let’s talk about drama over office supplies

One of my favorite types of office drama is drama over really small things — like the 18-month coffee debate or people who get really territorial about office supplies. Some of what we’ve heard about the latter over the years:

  • “I have to order three different kinds of paper towels because people prefer certain ones (and we have different dispensers for each in the bathrooms and kitchens). Once, ONCE, I tried to streamline it and only order one kind of paper towel. You’d have thought I slaughtered their loved ones in front of them. So now I’m back to ordering three varieties of paper towels.”
  • “On one hand, I can understand because people can be nutty when they get something for nothing but I’ve also worked places where the supplies-under-lock-and-key thing was taken waaaay too far. The worst place was where you had to trade in an old, used up supply to get a new one. It bordered on childish – you had to show that the pen was out of ink. I actually had a coworker refused a new pencil because the old one was ‘long enough’ according to the Guardian of The Supplies ™. It’s a pencil, people, really!”
  • “I used to work in an office that decided they wasted too much of their budget on office supplies, so they announced they were going to completely stop buying paperclips. After that, paperclips became like some sort of prison currency. People would hoard them, and give them out in exchange for favors.”

So let’s discuss office supply drama — people who are unreasonably upset when they can’t get the exact supply they want, supply hoarders, the time you lost your mind over a Post-It shortage, or any drama over supplies whatsoever. Share in the comments.

{ 1,432 comments… read them below }

  1. FisherCat*

    Trading supplies! For whatever reason, supplies at my workplace are kept in a closed that can only be unlocked by supervisors.

    Since none of us want to get a supervisor everytime we need something, we will strike comical bargains. Like, “Hey, FC, do you have any staples? I’m out”; “Sure, I’ll trade you for four pushpins”

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Ours are locked in a closet as well. But the only reason the closet is locked is because it’s also where the extra tubs of sanitizing wipes are stored – and at the beginning of Covid we had some people taking baggies of wipes home because you couldn’t find them in stores……

      1. FisherCat*

        Ours are locked because its a government office, and the powers that be think bureaucrats love to steal office supplies, I guess.

        Ah well, we are entertained by our office supply trading.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Lol – government office as well, but I guess they trusted us till the great “cleaning wipe thefts” of 2020.

        2. Echo*

          When I interned for a government-funded program, there was no more than the bare minimum of office supplies–the implication was that Americans didn’t want their hard-earned tax money going to frivolous luxuries like different-colored highlighters, I guess…

          1. Jane*

            When I worked for a government office many low level managers supplied their offices with pencils and batteries and such the way school teachers do; as the process of ordering them was so time consuming and challenging that the entire office would come to a stand-still over the need for a AA battery if they didn’t.

            These were people making less than a living wage in a major city.

            1. never mind where I work*

              Where I work, I find it easier to buy some esoteric supplies myself rather than going through the procurement process. And if a few ordinary supplies go missing, well, never mind, it all evens out in the end. I mentioned it to the person who is now the president of my organization, who said he was fine with it as long as he didn’t know about it. I love my job.

            2. Kristina*

              A friend of mine was told by a new manager that they could only have sharpies in one colour, all these many-coloured supplies were just wasteful. He obeyed, and then shut down his whole department for security reasons – the different colours were used to mark different types of explosives…
              It’s kind of a good plan to understand the work you’re managing.

          2. Catalin*

            There is a HUGE difference between a corporate office and government office. HUGE. I used to order supplies for a medical administration type office and I was told to just order anything anyone in our department asked for. ANYTHING. Flower-shaped posties in rainbow colors? Ordered. Four kinds of coffee? Do it. Purple pens? Sure.
            Then I spent almost a decade in a government office, where everything had to be super baseline, minimal and supplies were locked up. The supplies people were told that if someone wants a pen, they get A PEN. Not two. Not 3. NOPE. ONE PEN.

            1. Nona*

              So true! At the start of the pandemic I was working for a state university. A few months into the pandemic I asked them to buy me a web camera and some headphones *from my own project funds*. It took weeks to organise, with multiple levels of approval required, and I had to write detailed justifications for why I needed them, including both why I needed them now, but also why I’d need them once we’re back in the office since remote work would be temporary. They flat-out refused to buy me headphones, and insisted on buying the cheapest camera they could find despite it having awful reviews (at this point the salary cost of all the time spent emailing back and forward would have been multiple-times the cost of the <$50 camera). As predicted by the reviews, the camera broke after 2 months. Now I use one that my husband fished out of the trash at his corporate office.

              1. KatieP*

                I work for a state university, and our IT group was handing-out cameras and microphones like candy at Halloween! When we ran out, that was another story. Sourcing new ones turned into the most bizarre scavenger hunt I’ve ever participated in.

              2. katkat*

                Hahaa, Im not from the US, so many things are different. But I changed jobs during the summer and started to work for a major (in my country), private health-care provider which is rapidly expanding. I travel a lot for my work, and so I was given laptop, mobile, ipad etc. Then I noticed there is no headphones and asked for them. My manager looked at me as if I had personally insulted her and said: “no. we dont give them to just anyone.” She was not kidding. :D

                1. Dutchie*

                  Let me get this clear: they provided you with hundreds of dollars/euro’s/pounds of equipment but could not spare 50 bucks for a pair of good headphones?

                2. katkat*

                  Thats right! I was quite shocked myself :D And it does tell a wider picture on how they operate….

                3. lb*

                  as weird as it sounds, i kind of understand the logic*? headphones are more likely to need replacing & they don’t want to pay multiple times, so you have to be very responsible to be granted that privilege!

                  *understand, not agree, just so we’re clear!

              3. AG*

                I very well know the atmosphere of “no taxpayer’s dollar wasted, no matter what it costs”…

            2. Rachel in NYC*

              I laugh at the idea of only 4 kinds of coffee.

              We’re still in stock by up mode so we only have 2 kinds of coffee for our office keurig and half a dozen for our nespresso machine.

              I got a- “this is all we have?”

              No one is here more than 2 days a week…how much coffee do you need?

              1. TardyTardis*

                Whoever stocked the kitchen was tired of the arguments over the sweeteners (pink blue yellow), and so decided to stock only the yellow and actual sugar (I bought myself a box of the pink to save me serious hours of whining over not quite liking the taste. Yay Dollar Tree!).

                1. Miller_Admin*

                  I work in higher education. I was placing an order for 6 pairs scissors and scotch tape for our classrooms. My former department chair asked why they wanted them. My response, “the students break them and they are carried off.” I had not ordered scissors for awhile. Department Chair’s response, “They should keep better track of them.” Purchase Request was denied. This is an Art program. Was so happy when she stepped down.

            3. Amaranth*

              Until the end of FY when SPEND IT ALL becomes the mantra, because if you don’t spend the allocated budget, they will cut it next year. Fantastic incentives for thrift.

              I did have a pretty nice supply budget, actually, but had to make sure that I kept an emergency stash of a few items. Someone would inevitably take the entire supply of pens and paper instead of ordering ahead for a meeting or project right before the department head needed some.

              1. calonkat*

                Meeting materials are almost all digital now and available online, but oh, the binder wars in the old days. No matter how many times we told people that it took months to order supplies (state government) and get them in, we’d have people just assuming that rules didn’t apply to THEM. So we had entire storage cabinets full of binders and if more were needed at the last minute, there would be a scramble looking for matching binders that didn’t have marks or stickers. When someone left, we’d carefully save any binders that could reasonably be reused too! Fun times!

            4. BlueKazoo*

              This. At my biglaw job they’d get you pretty much anything. Only time they drew a line was when some people complained that other firms were gifting associates iPads for personal use at year end. Our chair said that the firm was using its money to match up to $1,000 in charitable contributions per associate. And that we made enough money to buy iPads if we wanted them that much. Which was totally true.

            5. Anon Supervisor*

              Not that I think it’s reasonable that you only get one pen at work, but there was a lady I worked with that must have used a different pen for every week she worked there (she was with us for over 10 years). I couldn’t believe the sheer volume of pens in her desk.

              Anyway, I started out working in a medical office, and Viagra pens were extremely prized.

          3. Dragon_Dreamer*

            They could always indulge in what I once saw at my college bookstore: Aromatherapy scented highlighters! And yes, I bought them, for shiggles. ;) I learned quickly to hide them, as people would always be reluctant to give them back!

              1. Dragon_dreamer*

                They were Highlighter brand, actually! I haven’t seen them again in years, I bought them in 2003.

              1. often trapped under a cat*

                +1

                I remember that trend and it was awful for anyone with sensitivity to scents.

          4. MsChanandlerBong*

            Reminds me of when Jack Donaghy went to Washington and found out Cooter and company had been working without pens.

            Jack Donaghy : Do you need a pen?
            Cooter Burger : Nope. I’ve kind of gotten used to it.
            Jack Donaghy : You don’t have pens?
            Cooter Burger : We’re not in a recession.

        3. too many too soon*

          Love this rationale. State worker here, and if y’alls trust me enough to give me keys to multiple buildings and the alarm code, pretty sure I’m good with office supplies too.

          1. no phone calls, please*

            Nah, all that access is THE reason you can’t have access to the office supplies! We all know you just wanted to raid the supply closet during off hours and sell it all on the black market!! We’re onto you @too many too soon!

          2. MissBaudelaire*

            My mother worked for a supply chain for a very large hospital. Doctors with access to all kinds of medical information and fancy medical equipment had to ask secretaries to request things like–pens… pencils… paperclips…

            I was baffled. Was there a black market for pens? Were they taking boxes and building forts in their offices? She did tell me there waaas a shortage of pens and pencils around back to school time, and cellophane tape always went up missing during Christmas time. Still though, it flipping pens and pencils.

            1. DrMM*

              I work at a hospital and pens are ALWAYS in short supply. A lot go home with patients and their families and a lot end up accidentally going home with employees too. I always have at least one pen in my scrubs pocket (frequently more) and they end up going home with me. About once a month I gather up all the pens that have gone home with me and take them back. I think I had over 25 one time. Oops.

              1. Zelda*

                There are Two Types of People in This World: pen losers and pen gainers. I’m a pen loser; I tend to just lay them down any old where while my thoughts are on other things, and forget all about it. Like a squirrel burying acorns in the fall. Sounds like you’re a pen gainer.

                1. TardyTardis*

                  I usually buy one of those five-six dollar boxes at Staples of the cheapie blue pens. It takes me about three years to lose them all.

              2. coldfingers*

                At one point I had a series of appointments with my doctor that were the first appointment of the day. It was a pretty laid back office, and he actually saw me before the rest of his staff came in. More than once he came in with a handfuls of pens and ran around distributing them to different cups around the office before he started my visit. Apparently his staff was accusing him of taking pens home in his pockets. He had vehemently denied it, and so was sneaking the pens back in to avoid getting caught.

                1. MissBaudelaire*

                  I’m dying. I do work in healthcare myself (although the pen situation was never so tight). I can picture one doctor doing this.

                  “Shhh, they can never know.”

        4. Red 5*

          Ours are technically locked for the same reason, but we have a guy who basically sits at the door of the room they’re in and doesn’t really question you when you’re like “I need ten boxes of envelopes.”

          He is usually amused by the fact that I’m one of the only people who will regularly show up with things to drop off instead of requests because I’ve been cleaning again and realized we had ten boxes of envelopes.

        5. GreenDoor*

          This is no joke. I, too, work in a government office where we keep our supplies in locked cabinets. Why? Becuase 17 years ago, a council member (a part-time position, mind you) came in and basically went shopping in our cabinets. They got voted out the next year, but we have never gone back to an unlocked cabinet since out of….fear?

          1. MelMc*

            This is the same as the university where I work. The supplies were in a locked room for decades because of one part time instructor who would empty the closet every time she got the chance. She was bold enough to back a truck up to the building to try to steal a desk and bookcase as well. Her stated reasoning was that the university owed her an entire home office since they wouldn’t give her an on-site office for the one class she taught a year.

        6. DustyJ*

          Worked in a library where the stationery cupboard was locked, and one would have to ask nicely for a pen … and even then the Librarian-In-Charge only issued red pens.

          Red pens are useless for government forms, nothing filled in with red ink or pencil is recognised as ‘official,’ so the red pens were useless. She did have black pens, but she refused to allow anyone but herself to use them! So we depended on donations of pens from the general public.

          We also occasionally had bring-your-own-toilet-paper-to-work weeks, when she forgot to order supplies. It was so frustrating to work with her!

      2. RedinSC*

        OMG! At the beginning of COVID someone stole all of our toilet paper. I work for a non profit that needed to remain open, and we lost all of our TP! Then TP then had to be locked in a closet and only a janitorial staff person could access it.

        1. Alli*

          I was furloughed at the beginning of covid, and my office was closed. I admit. I stole the TP. If they could cut me out without health insurance or an income during the beginning of a global pandemic living in a state that had the highest death rate during the early months, they could spare 6 rolls of one-ply. I truly have no regrets.

        2. Turtle*

          I didn’t steal any, or plan to, but I thought if it got really bad I could come in and USE it. Also thought about the fully stocked vending machines in case their was a run on the stores or something. LOL.

        3. Been There*

          My first job had the TP locked away as well because it got stolen, and this was before covid… They also charged 20 cents for coffee, when it was free for people working in the head office.

          1. 1idea*

            I worked at an engineering company that had merged with a local manufacturer. We had a soda fridge stocked by the company, unlimited coffee and tea, gum, free access to supplies, and never any problems. The office attached to the manufacturing had only basic coffee that the receptionist would make, and not all day, and all supplies locked up because they would otherwise be regularly cleared out by employees who felt they deserved a little extra. It was sometimes an awkward cultural dynamic and I think it causes some tension with the merged leadership, but our people felt it was necessary to keep up the perks to attract and retain the types of engineers they wanted – and we never had a problem holding on to stock like the other location.

        4. Momma Bear*

          With the current TikTok trend of stealing soap and whatnot from school bathrooms, multiple schools have had to lock down and limit use.

        5. Elizabeth West*

          I could definitely see this happening at Exjob. The cleaning supplies closet was always locked but on the rare occasions I walked by when it was open, I could see shelves of lovely paper towels and toilet paper and wipes. It was tempting to yoink it even when there wasn’t a pandemic!

        6. BlueKazoo*

          I know people who would take home a roll lr two once in awhile when work was so crazy they legit didn’t have time to go to the store. And delivery wasn’t easy to coordinate with unpredictable schedules. I felt that this was pretty fair considering the circumstances. I probably would have done the same with the pandemic shortages if I still worked there. No time to go check ten stores.

          1. often trapped under a cat*

            At one place I worked, they used rolls without the cardboard core (which was cool) and the cleaning staff would often remove used rolls from dispensers while there was still a fair amount of toilet tissue available…but not enough to get through a full day.

            These partial rolls were stored in an unlocked cupboard in one restroom. During my daughter’s early years, when my budget was really tight, I regularly pilfered a few rolls at a time, without making an apparent dent in the supply. Yeah, I was just saving a few bucks, but sometimes those few bucks meant I could pay the school lunch bill that month.

        7. CatMintCat*

          I work in a small school and, on a normal day, there are around 100 people using the facilities and, presumably, the toilet paper. When we all went home, whoever is in charge of supplying such things kept sending the normal amount. After two weeks, the boss was begging us to come and take some home, before the entire school was taken over by cartons of toilet paper.

        1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

          I once had an office manager who would make you “sign out” Post-Its. As in, you’d have to return it at the end of day. This was the private sector. She was also in charge of email credentials and wouldn’t tell me my own password for weeks. Her stance was “I already signed you in on your laptop.”

          1. infosec*

            The idea that this meant your laptop was unlocked for weeks horrifies me to my core. Better hope you trust the cleaning folks, any random passers-by… Hell, if it were stolen the thief would have whatever they wanted.

            1. Rosalind Franklin*

              I worked at a biotech place where it was a game to try and find unlocked sources of IP – if your computer was unlocked, someone was going to use your email to send the corporate lawyer an email with their name in the subject line. That person got a small bonus, and you got to talk to the lawyer about why you didn’t think the company IP was valuable enough to protect. Leave your lab notebook out? Have fun retrieving it from the lawyer’s office.

              I am very into locking my computer to this day!

              1. Momma Bear*

                Old company did similar with chip access cards. If the boss found your card left at your desk, you would have to go to their office and explain why you left your computer vulnerable before you got your card back.

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  My company does that too.
                  Only time I’ve ever seen a person get a pass was because they went running to the restroom with their face hurried in a trash can while throwing up. They were actually praised for being able to lock the computer and grab the trash can before getting sick.

                2. Jessica Ganschen*

                  When I was in the Air Force, anyone in our shop who left their CAC (Common Access Card, ID with chip for accessing various systems) in a keyboard or lying on their desk when they went to lunch got a talking to. People who failed to learn a lesson from this the first time or two were liable to come back and find that it had been frozen in a block of ice.

              2. OyHiOh*

                A theater organization I once worked for would do this with costumes and props. Now, to be fair part of the organization’s explicit mission is training students for careers in theater. Also, the building is small and out of place items create hazards quickly. So the directors and staff would poke around after a show to see that costumes were hung and that props had made it back to the prop rack. Things left lying out tended to disappear. Students who had somehow not learned to put their things away (despite reminders in classes and reminders throughout tech week) could occasionally be heard running around asking if anyone knew were X was. If not found, they had to go metaphorically hat in hand to the director and account for their mistakes.

                Third graders in the junior productions basically got a pat on the head and an assistant would be told to keep an eye out to make sure the kids took care of their costumes/props. Young college something’s who’d done a few years of shows got a professional talking to, since it was expected they really did know better.

              3. Karo*

                My old company had a very strict locking policy because the company at large dealt with PII (though my department didn’t have access to it). Still, anytime someone left their computer unlocked and stepped away, everyone in the department would get a long email about how they’d pay for lunch or how much they love cats and how upsetting it is that you can’t hug every single one of them.

                1. Rufus Bumblesplat*

                  To be fair, I do love cats and wish I could hug them all so that email would be accurate for me…

            1. Rachel in NYC*

              I want to know if you had to return used post-it notes.

              …and did they keep a record of Elsa hasn’t return 7 yellow post-it notes. Kristoff hasn’t returned 4 yellow post-it notes, 6 blue post-it notes and 2 pink post-it notes. Sven hasn’t returned 15 flower shaped post-it notes.

              and once a month was there a meeting where they announced who hadn’t returned what post it notes?

          1. Koalafied*

            If I worked in such an environment I’d get a kick out of bringing in some kind of cheap but frivolous item and turning it into a status marker. Like colorful disposable straws, maybe. Of course, I’d have to keep them in a canister with a sign reading “THESE STRAWS ARE PRIVATE PROPERTY. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.” to make their value clear to others.

          2. Artemesia*

            I worked at a university where the President used blue carbons; it was like if you got a blue carbon in the mail the heavens would sing or something and his long time AA was very jealous of his status perks. The University merged with a small college which became one of the schools of the university and the new Dean of that college discovered a closet full of carbon supplies when he moved into his office. He was very frugal (the kind of guy who would take you for lunch and use a coupon) and so he told his AA to use up this excess of carbon sets —- THEY WERE BLUE. It was immediately assumed to be some sort of coup attempt or at least dis of the noble leader, the only one allowed to have blue carbons. One of the dumbest kerfuffles I have ever observed in the workplace. The new Dean of course was NEW and had no idea that anyone gave a rat’s azz about the color of carbon sets.

            1. Joie De Vivre*

              Can someone explain what blue carbons in an office are? I googled it & came up with carbon removed by ocean ecosystems.

              It is copy paper?

              1. EngineerGal*

                Carbon paper used when typing on a typewriter-you put in multiple sheets of paper with carbon sheets in between so you have copies of what was typed. Before photocopiers were around this was how you had copies of memos etc

                Usually carbon paper was black leaving dark gray print-blue was unusual.

              2. Mitford*

                I worked in a university office years ago where you had carbon sets where you could make three copies of things at a time. Each copies was on a different colored paper. Yellow carbons were sent to accounting, blue carbons were sent to the dean, green carbons were the office’s file copies. Individual carbon sets could just be blue, or yellow, or green. That’s what I thought of when I heard blue carbons.

          3. LittleMarshmallow*

            I’m not allowed to have the “super sticky” post it notes at work because I put them on paper things and then the paper rips and it brings shame on my me, my family, and my cow. :/

          4. Adultiest Adult*

            We just had the post-it note conversation at my office and I flat out told the junior staff that I buy my own. Same with pens. I started my career in an extremely underfunded clinic, and the only things issued to you were a giant metal desk, a chair for you and the client, and a phone straight out of 1983. Anything else you want, you buy yourself. This office is a little nicer, but I do chuckle about the fact that the VP’s austerity budget of a few years ago meant that we could no longer order plastic cutlery for the break room. Plastic forks were going to save the company! You guessed it… I started buying my own and have a box of forks and spoons in my bottom desk drawer to this day. (The cutlery made a quiet reappearance just before Covid, though I guess as a concession we started getting the flimsiest kind!) I don’t know what I would do if I worked in an office where basic supplies were just…supplied!

