Upcycling Your Leftover Office Supplies

Meet the writer: Karen Pieper

Hi, I'm Karen! I've been in the industry for 21 years and can't wait to share my perspective on all things direct mail. I'm currently the Digital Marketing Manager at Letter Jacket Envelopes and deal with tasks from managing the website, facilitating conversations with customers, and much more!

It’s the start of a new year. Why not start fresh with your office supplies? You know that cabinet that’s so jumbled with binder clips in thirteen sizes, toppling piles of file folders, and bags of rubber bands you’re pretty sure have been there since 1998, you’re almost afraid to open the door? Fear that cabinet no more! Before you toss it all out and dash to an online store for more paper clips and one-inch binders, here are a few tips for taking stock of what you already have and upcycling your leftover office supplies.

Take Stock

This is the day when you put everything else on hold and dive into the cabinets and drawers, ask other staff to pull out their leftover office supplies, get it all in one big pile, and figure out what’s there. Consider booking a conference room all to yourself for the day, lay everything out on the table, and get cracking.

Shop Through Your Own Stuff

First, throw out anything that’s not reusable or recyclable, then sort the rest into two piles: 1) usable and still looks good, and 2) technically usable but doesn’t look so good. If you have a master office supply checklist, start with pile 1 and “shop” for the next month or more from your own supplies, and re-allocate them across the office. If you don’t have a master supply checklist, we suggest you make one–it saves a lot of waste from doubling up on orders you forgot about, and saves scrambling at the last minute for things like the red embossed envelopes you use once a year.

At this point, you might have two piles left. One will be excess from the “looks good” pile that you couldn’t give away. And then you’ll have a pile of items that seem a shame to throw away, even if you can no longer use them for official purposes. This is pile 2: the stuff you would feel embarrassed to donate because it’s stained, written on, or just old enough to look tacky. Do NOT go for the garbage can! Instead:

Upcycle the Extra

There are both practical and fun solutions. Here are just a few:

File folders. Often these get thrown away because the tabs are written on already. Have you ever tried turning them inside out and using the opposite sides of the tabs? If you have to throw them away, remove any plastic tabs or metal bars and send them to the recycle bin, not the garbage.

Sticky notes. Sometimes you just have too darn many. This is one of the most fun upcycling solutions. Next time you have an office party, use different colors of stickies to play table games, create photo booth backdrops, streamers, or a piñata. Stickies can also be used year-round to create wall art, calendars, message boards, and more. Larger Post-its can be cut into smaller custom shapes useful for specific tasks, such as long narrow strips for marking documents with comments and notes.  And don’t forget to get those used stickies into the recycle bin!

What Is Upcycling?

“Upcycling” refers to reusing or refurbishing items in such a way that their value to the user, or the market value, increases. Upcycling reduces waste and can increase efficiency and reduce budget, especially in settings such as business and office. Upcycling in an office can include file folders and binders, paper, rubber bands, clips, whiteboards, etc.

Rubber bands. If you go to Pinterest to look up ideas for reusing rubber bands, warning: they are cute, and they are legion. But if you don’t have all day, here’s one idea: try sprucing up other office supplies, like pencil holders, by wrapping a few colorful rubber bands around them. You might even be considering doing it to all the desk supplies of your persnickety officemate, who everyone loves but you can’t help but tease, while he’s gone for coffee.

Binder clips. A solution that will make you sing the hallelujah chorus, even though Christmas is long over: clip several binder clips to the back edge of your desk in a row, and thread the ends of electronic cords–such as power cords, printer cables, and phone chargers–through the metal loops to hold them in place. Never lose a cord to the space between your desk and wall again.

Stained whiteboards. When it comes to upcycling, go big or go home. You can even save an old whiteboard from the garbage. If someone has accidentally marked on the whiteboard with permanent marker one too many times, removing the stains is actually simple. Just write over permanent marker with whiteboard marker, and then erase both. The permanent marker comes right off.

Donate the Rest

Anything else you still can’t use, donate. Take the stuff that’s in OK but not great condition and hold an interoffice free sale. Old marked-on binders, for example, are great for organizing old files at home or holding recipes. A half-used notebook on the kitchen counter is a great place for catching thoughts and shopping lists. Pile old markers, pens, and pencils in a box and put it in the kids’ craft corner at home, along with old random copy paper.

For the leftover office supplies that are still in tip-top shape, give them away to a worthy cause. Freecycle is a free online service that matches items you no longer need with people who could use them. Or take a few minutes to call up a few schools, non-profits, churches, daycares, or after-school programs in your community and see what they could use. And keep track of what you give away because, at the end of the fiscal year, you might be eligible for a tax deduction. And when you are ready to restock, Letter Jacket provides the best for all your envelope needs, no matter what your business. They’ll even help you assess the best way to plan and reorder supplies so that next new year the cabinet won’t be quite so scary. Why not get in touch today?

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