but they perk right up once you do so. They’re cheerful and green and as they get longer you can either string them around things, or trim them. AND you can replant the trimmings for endlessly more.

    Reply
    1. SL #2

      I just googled what a pothos plant is because I’ve never heard of it… and judging from the photos, it’s the giant bush in my boss’s office. That thing is indestructible!

      Reply
      1. Natalie

        I’ve had the same pothos plant for probably 15 years now, through many moves, mold infestation, infrequent watering, and on and on. And I have to trim it regularly lest it take over the whole dining room.

        Reply
  46. Roxanne

    Last year, the director at my old job left and someone replaced her in acting position. The old director had tastefully decorated her office with her own artwork and art pieces, which she took with her. The new acting director inherited bare walls…and she couldn’t stand it. She asked us, help me do something with this. So, one morning, we changed her office into Santa’s workshop, complete with toys, wrapping paper stapled to the wall and spray on snow on the windows. It was a most memorable morning!

    When Spring rolled around, we replaced the Xmas wrapping paper with pink wrapping paper and added kites and super cheap paper lanterns from her ceiling and I added bees and butterflies to the wall. She was so pleased.

    And, no one complained about stapling things to the wall as the building was slated for tear-down in six months.

    I don’t recommend this unless you have the personality to pull it off! :)

    Reply
  47. librarygirl

    Back when I had an actual office, I got a poster frame from Walmart ( like $10) for my Nathan Fillion Read poster. Made it look a little more like Art vs teenage poster on a wall. It might work for some of your art too. Its funny how people react to art in a frame vs without, like a frame makes it more real or something. Target and IKEA have tons of affordable frames and don’t forget thrift stores and can a of spray paint can go a long way.

    I also had a collection of “stress” toys for students and co-workers to play with. They added color and fun AND could be hidden in drawer if needed. And I had a jersey of a favourite player hanging on the back of my door. It was a sort of secret something for for me as it was only visible when my door was closed. It also helped remind me I could work while under stress and succeed too.

    Reply
  48. Rahera

    I think putting some of the interesting/nerdy/illustration stuff up would be fine. My experience is that academics tend to bond over that sort of thing, and you might be surprised who recognises it. P

    I’ve seen some academic offices with conference posters or playbills up, and two with medium sized corkboards with neat collections of postcards on. One was a collection of children’s lit illustrations, and one was postcards of archaeological sites. Both very engaging to look at, and not too personal or impersonal.

    Also, pot plants are good. Peace lilies are hard to kill :).

    Reply
  49. Lillian McGee

    I have gone tastefully overboard decorating my office… as in, nothing is going to hurt your eyes but I have way more personalization going on in here than anyone else (also more seniority, so there).

    My #1 favorite place to buy art is Tiny Showcase: www tinyshowcase com. They feature a new print every week and the artist selects a charity to receive a portion of the proceeds. The prints are often in standard framing sizes too which is nice. And affordable!
    I also have a few prints by Nate Duval: www nateduval com. Excellent artsy rock gig posters.

    Society6: www society6 com. A good place to find a tastefully subtle fandomy coffee mug (art prints too but it’s pretty overwhelming browsing them).

    Since I too have a black thumb, I once found some punch-out cardboard plants at my local Blick art supply store. You might also find fun and quirky decorative junk at places like Urban Outfitters and ModCloth.

    Have fun!

    Reply
  50. Bruce H.

    A porcelain steel whiteboard and magnetic jigsaw puzzles.
    A high quality aerial photo of the campus from 5o years ago.
    Dilbert cartoons, especially ones featuring Carol, “[t]he bitter secretary of the Pointy-Haired Boss, who hates her boss and all of her co-workers.”
    A small American flag (or whatever your national flag is if you live outside the US) on a stick with a stand, so you can set it on any horizontal surface.
    XKCD cartoons, or the kite string trick, http://www.xkcd.com/kite/kite_trick.jpg.

    Reply
    1. Vendrus

      Dilbert and XKCD are everywhere at my workplace and it’s great. Also the nerdy in-jokes for the profession (particularly the ones that gently take the mick out of management).