            1. Silence Will Fall*

              I moved from nonprofit to the private sector a few years ago. There is a supply room on each floor of the building. When I had the tour on my first day, I about died looking at 8 different kinds of pens(!), multiple sizes/colors of post-its(!), endless reams of copy paper(!!!). Then, my colleague mentioned that if there was anything missing or if I needed anything else, I could just message the supply room and they’d bring it up/order it. A few days later, I wandered down to the supply room in need of a shipping supplies. It was like a Staples down there! I’m still not convinced that I didn’t actually die and go to office supply heaven.

        2. Susie Q*

          Our owner hates Post-It notes and forbids us from purchasing them with company money. We got into a partnership with the 3M and one of the giveaways was Post-It notes. You would have thought we won the lottery with the way the staff reacted to having Post-It notes.

          1. Tazzy*

            I was briefly the receptionist for this scatterbrained doctor that tried to join our practice. She scolded me for putting “important information” “willy nilly” inside a chart where it could fall out…. it was the name, appointment time, and what they were there for. Not something that needed to be written down in my handwriting, and was truly just there to help her.

          2. Dutchie*

            What is there to hate about post-it notes?

            (I also find it hilarious that exactly your company ended up in a partnership with 3M.)

            1. Dorothy*

              I hate them, they go missing or end up stuck on the wrong document. Usually it makes more sense to write directly on the document. My biggest pet peeve is staff using them to write down a customer’s credit card number. Because I then find the stupid thing stuck to my shoe, or on a random piece of paper on the counter.

              I actually staple them to things when I use them, just to avoid them going astray. Maybe if we partnered with 3M I’d have better quality stickies and this wouldn’t be a problem, but ours always seem to wander all over the office.

              1. Ralkana*

                My office staff puts information on post-its on packing slips and then sends it out into the yard. It disappears before they reach me for billing and then I have to track people down and ask what happened and why they didn’t write the important info on the shipper.

                “Well, I put it on a sticky note!”

                Augh, just write it on the shipper!

                1. Kristina*

                  We used post-it notes for the interminable SWOT exercises aimed at a)proving my field is not an important one and b)teaching us to audition for approval from other, more important fields. After few years doing this, I think I have a genuine case of PTSD triggered by post-it notes up on a wall – I will leave the room at that point to have a quiet panic attack somewhere else.

              2. Anonomatopoeia*

                So, a reason TO write down the CC number on a sticky is that then you can easily separate the sticky from the other identifying information, making it harder for someone looking in the trash to have everything they need to head to Amazon and order seventeen adult llamas to be rush shipped to Botswana and dressed in cute purple sailor suits. *shrug*

            2. Susie Q*

              Dutchie- I don’t know why people hate Post-Its so much. And yes, it is hilarious that we have a partnership with 3M. When the Development Director told me, I just cackled with laughter and asked him if he knew that 3M made Post-Its. He did not.

              To be honest, they have other great items we receive- bandages that stick well, sunglasses that the landscape crew loves, good laminating sheets, great packaging tape, etc.

              1. KateM*

                I keep reading “bandanas that stick well” and thinking “them making sticky notes doesn’t mean everything has to stick!”.

      3. Krabby*

        My mom works in a lab that deals with toxic chemicals. They have N95s they need to wear while handling said chemicals. At the beginning of Covid my mom walked in on one of the volunteers from another lab in the building clearing out the cabinet where they kept all of their N95s.

        Apparently the volunteer’s lab manager had realized that they were out of them and asked her to go from lab to lab grabbing everyone else’s N95s. The volunteer had no idea she wasn’t allowed to do that. The lab manager got in a lot of trouble and everyone locked up their supplies after that.

      4. TootsNYC*

        At the beginning of COVID, when PPE was in short supply, there were quotes reported in the media saying that hospital staff (nurses, RTs, housekeeping–everyone) was taking them home. Cue outrage from nursing organizations, etc.

        But a relative of mine supplied my in-laws, her parents, and her other family members with boxes of surgical masks she brought home from the hospital.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          About six months before I moved to CurrentCity, I saw a clearance stand filled with small boxes of surgical masks near the pharmacy at Walmart. I bought two, thinking I’d keep them in my emergency kit in case of dust or smoke. So I had some masks when the whole thing began.

          I’ll never be without them again. Nev. Er.

          1. Crooked Bird*

            We had a box of masks because my very health-conscious mother-in-law had sent them to us in case we wanted to use them for traveling. Very much prepandemic, they’d sat unused for a year. I felt they were a very silly item to have on our shelf.

            Ha.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              We had some N95 masks because my SO enjoys woodworking, & they’re a common safety supply for people who don’t enjoy breathing sawdust particles.

      5. womanaroundtown*

        I also work for the government, in a health-adjacent agency. When Covid hit mid-March, I went to a meeting at one of the main health department offices, and my coworker pulled me into a back room to excitedly show me the GIANT, MILTARY-GRADE trunk that the state government sent over. It’s locked with a basic padlock, but only she has the key. So she’s asking me what I think is in it (she already knows), and I have no clue what could be so secretive and important. She ceremoniously opens the trunk, throws back the lid, and reveals… two boxes of masks, one tube of Clorox wipes, and a box of plastic gloves. Just sitting in the bottom of this (mostly empty) giant, military-grade trunk.

    2. OhNoYouDidn't*

      Oh my. I think I’d organize a rebellion to encourage everyone to constantly go to supervisors asking for supplies hoping the supervisors would become sick of it, they’d change the policy. Officer workers unite!

      1. FisherCat*

        I wish this would work!! But, no, government drones having more than the basics is obviously waste & abuse of funds [sarcasm] (I just buy a lot of my own supplies):

        1. Sara without an H*

          I used to buy my own pens when I worked for one of the State Universities of New York. The state issued pens were…pretty basic and didn’t work well. Rumor had it that they were made by prisoners who were mad at society.

          1. Artemesia*

            for a long time my workplace bought pens kind of like those in hotel rooms i.e. created to write a couple of hundred words max and then run out of ink. It had to cost them more to replace them than to buy decent pens in the first place.

            1. Pennyworth*

              My bank used to have heaps of branded pens like that. I couldn’t understand why they wanted people to take home pens advertising the bank if they were just going to end up in the trash days later. Such a waste to manufacture a pen and deliberately put a tiny amount of ink in it.

            2. FisherCat*

              No clue if its factual, but I’m told that prison labor/inmates enjoying a small laugh at the Suits’ expense is why the supposedly locking drawers of our office furniture rarely-to-never match with the keys sent with them.

              I don’t have cause to lock my desk anyway so I choose to believe and appreciate this petty revenge.

          2. Elitist Semicolon*

            A fair bit of the office furniture that my uni purchases is made by prison labor. When I took my current job and was offered me new furniture, I refused to go through that contract and instead asked my department to order via an actual retailer. Much better.

            We also have approved vendors that we have to use for office supplies, which means that the options for any individual item are limited. I brought in a multi-colored pack of Stabilo pens and one of my (now former) colleagues pitched a fit after seeing me use one in a meeting because she thought the manager had managed to order them special for me and not told anyone else. The manager had to explain, no, Semicolon paid for those herself and brought them in. This colleague did the same with my laptop stand, now that I think about it…

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              Dang people get upset about stuff. I always brought my own pen and notepad to the hospital I worked at. But it was kind of obvious my pen with the fuzzy llama topper and the notepad with the kitty cats were probably not supplied by my company.

          3. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            I’m at a state university as well, and I think the only pens we have are the ones we get from vendors. At least they usually have nice pens!

            1. Manders*

              I work at a state university and it’s against the rules to accept pens from vendors! Also when we order from whatever vendor we are using that fiscal year for office supplies, you need to log in to see what you can actually purchase – much is limited by our university.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I used to work in a place that locked up the office supplies in the most complicated system I’ve ever heard of. The key to the supply cupboard was in a locked key box. The key to the key box was locked in the safe. Only a handful of people in the office had the combination to the safe, so if you ran out of staples you had to find a person with safe access. Then that person had to open the safe, get the key to the key box, lock the safe, open the key box, get the key to the supply cupboard, lock the key box, open the supply cupboard, take out a box of staples, lock the supply cupboard, open the key box, return the supply cupboard key, lock the key box, open the safe, return the key box key, and lock the safe.

      I started bringing my own pens from home because it was exhausting.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          The best part is that this system annoyed the crap out of my manager, but it never occurred to her that as the manager she was in charge of the building and could change the key system if she wanted to.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        You left out the logbook and request forms – in triplicate for audit purposes – that were, of course, locked up in a different location with a lock that a completely different set of people had access to.

      2. mrs__peel*

        I want to see an “Ocean’s Eleven”-style film where a crack team of professional thieves assembles to steal the office supply key.

    4. Anon9*

      I work on a federal government site but am a contractor. We have contractor supply closets and civil servant supply closets and both are locked and you have to get your admin to let you in so you don’t take from the wrong supply closet. God forbid I use a pen bought by the federal government instead of one bought by my company using contract funds from… the federal government.

  2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    If an office refused to give me paper clips, staples, etc. they would get stacks of uneven, unorganized paper. If you don’t give me the resources I need to do my job you get what you get!

    1. Rachel in NYC*

      If anyone needs paperclips, I’m pretty sure my office would be happy to fedex overnight to you. I’m pretty sure we’re confused about why we have so many. We use binder clips by the boatload…or rather we used to…before there was a pandemic…which forced us to go paperless and we aren’t going back.

      But yeah. we’re swimming in a rainbow of folders, paperclips and binder clips that we will probably never use now.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        In our office it was rubber bands. We have tons of bags of rubber bands, most of which are so aged they break if you ever attempt to use them.

        1. FD*

          I secretly threw away every rubber band in our office because they were all perished. No one has asked for more to be purchased in the time since.

            1. kicking-k*

              The archivists of the world thank you. Removing fossilised rubber bands is our second least favourite thing. I think rusty staples are JUST worse.

                1. kicking-k*

                  I’ve seen them in situ from time to time. Usually I still have to remove them, though they don’t rust, as any staples make scanning tricky. And they’re usually thicker than the steel type.

        2. Ama*

          I worked at a relatively new grad school for a while (it was three years old when I was hired). Whoever had done the initial supply order had for some reason ordered about 4 dozen of those boxes of 1000 rubber bands. Academics aren’t really big rubber band users — we could have easily managed solely with the rubberbands I collected off of the mail delivery which I used to make a rubber band ball at my desk (that thing was bigger than a softball by the time I left). We also had reams of ledger size paper which only got used during budget season (and even then we probably used no more than two dozen pages or so).

          However the bulk supply orderer also ordered four dozen 1 liter bottles of hand sanitizer which I have to imagine probably finally got used up this past year.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            We had a manager who did something similar. Guy ordered 50,000 pairs of nitrile gloves at the start of covid.

            We have a total of 30 employees, and half of us already wear a different kind of glove for non-covid safety reasons. The rest don’t have a need to wear gloves at all for 90% of what they do. Two years down the road, we still have more than half the gloves left.

          2. NotYourCanteenLady*

            I worked at a company that gave out milk to drink at the workplace. It worked fine for years. Suddenly, late and night shifts started to complain there was never enough supply. Procurement did a survey who wanted how much, and ordered according to order. Same thing again. An email was send out to explain it was for workplace consumption only, and bringing it home was stealing. Suddenly, we had huge amounts of leftover milk, seems like we have been supplying whole families before. And don’t even get me started on how much ugly cheap canteen cutlery disappeared over time….

            1. University tales*

              Re the cheap canteen cutlery.

              At most Australian universities in the 1980s, the cafeterias were run by the student unions.

              At one university, the union saved thousands of dollars a year by switching to plastic cutlery.

              Because the metal cutlery had a habit of disappearing at the start of each semester, when students were setting up share houses.

          3. DesertRose*

            I worked a temp job for a public utility, and part of my job was ordering the office supplies. The only even slightly pain-in-the-neck part of it was asking the manager to come input the company credit card for payment.

            But here is my mistake.

            I had gone to my coworkers asking if they needed anything, and I’m merrily placing the order. One of the items I ordered was note pads (the little 5″ x 8″ kind, because we all used them to make notes at our desks). I thought I was ordering 12 of them, which is a reasonable supply of notepads for the department of four or five people.

            No, ya girl ordered 12 packages of notepads; each package had 12 notepads, so we got 144 notepads.

            The manager just laughed and told me to put them in the supply closet (actually a vacant cubicle) and they’d get used eventually (which is true).

            1. Mid*

              My office of 9 people orders 144 of those small notepads at a time, because people go through them like those mini pages are the only thing between them and salvation. It’s truly impressive.

          4. Asenath*

            For some reason, one (or more) of my co-workers used to take the rubber bands from the mail deliveries, and put them around a pencil holder until there were so many there it looked like a rather odd Michelin tire man. Some of them must have been ancient – the few times I tried to use one, it snapped immediately, so I did what everyone else did and got some from the supply closet right across the hall. Our supply closet was unlocked, well-stocked, and with a “leave a note” system if you noticed anything was running low or wanted something ordered. It must have been unique.

            1. Lady_Lessa*

              Our supply room is unlocked. The only difference, rather than leaving a note, we should go across the hall and tell purchasing. (We are a small company, so we have 1 in purchasing,)

          5. After 33 years ...*

            We once had a visit from an academic speaker whose passion was collecting rubber bands. Our supply of hundreds of bands of different styles and colours found a good home!

          6. All the words*

            Sometimes *cases* of an item get ordered or delivered instead of *units*. Oh, you want 10 pads of paper? Here’s 100. You’re welcome.

        3. Been There Done That*

          Just last week I opened a box of staples and they were all rusted. How long had those been around? Of course, this is at a nonprofit and quite often we operate on the “oh my gosh, we might need that some day, so don’t through it away” philosophy.

        4. Rachel in NYC*

          So many (and in every size) but I don’t trust if I made all the rubber bands disappear someone wouldn’t decide that “we’re out of rubberbands and need more.”

          however, my office’s tendency to never get rid of things until I’m “why the heck do we have this” is why nieces have an adding machine to play with.

        5. Elizabeth West*

          We used long rubber bands around file folders with wood finish samples in them at my old job. They often ended up as missiles during rubber band fights.

      2. Johnny Karate*

        If you really don’t need them anymore, a local school/teacher might be happy to take them. Most districts don’t provide those for teachers, and I know I never have enough folders.

        1. IndustriousLabRat*

          Yup. My best friend is a public school art teacher in a chronically under-funded district. She has to do multiple fundraisers annually to keep even basic supplies stocked up. I often end up with expired certified test tapes for coating adhesion evaluation; once they are past their use-by date, they can’t even be on the shop floor, so off they go! And with certs, these tapes are as much as $75/roll (3M#250… this stuff looks like regular masking tape, but is comparable to Gorilla tape in terms of its awesome adhesion power!). Support your local teachers!

          1. Ppmarigolds*

            Wait. Is the tape part related to your teacher friend? Is she giving you the tape? Are you donating the tape? Or was this just two badass stories sort of superimposed? I’m with you here, I’m just curious about the narrative I’m trying to follow, and the tape part. :D

      3. FricketyFrack*

        I worked for a government department of, I don’t know, maybe 300 people? The divisions were spread across a couple of different buildings, and smaller groups had their own supplies. When we moved to one building, there were two supply rooms, one on each floor, and we combined everything before the move to figure out what the department actually had on hand. Turns out, we had enough paperclips that we estimated we wouldn’t need to buy more for roughly 10 years. The rest of our supplies weren’t quite so out of control, but I’m guessing no one needed to order any of the basic stuff for at least a year.

        1. PhyllisB*

          When I was a teenager, my grandparents had a friend who worked at a paper mill. He brought them one of the spools of toilet paper that individual rolls were spun into. (I know this is not proper lingo, but you know what I mean,) That roll was HUGE!! They set it by the toilet and everyone who came to the house was like ???!!! They didn’t have to buy TP for years.

          1. PhyllisB*

            Not about office supplies but: my dad was a packrat/hoarder. An organized one, but…when he died and I was cleaning out his house I found TONS of packets of sugar, salt, pepper, ketchup, ect. (He was hospitalized a lot and saved things from his tray.) Well, the hoarder doesn’t fall far from the tree, so I took at the salt, pepper, and sugar (threw out the other condiments.) I opened those little packs and put them in canisters and shakers and such. I didn’t have to buy sugar for over a year and had enough salt and pepper for almost 6 months.

          2. KateM*

            So, they enough room next to the toilet for years’ worth of toilet paper? I guess they didn’t use it much.

        2. calonkat*

          I tend to be the one who cleans out the desks of the people who leave. The longer people have worked in state government, the more office supplies are hoarded in their drawers. I’ve found multiple packs of staples, bags of paper clips, uncounted pens/pencils/markers, up to 5 staple removers (sometimes with an equal number of staplers), so many broken items saved “just in case” I guess, and my favorite, someone had stowed away a paper cutter (one of those big guillotine things) for their own personal use!

      4. Red 5*

        Seriously, I’ve been in charge of us digitizing old files so that we can access things remotely and I have so many paperclips I’ve taken off of these things. I keep the binder clips for myself, but I’ve had to just start throwing the paper clips away because I got tired of sorting the rusted ones from the usable ones.

        I’m also personally on a crusade to abolish staples because of how many I’ve had to remove from stacks of old paper so they can be scanned and then thrown away. I know it’s irrational but I just can’t take it anymore. Also, staples also rust. Everything rusts. Except rubber bands, which disintegrate in the grossest way and leave marks all over whatever they were banding together.

        1. Dramatic Romantic*

          I am HERE with you on no staples! Every time I get a stack of work from one specific employee, it is full of staples. And I need to go through the documents and pull out every stapled together piece of paper so it can be digitized. Staples are the bane of my existence.

          1. Red 5*

            I eventually got to the point where I just started chopping the corner of the papers off with the industrial paper chopper. It works until somebody has stapled something super far down for no dang good reason and you’d be cutting off text.

            I don’t know why people don’t just use binder clips (which also rust but much less). They make super tiny ones! Or maybe your papers don’t need to be stapled constantly!

            1. Amaranth*

              They stack horribly. More than a few and the one corner of the pile is much higher and bent and fits into folders funny. Not that paper clips are much better – and they get caught on everything.

              1. Empress Matilda*

                Alternate them! Put one in the usual place, top edge near the left corner. Then put the next one on the left edge near the top corner. Third one goes on the top edge again, but one clip’s width towards the centre. And so on. It works perfectly, and your stack of binder clipped papers ends up nice and even!

                I *may* have spent a lot of time working out this system. In my defense, it was out of necessity…

          2. allathian*

            I’m so grateful that we’re fully electronic, after all, those documents that were stapled together were no doubt created on a computer. Most of the applications we process are also created on our online systems, so that helps a lot.

            1. FrustratedFran*

              I’m so jealous. I manage the Testing Center at a local community college, and I’ve been trying for ages to get our office to go paperless, but it’s not going well. After YEARS of faculty complaining that they needed to print exams off to bring to us (“why can’t we just email this to you”) we finally started moving some of our forms online due to Covid. Great right? Nope, now faculty are complaining about the online system (it’s so freaking easy, there’s like 5 questions, and I even sent you the link!) and refusing to use it.

      5. Siege*

        We moved offices right before the pandemic and I’m still surprised I never caught the financial manager burning boxes of novelty paper clips and flower-shaped post-its in the back parking lot. We had, at my estimate, a metric ton of each, left from the previous staff, who liked and used them.

        1. Princesss Sparklepony*

          I had a long term temp job doing admin and part of that was making sure the supply cabinet was stocked. This was a long time ago so I’ve forgotten what the item was but my predecessor truly believed in this item and there were so many of them. So so many of them. No one ever used them. No one knew why she had bought so many. It was a mystery…. I hesitated to toss them out as that was my initial reaction, but she was slated to come back after the surgery or whatever she was out for was over (it was a six month posting that ended up being closer to 8 months.) Plus she was somewhat of a tartar and I didn’t want her coming after me.

      6. Artemesia*

        When I was teaching we had interns create notebooks of their projects as well as analysis assignments where they related what they were doing on the job to coursework (e.g. analyze their organization using models they had learned in org theory etc etc)

        Over the years a fair number of students didn’t pick up their notebooks and so when I retired I had lots of those big plastic 3 ring binders. I discovered that inner city schools in our city really treasured them because they had lots of kids who couldn’t afford to buy supplies and have their own notebooks — I was able to give them over 100 of the things.

      7. Elitist Semicolon*

        The manager of my former office somehow managed to order 10,000 paperclips. We had not even made a dent in the supply by the time I left about 6 years later.

      8. mrs__peel*

        I used to work in a federal office, and one year they practically *begged* everyone to take a whole bunch of (totally unnecessary) three-ring binders from a huge batch in the supply closet. The reason being that, if they weren’t used, we wouldn’t get that line item in our budget next year.

      9. Olivia Mansfield*

        We have a lifetime supply of staples from a previous admin who thought she was ordering a number of individual boxes of staples, but she actually ordered cartons (not cases — actual *cartons*) of them, instead. We will never, ever run out of staples.

      10. Empress Matilda*

        My org is in the process of moving out of an office building we have inhabited since the 1950’s. We’re going paperless in the new office – this was the plan even before Covid, and of course it’s pretty easy now that we’ve been paperless for the past 18 months anyway.

