15 Non-Tech Objects Everyone Needs at Their Desk
For a paper company, we spend a lot of time promoting technology.
We don’t just mean recommending certain hardware, or featuring favorite apps and software, or writing about big tech exemplars (though we’ve done all of those).
We’re believers in technology as a way of life. Not only are we nerdy, tech-forward kind of people; former coders or not, our entire careers are now carried out through our computers.
We like digital; we like smarter, faster, automated, spell-checked, and backed up in the Cloud. It’s the best way to work.
But we’re also believers that not all good technology requires circuitry. Even though we’ll spend a lifetime at our desks, plugging away at computers (as at this moment), some of the things we’ll always want nearby do NOT sync with the computer.
Those are the ones we’re covering here.
Like Technology (But Not Quite)
You might be asking: where do we draw the line between "tech" and "non-tech" stuff?
To count as a "non-tech" desk item, something can (1) plug in and (2) have a single switch or button (because that's typical of a desk lamp, which have been commonly used since forever). Any more than that and an item will belong on a different list!
1. Laptop/monitor stand. It's amazing how simple changes, like raising your monitor four inches, can improve your life. For external displays, you can make one for free with any spare books (or other solid boxy objects).
It'll probably be harder to jury-rig a (good) laptop stand. There are plenty of good ones already out there, but we've recommended the Rain Design mStand (above) for two reasons: (A) it's solidly built and grippy without any moving (read: breakable) parts, and (B) it perfectly matches the MacBook's aesthetics.
2. Cell phone stand. Your phone still needs a home during the day. Your pocket might NOT be the most comfortable or convenient option, and leaving it flat on your desk might not be super useful either.
But stand your phone up and suddenly it's part of the flow of your desk. It's not physically in your way, you can see it at a glance, and it's plugged in!
The plugging-in thing is another important detail. Unless you start with a topped-off battery and you don't use much data, you'll need to have a charger around. If your phone has a home on your desk, it's likelier to stay juiced up and ready.
You can pay virtually any amount for a phone stand. For something simple but functional, here's a handy $6 piece of aluminum.
3. Lamp. You might be saying: but guys, I've already got eight kinds of lights in my face. Between my computer, phone, windows, and overhead flourescent lights, why do I need more photons shooting at me?
For one thing, it's generous (read: delusional) to assume that you've got consistent good natural light in your office. In any big city, you'd need Lex Luthor's salary to guarantee that.
Otherwise, darkness is default—and neither fluorescents nor computer screens are "friendly" light to your eyes (or your appearance in the mirror). It's time to love you some lamp.
Again, you can spend as much or little as you want. Old-school halogen bulbs with warmer light might not be super-efficient... but hot damn do they LOOK way more inviting. (We've known people with overhead fluorescents in their office who just never turn them on; they use 2-3 lamps instead and their offices look way more pro.)
4. Smart hubs and connectors. Remember laptops 10 years ago? They had enough ports for an army's worth of cables, thumb drives, and peripherals. Then again, they had space because laptops were once the size of a Humvee.
One downside to slimmer, sexier computers is fewer connections. Apple seems to like rubbing salt in this wound; "one port for everything" sounds futuristic, but it's only cool in a future where you've bought all new gear (or Apple's expensive native dongles).
It was already a bit tricky to convert a laptop for desktop power use. Fortunately, a few smart wires and you're set!
You shouldn't have to spend much, but it's worth considering versions like this 4-port Anker USB hub which have the looks (and cable length) to be fixed permanently on your desk.
5. Canned air. OH YEAH. You only need this bad boy every few months—perhaps a bit more frequently if you eat lots of toast over your keyboard. The rest of the time, it's useful for deterring annoying co-workers and entertaining yourself on really slow days.
6. Post-It Notes. Post-Its really are genius. They offer a solution to the biggest problem with a little note, which is: where do I put the damn thing? As it turns out, you can put Post-its virtually anywhere and they'll stay—maybe not for long, but you don't expect them to.
At a minimum, it's useful to have one pack of Post-Its somewhere within reach. But if you use them a lot, you might consider a Post-it dispenser like the kitty pictured above. Not only is it kinda cute for warming up your desk, but it's weighted so you can reach and snap off a quick note without needing both hands. (There are other variants with little suction cups or that can be mounted a bit more permanently.)
Everything Gets a Home
7. The Pen Cup. You know what we're talking about. The only question is: what does yours look like?
At different times, we've used...
The Mug. Perhaps your alma mater, favorite team, or some sass of choice.
The Pong/Solo Cup. Very collegiate and temporary-looking... unless you get the melamine ones that are heavier and washable.
The Metal Tin. The square's option is the black wire-mesh one from Office Depot. You could do just as well with something like a miniature bucket.
8. The Candy Jar. And then you have to fill it! Whether it's legit candy or something more innocent like mints, it's surprisingly nice to be able to reach for something tasty. Just take stock of your own taste (and self-control).
For hygiene, it's probably best to get something individually-wrapped.
For sudden popularity, consider selections like Andes mints, gumballs, Riesen, or something fun like Warheads.
9. Coaster(s) for your beverages. This may sound a bit snooty of us... like, who actually CARES about a little condensation?
Ah, but that's only ONE reason for coasters—and not even the best reason.
Coasters hold a spot for a drink. This way, you'll always have an open space AND you'll be less likely to knock the drink over and ruin everything. "Holding a spot" also makes you likelier to remember to drink water—hydration is key to life, people.
The coaster is also an accessory, a small personal statement. Hence, the nerdy example below: silicone floppy-disk coasters.
And yes, they keep water rings away too.
10. Utility Hooks. Sounds boring, but wait until you suddenly have a place to hang your headphones (or purse)... you'll thank us. The wires can't tangle themselves anymore!
For $10, you can get the surprisingly-weight-bearing Anchor under-desk headphone mount as one example. But, of course, a hook's a hook... we're sure you can figure it out.
11. YOUR pen. One of our most popular articles is our intro to fountain pens. One of the main reasons to get a nice pen, we argued, is that the pen becomes a permanent personal effect—not just a pen, but YOUR pen. And that feels cool.
Besides... as we've noted consistently, it's worth investing in the kinds of tools you use every day. True, you don't need a $22 fountain pen any more than you need a cheap Bic ballpoint—but the fountain pen will last, and it'll be way nicer to use the whole time.
12. YOUR notebook. You should have your own pen because, no matter exactly where, you're gonna need to write with your own hand.
You should have your own notebook for an equal and opposite reason: whenever you need to write something personally important, it should go in one place reserved for important thoughts.
Your choice of notebook says something about you.
What kind of place do you want for keeping ideas?
Not to mention, of course, that taking a notebook to work can make you a smarter, sharper-looking professional at whatever you do.
13. Your mascot or miniature friend. Any of the above might reflect your personal taste, but it's helpful to have one thing on your desk that you can talk to.
No, it's not THAT lonely around here. There's a reason.
If you're not a coder, you might not have heard of rubber duck debugging. Basically: programmers often find it helpful to try explaining their code, line by line, in the process of trying to correct errors. But most of the time, they don't need a real person to listen; they just need to talk it out.
For talking it out, it's helpful to have a "listener," even if it's a $2 rubber duck. (Besides, doesn't it just brighten things a bit?)
14. Something for "fidgeting" or de-stressing. Let's face it: whether you're prone to stress/anxiety or not, sometimes you don't feel like sitting still. Especially when you're having a bad day, a fidget spinner (like the one below) or stress ball or little puzzle can help more than you'd think, if only because it's a tiny distraction.
That's also a much cleaner way of burning nervous energy than, say, biting your nails or shifting in your chair or going on an American Psycho-style rampage.
15. Greenery (probably fake). If you're like us, you WANT the plants to be fake. A real plant is a living thing you can kill by neglect—and until we can properly care for ourselves, we'll skip the extra stress, thank you very much. But a natural-looking touch is a big boost to a room's appearance, and even super-fake plants can get you far.
IKEA sells decent-enough fake plants like the one pictured below... they come in a few varieties, and they're a few bucks each. (Protip: you can pluck the fake plant from its standard-black plastic pot and "repot" them as you please.)
If you wanna go hard into the greenery, you can also get a full-size fake ficus for less than you might expect. Still doesn't need water, and if you've got an empty-looking corner, your office is about to be bougie—wait and see.
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