      Overt patriotism seems to be a big thing in the US, but I’d avoid recommending a flag to people outside the country. On this side of the pond people are likely to think you had nationalistic tendencies if you’re hanging out a flag for something other than major events (sporting etc).

      Reply
  51. KR

    I have some pictures of my pets and a picture of my boyfriend when we went to a lake taped to the wall behind my desk ( we have ratty wood paneling from the 70s in our office that needs to come down anyway ). We have a lot of pop culture posters and memes on the walls and such because we have a lot of young people in our office, it’s not a public facing office and the paneling is ghastly.

    Reply
  52. Lily Rowan

    I don’t think I’ve ever had personal art on an office wall, but I’ve often worked in places that provided work-related wall stuff — posters, photographs, art, etc., depending on the place. I feel like if people are saying “WE’VE got to get you some color,” that’s a signal that you may not have to provide it. Maybe it’s worth asking the next person who says something if they can help?

    But of course feel free to bring in personal stuff, of course. I usually leave it at a couple of funny or cute or otherwise personal things on my bulletin board, but the space gets full somehow!

    Reply
  53. Bossy Magoo

    I work in the marketing department of a travel agency and my office has 3 canvas paintings (from Marshall’s! Inexpensive!), one of Amsterdam, one of Paris, and one of NYC. I also have a framed drawing my son did in 4th grade of the NYC skyline (see how I tied in work *and* personal life? :) ), and then a corkboard filled with work-reference materials that I need to see on a regular basis. I LOVE my office walls!

    Reply
  54. Lore

    When I had an office, I would order an extra corkboard–one would have work stuff, and the other a rotating selection of small personal stuff: postcards (mostly art but some from places I’d traveled or shows I was working on), quotes or poems I liked, holiday cards I’d gotten from freelancers, etc. I also have a small handful of knickknacks that are kind of like worry beads (they feel good in my hand)–a small stone turtle, a seashell, a bendy Pink Panther–and they go with me place to place. And then a coworker brought me back a little travel gift that was candy in a metal box that was also a piggy bank, so that’s my vending machine change.

    Also, depending on which way your computer/desk faces, putting personal photos on your desktop or screen saver goes a long way. I’ve put together a folder of travel shots and my desktop changes every day.

    Reply
  55. super anon

    i work in student recruitment and i have a collection of interesting and unique stress balls that i’ve picked up from other recruiter’s tables in my office. my favourites are the myrid of animal shaped stress balls i come across.

    i really want to put up some looney toons art cells i impulse bought on a cruise, but i’ve head our office manager doesn’t like it when we put things on the wall so i haven’t brought them yet.

    Reply
  56. A. Nonny Mouse

    10 figurines of Disney characters, in various sizes
    A page a day calendar
    a plant
    Favorite baseball team stuff
    Framed photo of spouse and pets

    Reply
  57. Chocolate Teapot

    A former supervisor had a fairly plain office but a giant Tintin poster on one wall (I think it was the one with the space rocket).

    I just have a promotional mug which I keep my non-nice and promotional pens in (the rollerballs I use for writing are kept safely locked away) and I have just got back from a week’s holiday and since I like to bring back something edible, I bought a nice little brightly coloured tin filled with tiny biscuits (like the Speculoos you sometimes get with a cup of coffee). Once the biscuits have been eaten up, and we are progressing well on that front, I will use the tin for paperclips.

    Reply
  58. Sorin

    I never got any comments about how my office was empty, but one day I came in to find someone had put up a poster on my wall anyway. I’m currently up to three!

    Reply
  59. Poppy

    A few of my managers have absolutely zero person items on their desks, but they have amazing views out the window and piles of paperwork on their desks, so in the end it really doesn’t look that bare.
    I’ve got pictures of my pets and various office plants on my desk, as well as a fun mug, some hand cream, hand sanitizer, and an old poster I inherited. Other coworkers have framed pictures of children and/or friends, figurines, desk calendars, sports memorabilia, and model airplanes (that particular coworker worked in the aerospace sector).
    My favorite? One of my coworkers had a Rubik’s cube — while on phone calls he’d try to solve it and occasionally people who stopped by his desk to chat would work on it. And then every so often I’d steal it, solve it, and put it back on his desk :)

    Reply
  60. Salted French Fry

    I have a stuffed Pickachu wearing a suit at my desk. It’s more important that it’s ‘you’ than that it blends in.