        We have boardrooms full of office supplies. Boxes of pens and post-it notes and binder clips, stacked waist-high against every wall as far as the eye can see. It’s pretty awe-inspiring, actually…

        1. OfficePro*

          I hope that y’all find a good place for those supplies that isn’t the trash! Teachers will usually take a lot of this stuff.

          1. Empress Matilda*

            I hope so too! I don’t actually know what’s happening to them all (other than 3 ring binders, which are straight up landfill. Nobody wants them, even pre-pandemic.)

            1. Princesss Sparklepony*

              I think some schools can use the 3 ring binders. You might want to check on it. You never know.

      11. Amtelope*

        We have SO many three-ring binders, which we used to ship in huge boxes around the country in preparation for meetings. Now even if we ever go anywhere again in person, the materials to review are still going to be provided online. We’re never going to use these binders, but we will probably never get rid of them, because what if we need them?

      12. Ralkana*

        Our office admin ordered what she thought was 12 boxes of small paperclips and it turned out to be 12 dozen boxes. This was at least six years ago and I think we’ve used eight boxes, since we rarely use the small ones. Our company has been around 70 years, and I think if we make it another 70, we’ll still have small paperclips.

      13. often trapped under a cat*

        preparing to re-open (though who knows when), everyone was asked to come in and clear out their workstations, which had been untouched since March 2020. this was all done safely, with limited numbers of people allowed in the office at a time, vaccination and masking required; I helped organize.

        as a result of the pandemic, we have gone almost completely paperless. an area of the floor I work on became a dumping ground for unwanted office supplies. pyramids of boxes of paper clips. mugs filled with pens, pencils, Sharpies, and highlighters. rows of tape dispensers, pencil sharpeners, and staplers. more mugs filled with scissors. it was impressive, seeing the sheer amount of basic office supplies people had had.

        our office culture is interesting. people have no qualms about using the mailroom to ship packages to friends and family. but taking office supplies seems to be a different thing.

        one staffer, who has school-age children who use a lot of pencils very quietly asked me if I thought it would be okay if they took home a pencil sharpener. I looked at them, looked at the half-dozen pencil sharpeners, and said, “I don’t think there’s a master list anywhere of who had a pencil sharpener before the pandemic, and none of these have anyone’s name on them, so please, take whichever one you want.”

        (I myself took a pair of scissors.)

    2. KHB*

      If I worked in an office where paper clips were so valued that they could be traded for favors, I’d go to Staples and buy my own damn paper clips, and be the most popular person in the office.

      Obviously, you shouldn’t have to spend your own money on office supplies – but when offices get this weird about things, it seems like a very easy problem to solve for a very small amount of money.

      1. Lucious*

        Indeed. I completely understand why people might object to that practice- but if the choice is meeting with the CFO to justify why the company’s equity plan can handle paperclip expenses or buying some at Staples for $5.99, I know which way I’m going.

      2. needs more highlighters*

        >> Obviously, you shouldn’t have to spend your own money on office supplies
        Where’s the line though? Calendars, daily planners, business bags, business card holders, 5 different colors of highlighters…they are things I use to do my job and my company doesn’t pay for them.

        1. Victoria J*

          If you need it for your job and it’s isn’t a luxury they should pay for it.

          I’d get all of those things through my work (and we are a broke penny pinching charity). My manager even offered to pay for the ones I bought.

          But I am obsessed with stationery. And I spend way too much on it. So some of my stuff is a luxury and not something I would expect to pay for. (A notebook costing 20 times the ones they buy for the office, a set of 15 highlighters that look great in a stand on my desk).

          They DO pay for the expensive highly specific tags I am the only who uses – because those are something that makes a difference to my actual work. I pay for the things that just make me happy.

          1. foolofgrace*

            I work for government. A while back we ran out of the smallest Post-It Notes. They haven’t been replenished, and probably won’t be until we use up the next-size square ones.

            1. mrs__peel*

              I definitely spent a fair bit of time at my previous federal job cutting large Post-It Notes into smaller ones with scissors…

          2. Tupac Coachella*

            This is my measure of “the line,” too. If I need it to do my job or if it makes me more efficient/effective at some level of significance, at least a basic version should be provided. But if I want it to be pretty or if I’m fussy about it, I buy my own. I pretty much always supply my own writing utensils (all types, except pencils-not picky about those for some reason), small notebooks, and various sized and colored Post-Its. A colleague actually just gifted me a Post-It pad in my favorite color because she knows I won’t ask them to order them for me. Luckily my office is reasonable about supplies and would probably buy me just about anything I asked for, but I do see that it’s inconsiderate to ask that we keep an assortment of non-standard dry erase marker colors available just in case I want to put a word cloud on my whiteboard.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Good question, and I think it depends on what employers consider ‘basic office supplies’ to be.

          Some of my employers were pretty generous about this. My day planners and leather portfolios were reimbursed, as were my beloved Pilot G-2 gel pens. If I wanted a new desk lamp, I had to be cost-sensitive but no one complained. Pens, folders, highlighters, glue, Wite Out pens and bottles, and desktop accessories…pretty much standard supplies.

          But yeah, some employers were stingy. Basic Bic pens in bulk? Eh, I’ll buy my own gel pens. No desk calculators unless you’re in accounting? That’s why Microsoft has a calculator function. But no Post It Notes or staple pullers? We have a problem.

          1. Red 5*

            Yeah, I’ve been known to just buy my own pens to get something better because the standard cheap ball points are painful for me to write with. But then I get possessive of the pens, and people continually walk away with them because they also want slightly nicer pens. Some places just will not accept that cheap pens are awful and not worth the money.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              I’m laughing because you’re right. My Pilot pens seemed to disappear when I was away from my desk. You can be sure I reclaimed them when the pen rustlers were away from their desk…and I left a Bic pen in its place.

              1. Princesss Sparklepony*

                At one job, I labeled all my pens and the other walkable items. Sure, they could peel it off (just paper and tape) but it gave them pause…

                For a crafts class I was taking, all my items had a highly visible swipe of bright blue nail polish on them. Helped me identify my items on sight.

                1. Manders*

                  I label them with a sticker that says “stolen from the desk of …” I don’t really care but nobody wants those pens!

            2. Mr. Shark*

              Yes, I buy my own pens, because I like a certain brand.
              I’ve had someone come to my desk, stand there talking to me, and pick up my pen. He was going to walk away from me with it, but I said, “hey, can I have my pen back?” What is up with people?
              So now I always have a pen holder on my desk with miscellaneous pens that someone can use, and make sure my nice pens are stored in my drawers and the one I’m using is right next to my keyboard or on my paper holder.

            3. MissBaudelaire*

              Yup. I buy my own stuff because I like my own stuff. I buy nice pens because I like nice pens. But the amount of times I have set down a pen and come back to it having disappeared…

              1. Kat in VA*

                I started buying disposable fountain pens because apparently few people can write with those. If one walked off, it would discreetly end up back on my desk before EOD.

          2. Rachel in NYC*

            Pens always make me laugh because everyone has a favorite so my office has a million different kind so everyone has the kind or kinds that work for them.

            New people have to think we’re so strange.

            1. Olivia Mansfield*

              We’re the same way. Every person has their favorite pen that they’ll light the building on fire if it isn’t stocked.

            2. Freya*

              My office has a small tub in the supply closet of random pens that people have picked up various places. My favourite office pens are almost always the ones with hotel branding that got picked up at various conferences!

        3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This is a great question. I think I found the line while we were working from home. I found that even when I was not in the office and all of my communication was electronic, I used pens, highlighters, sharpies, paper tablets, post it notes, folders, binder clips, paper clips, staplers/staples, tape and a calendar.
          These are all things that my company provides, the most basic colors and limited sizes.
          I supplement different color versions of all the writing stuff because I want to, but I really think those things are the cost of doing business.
          Like they gave us laptops and said we have to take them to and from everyday, so they gave us bags as well.

      3. Exhausted Trope*

        We have plenty of office supplies at my office and my supervisor adores buying them, as well. She stocks up every back to school season and shares the funnest stuff–rainbow sticky notes, highlighters, journals, etc. out of her personal supplies. I suspect she’s using her own money for this and I so appreciate her generosity.

      4. Anonymous Hippo*

        I’ve always worked in offices where the supplies are plentiful and free to grab, but I still buy all my own because I’m a office supply snob LOL.

          1. Zan Shin*

            Yep both here too! I have definite pen preferences and buy by the box, and my office tea corner (before retiring) had an electric kettle, cast iron pot, three canisters of loose tea, my mug plus a guest mug!)

      5. Butterfly Counter*

        I worked in a similar office and it has skewed my perception of paperclips ever since. They’ve taken on the property of a talisman, almost. Wherever I work, there are always at least 2 or 3 paperclips I keep just to have around at my desk even though I rarely use them anymore. Just because I feel like I need them there.

        1. KaciHall*

          Meanwhile I needed a box at a previous office, and I could spend two bucks at one store for a box, or $4 at Sam’s club for a bulk package. I managed to give a couple away, but I still have 14 boxes of paperclips in the bag I store school supplies in. (I’ve been buying all supplies on clearance since I had my kid. I will never need to buy folders, notebooks, binders, or pencils again. )

    3. DivineMissL*

      A couple of years ago we had a new office clerk, and part of his job duties was to order office supplies. Well, he ordered paper clips but didn’t realize that they came packaged in 12-packs, not single boxes; so he accidentally ordered thousands and thousands of paper clips in various sizes and colors. He was so mortified! I made him a chain-mail helmet out of paper clips as a gag (never got around to making the rest of the armor). 4 years later and we still have thousands of paper clips left…

      1. Former Mailroom Clerk*

        I had a manager once that accidentally ordered 20 cases (of 20 boxes, each with 40 paperclips), instead of 20 boxes. So, instead of getting 800 paperclips, we ended up with 16,000 paperclips. (even 800 probably would’ve been enough to last a year or more)

      2. Been There*

        this made me laugh WAY more than it should have…. pretty sure my office neighbor thinks I’m going loony now XD

      3. Tmarie*

        When I was but a young lass working for a major corporation in my area, they asked me to order new file folders. I too was mortified when instead of 100 boxes of files we received 1000 boxes of files. I was never brave enough to ask what became of the extra 9 years of folders that were ordered.

      4. Vanellope*

        Haha, this happened in our office too! Close to a decade ago and we still have hundreds and hundreds. Those of us who were here when it happened still refer to them by her name – as in when we finish a box, we’ll cheer “getting through another box of [admin’s] paper clips!”

        1. Ralkana*

          Yes! We’ve been through four different admins since this happened in my office, but I still call them her paper clips.

      5. Free Meerkats*

        So you’ve heard the Legend of the Binder Clips? We still have roughly 2000 of them, in various sizes.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    OMG Y’all can have our paperclips! Archivists spend their lives removing paperclips, binder clips, and paper pins (we work with a lot of old papers, pre-paperclip and pre-staple) and we literally have a bin of paper fasteners on our storage shelves, because we never need them again. The rest of the office knows if they need any we can send them over by the bucketful.

    Mercifully, everyone seems to be chill about supplies around here. The only nonstandard requests we get have very specific needs–softer pencils for writing on the backs of photos, for instance.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I loathe paperclips and rubber bands. Rubber bands rot and get nasty and sticky on older paper. Paperclips get stuck on everything and never seem to have the right things clipped together. Team Binder Clip.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        At least clips *are* removable. We actually had an intern scream when she opened a box and discovered a packet of papers bound in far too many now-crusty rubber bands. It was vile. It was really hard to believe it wasn’t some kind of horrible animal waste even if you knew what it was.

        I also now loathe tape. Good idea now, terrible idea in 40 years.

        1. Grace Poole*

          Finding folders of clippings that used to be held up by ancient scotch tape comes a close second to disintegrating rubber bands. :)

      2. Magenta Sky*

        My boss refuses to accept anything with paperclips (or anything that’s not 8 1/2 x 11) because they get caught on everything. He considers them evil.

        1. JustaTech*

          I just discovered that one of our important vendors sends us documentation (that we must keep) in some weird size paper – slightly longer than 8/12 by 11, so it only fits in the storage binders if you fold it up (which is then delightful to scan) or trim it off.

          Why, why would a company choose to use a paper size that is not standard to the country they work in, when they’re not even using the extra space on the page?

          1. Magenta Sky*

            Sounds like A4, which is 8.3 x 11.7 inches. And is standard in places that use the metric system.

            Maybe the got a deal-deal on some supplies their vendor couldn’t sell to anyone else?

            1. Duc Anonymous*

              I worked for a company where the main admin would order A4 paper and then trim the excess off to 8.5×11. This was for a few years, always ordering the A4 size. Finally, she got a new boss who asked why she did this, as it was horribly inefficient and she said it’s just how they order and that’s how she was trained. Turned out, the previous admin had been told by the exec she worked for to do this because he’d gotten some insane deal for this size. The intention was to take advantage of the price this one time and then go back to buying the standard size, but the original admin didn’t know that and trained the second admin to do the same. The new executive put and end to the practice, but now all supply orders have to go through him.

              1. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

                This is crazy. I admit that when I first started working in an office, I had no idea what A4 was and had to figure it out-but we dealt with a lot of non-US companies and I soon figured out what it was and to always have some on hand.
                Trimming it to fit 8 1/2 x 11? No way.

              2. Mr. Shark*

                Haha, that’s an awesome story on how a little misunderstanding can change the way people work for years!

              3. Magenta Sky*

                “We’ve always done it this way because we’ve always done it this way.”

                Tradition is one of the most powerful forces known to man.

              4. DrRat*

                I’m reminded of the famous story of the woman who was teaching her daughter to cook a roast and told her to cut off the small end and kind of wedge it into the pan before cooking. Daughter asks why, Mom says that it’s the right way because that’s how her mother did it. Daughter calls Grandma, who explains she did it that way because her pan was too small and she couldn’t fit the whole roast in it.

              1. Drago Cucina*

                I was doing a research paper for a the University of South Africa and had to buy a ream of A4 to mail it to them.
                I had half a ream sitting on my shelf and then a friend told me he needed to submit something to a European company on A4. I was his special friend.
                When my husband did a couple of graduate degrees in Belgium he was, “We have to buy this special paper.” Nope. Got it covered.
                It took me years to go through that ream, but that’s why I hesitate to throw anything away.

                1. La Triviata*

                  Years ago, at a previous job, a co-worker I was friendly with was opening her mail while I was by her desk. One she opened was, yes, A4 paper … onionskin. She looked at it and it wasn’t in English. Turned out it was a change of address from a group in South Africa and one side was in English, but she first saw the side with the text in … Afrikaans maybe? not English and she was very confused by both the non-English text and the size of the paper.

                2. Magenta Sky*

                  My father had an international driver’s license that was Arabic on one side and English on the other (he was working in Saudi at the time). Had a lot of fun with it at a DUI checkpoint on a trip home.

      3. Memily*

        I had a boss who hated paper clips with a passion. He called them “chaos bombs” for this exact reason. I can’t say I disagree!

    2. Art3mis*

      Yep, my last job I sometimes had to help out with the scanning of incoming documents. Staples, paper clips, and clips all had to be removed first. I came to hate staples.

      1. JustaTech*

        One of my big early pandemic projects involved scanning a dozen or so semi-bound notebooks (like a cross between a binder and a folder) and someone had used the special hole punch on all of these pages, but left in the staples and paperclips. Which I didn’t notice until I heard a terrible ripping noise inside the scanner.

        It was a good thing no one else was in the office to hear my swearing.

    3. kicking-k*

      Yup. I’m also an archivist and I agree. That said, the job before the one I have now was strangely stingy about any “proper” archival supplies – rustless brass paperclips, acid-free folders, cotton tape – and yeah, I get that they’re expensive compared to regular office supplies, but we were a huge organisation! £15 for a couple of rolls of cotton tape wouldn’t break us, surely?

      So we used to refer to the “paperclip budget”.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I feel like we really don’t need to manufacture binder clips ever again. We just need to redistribute the ones that already exist.

      1. Liz W.*

        Yep! I did a major purge and because it all had to go into the regular recycling I pulled I don’t know how many binder clips. 3 or 4 Gallon bags full of them and those large triangle shaped paper clips.

          1. La Triviata*

            Years ago, when computer use in offices was still fairly new, I was concerned that people were taking paper clips out of their magnetized holders and using them to clip papers to their floppy disks (yes, it was MANY years ago). I went out and bought myself some plastic triangular paper clips that I could use around disks without that particular concern. I also explained the issue to people (with the expected results). We had one woman who not only used her magnetized paper clips to clip papers to her disks, but would leave disks out of envelopes scattered on her desk along with multiple paper clips … and kept wondering why her disks were degaussed.

    5. The Rural Juror*

      I worked in a courthouse for a short while and had to go through some 100+ year-old documents. The paperclips I found on those were really neat! They were all made out of brass.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        There is an online museum of office supplies. It’s fascinating.

        And, yes, I have a jar of old-school paperclips.

        1. IndustriousLabRat*

          I’m picky about my office tools and have a soft spot for vintage ones. My personal stapler, 3-hole punch, and tape dispenser all remember where they were when news of Watergate broke… and the staples and tape rolls are still standard to this day!

          Only thing missing is a classic Steel Case swivel desk chair… squeak squeak… *sigh…

          1. A CAD Monkey*

            There’s just something about old office equipment that you cant get out of today’s products. I have a Good Form aluminum rolling swivel office chair. best chair i’ve ever had.

          2. Drago Cucina*

            Oh, the Steelcase chair–I would love have had one.

            At old job my desk was the original 1969 Steelcase desk purchased for the director. There was a credenza that I always wanted to fill with liquor bottles filled with colored water.

            1. IndustriousLabRat*

              The desk was probably still there because no one could move it! I’ve encountered a few of those illogically dense and massive relics in my time at a state university and WOW yes I will happily cower under one in case of an earthquake/meteor/alien invasion.

              You’re right, the office furniture from that era looks a bit nekkid without a few decanters and a light dusting of cigar ash.

          3. Ralkana*

            I have a battered metal stapler that I’ve had since I started working at this job in 2004. Works great. Meanwhile, my coworkers have been through 4 or 5 plastic staplers in half the time.

          4. pancakes*

            You should check out the website for the London stationery shop Present & Correct. Lovely vintage goodies.

        2. Empress Matilda*

          online museum of office supplies

          Well, there goes my afternoon! Good thing I didn’t have anything important to do today…

    6. Teapot Librarian*

      My archive not only had the huge bins of removed paperclips, but…we also had boxes upon boxes of NEW paperclips. Like, who thought that was a good use of supply money?

    7. Richard Hershberger*

      I few years ago I was in the Maryland State Archives looking at a court case from the 1870s. (Was it baseball related, you ask? Yes, yes it was. Thank you for asking.) All the fasteners were still there. I was fascinated by them. They all had modern counterparts, but they were just a bit different.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          We have an actual, literal, paper roll of pins. The pins were sandwiched between two long strips of paper, which were rolled into a roll and given a label. Apparently that’s how they sold them in 190-whatever.

          1. Siege*

            I bought a roll of those at a garage sale a few years back! The pins are tiny by modern standards so they’re handy to have on hand when you need to pin silk. I’d had no idea they were sold that way.

        2. kicking-k*

          Ooh, I do not like straight pins used for paper fastening, but I feel bad about removing them (if not rusty) in a way I don’t with even quite old paperclips. They seem more historical. Especially the little short ones that were obviously never sewing pins.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              Thanks. “All” is, at this point, just the one. The second is in the pipeline, but early in the process. You can find online articles I have written for SABR. I’m not sure, but I think you don’t need to be a member to access them. If you punch my name into Google Scholar, keep in mind that I am not the biochemist or the vascular surgeon of the same name. Adding “baseball” to the search string helps clarify matters.

              1. Sam Yao*

                Yes, I misstated – but we definitely do both have Strike Four. Dad is a SABR guy since… well, definitely preceding my birth.

            2. Richard Hershberger*

              Also, and this is a serious suggestion, if you do Facebook look me up. Most days I post a “150 years ago today in baseball” piece.

          1. Mid*

            Actually, due to one of your other comments, I ended up getting Strike Four for my grandfather—he was the youngest American League umpire back in the day, though I’m not sure if the record still stands. He absolutely adored your book.

    8. LCH*

      yes, softer pencils!

      also rubber bands are the worst. worst. but certain professions love them, like legal. all legals people I’ve known love their rubber bands. find another solution.

    9. Recruited Recruiter*

      My former department was where paperclips went to die. Everything came into our department paperclipped, and left scanned and stapled. Occasionally the source of our paperclips ran out when our department was especially busy. When this happened, whoever took the time to return paperclips got bribed with candy.

    10. Red 5*

      As somebody who is currently digitizing decades of old paper files, I feel this so hard right now. I mentioned in another comment but I’m on a crusade against staples right now because of how many I’ve had to remove. There’s just so much rust everywhere…

    11. Distracted Librarian*

      Former archival worker here (as in over 30 years ago). I still have a stash of plastic paperclips from my last archival job. They’d bought them b/c they’re better than metal clips, but this batch fits too tightly and will damage papers, so they gave me some. I use about 5 per year–just used one this morning when I printed a draft of my short story in progress.

    12. Hannah Lee*

      You can have our paper clips too!

