Stories about those pristine, high-gloss offices in Manhattan where employees are required to have spotless desks — nary even a coffee or bag of pretzels in sight — well, that strikes me as completely monstrous, tbh.

Not saying I like a cluttered desk, either; how do you keep an orderly work-brain if your workspace is buried under a mountain of debris? But I always have to have my notebook, my phone and a beverage within reach. And my assumption is that my desk essentials are pretty basic.

So I threw the question out to roughly 20,000 other colleagues… and as suspected, many of them keep more interesting items on their desks than I do to stay productive, focused and balanced.

These are the essential items creatives keep on their desks:

essential items creatives keep on their desks

Personal grooming must-haves

This category makes a lot of sense if you have people coming into your office often, or if you regularly step outside and come face-to-face with other folks. (For those of us who live the dream working from home in sweats, having these items at hand may ease that feeling of panic when you contemplate going out to the post office).

  • Lip gloss, lip balm or chapstick
  • Hand lotion
  • Hair ties
  • Mirror and tweezers

Best in category? One respondent keeps floss at her desk… and uses it there too:

“I like to floss during conference calls. Don’t worry, no one can see me!”

Photos of loved ones

In most cases, this is going to be a family photo, but some people also keep photos of inspiring people, pets or favorite colleagues around to get them through the rocky moments.

Best in category?

“Photos of Howard Stern, Craig Sager, Joan Rivers, Jeff Probst, Walter Payton and my dad for inspiration.” — Alison Bailin Batz, editor and writer, Arizona

the helpful, smart and weird items freelancers keep on their desks while working

Wellness items

When the client decides to turn a touch-base call into a calling-on-the-carpet, or when several pages of revisions arrive with “URGENT TURNAROUND” in the subject line, or when you haven’t gotten a breath of fresh air in seven hours… Every average workday has its low moments, and a lot of people wisely keep one small self-care item to lift their mood out of a natural slump.

  • Essential oil products (roll-on perfumes and lotions work fine, but if this is your jam, ask for an infuser as a holiday gift)
  • Himalayan salt lamp
  • Crystals
  • Noise-canceling headphones (practical, but also good for creating a mood)
  • Box of green tea
  • A desk plant
  • Reusable bottle or tumbler for water

Best in category?

“My mood rock created by my son. It’s literally a rock with a happy face on one side and a frustrated face on the other that I’m supposed to display depending on my mood. I keep it on happy at all times.” — Aprill Coleman, blogger and writer, Mississippi

Paper goods

Turns out notepads are still widely used — as are journals, planners, pens and Post-it notes. There are also some less common items from the paper trail days that make us happy to see still in use.

  • Weekly planner
  • Colored pens (for color-coding lists)
  • Calendar (wall or desk)
  • Business cards in holder

Best in category?

Personalized stationery for hand-written thank you notes” — Tracey White Zeeck, publicist, Oklahoma

random quirky things freelance writers keep on their desks at work

Random quirky things

The last category is the fun category. Some of these might make you laugh, others make you go, “That’s oddly brilliant!” and if something on this list makes you cruise straight out of this post and over to Etsy/Target/Amazon for a quick shopping spree, I won’t blame you.

  • Gold unicorn tape dispenser
  • Play-Doh
  • Magic 8-Ball
  • Vintage Tiffany clock
  • Squishy thing, like a stress ball
  • Buddha figurine for good luck

Top three in category? (There were too many to pick just one.)

My Slinky! It gives my hands something to handle while I’m on a phone talking or while I’m pondering a content strategy, or even sometimes having a meeting at my desk.” — Kamal Bosamia, PR and Media Consultant, Chicago

“Tinkerbell figurine (we sprinkle fairy dust on our work, ya know?).” — Leah Rosenfeld, PR executive, Chicago

“I have this mosaic colorful piece of art that is in the shape of a heart. It says: The journey is everything. And I keep it there as a reminder to continue pushing forward and appreciate all of the moments towards ‘getting there.'” — Lisa Mae Brunson, founder Wonder Women Tech, California.