Friday, November 12, 2010

Offices as Personal Storage and Community Libraries

In the three years I've been at my job, I've cleaned out all my personal files and my department's files. Almost all of that material was thrown away, because it was not needed. I now have a lot of empty space in my office, which is a room of perhaps 10x12 with a window, a bookshelf, a large u-shaped desk, 3 chairs, and various places in which to keep files. (It sounds much nicer than it is. The best part of my office is that it is private enough that I can do things on my computer or read without people watching me. This is actually a pretty major benefit.)

If I lived in a small space, I could theoretically keep almost all of my personal items at work. Even in a cubicle like most of my coworkers have, there is enough room to keep a personal library, files, etc. It's not uncommon for women to have some extra clothes at work, like shoes or sweaters, and one of my coworkers keeps his "good" suit here (why, I'm not sure, since his job in no way requires a suit). One could probably quite subtly keep out-of-season clothing in empty drawers. Keeping underwear or socks at work might be pushing it too far.

Using office supplies from work is nothing new, and often ethically questionable. But I have borrowed several items from work quite ethically by simply asking: a web cam, a keyboard, WD-40, spackle, and glue (returned after using). Our IT department has plenty of outdated but functional technology that they're willing to lend or give away. Some of my coworkers have borrowed elderly laptops for months. Other things that my office would likely let me borrow or have include basic tools, dishes (our motley collection includes dozens of plates and mugs, mixing bowels, various utensils, and what I think is a large souffle dish), bookends and magazine organizers, and excess office supplies from our epic collections of binders, folders, and pencils.

I don't see any ethical problem with using office supplies for which the cost of use is minimal--stapling a few things, making a few copies (not hundreds), shredding some papers. If you have larger jobs, it's worth asking if you might be able to reimburse the company for the use of a copier, printer, etc. (at less than the market rate for such services at a Kinko's or similar).

We also currently have a sort of candy recycling program going on--people are bringing in their unwanted Halloween candy and leaving it in a fishbowl on the front desk. I'm not crazy about that one as it tempts me to eat candy that I don't need but it's better than the food going to waste.

I've also done my share of recycling back into "the system": leaving magazines in the break room, adding my paperclips to the communal box once I decided I didn't need my own supply at home (or in my office, for that matter).

All of this is to say before you decide you need to buy something, or own it, think about whether there is somewhere or someone you can borrow it from or get it from for free. Several times I've seen frugality tips referring to "tool libraries," "free stores," or other community lending operations. I think it would be great to have places like this, but I've rarely come across one in reality. And, honestly, for most items we may not need specific organizations or institutions. When you need something, think about the "resource centers" you already have access to or belong to: libraries, offices, schools, churches. Would any of those places have a hammer? Markers? Goo-gone? A 20-foot ladder? Any number of other rarely needed items that you might otherwise buy?