    Reply
  61. Jadelyn

    This is timely for me as well – the HR team is doing a Chinese Fire Drill with our offices for the FOURTH time since I’ve started here 2 years ago, but this is the first time that an office will be primarily *mine* – there’s a desk for a second person, but it’s intended for a temp we’re bringing on for awhile rather than another regular employee. My VP will have the office adjoining mine, my manager will have the one next to his, the generalist will have the one that adjoins that, and our payroll and benefits duo are moving into a shared giant-office across the hall. But since they’re literally *building* the new offices that the VP and I will have, the walls are bare and freshly painted – plus I’m getting a new, much larger U-shaped desk to replace my tiny plain one. So suddenly I’ve got all kinds of decor real estate to work with!

    I’m thinking two items of wall art (one underwater ocean scene and one redwood forest scene), and since two of the four walls of my office are plate glass, I’m considering some decorative/privacy window filming on at least part of those. I’ll probably also get a small tapestry to toss over the filing cabinet next to my desk or something – love that idea from Janice upthread! Not sure what to do with the back part of the U-desk, since I don’t think I’ll be using that space so much for paperwork when I’ve got two desk-sized long sides to spread stuff out on, but I’ll think of something…

    Reply
  62. Cookie

    You can use a site like shutterfly to turn photos into more than just prints, like cubes, pencil holders or other decorative desk items that serve a purpose and personalize your space.

    Reply
  63. Mean Something

    As I read through these comments, I began to remember the Mimi Smartypants story about seeing the Scorpions poster on the office wall–so I had to go to her site and find it. She is one of my favorite writers on the whole Internet. Warning: if you’re the kind of person who binge-reads a new blog (that’s me), she has almost 17 years worth of archives–watch out! (Link in reply.)

    Reply
  64. Anon for this

    Instead of decorating, I cleaned and decluttered. My space looks new!

    I’ll bring in a fake plant – I kill real ones – and art sometime soon. But people want to see that you have settled in, and stuff on the walls isn’t the only way to do it.

    Reply
  65. Mianaai

    My go-to for basic office/cube/desk decor is origami cranes. I usually bring a dozen or so sheets of paper in to work, fold them over a lunch hour, and tape them to the top of my computer. I’ve always received a ton of complements on them (colorful! creative! …), and they’re essentially disposable; I can simply toss them into the recycling rather than transporting them, and just start fresh.

    Other than that, I have a bright-colored water bottle, a mug from my alma mater, 4 nice-looking fountain pens with matching ink bottles, and a nice paper planner

    Reply
  66. Liana

    I think little nerd-culture items are totally fine! One of the doctors in my department has an Iron Man figurine and a Captain America figurine perched on his bookshelf staring each other down. I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily prop a life-size Stormtrooper replica in the corner ala Barney Stinson, but I think a figurine or a poster or something smaller would certainly give your office some character. And the student art loan idea mentioned above is fantastic.

    Side tangent: in my office, we typically sit two admins per office space, and for whatever reason, nobody is really big on decorating, aside from the odd family picture or so. However, we have one woman, Janet, who’s a bit on the eccentric side, who decided one day to bring in this giant (and I mean GIANT) three-sided panel screen, which she promptly arranged around her chair so that you can’t see her at all when she’s sitting at her desk. It’s a lovely looking piece of furniture, but definitely a bit strange to walk into Janet’s office and hear her voice coming out from behind the panel without being able to see her. So maybe don’t do that :)

    Reply
  67. Ruthan

    Is there room for a small comfy chair? I can’t imagine an academic office where a piece of quirky vintage furniture wouldn’t be 100% in place.

