Office Supply Abuser

Without even knowing it, you may be an “office supply abuser.” I’m not talking about pens, notepads, and tape. I’m talking about those products we rush out and buy and return to our offices and throw them at our workspace, desperately looking for an organizing solution. I’m referring to trays, bins, file systems, compartmentalized organizers, literature sorters, and the like.

Do you have a few too many? Have you forgotten what they were for?

Here are a few questions to determine if you might be an office supply abuser:

  • Do you purchase colorful bins and baskets, convinced that these devices will help you create order, only to find yourself drowning in a mounting pile of abandoned, non-workable products?
  • Is your desk drawer organizer buried under piles of paper, receipts, and business cards, and other nomadic items?
  • Is your aging rolodex collecting nothing more than dust while you use a half-finished, haphazard electronic contact management system?


Are these questions making you laugh? Or is that familiar sense of overwhelm returning just thinking about it?

Here are three telltale signs that you may suffer from “office supply abuse”:

  1. You own many office supply products, but still lack systems that work for you
  2. You have located your office supplies outside your point of use
  3. Access to your office supplies is blocked


The first sign of “office supply abuse” is when you are misusing the tools meant to help you create order.

The number one offender of office supplies is the stacking plastic trays meant to organize paper on your desktop. Many people start out with good intentions. They put “stuff they have to do” in tray one, and more stuff in tray two, and so on. Before long they run out of steam and just begin gathering their horizontal piles and stuffing the paper in the trays until they have created vertical piles! It gives them a sense of order to have an office product on their desk, but they have no clue how to use it.

Office-Supply-Abuser-Stacking-Tray-OrganizerMany folks start out using office products with good intentions, but unclear purposes.

You must define from the beginning how you will use the stacking trays.

Any of these purposes might be appropriate for your stacking trays:

  • Paper supplies: letterhead and printer paper
  • A bill paying system: unpaid bills, checkbook, etc.
  • A processing system: to queue work to be completed


When you don’t start with a purpose for each office product, its use will become unclear and you’ll stash, dump, and stack. 

Instead of plastic stacking trays that are unsightly and easily broken, we prefer this all-in-one metal desktop organizer from Staples.

The second sign of “office supply abuse” is when the organizing tool is not allowed inside your immediate work space.

Implementing a desktop file or rolling supply cart is a good thought, but if it is not within reach, it will likely be abandoned. For something to be utilized to its full potential, it must be placed at the “point of use.”

We would never put our computer or our phone outside our immediate work zone. Yet, when it comes to office supplies, we often shove them to the outer edges of our desk, onto another surface (like the credenza behind the desk), or worse, under the desk and out of sight.

If your office products are not conveniently located, they will be forgotten and become obsolete


The third sign of “office supply abuse” is blocking access to the organizing products you are attempting to use.

When you cannot reach into your processing trays on your desk to pull out the day’s papers because they are blocked by your Kleenex box, lunch sack, and last week’s projects, your processing system will likely be abandoned. When there’s a plant or tall stack of files in front of your file cabinet, you just won’t make new files. We have to make organizing easy or we will find reasons to procrastinate.

If your office products and systems are buried or blocked by clutter, they won’t be easy to use so they’ll be abandoned


Reforming Your Ways

If you’ve discovered that you are, in fact, and office supply abuser, now is the time to reform!

  1. Determine the purpose of any product before you acquire it, no matter how attractive it is or what a great deal you got on it.

If you cannot identify the exact purpose of how the supply will be used, do not proceed. You may need to take a tour through your office even now and “prune” the deadwood of old, broken, non-workable products that you’ve accumulated to eliminate confusion and clutter.

2. Second, as you set up your workspace, place all your key systems within arms reach. Those systems you use daily or weekly should be within grasp. If you only use the supply monthly, it can live outside your immediate range.

3. Clear out your workspace of any blockage. If your file cabinet or desk drawer or even your desktop have become clogged or obstructed, now is the time to bulldoze.

Lastly, I am a believer in creating customized systems that make sense to each individual user. For example, the processing system on my desk probably wouldn’t look exactly like yours because our daily tasks are likely very different. If your systems are set up around how you think and work they are much more likely to last.

So, are you an office supply abuser? Have you resolved to reform your ways? Schedule some time to deal with your work space and get it working for YOU!




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