Think back to your first day at the office. It generated so many wonderfully awkward scenarios and events, didn’t it? There was your first day business ensemble: a prudent combination of sweater and slacks that you agonized over the night before and sweat through the next day on your walk from the subway. There was the impossibly glossy patina of the black tiles in the lobby and the not-so-prudent combination of heel and non-grip sole. And who could forget the mid-morning discovery of the popcorn machine in the third floor common area?
Barring these, one of my most vivid memories from my first day at the office was the moment I laid eyes on my desk. I padded over the beige-ish carpet, rounded the upholstered partition, and there it was. My desk. My very own piece of assembled particleboard. Visions of postcards and picture frames and weekly flower bouquets leaped through my mind and danced across its surface. And a non-fluorescent lamp, and a mug of RSVP fine tip pens, and a bowl of Dove chocolates… or maybe grapes, because the metal-ish wrappers make too much noise, and given the rate at which I consume low-grade chocolate…
Of course I was an unpaid intern at the time, and aside from a birthday postcard and a water usage poster from National Geographic, none of these frilly office decorations ever materialized. But the impulse was there. Am I the only one who’s felt that grin-inducing excitement bubble up at the first sight of your own lame little piece of office space? As boring as cubicles are, having a surface and a seat and a piece of a wall—maybe even two!—to call your own and do with as you please is kind of nice. It’s like moving into your first mini-apartment, but without the need to rent a Uhaul or beg your cousin to carry your headboard up three flights of stairs.
Is it pathetic to want to dress up the piece of corporate culture you’ve been given? Look around your office, and I’m sure you’ll see many approaches to this cubicle conundrum. Here are three that I’ve observed.
The Clean-Cut Cube
On some fundamental level, every cubicle must be equipped with the basics. A desk. A chair. A PC monitor and keyboard. And maybe, if you’re lucky, a tray for paper clips and writing utensils in one of your desk drawers. You may award yourself bonus points if the tray was furnished with pens when you found it. Highlighters don’t count.
Some people opt to keep their cubicle this way. Also known as the Minimalist Cubist, the owner of the Clean-Cut Cube adds little to her desk in the way of aesthetic improvements. The space conveys a no-nonsense, get-in get-out approach to office work, and it very clearly aspires to keep one’s personal and professional lives separate.
The Cube Sweet Cube [or There’s No Place Like Cube]
The second level of cubical engagement also seems to be the most common. Many of us spend upwards of eight hours at the office, and the cubicle can quickly become more than just a temporary work zone. Photographs, memorable quotations, stuffed animals, trinkets and other gifts from friends—filling your cubicle with these or any other personal items gives your coworkers a glimpse into your interests and personality. In my mind, anything you choose to place on your desk can also serve as a personal reminder that you are not defined by your job title or pay grade.
That said, some ladies have a tendency to make themselves too much at home in the cubicle. Your cubicle is indeed a personal sanctuary, but that doesn’t mean your coworkers won’t have a visceral reaction to generally unsanitary cubicle conditions. Just because you have an uber adorable photo of your beagle as a puppy doesn’t mean you can get away with a large Dunkin Donuts iced coffee that’s sweating condensation on your expense reports. The same goes for open boxes of Chinese food or a sweaty t-shirt from your lunch hour run hanging off the back of your chair.
Special Occasion/Novelty/Prank Cubes
Finally we have cubicle masters who, quite simply, occupy a league all their own. They use creativity and a whole lot of duct tape to turn their own cubicle or that of their peers into a completely different world. These guys and gals not only demonstrate their sense of humor and imagination, but they also demonstrate how good they are at planning elaborate projects and pranks. Take a look: