the XL gloves, the eyeball embalmers, and other stories of office supply obsessions run amok — Ask a Manager


Last week, we talked about sacred office supplies — supplies and equipment in your office that people hoard or that are as untouchable as holy relics. Here are 12 of my favorite stories you shared.

1. A hole punch named Sue

We had a two-hole punch that sat by the copier for 16 years. It was labeled “Susan’s” so nobody was allowed to use it or take it. Our office had no employee named Susan. Nobody who worked there could even remember a past employee named Susan. When the company was bought out and we moved, there was debate over what to do with Susan’s hole punch. There was no Susan!

2. The XL gloves

I used to be in charge of ordering lab supplies, and I’d get big boxes filled with Kleenex dispenser style boxes full of gloves. I was the only woman and the only one who wore medium and one of the big boxes would last me the better part of a year and I would get three or four big boxes of large every six months for everyone else.

We got a new guy who was really big and requested XL gloves, and from the moment the XL gloves hit the storage cupboard, not a single other man working there would deign to even look at the large gloves. When the XL gloves ran out unexpectedly quickly I had multiple people come to my office asking when we were getting more because they just could not wear large gloves on their XL hands. I eventually had to take my three nearly untouched big boxes of large gloves and donate them to a different department.

3. The high chair

We got a new workstation that is about 2″ higher than the old one. People immediately lost their shit and demanded a new chair to go with it. Several employees refused to use the workstation until a new chair was available. The new chair was duly ordered. It is about 4″ taller than a standard office chair (which we had been using) and only fits at the workstation if it (the chair) is lowered as far as possible. Our standard chairs adjust up to 4″ taller. I, the shortest person by far, have no problem using the workstation with a standard chair on its lowest setting. Weirdly, everyone clamoring for the High Chair is now complaining of backache.

The High Chair still has its devoted followers, but most of us will shove it in a corner and use a standard chair. Sometimes a department that shares our space will borrow the High Chair, and they always give it back before day shift (the High Chair devotees) arrive. They forgot ONCE, but instead of just … walking 10 extra steps to grab the Chair (which, by that point, no one was using), day shift decided the appropriate response would be to scream at the day shift of the other department (who had themselves just arrived and were understandably clueless about the Chair), calling them thieves and liars. There are now signs (yes, that’s signs, plural) taped to the Chair. There have been memos about the Chair. There have been entire meetings about the Chair.

4. The missing internet

I replaced someone who had spent their entire career in our workplace, so they admittedly worked through the normalization of the web in office settings. Our work requires a lot of information resources. When the retiree came in to meet me, they showed me shelves – SHELVES – worth of printed off PDFs from current and past subscriptions (a questionably permittable activity based on access licenses) and talked to me about how important it was to retain these because “you just never know when the internet will go away.”

5. The individual printers

My boss is obsessed with every member of their team having their own printer. Never mind that we’re only in the office once a week, have access to the general printers, and rarely ever print anything. We switched to hoteling and boss is trying to figure out how everyone can keep their individual printers.

6. The rationing

For some reason that literally no one understands, my office does not have an “office supplies” cabinet/cupboard/what-have-you for even the basics like pens, file folders, tissues, etc. We have to look at the approved vendor’s catalog, fill out a request in a spreadsheet (one row per thing), and the office admin will order it. For example, I cannot grab one (1) highlighter when I need one; I have to request it specifically, and they only come in a box of 6 or 12 or whatever, and will arrive between 5-10 business days later. Do I have a pen cup full of my exact preferred pens? Yes. Do I think this system is sane? Absolutely not.

7. The ancient computer

When I started this job in 2021, the computer they gave me was from 2011 and I was advised not to turn it off because they weren’t sure it would ever turn back on.

8. The forks

I am a CPA, I started my career in a big 4 accounting firm, then was employed as a controller for a mid-size company, then became a consultant. So between my own places of employment and my clients, I have worked in dozens of different office settings. The one thing that A LOT of places had in common, was forks.

Forks tend to disappear from the kitchen. Which leads to people hoarding them at their desks. Which leads to even more forks missing. I have seen people arguing over the last remaining fork.

One place had a sign-out sheet for forks.

One place had a locked utensils drawer that needed a key from an admin to open.

Others had drawers overflowing with spoons and knives because procurement would buy complete utensils sets to replace missing forks and not get rid of the spoons and knives from old sets.

Many times over. I was asked to write procedures specifically addressing kitchenware management.

I learned quickly to bring my own fork and keep it in my lunchbox.