      Years ago, our purchasing person placed our first (and only) office supply order with Staples. Instead of the 12 boxes of 100 paper clips he ordered, they shipped us 25 boxes of 12 boxes of 100 paper clips. But because their system only showed our original order qty, they refused to admit the error or take them back. So a good chunk of our supply cabinet is taken up with paper clips.

      Bonus: because the many many boxes are all prominently labeled STAPLES we’re constantly running out of actual staples … because whoever’s doing a quick check to see if we’re low on anything mistakenly thinks we’ve got plenty.

    13. SnappinTerrapin*

      In the absence of staples or clips, I have folded top left corners down and used my pocketknife to make two parallel cuts, creating a tab to fold in the opposite direction to hold the papers together.

      It’s an old fashioned technique, but functional. Never tried taking it apart to make copies and reassemble, though, so I can’t advise on that.

      Those new-fangled staplers and gem clips sure come in handy, don’t they?

  4. IDK*

    We don’t keep extras on hand. If you need a binder for a project or dividers or anything of the sort, you better know well in advance because they will have to be ordered!

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      The one thing I liked in my stint working in BigLaw was the multiple cupboards of stuff like that, with no locks. You just got up and got one. I suspect some partner at one point had to waste time mucking about, and did the math on how much that time would have billed for.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        That’s the think about all of the pettiness around office supplies – it’s so so minor in the overall scheme of things most of the time, even at much lower salary levels than BigLaw.

        You’re going to pay someone $60,000 a year to do a job, another $20,000 in health insurance and other benefits, thousands annually for the physical office space for that person to work in, hundreds or thousands in IT equipment, and then make a big deal out of the fact that they want to order a $6 pen instead of a $2 one or they want three colors of highlighters that will cost an extra $10 over just stocking yellow?

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This ties in with my observation about line items. Anything that shows up as a line item matters, whichever direction the money is flowing. Anything that does not show up as a line item does not matter. Office supplies gets a line item. Time wasted in stupid office supply drama does not.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Ha! No, but I’ve worked for other government agencies, and I think they’re all pretty similar in this regard. Can’t have taxpayer money going to blue *and* green highlighters, you know.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              And they never realized that having multiple highlighter colors wouldn’t actually impact the total highlighter usage, cost, anymore than having multiple pen colors would?

              I mean, it’s not like it’s going to make employees start highlighting or writing *twice* as much. They are going to use the same amount of ink overall, so they just won’t go through a given highlighter, or pen, as fast.

          2. SnappinTerrapin*

            I worked for a State agency in Alabama. We recycled obsolete forms to make scratch pads for taking notes at the desk during phone calls, etc.

            Cut the forms in quarters, apply the adhesive to one of the short sides of a stack of those smaller sheets, and flip it over to create a handy scratch pad.

            Getting rid of the obsolete forms was a secondary benefit of that process. Hard to use the wrong form after cutting them up.

            That agency had a lot of similar cost-cutting techniques, but my memory is fuzzy after all these years.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I have a relevant anecdote.

        I am a paralegal. I was a baby paralegal in the days before we went paperless, so a huge part of my job was to send documents to clients for their signature, then docket the signed documents and submit them to $OfficialBody or send them on to other attorneys. We very rarely had any discretion about the layout of the documents, as they were typically official government forms from overseas, so they were rarely intuitive.

        I quickly worked out that I needed to make the forms absolutely idiot-proof* in order to get them on file correct and in time. So I requested some super snazzy “sign here” post its with arrows on them, and plastered the forms in them. The rate of return immediately increased. When there were multiple signatories, I used different colours of post its and put a key in the cover letter. A seven-figure client wrote to our senior partner to say how much he appreciated it.

        Those $5 post its saved us and each client hours and hours per year, and as my hours were both billable and often written off, that meant everybody won.

        * yes, I know.

        1. Anonymato*

          That’s a great example. I think that time-saving and morale-savings that happens when any drudgery tasks are eliminated or reduced are often underestimated. And, off topic: Now you have me imagining “baby paralegal” like Baby Yoda ;-)

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Once I was working a fairly new job, where there where they didn’t buy notepads, just had a stack of swag notepads various vendors had given them with their logos and stuff on them. One day Boss tells me to come into a meeting for a new computer system we are considering, I grab whatever notepad I had been using, go in and take some notes. The guy who is presenting is super nervous and fidgety throughout the meeting, and finally he stopped me and asked me if I worked for some other company. I say no, I work here, and he told me my notepad was from their biggest competitor and he had been freaking out thinking they had someone from their rival company there to watch his presentation. It’s lucky he told me that, because I had no idea what rival company was at all. Which was a good lesson about using random branded products in the office.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Ha! Well, I do applaud the attempt to recycle and use all that swag people pick up at trade shows though.

      2. Recruited Recruiter*

        I do this – there’s no reason to waste a good notebook. I try to know who my vendors competitors are though, so I don’t use their competitors swag in front of them.
        I’m kinda friends with my payroll software rep, and her competitor’s rep, so I definitely don’t hide that one. I just make it a running joke.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Had a temp job in the mid-90s when I first moved to Connecticut. I will never forget the hilarious mortification of the stuffy admin nearing retirement who was asked about her pen. She had apparently pocketed a pen at the doctor’s office, and had been using the pen for quite some time before anyone told her what Viagra was advertising!

        1. Mary*

          My dad’s a doctor and got a bunch of branded pens when Viagra first hit the market. I snagged a few to use…as a high school student. Got lots of snickers.

        2. OOW*

          I used a Depo-Provera swag pem throughout High School. I thought it was hilarious. It was a gift from my nurse aunt.

          1. Kal*

            My partner works in a pharmacy, and they get a lot of drug manufacturer swag. But they can’t actually use any of it in the pharmacy, so employees get to take whatever they want. So I have random water bottles and pens and stuff with all sorts of drug names and such on them that I’m happy using even when people give weird looks. But given I went through most of my uni career with a Budweiser backpack even though I don’t drink beer (it was rather good quality!) I was already used to it. I also spent high school using the branded stuff from my dad’s business, and its weirder when the branded stuff has your dad’s name and phone number on it – but also made it easy to get my pen back when someone stole it.

      4. Whomever*

        Heh. Back in the 90s I was responsible for a fairly large amount of tech buying (think SUN, SGI, IBM, etc). I’d always make a point of wearing their competitors t-shirt. It was self perpetuating because usually they would give me one of their t-shirts as a response…

      5. Fae Kamen*

        I do this too and if I don’t like the logo or the company or whatever, I put a sticker over it! The swag notebooks usually have paper or cardboard covers that make this possible (as opposed to leather or something.)

    3. Former HR*

      I don’t like to stock extras of too much just because we don’t have the space to store it. A former co-worker was responsible for 90% of the requests for supplies. All were filled, but it was out of control sometimes. She wouldn’t order just a box of paperclips but 12 boxes of paperclips. My job wasn’t to ask why, my job was to order. She retired, and after some job changes, I’m now doing the majority of what she used to do and have her office. I have such a huge supply of paper clips, paper (in different colors that we don’t use), folders, staples, pens, mechanical pencils (which no one uses), push pins, highlighters, and envelopes, it doesn’t make any sense. I spent my first few weeks just cleaning out the supply cabinets and organizing them so we could find everything easily, and throwing away the items that were so old they couldn’t be used anymore (pens that had dried up, folder that were so old they were faded and falling apart, etc). I used to place office supply orders 1 to 2 times a week; now, it is rare if I place an order more than once a month. So, I do understand why some companies are so strict with supplies. Unfortunately, they should be focusing on the person causing the problem and not on punishing everyone to solve the problem.

  5. ThatGirl*

    Several jobs ago I worked for a workplace supply wholesaler, so along with the typical office supplies we’d get boxes of samples galore that would get stashed in random places. Any time there were really nice pens I hoarded a few, because the generic private label ones just weren’t as good. I also hoarded the good, branded Kleenex boxes, because again, the generic ones were more akin to prison toilet paper.

    1. Art3mis*

      My first full time job was at Quill, which is now owned by Staples and at the time was mostly a catalog only office supply company. I LOVED vendor day. Free office supplies? Yes please!

      1. ThatGirl*

        We worked with Quill a lot! And actually you probably know the company I worked for then, because it’s just down the road from Quill and is also owned by the hedge fund that owns Staples now…

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Quill is owned by Staples? I didn’t know that. We get sales reps from both, competing against each other. It is particularly amusing given that we are a tiny office, undoubtedly one of the smallest accounts either has.

      3. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I used to order supplies for my office and I LOVED Quill. Mostly because they sent that little tin of cookies if you ordered enough supplies. I probably could have gotten the supplies a lot cheaper from somewhere else, but the money wasn’t coming out of my pocket and I loved those little tins of cookies. The owners were super stingy with most things, so I valued those cookies probably unreasonably highly.

        1. Sabina*

          I worked in local government for many years and probably ordered thousands of dollars of supplies from Quill. I fondly remember the free cookies and other swag that Quill sent us. My last year on the job a new county auditor decided we could no longer accept the freebies, they could be construed as gratuities or bribes, lol! It was a sad development…

        2. AnonThisTime*

          Heh, my company orders things from ThorLabs all. the. time. Every order comes with a small box of lab snacks. One co-worker made a throne of the empty lab snacks boxes which could bear his weight. Another had some sort of pyramid going on that was taller than me. There were even rumors of someone who would order supplies because they were hungry (this I doubt because even the fastest orders arrive next day). I absolutely believe that those snacks influence the choice of vendor from time to time.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Oh man, I would have loved that. I adore office supplies. If someone gave me a $1000 gift certificate to Staples, I’d probably marry them.

        I once found a flea market booth full of letter trays at $1.00 each and thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

    2. CleanUpOnAislePaperclip*

      I worked for a wholesale place back in the 80s; the perfect job for someone with a bit of a pen fetish. I was working there when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit and did you know that there are 100 paper clips in a box of 100 paper clips?

      1. LavaLamp*

        My dad knew the 3M rep at my first job. I may have been given first selection of prototype or not available yet stationery products.

        It’s well known that I love stationery, pens and most of my hobbies use them. So I usually supply my own products. No one cares, they find it amusing. I did learn a valuable lesson on leaving disposable fountain pens in my pen cup. Someone used it, and didn’t’ realize what it was and broke the nib. Okay fine, but THEY PUT IT BACK IN MY PEN CUP. BLACK INK EVERYWHERE. I wouldn’t have been as upset had they not left me a mess.

        Folks used to leave me stationery presents to, like I still to this day don’t know who gifted me with Grumpy Cat sticky notes, but it was nice of them.

        We also used these odd little pins that I called T pins, I guess they worked better in cube walls. I may have liberated a few, and glued butterflies to them and used them as art. My boss and my team lead loved them and I gave them to my team lead when I left.

  6. Massive Dynamic*

    Way back when, I worked in an office where we had a supply of tissues, but we had to keep them hidden in drawers from one of the owners. She was a kid during the Great Depression, kept the frugality her whole life and at her (extremely profitable) business and was insistent that TP from the bathroom would suffice for everyone’s tissue needs. Open office, lots of cold-sharing, real tissues were needed.

    1. A snotty comment*

      I worked at a Canadian university in student services. Our director announced at one staff meeting that the Kleenex in the office was for students only. After this the staff would blow our noses on the leftover paper napkins that came with pizza orders for student events. It was in this exact moment I committed to leaving the job.

      1. higher ed cog*

        Yes, I work at a university and employ about a dozen student workers. Because they are “technically” employees, I cannot purchase tissues, hand sanitizer, or anything like that with my budget even though we serve several thousand students a year (student support service). I have to purchase those things myself, and it always grates.

        1. Cathie from Canada*

          The university office I worked in was responsible for organizing lots of faculty meetings over the course of a year, so the excuse that was used for ordering everything from coffee to kleenex was “its for meetings!”
          Of course, it was us staff who actually used the lion’s share of the stuff.

          1. Mr. Cajun2core*

            Our excuse pre-pandemic was that they were for students. We could buy almost anything if we said it was for students.

        2. JanetM*

          One of my first tasks in a previous position at my university was to order a coffee-maker.

          My first draft of the justification statement (that I didn’t really expect would fly, but I wanted to amuse my manager) read, “This is an office full of programmers, graphic designers, and other nerds. Coffee is not ‘entertainment,’ it is life support.”

          After my manager laughed, I rewrote it as, “This office hosts faculty and students for workshops and meetings. Staff will pay for all supplies.”

          That passed, and we got the coffee maker (which is still there 20+ years later).

          Staff did, and do, buy all the supplies, and I (as both a coffee drinker and the department admin assistant) always kept emergency backup coffee in my desk. People get *cranky* without their caffeine!

    2. Popcorn Burner*

      I used to work for a kid/teen-centric nonprofit where we weren’t provided tissues. (But we were provided free pads/tampons, so I guess that’s a win?)

      I got at least 2 severe colds per year at thT employer.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      At least you could order Kleenex. My office for reasons no one has shared will not order even the generic almost useless Kleenex. So yes – if you want them you are bringing them from home and you’d better bet I lock up my box – last time I didn’t it was gone the next day (brand new box just opened the night before). It seems petty – but when I need to blow my nose I want an actual tissue so I lock them up.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        That’s the thing. For every bizarre, overbearing policy on the distribution of office supplies, there’s a bizarre, petty story that made it seem necessary at the time.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Honestly the fix for my thing is simple – just buy tissues then those of us that have them wouldn’t hide/lock up our stash from home.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            But then somebody would steal the just opened box for home, or overuse it and leave used tissues all over the place, or some other heinous crime against modern civilization.

            That’s who policies like that come to pass.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Oh you all will love this mini-update (and now I wish I could be a fly on the wall tomorrow morning – I work nights).

            So one of the shift leads is having bad fall allergies right now and got annoyed at the lack of tissues. So today the went to the bathroom and “liberated” one of those industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper. They put it on the communal masking station next to the jumbo bottle of hand sanitizer, with a sign saying “need a tissue – help yourself to what you need.” Really wondering if it’s going to be there when I get in tomorrow….and how they got it out of the industrial roll holder in the ladies room without breaking anything.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              And the boring update:

              Like I said I work nights, so I missed what happened when the big boss discovered the “liberated” roll of TP, but it (and the sign somebody made introducing it as “the Kleenex roll”) were both gone when I got to work. And no emails, or comments in any of the shift passdown about it either.
              At least it was there for a night and we got a laugh here from it.

      2. just a random teacher*

        I keep my box of good tissues in my top desk drawer, out of sight. This is partly so they don’t immediately disappear, but mostly because I don’t want everyone with a cold to come over to my desk and blow their nose right next to me and/or all over my stuff.

        I keep (or did, prepandemic) a separate, cheaper box of tissues and a big pump thing of hand sanitizer in a completely separate location near the door for students to use.

        I still had to buy both the personal and the student tissues (and hand sanitizer) with My Own Money, but I’m pretty sure it did cut down on the number of colds I got as well as letting me have the good tissues if I did need one. I can make a small box of tissues last a year or more if it’s just for me!

      3. HigherEdAdminista*

        In my institution we are not allowed to order tissues. Any item that could be seen as being used for employees comfort, like tissues or a fan, cannot be ordered; we are meant to bring those items from home.

        1. Loubelou*

          Do you have to sit on the floor?? Or perhaps your chairs are deliberately hard so you don’t get comfortable?

        2. Distracted Librarian*

          I think it may be a government thing. At a former job (private institution), we’d get lectures about how federal grant money couldn’t be used for tissues. I’m at a state institution now, and as far as I know, we aren’t allowed to buy tissues.

        3. Urban Prof*

          That’s awful! I’m a professor, and if I had no Kleenex on my desk, what would those crying students use? Their sleeves?

      4. Siege*

        I was SHOOK when I started working at my current office where they will in fact buy tissues. At my previous job I didn’t have an office (thanks, academia) and the one before that felt they were an unnecessary expense.

        1. Rachel in NYC*

          I’m officially holding to my position that I’m never working at another university after reading everyone’s kleenex comments.

          We’re basically always ordered them by the case.

          Though I knew this job was odd since it’s the first place I’ve ever worked that provided hand lotion to anyone who wanted it at their desk. (the answer was yes, please.)

    4. Dark Macadamia*

      In high school I had a teacher who made us pay her a penny per Kleenex. She was the worst, for many reasons lol

      As a teacher I’d so much rather just buy Kleenex for my students than have a bunch of pennies all over my desk, or deal with the disruption of them trying to find a penny, bargain with me, ask to go to the bathroom instead, and so on!

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        …”rather just buy Kleenex for my students than have a bunch of NASTY, GERM-COVERED pennies all over my desk”,…
        FTFY ;)

        Seriously, if someone needs a Kleenex, I wouldn’t want to gamble on something that’s been riding around in their pocket.

    5. Silly Janet*

      I can sympathize. My last job, way pre-pandemic, was at a large preschool that was part of a large community center. Any preschool in the best of times goes through lots of tissues, and it’s even worse during cold season. The lady who was in charge of supplies for the whole center would bitch us out every time we asked for more tissues, saying we had passed the “quota.” Lady, we are a freaking preschool! There is constant effluvium coming out of orifices all day!!

  7. Don't Touch My Snacks*

    I used to order supplies for my department and I made most people live with standard supplies but I would order myself and my director our preferred pen types and then hide them. No one ever seemed to notice/care.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Ha! I’ve started doing the ordering. There was this really nice pen that I found that I kept and I ordered a box of 5 and kept them at my desk.
      We’re pretty ok on supplies there are some people who like certain colored paper or something but no wars.

    2. Purple Cat*

      We have standard lousy stick ballpoint pens in the supply closet.
      I have no shame in having our Admin order me a box of nice flexgrip pens and charge my department specifically.
      I work enough hours, at the very least give me a decent pen!

    3. Buggalugs*

      I do this too. Mostly because I’ll keep my pens until they run out of ink and the staff leave them laying around everywhere and take them home often. They get the cheap stuff. My AM laughed one day complaining about the pens and she said she’d love pens like mine but that she wouldn’t ever ask for them since she losses hers constantly and it would be a waste.

  8. R2-beep-boo*

    Batteries!! Part of my work is in a lab, but the “keeper of the batteries” is in the front office and you’d think she pays for them herself.
    I get the 3rd degree every time. I mean…what does she think I’m doing with them? (I am not locking myself in the accessible stall in the bathroom for 2 hours every afternoon.)

    1. James*

      No, I totally get where she’s coming from. If I buy a box of batteries, doesn’t matter how big, I have none left by the end of the shift. I actually need to buy batteries for my field camera because someone took the ones out of my desk (not the area we store the “general use” batteries). If I thought I could get away with it I’d make them sign a requisition form for the things, in blood, with their first-born as collateral! I simply cannot understand how we go through so many–a HACH turbidity meter only takes 4 AA batteries, and they take weeks to run out of power.

      1. Yvette*

        Aren’t AA batteries the battery of choice for tv remotes, cordless mice and tons of children’s toys? Just sayin…

        1. IndustriousLabRat*

          Not just childrens’ toys, which made for one of the funnier scenes in the first or second ever episode of Weeds.

      2. Generic Name*

        I would guess people steal them for personal use. I worked for a municipal department that in part had responsibility for the mechanical systems of large buildings. We had cans of freon to charge a/c systems, and we were constantly running out. A new manager started and discovered that the cans of freon mysteriously disappeared and when he started an inventory system and kept the freon locked up, the amount the department spent on purchasing more went down precipitously. People had been stealing them to work on their cars and homes.

      3. identifying remarks removed*

        In one company I worked at all the batteries would mysteriously disappear from our stationery cupboard the days before Christmas. I think everyone started wrapping presents for the kids and realised batteries were not included with the toys.

        1. Annika Hansen*

          They actually removed batteries and tape from our supply cabinets around November and put them back in January for that reason. You could still get them directly from the supply person.

      4. Liz*

        We have a totally open supply room but the batteries, and only the batteries, are in a drawer at my reception desk. They’re just so expensive and so useful and sooo tempting to take home! We don’t care if people do this occasionally with pens or notebooks, but a box of non-standard batteries can be like $30 so someone before me made a judgement call. I always hand them over when asked though, there’s no third degree involved.

    2. Corporate Drone*

      Haha — excellent subtle reference to the recent cringe-inducing letter about the inappropriate bathroom stall behavior. Well done.

    3. Rachel in NYC*

      We went thru a problem like that but with phone chargers. People (both visitors and workers) would always be wondering around the office asking “does anyone have an available ?”

      So we ordered a couple, stuck them with some plugs in our supply cabinet. Even with big stickers on them at said BELONGS TO OFFICE- they would wander off.

      1. Doctor of Useless Facts*

        I used to work in hotel housekeeping. Check any lost and found in a hotel—there are loads of them.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Used to work at the front desk (which was where our lost and found was kept) and can confirm. We actually had three different tubs for chargers/cords: 1) phones/iPods, 2) computers/tablets, and 3) the other miscellaneous chargers.

          Yes, more than once I was asked about charger cords for “adult massage devices.”

          Also, yes – we would gladly give you a charger and let you keep it if we’d had it in our possession for more than six weeks.

    4. TravelswithSnacks*

      Hilarious! I just read the post about the 2 hour bathroom session so your comment was extra funny because of that

    5. IndustriousLabRat*

      AHHHHH KEYBOARD COFFEE!!!! That, my friend, was EPIC.

      We had a Battery Keeper, once. The moment she got canned, I designated the Lab the Battery Vault, bought rechargeable batteries in common sizes (I’m Technical Purchasing as one of my many hats and the purchase was immediately approved… by myself…), and left them on accessible chargers where everyone can grab them. No one has asked me for a battery in months; they just appear and disappear and I also don’t have to answer “hey where do we recycle batteries?” constantly.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Ironically, I’m pretty sure that also puts the kibosh on the christmas rush. Most kids’ toys that don’t come with batteries also won’t take rechargeable ones.

        1. hamburke*

          We used rechargeable batteries for nearly all our kids toys and digital cameras. They are almost indistinguishable from regular AAA or AA batteries. The only issue I have now is that my teenage kids put all used batteries – rechargeable or not – back in the drawer enough so I have to have a container that says “used batteries” that I sort thru periodically.

    6. Regular Reader*

      AA Batteries were the only thing I kept at reception rather than in the open cupboards. Happy to hand them out when asked for them. Also hated charging departments for basic supplies, more trouble than it was worth. Basic supplies, help yourself. Large quantities of a specific item solely for your teams use, be it pink scented highlighters or a specific more expensive folder, then expect to be charged for them. Seemed to work and reduced hoarding.

      1. JustaTech*

        I had a coworker who once special ordered pink pens (it was October, so breast cancer awareness month). I asked her why and she said “no one steals pink pens”. And she was right! I still find her pens around.

        So when I had to order gloves to use in the super-cold freezers I picked the pink ones, and lo! They’ve never wandered off!

        1. BlackberryC*

          Didn’t stop whoever took my favorite pink knife. It had a matching sheath so nobody would accidentally cut themselves on it, but now it’s gone and I’m not risking my lavender knife so now we all have to deal with loose knives hanging around.

        2. Ralkana*

          The only way to keep the contractors that buy from us from stealing our pens is to hot glue big silk flowers to the top of them. Every other pen walks away, but the ones with giant flowers stay until they run out of ink.

    7. JustaTech*

      I once managed to save my company a pretty penny by realizing that the $50 battery in the sero pipettemen was really just a 9-volt with a sticker on it.

      What I don’t understand is why I keep finding C batteries in the lab. Nothing we use takes C batteries. I’ve been here 10 years. I keep throwing them away (in the battery bin) when they crusty and gross. And yet, 3 months later, they’re back.

      1. Lab Boss*

        You’re a lab tech after my own heart. I still try to claim at least one “cost saving initiative” a year that’s just something like “started buying normal batteries” or “fixed broken $100 sample rack with $5 bottle of glue”

    8. Sharkie*

      I could have sent you some! Lol I dated a guy who was a news photog and he would leave batteries everywhere. I have a plastic bin full of them

    9. SnappinTerrapin*

      Before rechargeable flashlights became common, I worked for a police department that kept boxes of C and D cells on the desk, so anybody could replenish their flashlight at any time.

      I’m sure there were a few used for other purposes, but they didn’t scrimp on that necessity out of fear of misappropriation.

    10. I take tea*

      “(I am not locking myself in the accessible stall in the bathroom for 2 hours every afternoon.)”

      Actually LOLing here. Thank you for turning a gross story into something that made me laugh.

  9. Burnt eggs*

    Our department was being shut down, so the gal who ordered supplies went on a binge and ordered notebook paper, staples, rulers, everything she could think of. Then would put in a box that reams of paper come in and write ‘toss or free’ in the box and take the stuff home. Ten years later and her kids are probably still using those supplies. Admire the level of brazen, cheapness, theft. BTW, manager knew and didn’t care.

    1. Recruited Recruiter*

      My first job ended when the company closed my location. I was the final employee of said location. The custodian and I were tasked with cleaning up the office for the new owners of the office during my last week there. We boxed up all the remaining usable office supplies, and sent a picture to my supervisor, asking what he wanted done with them. He told me that it would be cheaper to re-purchase than ship to the nearest facility. He told me to toss or keep them because of that. The custodian said she had no use for them, and that if I didn’t want them, she’d toss them. I obviously kept the box of stuff. Going through it later, I found an unopened roll of Forever Stamps. Those stamps lasted me almost 4 years of personal use. I still have several pens from that box.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I had a similar situation when my temp job was helping a company get ready to move and then get settled in. They said to discard, so I set up a giveaway stash up front and called local schools. Three Jeep loads of binders and office supplies kept out of the landfill. I did however snag all the mechanical pencil leads for myself. I don’t think I bought pencil leads for 10 years, and I had boxes of the red ones for almost 20.

        1. JustaTech*

          When we cleaned out our labs before a renovation we had so much stuff that we didn’t use any more, or we just didn’t have enough people to use.

          So first we all went through an upgraded our personal supplies. (“I only want orange tube racks!”) Then we called a couple of local high schools and community colleges to take what they could use (I’ve never shoved so much stuff in a Kia in my life), then offered stuff to the institution up the street (“Oh hey, this is Ken’s pipette, I used to work with him!”).

          And then we filled two dumpsters.

          No one hoards stuff like scientists.

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            How do you think my University ended up with 40,000+ microscope slides!? Not a exaggeration. 90+ years of, “I can’t find this, I’ll buy more!” For the past 3 years I’ve been cataloguing the entire collection, so we can turn it into a system teachers can actually USE. At least my work is appreciated!

          2. Harper the Other One*

            Can confirm. My dad worked in a chemistry department of a major Canadian university his entire career. About 25 years in, they completely renovated/expanded the chemistry building. In the process they found hand-made glassware dated 100+ years ago (several pieces of which now live at my parents’ house as decor – they’re very cool!)

            His school also had an official chemistry glassblower on staff until shortly after 2000! I remember going down and helping make pipettes one summer

          3. OtherBecky*

            A friend of mine found, roughly 15-20 years ago, a stash of frozen radioisotopes manufactured in West Germany.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      The lab I worked at closed and I ended up rescuing several boxes of file folders and hanging files that were going to be thrown away. I didn’t have to buy any more for 18 years. I finally donated them to the thrift store when I moved, where they could make someone else very happy, lol.

    3. Be kind, rewind*

      Omg my husband used to manage a store for a formerly huge company that’s almost completely wiped out (see username), and when his location closed, he took ALL the office supplies home.

      We have 3 lifetime’s worth of printer paper and envelopes. Plus a Patriots snuggie.

    4. Not the dog*

      I knew someone who ordered supplies for the “lab” when the site announced a shut down. They ordered x-small gloves and someone asked if I ordered them since I would be the only one in the lab to fit them. They were ordering them to take home for their other half. They also asked if laboratory grade cleaners would be good to use in their home kitchen.

  10. ecnaseener*

    My office used to be fully paper-based, with enormous paper files. Luckily we implemented an electronic system just in time for The Plague — but in the months leading up to that transition, I guess someone decided there was no point in fixing or replacing broken staplers. One by one, our heavy-duty staplers failed and were just…left there. We were eventually left with standard staplers that can only do like 20 sheets max — heaven help you if you have to look through an old file and then re-staple hundreds of pages in 20-sheet sections!

    1. JustaTech*

      My lab is still very paper based (because I can’t bring my laptop in the lab where it could get spilled on), so we have a lot of binders of paper that we use and reference.
      But when our building was renovated it was decided by the people doing the renovation that 1) paper is dumb and 2) storage space interferes with the “open and clean line” look they were going for. So they just didn’t put in any storage space for all our binders and lab notebooks (which we are required by law to keep for ~10 years).
      When this was pointed out all of the renovation money had been spent, so we had to scrounge up two old bookcases (that super don’t match the rest of the furniture).

  11. Provolone Piranha*

    Several years ago, my school had a copy paper shortage. Teachers were told to limit the number of copies we made. This was before every student was issued a Chromebook, so we had to figure out how to distribute readings and assignments without guaranteed paper or technology. The office supplies we do have are locked in a storage closet. We have to fill out supply request forms 2 weeks in advance to get more pencils.
    *cries in underfunded public school teacher*

      1. Susie*

        Lol my comment below was about copy paper too.

        The first thing I used to tell teachers I mentored was 1) learn the copier and 2) get to know the school receptionist.

        Now that I’m in a one to one (one computer to each student) district, #1 is a source of so much less stress.

    1. Prof Ma'am*

      Before final exams (I’m at a university) we all hoard reams of paper. We get yelled at, and there are threats to withhold paper, but it doesn’t matter. No one is willing to risk not having the paper they need to print their exams…

      1. AnotherSarah*

        Oh yes, same here–we also see at the end of the year who used the most paper, as we have to log in to print and copy….There’s a lot of secret paper stashes….

    2. Farragut*

      This was my school a few years ago! A handful of teachers were printing EVERYTHING so we went through half the year’s paper budget in a month. They weren’t even using it – giant stacks sat in the copy rooms for days or weeks. Some people just could not conceive of a classroom without poorly photocopied handouts and paper quizzes.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        Sounds like you needed to get them a good ol’ Mimeograph, and make them WORK for their poorly copied handouts. The smell of that purple ink still haunts me.

        1. Sara without an H*

          Yes! Yes! I, too, remember Mimeograph. I have no idea what was in that purple ink. I’m kind of afraid to ask.

          1. MelonHelen*

            Kids today don’t know what they’re missing, getting a contact high from the smell of freshly mimeographed papers!

      2. Knapplepi*

        My school implemented a log in code for photocopying so they could track our use. A veteran English teacher posted his code on the wall by the photocopier and every teacher in the building exclusively used his code. After two months, we no longer needed a log in code!

        1. KateM*

          We have code each for printing, only the Word/Excel/etc remembers the last code unless you make sure to click a checkbox not to do it. The code is hidden (censored), so nobody knows whose code is used…

    3. Generic Name*

      My son’s school district solves the issue of funding by asking parents to supply basic school supplies such as paper and pencils. I can afford it, but it’s such a shame that our school district can’t afford the basics because of the way they are funded.

      1. Jaid*

        There was an Am I The A$$hole post, where a parent bought fancy stuff for her child, only to find out that the teacher was redistributing supplies among the children. A little boy got some folder with a unicorn on it and the girl got an ugly black one. The teacher claimed that it was a teaching experience of sharing and the mom was calling her out on it.
        Lots of posters were saying that it was a thing in their school district, citing income inequalities, etc, etc and saying the mom was an AH, especially since they were a grad student.
        A bunch of folks were like, OK, fine, but the note sent home didn’t say anything about sharing supplies and being a grad student is a good ten to fifteen years from elementary school.

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          I remember that one! I would have complained higher up the line, and in the future kept fancy supplies at home. The teacher was the real AH, she wouldn’t even let the students trade!

    4. Ms Frizzle*

      My first year the principal announced out of the blue in November that we were done copying for the year. No warnings or requests to be careful, just no more copies. Santa left a kinkos gift card in my stocking that year because it was so tough to teach kinder and do parent communication without copies!

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Now we get texts. One or two every day from various teachers, the principal, and the overall district. By middle school, assignments are on Canvas or similar system. Still a lot of paper assignments (which I like – writing keeps it in memory better than typing), but parent communication is mostly paper-free, except for the aid stuff, like school lunch supplement applications.

    5. Jen*

      My school is the same way! I’ve resorted to buying my own paper and asking the kids to bring in a pack on the supply list. Our biggest issue is ink, though. God forbid they get that order in on time.

    6. It's Growing!*

      I did my student teaching in a school district that had both high and low wealth elementary schools – meaning the parents of the students had high/low personal incomes. At the low wealth school where I was assigned to a 6th grade class, the school issued donated used (from local businesses) paper to students for their work vs lined notebook paper. Other supplies were also scarce. Yes, many of the students there were POC. Then I was sent to a 1st/2nd classroom at a high wealth school with few POC kiddos. They had lots of lined paper and anything else that could possibly come in handy. I lived in the district next door which also had high and low wealth schools, the difference being that all the schools there got the same amount of money for supplies per student, unlike the one where I did my student teaching. On behalf of the kids at School #1, I really resented that school district.

    7. KateM*

      We had in a previous school a limit on how many ages we could copy in a year. So much fun…

      We have to log into printer/copier each time in this school as well, but I don’t think there’s a limit or I haven’t managed to hit it – they just want to catch those who print hundreds of pages of non-work material.

    8. LilyP*

      I remember when I was in high school, near the end of some semesters the school would run low on white copy paper, but for some reason had a surplus of colorful paper (probably left over from some bulk order?), so all our handouts would be on various colors for a few weeks. It always seemed strange since surely the colorful paper was more expensive than plain white…

    9. Aimee*

      I remember my 6th-7th grade teacher having to figure out the copy paper, especially if it was a science topic we were required to learn but didn’t have a textbook or anything else for. We once got photocopies of a college textbook, front and back, two pages per side, and had to share the copies between 2-3 students. (This is my “walked to school 6 miles uphill both ways in the snow.”) It was awful for them.

      1. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

        The teacher was doing the best they could, but: copyright violation. That means the authors and publishing companies don’t get paid.

  12. Construction Safety*

    Not really drama, but. . .
    We tend to recognize words in the form of mental pictures. You see “Paperclips” & immediately visualize paperclips.

    Now picture a cabinet chock full of office supplies. Everything the well stocked office could want. You need staples. You go to the cabinet full of supplies and discover tht virtually ALL of the supplies have been purchased from, you guessed it, Staples. You are trying to find staples in a cabinet full of Staples.

    I needed a drink.

    1. Liz*

      We get our supplies from Staples and let me tell you, trying to search for staples on Staples’ website is IMPOSSIBLE

    2. Buggalugs*

      HAHAHA! I have actually bought paperclips from staples thinking they were staples because of this. I learned to look more closely.

  13. James*

    I’ve found that field geologists get weird about pens. We all have our favorite ones, typically multiple. The Pilot G2 series is a joy to write with–but can’t write in Write-In-Rain field books, so you have to get a second pen for those. Some people insist on getting Write-In-Rain pens ($15 a pop), and I’ve seen them go so far as to take the pen out of someone else’s hand if it wasn’t one. Then you have Sharpies–do you use fat or skinny, the kind that clip onto your hard hat or not, what color do you use, the list goes on…. For what it’s worth, a thin Sharpie is gold to a field geologist. They aren’t the best pens for anything, but they’re useful for everything, so we hoard them. I know two people with several boxes, but if you ask for one they have mysteriously run out that day.

    The paper towel thing also struck close to home. We all have our favorite brands of paper towels. And trash bags. And zip-top bags (not everyone likes Ziplock). And we will get into hour-long discussions about the pros and cons of these things. On a regular basis. I was amazed at just how much there was to talk about when this first happened to me–I thought a paper towel was a paper towel!

    1. Generic Name*

      I’m a field biologist, and I love the write-in-the-rain logbooks. I have a specific type of Sharpie that I prefer, but nobody ever seems to order it. :( Luckily I’m a project manager now, and we’ve largely moved to digital note taking.

      1. James*

        Oh, don’t get me started on digital notes….We got sold an online database for collecting sample data, and we haven’t gotten it to work yet. It’s been a year and a half now. For some reason, no one realized that geologists tend to work in areas without internet connections, so having a database that needs to be online isn’t going to work. It basically doubled the level of effort–now we need to take the hard copy notes and then put everything into the database…..

        1. L'étrangere*

          A local software company aimed at field biologists had exactly the same problem at first. I foolishly thought that was exceptionally stupid, but apparently not… Standard Notes is better than that, which is why I use it

      2. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

        Livestock entomologist here. I have office pens and field pens. Field pens are ones that I will not be sad about if they fall in a pile of manure and get tossed. I’m fussy about office pens though, right now my favorite is the Pentel Energel needle tip.

        1. James*

          I always carry two pocket knives, in different pockets. One is my “clean” knife, used for such things as cutting food or food packaging, removing splinters, whittling sticks, that sort of thing. The other is my “field” knife, used for things like cutting tubing carrying contaminated groundwater, or opening packages of potentially dangerous materials, or taking apart roadkill. I am reasonably certain at least one former field knife is actually poisonous at this point, thanks to the crap that’s migrated into the blade. The field knife is usually pretty cheap, because between corrosion, being lost, and the “ew” factor none last more than a few years.

      3. After 33 years ...*

        Fond memory of our field school students crowding under a drainspout, trying to get their “write-in-the-rains” wet enough for a good test …

    2. Shark Whisperer*

      Pilot G2s are the best!

      I used to work frequently with fish and I loved my write-in-the-rain notebooks, but I just used a pencil. I never sprang for the fancy pen.

      1. Shark Whisperer*

        I will also say that the things that you had to protect with your life from other naturalists were your pocket knife and multitool. Someone asks to borrow it for just a minute and you never see it again.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Lol – spouse has a Gerber multi tool from a prior job – painted pink and blaze orange stripes on it. None of the other guys working with him wanted to even touch it.

          1. Monday Monday*

            LOL I volunteer with the Boy Scouts and made all my important things pink for this reason! Even my duct tape is pink so I know it will only get used when it needs to be used.

        2. La Triviata*

          I once worked at a conference and brought scissors from home. I made sure they had bright purple handles and I attached a tassel. At our first meeting, I held them up, said they were MINE … and people laughed. A couple of days in, I was the only person who could lay their hands on their scissors.

    3. Lynca*

      Also we can be really particular about field notebooks. I know different people having preference for the spiral bound on the side, top, sewn pages, etc. I know people that have the ones they like horded in case (for some reason) they ever change. I will say I have also considered that.

      1. James*

        For my company it’s a legal thing. The notebook has to be bound, with sequentially numbered pages. That way the bloodsucking lawyers can’t accuse us of illegitimate note taking. (No offense to lawyers, I just like Jurassic Park.) We have an SOP that’s several pages long on how to properly record field notes.

    4. AK_Blue*

      Former field geologist, can confirm! Even office geos are mighty particular. :)

      As I understand it from a RN friend though, nurses are even more possessive about their pens.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        I was legitimately bummed when two of my friends moved out of being pharma sales reps, they always had the best pens!

      2. Recruited Recruiter*

        I worked at the front desk of a hospital department for several years. We always had to put away our pens at night/on weekends in a locked drawer. The one time someone forgot, we came in Monday to a complete lack of pens, and the people with the supply closet keys didn’t come in until later. That was a rough Monday and completely the fault of the pen-snatching weekend nurses.

    5. Nesprin*

      Same problem in labs. When VWR stopped making the really good marking pens that don’t wipe off when you spray alcohol I nearly cried. Their new ones last for … 1 week.

      Though I will say that VWR makes very very nice fine tip pens (better than sharpies even) … which I can’t use because they’re not ethanol proof.

      1. JustaTech*

        Seriously! About once a year I have to go through the lab and throw out (OK, move to the office) all the Sharpies because they’re not alcohol proof. And I totally have a private hoard (that I’m willing to share if you’re nice and I like you) of good VWR pens.

        The other thing I’m always having to relocate (or just chuck) are felt-tip pens in the lab. They’re not even slightly water or alcohol resistant, we should never buy them, and yet, they keep sneaking into my lab.

    6. Calacademic*

      Maybe this is a science thing? Because us lab rats are weird about pens too. I like to quip that you could leave $20 on a lab bench and no one would touch it. Leave a pen out? Gone in 10 seconds.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        Yup. PaperMate InkJoy 100RT, blue, medium, lives tucked up under my hat at all times and I’m the only one at work who buys them so if I see one in someone elses’ hoard… heyyyyyy, give that back!!! They’re not fancy, but I LOVE the triangular profile for lots and lots of manual data recording with no writer’s cramp.

        Also, Pentel paint pens (the white fine tipped ones) and industrial sharpies. The metallic sharpies are surprisingly chemical resistant, but irresistable to pen thieves. I literally take them home in my purse at night so they don’t grow feet!

    7. kicking-k*

      I’m from the UK and Sharpies are fairly new here. I use them for labelling medium-term document storage boxes. But the thin pens are no good for that, and the fat pens aren’t any good for writing anything normal-sized… I recently discovered there are double-ended Sharpies. They’re a game changer!

    8. Liz*

      I buy those write in the rain notebooks… to keep in the shower. I’m a writer and get a lot of good ideas in there, and I used to have to dry my hands and type them on my phone. No longer!

    9. Dragon_Dreamer*

      At Field Camp, certain other students kept trying to take my Dr. Grip pencils because they were much comfier to write with!

    10. kitryan*

      Oo0h – costume design pen drama- we’re always writing labels for costume pieces and it’s Rub a Dubs for washfastness but the nibs are so fat, then there’s the ball points with wash fast ink that some people like, but I hate… my fav is the thin sharpies – they usually last thru a month long run but it’s easier to freshen a label with them than to struggle thru getting those ball points to write on fabric or to clearly write with that fat pointed Rub a Dub. And you can use the sharpie on masking tape / gaff tape labels as well, so you don’t have to carry as many pens.
      When I was in grad school, I bought my own basics in most cases, so I could be sure I had what I wanted to use on hand. To keep my supplies from vanishing, particularly the pens, I’d wrap the sharpie barrel in masking tape and then use a second sharpie to write my name on the first sharpie. 20 years later, and I’m just now throwing out the last of my labeled pens (it took a while but they’ve pretty much dried up at this point).
      Later, when working in the costume shop for a regional theater, I had to make sure the drapers and 1st hands had the fav pencils and scotch tape – for patterns, you have to have the scotch brand magic tape, as other brands/types can’t necessarily be written over, which is frequently done when altering a drafted brown paper patterns. The shop could be quite cliquish and I was definitely not above maintaining good relationships through the judicious application of premium supplies.