    Reply
  68. Susan the BA

    So I had an office in an engineering department of a major research university for years and here are some things I kept in it at various times:

    – Large poster advising how to spot a cylon
    – Binary clock
    – Birthday cards, thank you notes, and other stuff I received at work (such as the holiday cards the school sent out), attached to filing cabinets with magnets
    – Prints of science things that the school was giving away when they redid a conference room
    – Assortment of coffee mugs
    – Small fun giveaways from conferences
    – Name badges from conferences and events, hanging on a hook
    – Printouts of useful information
    – Christmas lights
    – Family photos
    – Magnetic poetry
    – Battery-operated fish in a fish bowl (HUGE hit, faculty loved playing with it)

    So obviously YMMV depending on how casual your office environment is! A cheap and easy decorating idea is to take posters from department/school events after they are over. Also, if you have an athletic department, they will have hundreds (maybe thousands) of schedules and posters they’d love to give you to hang up – another good way to demonstrate ‘I like it here and I’m part of the community’ even if you don’t personally plan to go to any of those games.

    Reply
  69. Athena C

    I work in IT, and I have a subscription to LootCrate. All the little figurines I get, or that people send me? They go to my cubicle.

    I also have a pirate piñata.

    Maybe don’t be like me. XD

    Reply
  70. MissDisplaced

    ++ on the work items. I always have my AP Style Guide, APA Guide, Shakespeare, Pantone books, plus any number of art reference books. And I use them!
    You can usually pickup used coffee table books at thrift stores.

    Reply
  71. Jersey's Mom

    Wildlife biologist here – I’ve got bird nests, feathers, skulls (cleaned and disinfected), a shed snake skin, interesting rocks and bits of wood. Also have a small box of soil, which has some interesting redox formations. All stuff I’ve found while working in the field.

    Since I work with mostly engineers, they are always fascinated by my stuff, as their office stuff is generally bits of tools and metal.

    Depending on your work and discipline, work related objects can sometimes work well.

    Reply
  72. motherofdragons

    I got the SAME line for the first few weeks of my new job. Our offices are super beige, and people kept telling me I needed art. Several years ago, I put together a 2000 piece puzzle of Times Square, bought some puzzle glue, and glued it all onto a big (cheap) frame from Ikea. It’s a cool photo and has a lot of color, but my husband was never fond of it so I just kept it in a closet. When I got my new job and got an office with some wall space, I put it up and get loads of compliments. Something to consider if you like puzzles, or even want to blow up and frame a photograph you’ve taken. It gives it a little more something when it’s a piece you’ve “created,” even in a small way.

    Reply
  73. stevenz

    In an academic setting you can’t have too many books so get out all the books you have that are relevant to your field of study, plus a few more eclectic ones to show intellectual breadth. You will eventually have lots of junk on the walls – class schedules, phone lists, posters of university events, post-it notes, pictures of wedding parties and favorite beaches, etc etc.

    I would try to reserve a wall for nicely framed and organised photos and artwork, not cluttered by junk so it stands out and sets the tone. The carpet is a good idea, too. A lot of academic types (you don’t say your field of study or your position) like professors put favorite cartoons on the outside of their office door. They’re fun for passers-by and provide insight into the person’s personality.

    But don’t be formulaic about this. It really is about you. It reflects your taste, values, personality, and makes you comfortable to be there. At a university there is more tolerance for self-expression than in a corporate setting. So put up that Donald Trump poster now!

    Reply
  74. Nina

    I used to work at a university too! I ended up buying some nice framed pictures, fake plants, vases, and other fairly benign knick-knacks for the bookshelves they provided. I got everything at Ikea – it’s cheap but looks modern and fresh. I would err on the side of bigger artwork unless you’re buying a lot of it since it always looks smaller once hung, especially in a fairly bare office. I’d also recommend against live plants unless you’re really good at keeping them looking healthy (I am not). There’s nothing more depressing than an ailing plant.

    You may want to check to see if your university will provide you with some art. The one I worked at actually had a professional decorator on staff and it was her job to provide decor for public spaces and offices the public might be visiting. In fact, any artwork or decor we brought in was technically supposed to be approved by her before we put it out, but no one really adhered to that. However, this was a small, fairly fancy private college – I don’t think the majority of universities do this. :)

    Reply
  75. No names, only numbers

    I think the correct balance is to have enough stuff it doesn’t *look* like you are gonna skip out at lunch, but no more than you could quickly stuff in your bag if that is secretly your plan..
    Thanks for the laugh Ms. Green!