9. The tape shortage

My office once had a massive tape shortage. We receive broken laptops daily and would tape a printout of the repair ticket to each laptop so that we could easily match laptop to ticket. But when we ran out of tape, we couldn’t do that and instead just put the printouts on top of the laptop or wrote the ticket number on a sticky note. Those inevitably fell off and it took ages to figure out what troubleshooting has already been done with Laptop A, why Laptop B is even here, where Laptop C is when its owner came to pick it up, etc. It was chaos!

My colleagues and our supervisors all blamed our director, who had access to the budget and clearly did not care about us enough to order the basic office supplies needed to do our jobs. Resentment festered. Eventually, an associate director position was created to help bridge this disconnect. The AD met with us as a team and asked how he could help us. He was surprised that the #1 request was tape. Just regular old tape, but everyone was yelling and freaking out about how critical this was. So he got tape. About half the department was happy and went on our merry way, just doing our jobs. The other half was still resentful, convinced that the AD was a “pawn” of the director who had only given us tape to buy our goodwill before eventually “showing his true colors.”

A few months into this new regime, one of the supervisors was let go for an unrelated issue. When the AD went to clean out her office, he discovered a whole drawer full of tape. She had been hoarding it for months, while being the loudest voice complaining about the tape shortage and watching our workflow crumble into chaos. We suspect that neither of the supervisors ever actually told the director that we were low on tape in the first place (because we clearly weren’t!), so he probably never even knew he was allegedly ignoring our basic office supply needs.

10. The fax machine

The Fax Machine. The only people still using it were using it to send documents to other department WITHIN THE SAME BUILDING. They needed the fax confirmation page to “have proof they sent the document.” Even explaining to them they could scan the document and email it to us, and the sent email would be said proof was unavailing. It took 18 months of haggling at all levels of the organization (and honestly the intervention of quarantine leaving no one around to actually see the faxes coming in) to finally FINALLY stop the practice of faxing documents within the building.

11. The stapler

Spouse used to work at a campus library where The Stapler was the most sacred of office supplies and also, the most fought-over symbol of power. The Stapler lived on the reference desk. It was never to leave the reference desk lest chaos befall all who sought serenity in the library. However, the reference desk was the worst place for The Stapler.

The only people who used it were students who had just finished printing in the computer lab. If they wanted to staple their printed documents, they had to trek from the computer lab in one corner of the ground floor all the way to the opposite corner which, according to independent student surveys done in the comments box, was the longest point-A-to-point-B in the whole library.

The morning shift reference desk librarian was sick of the lines forming at the desk just to use The Stapler, so they started moving it over to the computer lab printer where it would be the most useful. The later shift librarian was outraged. The Stapler should never be moved from this exact spot on the reference desk! It must be visible to the reference librarians at all times because if it were to be out of sight, some ne’er-do-well surely will abscond with it! So The Stapler was moved back to the reference desk, only to be moved to the computer lab the following morning by the morning shift librarian.

This went on for weeks until the later shift librarian convinced facilities to attach a chain to The Stapler that kept it permanently attached to the reference desk. The morning shift librarian was not amused (nor were students who had to try and awkwardly staple while attached to a chain). A week later, the chain was mysteriously cut in two and The Stapler returned to the computer lab.

The later shift librarian finally had enough and moved The Stapler to underneath the reference desk so students would have to ask for it, which only exacerbated the problem. The morning shift librarian complained to the library director, meetings were held, powerpoints made, political factions formed, nothing got resolved.

Finally, someone had enough and brought in a second stapler for the computer lab. It immediately disappeared. The later shift librarian was adamant this amounted to proof of the righteousness of their position. The morning shift librarian wasn’t fooled and found the second stapler hidden in a drawer in the later shift librarian’s workstation.

When spouse left that job, the war over The Stapler was still raging and we have no idea if it ever got resolved. I kind of hope it’s still ongoing, hearing about the latest stapler-related antics was often the highlight of my day.

12. The embalmer

My dad was a funeral director, and I spent a lot of my childhood hanging around the small funeral home where he worked. In the office! In the break room! Occasionally in the overflow seating area! But nowhere with bodies! For the record. The first time I saw a staple remover was in my dad’s office, and I did not know what it was at all. When he noticed me staring fixedly at it, he scooped it into a drawer. Now I assume he didn’t want six-year-old me to hurt myself with it. At the time, I assumed staple removers must be inappropriate for kids because they have to do with dead bodies.

After some consideration, I concluded it was for embalming eyeballs and called, obviously, an eyeball embalmer. Somehow I just never revisited this designation or noticed my teachers using one or whatever.

Ten years later I had a summer job filing in a law office. I was handed a staple remover, yelped, and threw it against a wall. I asked why they had one. They asked what I was talking about. There was uproarious laughter. I’m still embarrassed, and the office staff there, lo these many years later, still call them eyeball embalmers.



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