      1. JustaTech*

        In one lab where I worked there was months of drama from one scientist that we weren’t ordering the right scotch tape. He didn’t like the tape the rest of us used to tape things in our lab notebooks. No, he wanted shiny tape, not matte tape.
        So the lab manager bought shiny tape.
        But it was too skinny.
        So the lab manager hunted around and found wide, shiny scotch tape (not easy to find).
        Then it turns out that you can’t write on shiny scotch tape (duh!) so the scientist wanted the lab manager to find wide, shiny tape that you could write on with an ink pen.

        The lab manager told the scientist to get over himself and use the regular tape and regular ballpoint pens like the rest of us.

      2. bardicartist*

        I love the Scotch brand Magic Tape! I use it soo much for my sewing hobby!

        What paper do you use for patterns? I use medical table paper since it’s basically tissue and I could get 12 rolls for $25.

        1. kitryan*

          For theater, we save and often reuse or adapt the patterns that are drafted so most places use brown Kraft paper, like on a huge 4 or 5 foot wide roll. It’s economical as it can all be used up in a season or two, so buying such a large quantity is worth the initial cost. A few specific patterns might get put onto oak tag, like the material manila folders are made of.
          The tissue of most commercial patterns doesn’t stand up to the alterations from fittings or the storage/reuse.

        2. HBJ*

          I bought Bienfang tracing paper from Amazon. It’s a little stiffer than standard pattern tissue paper but sheer enough to be able to easily see and trace through.

        3. L'étrangere*

          I get lightweight tracing paper from my local art store in 30″ width. More durable than tissue, made for tracing. I also use Pellon 830 for patterns in heavy use, like my personal block (in bulk at 50% off sale from Joanne). I’d use oak tag but it’s not practical to get the small quantities I need

          1. kitryan*

            Yes, costume shops have a different scale than home sewers, or even singleton professionals do. I did splurge on a small (length) brown paper roll, (which is tucked in the corner of the coat/sewing and other crafts closet), for myself, which I use for wrapping presents, patterning, and other crafting stuff. At least it’s not got much of a shelf life issue, which is good, as I’ll be using it up for probably over 10 years.

    11. PolarVortex*

      I am not a field geologist. But maybe I have found my people because I have opinions! about pens. And notebooks. And different preferred pens for different things because different writing surfaces need different type pens. (And also a deep abiding love for fountain pens, for all that they are not my go to pen. They’re there for just days I need to feel fancy when I’m writing. Nothing makes you feel better than using a fancy pen for no reason at all. Also nothing makes you feel more irritated than a crappy pen.)

      I don’t think a year has gone by that I haven’t gotten some kind of pen for a gift because people have learned I have opinions. One year I got box of fancy pencils and a sharpener that puts on the absolute sharpest point. Weapons grade points on my pencils. Truly a great gift.

    12. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      All this talk of Pilot G2s makes me feel so at home amongst my people.

      Order us all 15 packs and we will never share and always be happy.

    13. cncx*

      this reminds me of some childhood trauma, my mom is a nurse and i feel like nursing is another one of those fields where people are weirdly territorial about their pens. All the nurses I know have a favorite pen. My mom would never let anyone use her pen; when i was a child she was like “you can’t use it because it has hospital germs”

  14. Sharpieees*

    Honeslty, I’d go to the dollar store and pick up cheap office supplies myself just to avoid the drama. And do these businesses think that saving some pennies on pencils and paperclips is worth the waste of staff time it takes to monitor their use?

    1. Dreama*

      This is precisely what I did long ago, when the school where I taught started locking the supplies in a cabinet. There was no history of office supply theft; one day, we were told to go to the secretary to get the key to unlock the cabinet when we needed supplies. So I thought, screw this, (the secretary was supposed to get up, go several doors down the hall, unlock the cabinet, watch while you took your one pack of yellow post-it notes, and lock up. I wasn’t going to be part of that.) I went out to Target and bought the cutest office supplies ever: pens, posties, pencils, even my own ream of paper. One day I hear, “Where did you get those blue posties?” in an enraged tone from my boss. I said, “Target”. The cabinet was forever unlocked after that. WTF is wrong with people?

    2. CreepyPaper*

      I do this with supplies from Poundland because honestly the notepads and pens etc there are far superior to the ones we get from the office supply people, which also cost waaaay too much.

      Got a ten pack of fineline biros for £1 at the start of the pandemic and am only just running out the fifth one! Same with my £1 calculator, that’s still going strong.

      I draw the line at Poundland printer paper though. I just take the good stuff from the office to use at home…

    3. PT*

      Yup. I was nonprofit. We had some office supplies but they were weird. We had pens but they were the ones that don’t write, and we had to use them up (ha!) before we got new ones. I had to buy my own for our department. I needed pencils and a pink eraser…I had to buy my own. We needed binder dividers…my boss grabbed them when she saw a Job Lot near her vacation rental.

      The supply closet was a grab bag and if it wasn’t available you weren’t getting it. Or if you could order it, it’d come in a giant quantity due to vendor restrictions (you couldn’t get a 3 pack of Sharpies, you’d have to get a 12 pack; you couldn’t get a 10 pack of pencils, you’d have to order 144) and it just wasn’t worth the trouble when you needed one Sharpie or one pencil.

    4. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      I’ve done that and found it well worth the money to have EXACTLY what I wanted to use in the way of my favorite pens and mechanical pencils! (I also found it amusing that, while there are so many jokes about people taking office supplies home, I did the opposite!)

    5. kittymommy*

      The pencil thing is killing me!! I’m a grown ass adult, I can decide for myself if I need a new pencil!

    6. MissDisplaced*

      It depends on the supplies. But usually if you’re burning through pens, pads, and staples at an alarming rate, you’ve got some kind of large scale thieving going on. I have worked someplace where whole boxes of things would disappear and so they did have to lock them up in a cabinet. We never did find out who was doing it.

    7. anonymous73*

      I agree. I prefer certain types of supplies and I’d rather just buy my own than deal with the headache of begging for them.

    8. urban teacher*

      Welcome to education. I’ve always had to buy my own supplies because if I was lucky, I might be handed a coupleb of pens.

  15. Denise*

    Every office I’ve worked in has eventually stopped bothering to stock ibuprofen, aspirin, etc, because without fail somebody will empty out the entire supply and take it home with them within a day or two of it being restocked. I once witnessed a woman taking handfuls and putting them in her purse while I stood there and watched. When I said she shouldn’t be taking them all, she said “well they’re free”.

    When I brought it up to my boss, the boss said “well they’re free”.

    1. F.M.*

      …goodness. My first job out of college had a giant bottle of ibuprofen just sitting around for whenever anyone needed it, but that was mostly pointed to as wry evidence of how stressful the job was, that people kept needing it for headaches.

    2. James*

      There’s a half-dozen people in our office that get migraines, including the office manager. This would result in, if not immediate termination, a PIP and everyone in the office refusing to put you on projects (which basically means you have no work, can’t bill, and get fired anyway).

      1. LizB*

        Oh my gosh, I originally read your comment as saying that getting migraines would lead to being fired/blacklisted, not that stealing the entire painkiller supply would lead to that because everyone who gets migraines would hate your guts. I was so alarmed until I parsed it correctly!

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Medical supplies stay in HR because those folks have no problem enforcing the “please take no more than 3 individual dose packets at a time” rule.

      But we have had classy people who took the food and paper products from the kitchen home in bulk on the same rationale. My favorite was the one who kept cleaning the kitchen out of paper towels and, when their supervisor asked them not to do that because the supplies were for use in-office by the whole team, they demanded to know where in the staff handbook it said they couldn’t take all of them home.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        We had dish soap stealers. I started supplying the office out of my own money and writing my name on a dispenser I bought on amazon. Apparently a few people got upset that I wrote “do not move” on my dispenser. Maybe if people DIDN’T STEAL ALL THE DISH SOAP.

        1. Cold Fish*

          That made me think of a gal who insisted on writing her name on all her desk supplies (stapler, tape dispenser, scissors, etc.). When she left the company all her things migrated around the office for a while. Somehow I got her scissors and have had them 15 years now. I still think of them as Charlotte’s scissors ;)

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Yeah. Although maybe the scissors are NAMED Charlotte.
            I usually don’t label everything, but I thought that maybe if I put my name on the dispenser people would think of it as like… mine rather than “free stuff”. It’s a government office, so they’re stingy with supplies to begin with. Actually, at some point they decided that dish soap and hand soap were the same thing, so now there’s only hand soap. So sad.

            1. soap is soap right?*

              There was a recent photo of a container labeled antibacterial hand soap on the front and dishwashing soap in smaller print (still on the front) near the bottom. The photo taker was confused about what the soap could be used for. It sparked a large debate of hand vs dish soap in the group.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Ughhh – we had that with sanitizing wipes at the start of the pandemic. All supplies are now under lock and key in a closet because of a pair of people who were bringing in ziplock baggies to take them home.

        They are probably the same subspecies that is behind the you can’t have Kleenex (of any variety) anymore.

      3. ObservantServant*

        HR was several floors away in my old office. Since the accounting team was tasked with purchasing meds, tissues, snacks, etc., these supplies were housed in their area. Meds were especially tight so the basket sat on Angela’s desk and was locked up every night and on her lunch breaks. Didn’t stop the worst offender (a highly paid sales guy, because of course it was) from going in and taking things by the handful whenever she was in a meeting.

      4. HigherEdAdminista*

        I was once at a university function where someone (who definitely was not food insecure) went up to the buffet with a bag of containers before the event had even started and started clearing off plates for stuff to take home.

      5. SeluciaMD*

        I used to work for a very, VERY high paid senior partner at a big law firm. We had our own in-house “restaurant” for staff that also did in-house catering for big meetings/events. Any time there was a big meeting on your floor, when it was over, they’d send out a mass email to everyone on that floor that there was food available in conference room X for anyone who wanted anything. I swear to god, that attorney – no matter what she was working on – would drop EVERYTHING to RUN to the conference room and pack up as much food as possible before anyone else could touch it. She had bags and bags of stuff in the fridge and freezer in the office kitchen all the time that would constantly get chucked at the end of the month clean-out because one person was never going to eat all the food she hogged.

        SHE BILLED $500 AN HOUR.

        I knew to the penny how much money was in her checking and savings accounts because I used to balance her checkbook for her and to say that she did not need one bite of any of those leftovers is a massive understatement. I have no idea why she felt the need to do that – it was so bizarre, and frankly pretty mean and disrespectful to the lower-level staff that, you know, worked around the clock and didn’t make a ton of money while living in a very high cost big city. There were people that could have really used that extra food and for whom it would have been meaningful. It was freaking bananas.

    4. Jean*

      Gotta love the “well it’s free” people. They all seem to think that “free for me to use” means “a gift from on high that just appeared here spontaneously” and not “I don’t have to pay for this, but someone did.”

      1. Generic Name*

        I once watched a woman pick up a pair of sunglasses that had been left (by someone else, obviously) on a picnic table. She said “ooh! free sunglasses” and put them on her head. I was aghast and said something along the lines of, “Wow, someone lost those and is probably looking for them”. She just shrugged and seemed unconcerned.

        1. Seriously?*

          I found my laptop tote that I’d been looking for, full of a new manager’s stuff! The culture here is that personal items get stashed (on coat hooks or a corner of a shelf), pretty much in perpetuity, until they reconnect with a grateful owner; and he’d just absconded with it immediately.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Apparently the Google offices had to crack down on people doing this with like… coconut water. “We pay you enough, buy a case for yourselves guys!”

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          WTF, why coconut water of all things? I used to work for a large non-profit that did walk fundraising events, and one year one of our temps (who loved coconut water) got a lot of it donated for use as a giveaway for walkers. I have never seen so many bottles that were abandoned almost full. Apparently, many people just took one sip of it, went “EWWW!”, then threw it away. I don’t blame them, that stuff tastes awful – though they probably have an upmarket, super-nice version at Google.

          1. Martin Blackwood*

            Coconut water tastes like cereal water, in a bad way. BUT I can see the logic for getting it donated for run type event, since its stupidly high in potassium which makes it a good for electrolyte balancing

          2. wittyrepartee*

            I think it’s an acquired taste that you like if you drank it through childhood. A lot like aloe vera drinks?

        2. Martin Blackwood*

          Coconut water isn’t even that expensive! When I worked for a health food store it was like, $3 for a liter!

        3. CJ*

          HAH an acquaintance was responsible for that. He would steal cases of coconut water to take home. And he wasn’t even an employee, just one of the contractors!

          He’d also steal packets of guacamole, granola bars, nuts, and other snacks. Every time I visited him he’d have an entire pantry stocked from things he stole from Google. His reasoning was that he was an underpaid contractor and Google owed it to him or something.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            HAH, your acquaintance is a man of legend. My guess is that he wasn’t the only one though. Regularly providing food for people as a perk seems to create some really odd behaviors.

    5. Beth*

      I had the flip side of that in my first career. In a field that’s usually 95% women, in a workplace with 100% women, including all the management, almost all in the age range where everyone’s having periods, there was no ibuprofen in the first aid kit. Just aspirin.

      I asked the manager if we could add ibuprofen; she looked completely baffled and demanded to know why.

      Deeply embarrassed to be talking to a woman, in an all-female workspace, about women’s health issues, I pointed out that it was the generally preferred medication for menstrual cramps.

      Her reply? “Well, anyone who needs it should bring it from home.”

      It was an early red flag in what proved to be a deeply effed-up work environment.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        My response to this sort of thing is generally to buy a GIANT bottle of whatever, and label it “to share” or something and leave it out. I don’t know if that’s passive aggressive or not.

        1. kicking-k*

          I was just thinking… I don’t know if it’s because I’m in the UK, but it’s never occurred to me that my employer might supply paper tissues, painkillers, what one would otherwise consider personal supplies.

          I don’t know why, since I’d consider it odd if they didn’t supply toilet paper, or paper towels in the toilets.

          1. workswitholdstuff*

            UK also here.
            I was also sitting going ‘wait, offices supplier pain killer and paper tissues?’
            Not in any workplace I’ve every worked in, and I was wondering if I’d just worked in the type of places that don’t….

            But, sounds like it’s a UK/US thing.

            That said, I do have a box of tissues on my desk at work that work paid for (a complete over ordering elsewhere meant a big surplus and the site supervisor basically stuck a box on everyones desk…)

          2. No painkillers*

            At least in Australia, painkillers disappeared from office first aid kits about 15 years ago due to legal liability concerns.

            1. Jamie Starr*

              I’ve heard this too — that you’re not supposed to have aspirin, OTC medicine because what if the employee took it and had an adverse reaction. Or it could be construed that employees who aren’t feeling well should just take medicine and stay at work.

              1. L'étrangere*

                Sometimes employees who are struck by surprise cramps/headaches need medicine in order to make it home safely.

                1. Jamie Starr*

                  But how hard it is to buy a bottle of Advil or DayQuil or whatever and just keep it in your desk drawer? I’d rather do that so I know it’s there if I need it and it works for me, rather than take the chance the office might not have anything, or if they do, that it’s the brand/type you want/need, etc.

          1. WS*

            Yes, I work in a pharmacy and we’re not allowed painkillers in the first aid kit, so we just have a drawer of “opened stock” which staff can “sample” if they need it.

        1. Eva*

          Yeah, in my experience ibuprofen actually doesn’t work at all and Midol was best. But at the same time, this is why if you’re going to stock painkillers you should at least stock both ibuprofen and an NSAID. There are plenty of people who can’t take one or the other for various reasons and they actually function differently and are for different situations. Painkillers run a very wide range.

          1. Zan Shin*

            Ibuprofen IS a NSAID. Are you confusing it with acetaminophen which can be safely used with any of the NSAIDS?

            1. wittyrepartee*

              yeah, and tylenol (acetaminophen) is actually really good in concert with NSAIDs like Ibuprofen. Taking one of each reduces pain more than the sum of each one’s pain relief properties.

          2. SeluciaMD*

            Interesting! Midol never worked for me at ALL. It’s basically tylenol plus caffeine (to help combat fatigue) and an antihistamine (to help with bloating/water retention) but as caffeine is also a vasoconstrictor, it tended to make my cramps worse, and even without that Tylenol was basically as effective as a sugar pill for me. While my #1 choice has long been Aleve/naproxen, I would have taken ibuprofen any day of the week over Midol. Isn’t it crazy how different our bodies can react to things?

            1. L'étrangere*

              +1 Ibuprofen is what was basically invented by the (woman) British doctor who proved that cramps really exist, thereby putting thousands of psychotherapists out of business. Much more effective than anything before

          3. kitryan*

            My office is just restocking from the in-office hiatus and the only pain meds were these off brand aspirin/acetaminophen combo pills – now, I’m not supposed to take aspirin, so this was bad news for me. We’d previously had a couple big bottles of Tylenol and aspirin individually, along with tums and I think excedrin, so I was pretty surprised. Good news is facilities seemed to get it when I explained that not everyone can take a particular pain med, so the all in one wouldn’t work for a lot of folks, and confirmed that we planned on stocking back up.

    6. Rosie*

      We have been told we can’t purchase medications using institutional funds, nor leave them out for all to take, because they are *medications* and we can’t have the perception that the institution is providing medical care outside of the health services office.

      Painkillers are included in the (regularly restocked) first aid kits, though…

    7. Mental Lentil*

      You know those ducks in the city park. They’re free. You can just take one every time you go there.

      I have 728 ducks now.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        I now realize I should have been collecting those free seagulls every time I went to the beach or boardwalk. Dammit! Talk about a missed opportunity. My collection could have been so large by now……

    8. JustaTech*

      When they stopped stocking aspiring and ibuprofen in the work first aid kits we asked about and were told that it was because we might accidently poison someone by forcing them to eat a medication they were allergic to.

      What?

      The real reason was that they were cheap and the company that stocked the first aids kits was completely overcharging. So now all the first aid kits in the labs are tied shut in a way that you an open them easily but it’s clear that someone has been into them. This, we were told, was so no one would be able to hide a workplace injury that needed to be reported. (Uh huh.)

  16. F.M.*

    The only office ‘supply’ that’s really caused drama in my workplace has been keys.

    See, all the grad students get a key to the grad student office, which also opens the door to the room used for grad student mail, the grad student printer, and a little kitchenette area. Straightforward enough, right?

    But there’s a key that they USED TO give out to grad students, and stopped, which also opened the door to the room most often used for grad student classes, and the door to the staff office printer room, which is inaccessible before/after staff hours and during the lunch break. That’s where the fancier printers that will print in color, do binding and hole-punching, and so forth all live.

    Which meant that you’d get clusters of grad students around the door to their classroom, waiting for the prof to arrive and open it…unless someone from an early enough cohort was there too and could open it for them. Or asking other people to come downstairs and open the door to the staff printer room because the grad printer wasn’t working and they needed to print 84 copies of a quiz before class in half an hour and it was during the lunch break.

    …and then it was discovered that if you had a good excuse, you could still get issued the Special Second Key. If, for example, you were teaching an 8am class, and thus regularly had to print things in the morning before the staff were in their office.

    This is before we even get into the Archeology Lab Key, which exists in exactly one copy given out in person with sign-out from a staffer in the office with prior appointment…

    (Everyone in the department is helpful and friendly, and none of this is handled in an unreasonable manner. But it’s the closest we get to drama, because only some people get the SACRED KEY that allows you into the holy sanctum of PRINTING IN COLOR.)

      1. F.M.*

        It’s possible! Was the seminar room in question weirdly half-circular because it was in the one tower-like part of the building left after the major refurb?

    1. OhNo*

      Maybe there’s something about universities and color printing, because the one I work for also has a Holy Sanctum of Printing in Color. Our campus is quite small, but there is only one color printer and it lives in a building that is exclusively used for staff offices, and always locked unless you have a Special Key Fob, which you can only get by having an office in that building.

      From what I understand, no one whose office is actually in that building ever really has a work-related need to print in color. But for every other staff and faculty member on campus, you better believe we are all hustling to make friends with someone who has an office in that building. Coffee once a week with someone you can’t stand is 100% worth it, when it means you can ask them to let you into the building to access the color printer when you need it.

      1. F.M.*

        Every time I went to the grad student archeology club meeting, where we each brought a print-out of an article we’d found & shared on the meeting’s theme, I would admire their shiny thick-papered full-colored printouts, especially compared to mine. Some departments just get All The Color, and in others it’s for Special Events and Tenured Professors.

      2. Nina*

        at my university, undergrads had to pay for printing (it was like 2 cents a sheet or something stupid but they had to pay). Staff got free printing (duh). Grad students… got free printing but only if they knew to ask a specific person at a specific time to activate their card for it. This information was never officially provided, but was handed down from grad student to grad student.

        Unpopular grad students paid for their printing.

    2. Dwight Schrute*

      This reminded me of a professor I had for undergrad. She required that we print the lectures ahead of time and bring them to class- we as students had to pay for printing and it wasn’t super cheap and her lectures were long. Professors could print things for free, when we told her about this she didn’t care and didn’t change the policy about requiring printed copies.