    7 people sat in my chair in the span of 3 years… I lasted six months. I had no personal effects other than basic disposable toiletries; partly because I was left with my predecessors things, partly because I saw people get fired and walked out with no time to get their things, and because any decoration, uplifting saying, family picture etc. had to be reviewed to decide whether it “aligned with company values”.

    Not like in high school where my locker hall mate had a pic of topless Kate Moss in his locker and I had a pic of a bloody arm with the word “Slayer” freshly carved into it…

    Like wedding photos and baby photos. Here I am 32, exempt, in charge of hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, planning potentially hazardous operations on a daily basis — and also having to attend hour long weekly meetings about whether a t-shirt that says the word “Corona” is acceptable wear under a hi-vis vest for a field worker toiling outside all day … or if he should be dinged in his review.

    Damned if I was going to hang a photo and have them force me to take it down because my wedding dress wasn’t conservative enough and “has the potential to offend someone.”

    Good Luck OP. I covet thy opportunity …

    Reply
  76. Drink the Juice Shelby

    My current office (well, we’re moving spaces so I temporarily brought this stuff home) I had some Funko Pop figures on top of my overhead cabinet. I used to book travel for my old team, so I have a lot of trinkets and magnets from around the world. I have some books related to work stuff, I have an used missile sabot, challenge coins, a nice framed picture, a bunch of lapel pins and last but not least angry Unikitty and business Unikitty Legos.

    I’m probably one you shouldn’t take advice from.

    If you go on Etsy you can find photographs at reasonable prices and pick up a cheap frame for them.

    Reply
  77. Life insurance claims

    I have cats, so I like to take all those little breakable decorative gifts that people get me to my desk at work. I have a photo that my coworker took herself and framed on the wall, a little metal initial of my first name from my friend, a Barnabas bobblehead (yes from Dark Shadows) from mom, a teddy bear from spouse, and a small framed oil painting that my grandmother did. I can’t have this stuff out at home or it will be broken, so it’s nice to be able to display it somewhere.

    Reply
  78. Kara

    Whatever you do, do NOT do what my dad’s receptionist did a few years ago. She liked taking pictures of her kids and displaying them in her office. A lot of pictures. And she would never replace old ones, just add new ones. So when the time came for the office to get remodeled and her pictures had to be taken down, my dad counted how many pictures she had displayed. 241. Not an exaggeration. We knew she had a lot, but seeing the number was ridiculous (she’d seriously be a nominee for a Worst Office Decor list). He purchased her a digital frame and told her that was the only frame she was allowed to have, but she could load as many pictures as she wanted on it. That didn’t go over very well, but she never put up another picture. Smh.

    Reply
  79. Van meunakker

    How about a nice Hieronymous Bosch tryptich. Also have a pointy stick so when asked for an opinion you can just sigh and point at the appropriate panel.

    Reply
  80. Nedra

    I don’t know if anyone has suggested this yet, but IKEA is great for “functional decor” — stuff that looks professional and interesting at the same time. It also has a pretty “safe” look to it — you won’t be making controversial statements with your Swedish folk art cushion.

    Reply
  81. OES

    If you have the wall space for it, a single large image rather than a bunch of small ones creates a big impact and looks very professional. You can go to one of the online poster places and buy something ready made or even upload your own image and have it printed as a poster. But be bold – don’t be afraid to go 36″ (1m) tall. They will also frame it for you – a simple metal frame is not expensive – and I highly recommend asking them to leave off plexiglass if possible. An inexpensive print really pops without plexi and it’s not as if it warrants protection. They will then ship it to your workplace and all you have to do is put a hook on the wall. All of this can be done for well under $200.

    I did this with a photograph I took of a medieval building in Italy, and it’s frankly spectacular.

    Reply
  82. Sarah

    OP, some universities have art loan programs from the university’s collection. You should check into this.