      1. Dramatic Romantic*

        She didn’t use it as a money making enterprise, like a professor I had? He would charge a $25 ” optional materials fee” paid directly to him for a pre-printed lecture book. Literally printed out his PowerPoint slides for the semester and handed them to the students. Oh, and he “wrote” his own textbook, and changed it ever so slightly each year so that he could reissue it.
        Legal? Maybe not. Definitely fishy.
        Made the class a hell of a lot easier? YES.
        Did some students occasionally get together, buy one book, and then make multiple copies and sell them at less than $25? YES.

      2. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

        When I was in grad school, we had a binder of articles for certain classes for which we had to pay $10.00. It was convenient, since it meant we didn’t have to go to the library and copy the articles ourselves and $10 wasn’t that much, even for a full load of classes, although it did add up.
        It added up especially for the admin who wasn’t supposed to be charging for those binders, who kept all the money and bought herself nice clothes/nice vacations/an addition to her house with the money. I was shocked that it added up to that much (it was not a big program) but apparently it was enough for that. Oh, and she went to jail.

        1. L'étrangere*

          You bet it adds up. At an Ivy League institution I worked at, when paper was still king, everyone had to get their class packets printed at the local Mafia outpost, which had an exclusive contact. Some people would treck to New York to do their own copying and then have to collect the money directly from the students, but the university itself did the enforcement if you were caught. The same place did extensive remodeling of office space every summer, shuffling people unnecessarily till a certain amount was spent – they should have just forked over the money and left people to work in peace

    3. R*

      Oh man I played this videogame before…I could never find the third gem so I could never figure out the code to unlock the copier though.

    4. Tim*

      We had a similar issue. All the locks were re-keyed. Heightened security! Department could only have 3 keys for staff of 150 to a particular closet. Arguments; justifications – but no luck. Then a staff member discovered the new locks could be opened in seconds by slipping a credit card or gift card between the door and the frame. Problem solved!

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        We’re currently having fun with that. One storage room has a hallway door, and an exit to another room whose entrance is on the other side of the building. It was the former lab manager’s office, before he retired and passed away. Then it became the ombudsman’s office, as well as our expected storage room. She was given the only key… and has been working from home since the shut down. We’re currently waiting for new keys to be made.

    5. Mitford*

      I think I’ve posted this before, but I once worked at a Catholic girls high school where the very officious school secretary refused to let the PTO parents have a key to the closet where the PTO kept all its stuff. They had to check the key out every single day from Edith and then turn it back into her before they left the building. One day, the PTO president checked it out, unlocked the closet, then walked to the back door of the school and handed the key to another parent volunteer who was waiting there. That person then went to the nearest hardware store and had copies made. Edith never figured it out.

      1. Youth Services Librarian*

        See, there should be a balance – at my library one key opens all but 4 doors in the building (those 4 doors being part of the older part of the building, including a typewriter closet, office, and a basement door). I’ve always given my staff Very Serious Lectures about the Sacredness of the Key… and then discovered that we had somehow managed to spread an unknown number of them around the community.

  17. Cat Tree*

    A few jobs ago, the admin ordered me a box of pens. It happened to be breast cancer awareness month, so they had the standard black ink but a pink casing. One day a few months later, a male coworker asked to borrow a pen for a second because he wasn’t near his desk. I handed him my pen, which happened to be a pink one, and he recoiled in horror like I had offered him a poisonous snake. He refused to even touch a pink item and found a pen on someone else’s desk.

        1. Christmas Carol*

          I always ordered my stuff in pink too. My safety knife and tape measure still got swiped by the guys in the warehouse ALL THE TIME, because my desk was closer than the unlocked supply closet where they could just help themselves to a new one, but at least I could identify the guilty party on sight.

          1. Red 5*

            This is why I keep telling people at my office to label their stuff in big letters in permanent marker or paint pens, because it’s not going to stop a thief but at least when you walk into their office you can go “Oh, THAT’S where my stapler wandered off to, thanks!” and take it back and they can’t argue with you.

            Harder to do with pens, but works for anything bigger than that really.

            1. SeluciaMD*

              YES! Because of where my desk used to sit in my office (adjacent to the printer) my stapler would get swiped ALL THE TIME. But I put a huge nearly impossible to remove label on it with my name in bright red and all caps and miraculously, it never wandered away again. I never minded if people used it, I just got cranky that it would disappear all the time. Like, use it at my desk, leave it there and go on your merry way people! Not sure why that was so hard to begin with.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed. At a prior job spouse had a bunch of expensive and specialist tools. He painted all of them with blaze orange stripes because 1) you’re less likely to loose them in the field and 2) it’s easy at a glance to see and remind the other guy that those specialty sockets are actually mine.

        3. Professional Merchandiser*

          Yep. When I worked, the men on my team were constantly borrowing my tools and not returning them. Finally I went out and bought some hot pink ones, and the theft came to a screeching halt. :-) If they HAD to borrow one in case of emergency, they wasted no time in returning it.

      1. James*

        When my wife did field geology this is what she had too. I’ve also seen sites where they had pink PPE for folks who forgot theirs–pink vests, hard hats, etc. Most people on construction sites will never forget their PPE if you do that to them once! (Didn’t work with one archaeologist–she got her own pink hard hat and put rhinestones on it….)

        1. Smaller potatoes*

          I’ve been to factories where the ‘punishment’ for certain safety violations was having to wear pink gloves. As a woman in engineering I was pretty horrified to see that shaming people with pink things is a common practice.

          1. Recruited Recruiter*

            The sad thing is it works. The percentage of toxically masculine males in this type of position is a big problem, and one that can be abused for the solution to other problems in this way.

            1. James*

              To be blunt, if the worst expression of toxic masculinity on a jobsite is an aversion to pink I’m happy. Environmental remediation uses a lot of the same people as construction and oil drilling (a lot of drillers bounce back and forth), and…well, it can get a lot worse. And I’ve seen other colors used as well–the point is to stand out and single the person out for public shame, as shaming is a powerful tool for ensuring compliance with workplace norms. If it keeps me from needing to fill out more paperwork because these morons hurt themselves, I’m okay with using the tool.

              For my part, I don’t get this whole obsession with colors. I mean, I know for a fact John Wayne wore pink, and purple (another “female” color) was the color of royalty. Ironically every image of the Virgin Mother is shown in blue–a color that used to be considered feminine. I’ve never had a favorite color, and while I prefer to wear earth tones it’s because I don’t need to worry about what matches with what and when I tried to go with an all-black wardrobe my teachers nearly had me committed (apparently black=goth, and goth=clinically insane…to be fair, I’ve always been fascinated with bones, so I get their confusion). It’s a color. It has no gender, no sex, and no implication of anything.

              1. SnappinTerrapin*

                Pink was a uniform color for US Army uniforms as recently as WWII.

                When you see a black & white picture of LTG Patton in his riding boots and breeches, the breeches and shirt were pink, the coat was green.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Lol spouse once had a job that required expensive specialty tools – company gave you a tool budget every year, anything above came out of your pocket. Now the budget was more than healthy enough to cover normal breakage, but not theft. Hubby painted pink and blaze orange stripes on his tools. They were easy to see at a glance in open fields, and nobody wanted to take them.

        1. pandop*

          Sadly this doesn’t work if you are the loser, not the losee. I bought myself a new steel rule that had a big & chunky pink/purple outer case, on the principle that I’d spot it much easier than a small black or silver one.

          Nah, still lose it. There’s no hope for me!

      3. Victoria J*

        Never had my calculator stolen when I switched to a pink one.

        Really narrowed down who was stealing the ones I had before. (To just the weirdly insecure men).

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          My gaming desktop is covered in sparkly butterfly stickers for this reason too! Keeps people from touching the BFGM at LAN parties. :P Before the stickers, people would be poking and prodding and looking in the side window at the innards. Now they steer clear. :P

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      You can replace a black Sharpie’s cap with a pink one if you want to ensure your black Sharpies don’t wander off, too.

      1. OhNo*

        I (accidentally) discovered this trick for keeping the office pens from wandering away too frequently. I had a ton of black-ink pens with not caps, and a ton of red caps from pens that were dried out. Combined the two, and suddenly, no one was stealing our pens any more because they thought they all had red ink.

        Since then, I’ve started doing it on purpose. I buy a box at a time of both black and red pens, swap the caps, and use up the red ones myself since I just use them for personal notes.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        That was my reaction the year my uncle refused to wear the party hat from his Christmas cracker because it was pink.

      2. Free Meerkats*

        65-year old male here. All my LAMY fountain pens are the limited pink ones they had a few years back. I even have one filled with pink ink.

        None of your pink stuff is safe from me!

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Lol -I mentioned my spouse above with the bright pink and blaze orange stripes on the tools. He was very much a guy, and loved how visible the colors made his tools when way out in the files. Neon and Blaze shades aren’t native in nature – or in many industrial hangars.

    2. Belle*

      I’ve kept Disney princess pens at my desk for years now – most men won’t steal them because they’re princesses, and the women (and the men who are cool about it) won’t because they’re super distinctive. It’s been years and I still have the full set – a few of them even on a refill ink now!

    3. Ari*

      At a company event a few years ago we all got branded hoodies to wear. They were either pink or blue (the brand colors) but distribution was at random, not by gender (because why would it be). OMG the big hairy deal that some of the dudes made about having to wear a pink sweatshirt, and trying to trade for blue ones.

    4. NoviceManagerGuy*

      My oldest daughter went to kindergarten with a boy who refused to color with pink, so he colored a pig blue instead. But at least he was a kindergartener!

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        When I was in kindergarten, we used the pink crayons to color the skin of white people we drew.

        A few years later, Crayola came up with a color they called “flesh.” I’ve forgotten how many years it was before the racial assumption was called to their attention. I think they changed the name of that color to “peach.”

  18. Susie*

    At two past school districts I worked at, copy paper hoarding was rampant. And for good reason too—copy paper was never ordered enough. One district was under resourced and the other was a very wealthy town. In the latter district, supplies were under lock and key. I didn’t know there even was a supply closet until the very end of my first (and last) year there.
    Luckily my current school, though in an under resourced district, has ample copy paper and tries to get us the supplies we need. One less stress.

    1. Susie*

      Oh and another story I remembered.

      I did a brief stint as a admin assistant and was in charge of supply ordering. I didn’t over do it, but I reordered supplies as we ran out. Apparently this was so thrilling to my colleagues. So many people thanked me for keeping us stocked in supplies.
      I found out at some point that the previous person in my role had been incentivized to order less supplies by being told she could pocket the difference if she was under budget. I was not offered this same incentive, nor was I ever told there was a budget. So…maybe my former boss learned it is better to keep staff happier than save a little bit of money?

  19. Claire (Scotland)*

    I’m a secondary school teacher. A few years ago, we were informed by the Business Manager that orders for our usual teacher planners through our purchasing system would no longer be approved. We now had to buy these dreadful ones (softcover, cheap paper, wrong layout) from the local council’s print shop instead.

    People. Were. Furious. The emails flew thick and fast. No one talked about anything else for HOURS – which was all the time it took management to back down and say we could buy our proper planners after all. Just for that year, they said. Just until we sorted out the complaints about the alternative ones.

    We have never heard another thing about it, and we still have our planners.

    1. Selina Luna*

      I’ve been a secondary teacher for years, and I’ve never once actually used my paper planner. I hate the ones they give out here. I don’t even use typical school planners. I just do everything online. But I feel for you, ordering from the local shop. One year, the only pencils I could get at school were the plastic ones that destroy pencil sharpeners. They went back to good, old-fashioned Ticonderoga pencils within a semester because whatever they were saving on pencils, they were spending twice over on new sharpeners.

  20. Jamie Starr*

    At my first post-college job I worked for a proprietary art school. The man in charge of office supplies was so tight with the supplies. (I guess because it was for-profit and the owner was cheap when it came to salaries, etc. because he, of course, wanted more profit for himself.) Anyway, if I asked for paperclips, Office Supply Guy would say “How many paperclips do you need? Is 10 enough?” Or Kleenex…. “Do you need an entire box?” It was so ridiculous. Like what am I doing, stealing 99¢ boxes of paperclips? To do what with them?

    My next job after that was at a museum and on my introductory tour around the office, the office manager opened a cabinet (unlocked!) full of supplies – post-its, pens, paperclips!, etc. – and told me to take what I needed. It was amazing.

    I also worked for a Smithsonian museum and office supplies were under lock and key (being Federal property and all). I remember one time I asked the woman in charge to order ink pens – nothing super fancy, but slightly nicer than the basic Bic. I think they were about $4/box and the Office Supply person was like, “You really need a $4 box of pens?” I said it was for my department director and it could come out of our department budget and she was like “Okay, [department I worked in] got it like that? Fancy.” She was ex-military so she ran a tight office supply ship!

    1. Zephy*

      Oh man, the pens. My department got our collective hand smacked for ordering pens that were just slightly too nice – there’s only 7 of us down here, so the EA came down and handed out one pen to each of us from the box of 12, and then informed us that she would not order anything nicer than the bog-standard BICs for us ever again.

  21. Funny Cide*

    I started a position relatively recently where my duties include supply orders. I look forward to having some kind of horror story in the future and will be reading these with rapt attention.

    1. Funny Cide*

      Oh! I do have a story! When I was in high school, our school district administration (small, rural, not well-funded, a hot mess in so many other ways as well) started freaking out in about February that we were on track to run out of toilet paper in the schools and wouldn’t have any budget to any more, and if we ran out the students were going to have to bring in their own. (!!!!) There were toilet paper shortage PSA fliers throughout the halls and hanging in the bathrooms that we all needed to be conservative with our toilet paper usage. I guess we cut down on our squares enough or they found some room in the budget or something, because I thankfully never had to bring my own.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        My parents went to Gettysburg College in the 1950s. During the Great Depression a railroad car full of toilet paper was simply abandoned, presumably the owner having gone belly up. The station master called the college and asked if they wanted it. They were still working their way through it when my parents went there. It was incredibly bad toilet paper, so I suspect that people bought their own.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        A few governors ago, my state had a budget crisis. Among other brilliant ideas for saving money, the state university system declared a moratorium on purchasing office supplies. Someone decided that toilet paper was included in this. My friends who worked there all had at least one roll stashed under their desk because supplies were dwindling before it got resolved. It was completely ridiculous!

  22. Reality Check*

    I worked for a company that had about 8 offices in the area. Each office was allotted $X for coffee & related supplies each month. 7 offices just got regular coffee, but 1 office ran over budget every month with the expensive brands. So they cut off every office’s coffee money, of course. Talk about all hell breaking loose.

    1. kicking-k*

      I once worked for a large institution which was opening a new building. It was architecturally interesting so we were all allowed to go and take a tour. And in passing, they mentioned that each floor had a coffee station with an instant-boil tap and unlimited free tea and coffee.

      The resentment! We had to bring in our own coffee. And we’d just been told we could no longer order biscuits for meetings.

      …but this isn’t a coffee thread.

    2. Galadriel's Garden*

      Ha, we absolutely experienced that when we moved to a fancy new downtown office from our suburban “traditional” office with fortress-like cubicles (and offices, with solid doors). A lot of people weren’t particularly jazzed about the move since it meant that instead of a 10-minute drive they now had a 45+-minute train commute into a much-hated open office, so the powers that be decided to buy our affection with free snacks and fancy coffee. They, for some reason, got 2 Keurig grind and brew machines for the entire office of 300+ people (you had to hit the machine before the 8 am rush, otherwise you’d be there for 20 minutes), which they initially stocked with nice coffee beans from local roasteries. Apparently someone came to the realization that buying local upscale coffee beans was going to be extremely expensive long-term, because the coffee was wordlessly replaced with the Aramark garbage-tier beans. Everyone was mad and opted to just leave the building to go buy better coffee instead, which of course took way longer than the stupid machines. Then the pandemic hit (and the fire nation attacked) and now I can just make my own good coffee at home, but…still. Our offices are supposed to open back up next year, and I’m curious if they’re going to try to lure us out of our houses and back into the office with good coffee again…

      1. La Triviata*

        At a previous job, there was free coffee; it came in pre-measured packs, so you could put the filter in the filter cup, open the pack, pour it in, and you’d get standard brew coffee (not good, but not terrible). One woman – in the name of economy – declared that you could re-use the grounds from one pot if you added half a pack of fresh grounds. The result wasn’t terrible, but was worse than using a complete fresh pack. Well, as you might imagine, she’d get confused and add the remaining half pack to the first used grounds and the first half pack that she’d used. That was terrible. People complained, but she insisted it was perfectly fine coffee and SUCH a saving. ick

      2. JustaTech*

        For many years my office had a coffee machine that brewed very large carafes. This was fine at the time, but eventually the office shrunk enough that it was silly to make a giant 30-person pot for 10 people. Then we learned that the other sites had Keurigs while we were still making drip.

        So we got Keurigs.

        Then it was decided that one site was going through *way* too much coffee, they must be stealing the pods, so they got a grind-and-brew machine and started charging. At a location that was 80% night shift, where there was no where else to get coffee.

        Then we had an office renovation and part of the renovation was new coffee machines that used these proprietary pouches rather than K-cups. Oh, and this company doesn’t sell machines for home use. Yup, it’s just like the coat hangers in hotels with the weird not-hooks: it’s specifically because they think you’re going to steal them and take them home. Thanks for the vote of confidence, bosses!

      3. L'étrangere*

        I experienced something along those lines, the bosses who think they’re saving money by switching to cheap coffee. Then instead of a quick swing down the hall everyone spends 20-30mn going out for it. No announcements, but the good stuff reappeared soon enough. Another place I worked at was known for being the first to provide Peets freely to everyone. I swear some people took the job on that basis

  23. Anonymous Koala*

    I worked in a lab where the lab manager had a locking file cabinet where she kept all of the office supplies, including these oil-based lab markers that we needed for everything. The lab manager would give everyone one marker when they joined and then refuse to replace it if they lost it or if she deemed you had used your marker up ‘too fast’. As a result, people would hoard those markers like they were pure gold, and a couple of lab members would steal the lab manager’s marker whenever she wasn’t looking (she had no problem replacing her own markers) and then give them to others who needed them, like marker-Robin Hood. It got to the point where I bought my own set of markers on Amazon and started giving them out to people to avoid the shear ridiculousness of the whole thing.

    1. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

      Reminds me of when I was in high school – one summer they swapped out all the dry erase boards (no idea why, only a handful were damaged in any way and they were tight-fisted about the budget the rest of the time). Something about the surface of the boards (finish, texture…) meant that only the branded Expo markers worked well, though oddly that was not the brand of the boards. The vendors threw in a ton of markers as ‘samples’ so the administration decided they weren’t buying any more. The markers would write, but none of them were as dark as they were supposed to be and were a finer tip, so they could be hard to read from the back of a classroom. They also had a weird sensation when writing, similar to when you got the wrong angle on the piece of chalk (I’m not that old but my elementary school was old school and to this day still has chalkboards) where it wouldn’t make the terrible noise but felt weird in your hand. Teachers were unsurprisingly hoarding the Expo markers and keeping them under lock and key to keep others from stealing them. My English teacher went so far as figuring out how to open the casing on the pens, extract the Expo’s innards, and put them in the other brand’s casing without it being obvious that the pen was tampered with.

      1. ragingsarcastic*

        As a former office admin, I know the exact brand of whiteboard you are talking about and will shake my fist at them eternally.

    2. Procrastinating Academic*

      Ah, marker drama! My office manager and dean once decided that the department was spending too much on whiteboard markers, and that therefore we would be limited to ten markers per semester, given out as a pack of markers at the start of the semester. This did not go over well with our math and science faculty and a thriving black market in whiteboard markers quickly developed. At the faculty forums to replace that dean after her much-deserved firing, candidates were baffled by the strange questions about office-supply policies…

    3. just passing through*

      My department’s one (1) meeting room was remodeled over the summer. There was partisanship, apparently, between those who wanted a blackboard and those who wanted a whiteboard. (Yes, we are academics.) So they decided to get… a black whiteboard. I can only assume this was some bizarre attempt at a compromise: it’s exactly like a whiteboard and uses markers, but the color of it is black, so you can only write on it using special neon markers. And two of the four colors of neon markers are so light they can’t be seen from the back of the room. (Ask me how I know.)

      1. just passing through*

        A grad student rep was heard to say–not entirely in jest–that the grad students’ main demand this semester is some FRICKIN SOLVENT so we can ACTUALLY ERASE THE BOARD.

        I’m not sure if this story has a point, except, maybe, don’t buy black whiteboards? One or the other. Actually, no, the point is, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  24. Pauli*

    The first time I ordered supplies for my very small (2 person) office, the director mentioned that my predecessor really like the cookies the supplier sent with orders. Looking into it, I realized they sent treats with orders over a certain size, WAY more than we would ever really need to use. That’s when I realized why we had soooooo many of certain things (baskets of post-its, stacks and stacks of boxes of staples), she would order more to get the treats!