    Reply
  83. Rivakonneva

    We’re not allowed to tack or tape anything to the walls here, so desktop toys are common. I have a stress mini-baseball, a round clay ‘pot’ I made to store paperclips, a tiny Bob Minion, a tiny Robin Hood fox and a “Don’t Panic” sign tapes to my computer monitor. Next up is a zen garden, using a 6″ clay plant saucer I bought at Home Depot and a few rocks. Bob and Robin Hood may stop by to visit it occasionally. :)

    Reply
  84. Marisol

    I don’t see anything wrong with cityscapes, indie-leaning splattered portraits or anime, so long as it is professionally matted and framed, and so long as the subject matter is not taboo for an office. So nothing pornographic, no slasher movie posters, no pre-raphaelite nudity, etc. But if it’s merely funky I think it would be fine (although I guess I’m not quite sure what an “indie-leaning splattered portrait” is so maybe I should caveat that) as long as the presentation is crisp. If you had an original Warhol painting or Lichtchenstein (sp?) cartoon, you’d surely hang that up, so is anime really any different, vibe-wise? I’d say no. And I work for an asset manager, and before that, for attorneys, so I know about conservative office environments. Besides the taboo stuff, the only subject matter I’d avoid is artwork that is overtly cheesy, such as photos with inspirational sayings on them or mass-produced oil prints. Probably the safest subject matter I would say is landscapes. No one can get offended from a view of the forest or beach. But I don’t see anything offensive about off-beat art work per se. The head of our company collects art, and so we have all kinds of modern art from his collection hung up around here. One of our managing directors has a framed map of the L.A. metro system in his office; I guess he finds it inspiring for whatever reason.

    I’m surprised Alison did not suggest that you take your cue from the other offices around you; doing that will surely give you an idea of the norms to follow.

    Reply
  85. Jill

    Just remember, there’s a difference between an office and a living room. Afghans/throws don’t belong there, or couch pillows or anything frou-frou. Also, you’re not a teenager – don’t plaster your walls with objects of your fandom. One or two objects, just for fun or to inspire friendly chitchat with visitors. But not an entire wall full of posters.

    I also like to have one thing that’s a conversation starter. My former boss, Irish-American by birth and a pretty straight-laced conservative politician, had a hookah pipe in his office that stood 3 feet tall on his bookshelf. It was given to him by a Middle Eastern constituent and was sitting in a box until a college intern assembled it before our eyes in, like 3 seconds. It’s unusual ‘cuz it’s not of his ancestry and there’s a fun story to its assembly. I have a picture of La Gere Montparnase in my office – you’d know it – a famous train that crashed off an upper railway. I’m in public education so, nothing to do with trains, so it’s eye catching when people come in and makes for fun conversation when I share the history of the photo.

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  86. Biscuits McGee

    I am just fascinated about this subject, as I have never “decorated” an office. I never knew that it was a big deal, nor has anyone expressed to me that it was and I have been at my current job 3 1/2 years. There is a poster hanging, but the department assistant changes them out once in a while.

    I have absolutely no personal pictures, no personal objects, nothing. I just view work as work. I do not make friends at my job, I do not socialize with others. No one at my job is on any of my social media accounts and when someone requests, I block them and telling them in person that is not personal, I just keep my work life and my home life very separate. No one from my family is welcome at my job either, no one at my job has every met my husband or my son. The only time my husband met me at work was on my last day at previous company.

    I don’t know, I just find a danger in becoming too “comfortable” at a job. If I were to be let go, every personal object I have at work would fit in one pocket. There is nothing sadder than when someone is let go, than that box of belongings one has as they leave. I take great pride if I was asked to go, I could just get up and leave.

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  87. HS

    I so feel the OP here! I’ve been in my office 2 years now. I have a digital photo frame, a figurine thingy related to my work, a small plant, and a cute mug. I even had my office painted so it’s a nicer color than the original color. My office overlooks a public service area, and I want to be careful about what I eventually hang (if I ever find something I like well enough to invest in). But people walk in and seem to think that because I have no art on the wall, I’m not going to stay long. I had no art on my walls in my last office and I was there 9 years… It’s weird, is what it is.

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