  25. Jaune Desprez*

    I once left a job over office supplies! I worked with a group of young physicians completing advanced fellowship training, and they wanted to be able to create notebooks of the hard copy study handouts they received with many of their lectures. I was told that we couldn’t purchase a three hole punch to be shared among the group. There was a three hole punch available to them in the copy room at the opposite end of the department on a different floor. It wouldn’t even take them five minutes to get there, so there was certainly no need to make a frivolous purchase simply for the fellows’ convenience.
    The punch I’d requested cost all of eight dollars. I decided it was a sign.

  26. Albeira Dawn*

    My office doesn’t use black pens. Period. I guess it’s from a time when we signed a ton of stuff and needed to be able to tell photocopies from originals, but now most stuff is digital. Still only blue or green ink, though. We don’t even order black pens, but I secretly have a couple in my backpack for when I’m writing stuff in my personal notebook.

    1. Jamie Starr*

      This would be my dream office… I loathe black ink and only use blue (have been that way since high school). But most businesses default to black. I carry my own blue ink pens so if I have to fill out forms (at the doctor’s office or something) I can use blue ink!

    2. The Rural Juror*

      We only use blue pens because of the things we need to sign pretty regularly. I do keep a stash of black pens hidden away, though. Every once in a while I need one, but people always take my pens and I feel the need to hide them so they don’t disappear. Blue pens are endless, though. People can take those, I don’t care.

    3. Enough*

      In college I used green a lot. Came in handy when I failed to file some paperwork and the guy in charge was sure he had lost it and called me for another copy. Good thing. Otherwise my dorm would not have had visitation that weekend. 70s and rules around allowing the other sex in.

    4. Meghan*

      I became a blue ink person after working in property management for a bit and it pains me now if I am forced to write with a black pen. I especially love certain blue BIC pens which seem to be disappearing from the world.

      I did recently get a pack of colored gel ink pens from the Container Store and I love them! They’re replacing my beloved blue pens.

  27. Miss Chanadler Bong*

    The chair swap! Facilities for some reason used to come in and swap our chairs around. Well, the problem is that for some reason the chairs are very stiff and for some reason, trying to get mine to go down where it belongs for my 5′ frame was a hassle. A lot of times they’d swap them, and my 6′ coworker would be like, “Hey, this is yours…” It would drive me crazy. The fact that they couldn’t put our chairs back where they belonged used to make me crazy.

    I haven’t been in the office for over a year, I go back two days a week in two weeks, and I’m dreading the chair situation. My chair in my office at home is so much better, and I fully expect not to have the same chair that was there when I left.

      1. PT*

        My husband’s old work, they had done something (moved offices, painted, I’m not sure) that had resulted in everyone having to label chairs with a label maker. But it had happened a few years before he worked there, and the office was starting to turn over, but the old names were still on the chair. The chairs evolved to have the names of their previous owners.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I once worked somewhere with a coworker who would grab extra chairs from wherever for meetings in their office and put them back willy nilly. You might get your guest chair/desk chair back. You might only get your desk chair. You might get someone else’s chair. Drove people crazy. I think eventually they were told to use conference rooms and stop “borrowing”.

    2. Hotdog not dog*

      I worked in an office where most of the chairs were either broken or missing. When I started, there was no desk chair in my office; I had to borrow a cafeteria chair. We were also not allowed to order any new furniture. The solution was for people to buy their own chairs. When I left that job, I took the chair I bought with me, and as you might have guessed, OF COURSE the office manager called me to ask if they could have it back! I told her that I still have the receipt showing I paid for it, so if they wanted to buy it from me for what I paid, sure. Otherwise, they could go pound sand.

    3. E*

      When my chair goes back into the office, I am labelling it with my name! I have one of the good office chairs, and I’m not having it nicked!

  28. Annony*

    I had a boss who hated blue pens. She actually went through the supply closet and threw away every blue pen she could find.

    1. Jamie Starr*

      This reminded me of when I temped for a small NFP and the Director was bananas. She was filthy rich (like own private jet and multiple homes rich); her husband owned a hedge fund, which funded the family foundation, which contributed heavily to the NFP, which was a pet project of hers. It was awful. But anyway — she only wanted paperclips that matched the colors of the NFP. So her poor assistants (she had two — it was very Devil Wears Prada) would order those tubs of colored paperclips from Staples, but we could only use one of the colors.

      She also asked the mail room person to call the post office to see if they could deliver the mail earlier in the day. In NYC. She legit thought the post office would/should change its route for her.

      1. fposte*

        Yikes on the phone call. That’s one where you straight up start by saying “My boss is making me do this.”

        1. Jamie Starr*

          I think he probably just lied and told her he called, but never did.

          She was terrible. When we were preparing the gift bags (some sort of cloth tote) for the annual fundraiser, she made her housekeeper come in the day before the event and IRON the straps of the tote bags. She had a driver bring her to work and the driver would call one of her assistants to warn us she was on her way…very Miranda Priestly. She didn’t have a computer in her office so everything was done old school – print it out, she would mark up the spreadsheet, or document, etc. then you’d go back to your computer and make the changes. She made her assistants wear headsets so she could talk to them from her office (where she also wore a headset).

          After my three month sentence there, the temp agency asked me to stay on and I told them absolutely not.

            1. Jamie Starr*

              I’m tried to block most of them from my memory but here’s one more:

              She had professional photos taken of her, her hedge fund husband, and their two dogs (can’t remember the breed – mid sized, nothing too outrageous). The photos were sent to the NFP office so her assistants could send them out to her social circle as the family holiday card. I guess maybe the hedge fund contact list was part of it too, because why would you send a family picture out to a NFP mailing list? So the photos show up a few days before they need to be mailed to arrive in time for Christmas and she HATES them. I can’t remember what was wrong with them – they were too glossy and she wanted matte, or color was wrong, or maybe it was even something with the photo itself (although one would assume she had seen the proofs and specifically chosen that one). So they had to fix whatever she wanted done differently, reorder hundreds of photo cards, and rush ship them to the office so they could be mailed out in time for Christmas.

              Most of her demands were, I think, a function of being so rich that a) she had no concept of how a real office worked or what was reasonable and b) she was accustomed to being able to just pay whatever the price was to get what she wanted, no matter how outrageous it was.

              The hedge fund was on one floor and that’s where the traders were, but then the hedge fund assistants, the accountant and family foundation manager, and the people working at the NFP all sat together on the floor one story below. The kitchen was full of all kinds of snacks and beverages, and they bought lunch for us every day — at first I thought that was great because I was a temp scraping by so yay for free food! But I quickly realized it was just a way to keep us chained to the desk – so we wouldn’t go out and could work through lunch. (We could not order Chinese food when she was in the office because she hated the smell of it.)

        2. quill*

          OOoh, I remember my boss making me call to try and get chemical samples for free! (Generally: nobody will sell you sample sizes. Everyone making industrial chemical batches rather than school and lab standard supplies wants you to order a 50 gallon drum at minimum.)

          “My boss wants to know if you sell…” was the way I ended up opening all those conversations, which came to a head when I was sent on a multiday phone goose chase to order nitrocellulose, AKA Gun Cotton. We were, it should be noted, a tiny startup lab known to absolutely nobody. I returned to the boss with the news that nitrocellulose could not be had literally anywhere wholesale, at least not in the format we required. One place informed us that they didn’t sell to anyone without a specific business license: my boss threw a fit.

          “Why would anyone say we’re not qualified to purchase nitrocellulose?” he shouted. “The website I researched said you could get it anywhere you buy film developer!”

          “Because it’s a fucking explosive,” I replied, in a fit of unprofessionalism, “And the website you’re reading was last updated in nineteen eighty nine.”

          1. JustaTech*

            I had a boss who, the day after he learned we’d not had our grant renewed (ie, we were all hosed) decided that he would have us work with some incredibly gnarly diseases (note, we were already working on HIV which did not count as a gnarly disease on this list).

            So his first step is to come to my desk with a hand-written list and ask me to email our animal facility about using these (very scary) things there. And he just stood there watching me type, so I couldn’t even start the email “hey, sorry to ask this, my boss wants to know if we can use hanta virus in the facility”.

            So I send the email, my boss leaves and I *sprint* down the street to the animal facility to apologize for asking and to beg them to say “no”. (Of course they were going to say no, this was like serious BSL3 stuff.)

            And my boss knew that the answer would be no, he just wanted some plausible deniability or something by having *me* send the email.

    2. Wendy*

      My old company’s rule was all our reports had to be in black ink (no idea why!) so anytime a vendor gave us pens, my annoying, thinks she’s in charge co-worker would toss them in the bin so people wouldn’t accidentally use them.

      I secretly kept some and used them for non-report stuff like signing cards and passing the lunch order sheet around the office that I knew she would have to see. It was my little rebellion.

  29. Hello*

    I worked at a large department at a college that had plenty of money but wouldn’t (or maybe was never asked to) purchase common office supplies like coffee, Kleenex, disposable plates and forks. Instead, every week everyone was asked to contribute 5 – 10 dollars for a supply purchase. It blew my mind because when I worked in a different department at the same college, all of those purchases were provided. Out of spite, I brought my own coffee, plate and fork and never contributed to the fund.

    1. Water Everywhere*

      Other offices I worked at provided coffee for staff, even if only a basic brand. At this one, though, the CEO had a special branded blend made for the company as a marketing tool. This was the only brand of coffee allowed to be served on site and staff who drank coffee had to contribute to the cost in the form of a set dollar amount payroll deduction or cash per cup, which I thought was ridiculous & said so to my manager.
      When the pandemic shut us down and we went wfh, finance* suspended the payroll deduction. When the office opened back up, finance* never did reinstate it.
      *whistles innocently

    2. Ainuvande*

      Every department gets $XXXX non-compensation budget and has to figure out how to prioritize it. At my old department the $100/month in coffee was worth not having the battles with professors. My new department has been “buy it yourself” since before I started, and puts that $100 into food for a monthly grad student meeting.

  30. Ophelia*

    My office is generally fine about office supplies apart from one kerfuffle about cheap pens, but we have a weird cultural thing about having Real Milk in the kitchens for coffee. About a decade ago we moved buildings, so facilities had to pause milk delivery for a couple of weeks so we didn’t end up with, like, gallons of spoiled, unused milk. The OUTCRY was amazing. People brought in their own milk, complained to management, etc. Finally the top leadership had to send around an all-staff email confirming the date that milk delivery would restart.

  31. Dwight Schrute*

    I hated being in charge of ordering supplies at my first office job. People would never put things on my order list in time and then get mad when they ran out of the thing they forgot to tell me to order. One time I ordered blue paper for a department and it wasn’t the *exact* shade of blue they were used to because Staples was out of the normal stuff and they had me exchange it for the normal shade. We also had a paper towel debacle where I ordered ones that one department likes but another didn’t and they got up in arms about it and told me I needed to order their paper towels next time.

    1. pancakes*

      Could’ve been worse – my mother worked in city planning and once inadvertently ordered quite a few police cars in the wrong shade of blue. The shade was named after her for years after that!

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        I saw a few two-toned patrol cars (like the traditional black & whites, but shockingly contrasting -think purple & pink) sitting on a dealer’s lot. I asked the fleet manager.

        The chief who ordered them heard through the grapevine that he was about to be fired. This was his dramatic exit.

      2. SnappinTerrapin*

        Several years ago, I saw some jarringly clashing two tone patrol cars on a dealers’ lot. Think of the black & white pattern, but in something closer to pink and purple.

        I was nosy enough to ask. There was a police chief who heard he was about to get fired. This was his dramatic exit.

  32. Mr. Cajun2core*

    $35 per dozen Docket Gold 81/2″ X 11″ note pads because the $16 Staples brand wasn’t good enough.

    Post it notes:
    regular, pop-up, lined, not-line, 3×3, 3×5, and basically every combination and variation of those.

    1. Ismonie*

      I have to say, having used both the staples brand has lousy perforations so when you tear them you might leave the date/client name behind! Or carefully have to fold and tear each page.

      1. Mr. Cajun2core*

        I agree that bits of the top would stay when you would tear them but these were just regular notepads that most people used for random notes. I know I never put anything that high up on the sheet but maybe other people do.

    2. foolofgrace*

      I posted earlier about my government job not ordering any more small Post-Its until the next size up were used up. Well, they had ordered pop-up Post-It Notes but no dispensers, so we’re supposed to use those pop-up monsters without the dispenser. You never know which end is up. I was able to trade mine in for the regular kind, luckily.

  33. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    I once worked at an otherwise-excellent nonprofit agency in which the office manager was…very controlling. This was back in the typewriter era; to correct a mistake, you had to use correction tapes. She insisted that I keep the used-up tapes in their original box and would ONLY send me a new box of correction tapes after I’d sent her the box of used-up ones; this meant that, in between the time I used the last of the tapes and her sending me the new box, no corrections were possible on the typewriter. Since I worked in a branch of the agency that was several blocks away from the main office, this was NOT just a matter of walking across the hall to get new tapes! This went on until I told my supervisor (the second-in-command of the agency) about it. I’ll never know what she told the office manager, but the correction tape power game stopped immediately.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      The office manager who worked here when I started once admitted to me that she liked the feeling of controlling the office supplies because she had so little control over anything else in our office. She felt like she was on the lowest rung of the ladder (which really wasn’t true, we’re small and everyone besides the owner is on the same “level” and doesn’t supervise anyone else). She was just the one with the administrative role.

      She kept buying really cheap mechanical pencils and pens that would break quickly. Our owner/boss told her to buy higher quality so we didn’t have to keep throwing so many away, but she kept buying the off-brand ones. Finally, he told anyone that had a company credit card that we could buy our own pens if we wanted anything specific. She HATED when I would turn in receipts after buying any office supplies on my own and insisted I tell her specifically what to buy…but if I did tell her something specific, she wouldn’t buy the right thing! She was trying and trying to keep whatever control she could get. Finally the owner asked her what was going on and she admitted she was just ready to retire and stop working. We all felt relief when she did retire!

      1. Bagpuss*

        We had (and unfortunately still have) someone who does things like that. We have more than one office but used to order stuff centrally. She would take it upon herself to override decisions made by other offices – so for instance, I (as at different office) would tell her to order us a couple of boxes of lever arch files and she would then decide to send a bunch of used ones from the office she was in instead (or send us their used ones and order new for ‘her’ office)

        Recently one of our employees asked if we could order a specific type of pen, as employee has joint pain in their fingers and found the wider, softer grip ones much more comfortable to use. Controlling Admin (who has absolutely no authority and should have referred the query to her manager) took it upon herself to tell employee that “The partners will only pay for the most basic supplies – if you want anything different you have to buy it yourself – even Bagpuss as a partner has to buy her own pens” (which last part is I suppose kind of true in that as a partner it’s my business and my money, so I (with my partners) buy everybody’s pens ) But it’s not correct that I order or pay for the ink pens I prefer to use separately from the rest of our office supplies.

        She was told firmly that she was wrong, and that even if she had been correct it is not her decision to make.

        And then a general e-mail went round to remind everyone that we try to supply what is necessary without waste, but if anyone wishes to ask for something that we don’t routinely buy, ask the office manager and let her know why you are suggesting it, as we are perfectly happy to supply stuff so you can do your job, and we are very open to suggestions for stuff that makes life pleasanter or if you prefer a different brand/colour/style than we normally buy . If you want gold-plated biros or handmade paper for your rough notes, or a personal butler, you probably aren’t going to get it, but if your request is reasonable we’re happy to say yes.

  34. I’m Here for the Cake*

    Our supply closet was kept locked at all times. Only two people had a key. You’d have to explain what you needed in order to be granted access. I work in the HR dept. We finally instructed maintenance to take the lock off the door, much to the Supply Guardian’s dismay.
    This person was also in charge of postage. We don’t send a ton of mail but they would act as if the 50-cent stamp was coming out of their wallet!

    1. Enough*

      Had an company that kept the stamps in a safe. The safe was there when they bought the building. It was in the accounting office and made a nice storage area. I don’t know if they locked it.

    2. Sylvan*

      I used to work at a place with a locked supply closet, where I was one of the people with a key. It was ridiculous. There was one specific supply that I was supposed to keep people from using excessively, so all of the others were under lock and key, as well. :/

  35. The Starsong Princess*

    My former boss had the best stuff – a heavy duty stapler and hole punch from the 50s or 60s when they still made them in solid metal and they lasted forever. She also had the best pencil sharpener from the 70s. How did she still have these wonderful tools after so long? She kept them chained to her desk! You could use them whenever you wanted but they couldn’t disappear. My boss was a lovely kind women but under no illusions about human nature. When she retired, I hoped to score the stuff but someone beat me to it.

    1. fposte*

      We secretly had the best stapler on the floor. One very nice guy from the building figured that out and would always come down to our unit to staple his stuff. It would have been annoying if it had been everybody but we enjoyed his visits, so that was fine.

    2. Bagpuss*

      When a former senior staff member retired I inherited their office. I cleared out their desk (which was being disposed of as it was literally falling apart) I found a hoard of staples in the bottom drawer. two of the boxes were marked with their pre-decimal price so they must have been there since 1971 or earlier….
      I think this was simply because their desk drawers were a bit of a rats nest and they never dug don to find anything. I also found an unpresented cheque which was over 10 years old…

      1. A Library Person*

        The “pre-decimal” threw me (in the US) for a loop until I realized you must be referring to the older UK currency system! That must have been a cool find; as an archivist I appreciate little hints of life that come from ephemera like that.

    3. Smaller potatoes*

      When my grandmother passed away I took the stapler as a remembrance. Probably from at least the 1960s. It’s a tank!

  36. Dwight Schrute*

    Oh and my old boss got tired of buying plastic silverware for when people forgot their own so she made people wash and reuse them!

    1. Erininnnnn*

      Don’t get me STARTED on plastic silverware. When I started in my job we would order paper plates, bowls, cups and plastic silverware. A year or so later, they decided that was too expensive and people should bring their own. But our “kitchenette” doesn’t have a sink, so people had to wash their dishes in the restroom, which is VERY disruptive, and gross since those drains aren’t designed to be cleaned the way a kitchen sink drain needs to be. So a few people started buying their own disposable dishes etc and hoarding them, very hush hush. If you forget a spoon for your pot ramen you have to Know Someone or you’re just up a creek. IMO if you don’t provide a proper kitchenette to wash and store real dishes, you just gotta spring for the disposables and that’s the way it is.

    2. Recruited Recruiter*

      I wash and reuse my plastic silverware until it breaks, because I don’t like contributing to the plastic pollution problem – not because my boss is cheap.

      1. Cold Fish*

        I had a coworker that insisted we wash and reuse plastic silverware after company lunches for that very reason. After she left another coworker was practically dancing to the garbage can after the next event to throw all those dollar store reused multiple times plastic silverware out. I didn’t mind the washing but just wished we could get decent metal ones that wouldn’t break in half while you were eating.

        1. La Triviata*

          An office where I used to work had frequent lunch meetings. There would be leftover serving trays, serving spoons, plastic flatware, napkins, etc. One woman would insist that we keep it, since we’d surely need it in the future. So the day came when we could have used it but weren’t allowed to use it because we might need it some day.

    3. Roy G. Biv*

      My office had three small kitchenettes on the second floor. We were told the largest and most accessible kitchenette was reserved for C suite use only, even if most of them worked remotely and were rarely in the office. The CFO’s admin took it upon herself to enforce this like she was guarding a gold mine. She also persuaded the building manager to install a dishwasher in the closet in that kitchenette, and then was shocked that we all knew about it from random clues such as the box of dishwasher tablets, and the gurgling noises issuing from the closet.

      We all took turns hiding our lunches in the fridge and pretending we didn’t know whose food it was, just to aggravate her. She is no longer at my company. I presume she is guarding the kitchen in her house these days.

      1. Roy G. Biv*

        I forgot to point out the dishwasher was because the admin refused to stock plastic forks or knives any longer, so she “needed” a dishwasher to clean the handful of silverware that accumulated in any given week.

        1. JustaTech*

          When our office was renovated we on the lab floor were told to throw away (not even donate but throw in the trash) our ceramic plates and bowls and cups, and that we would get new ones when we moved into our new space.
          We were pretty sure this would not be true, as only the space belonging to the team of the person in charge of the renovation got things like a dishwasher.

          Not only did we not ever get new plates and things, no compostable alternatives were offered (except cups) and we got yelled at because someone bought a cheap dish rack so we could hand-wash our dishes.

          Then again this is an office where we were told that we must use paper cups with plastic lids for our coffee so we don’t spill and hurt ourselves. (This rule was utterly ignored the minute it was stated.) And also the office where they failed to notice the new fancy coffee machine was too short for most cups, paper or ceramic. So much style over substance in this renovation.

  37. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    I love this kind of low-stakes drama! Sadly most of my tales of office supply woes and mysteries have to do with stupid procurement rules that let you by staples but not staplers

  38. Coast East*

    Our office supplies kept disappearing (pens were required to be on your person at all times to be “in uniform,” so losing pens/giving pens to people who needed them,etc tended to leave more of an impact than usual) but no big deal, right? Go to the supply department. Until you’re at sea for 7 months and the supply department shuts down for 8 weeks or receives no supplies in port. Eventually I just donated all my extra office supplies from home and made a giant trip to the dollar store to stock us up on pens, soaps, etc. Still not sure where all the pens disappeared to when all coworkers are stuck in a 500′ space and couldn’t leave.