School supplies for grown-ups

What are your workspace essentials?

A few weeks ago, my family engaged in the usual end of summer tradition: back to school shopping. I have to confess I was more excited about that than the kids but not for the reason you might think.

Although I am glad my homework days are behind me, I still love school supply shopping. Walking through the Target aisles this time of year always gives me that same thrill of potential and possibility.

Grade school Anne looked forward to the day each August when she could pick out her new Trapper Keeper for the year to come. I don’t use one anymore (alas!) but I still enjoy filling my cart with supplies I know will serve me well in the months to come—pens and post-its and index cards galore—and then slotting them neatly into my desk drawers. That fresh stack of crisply packaged supplies looks like potential to me and just seeing them ready and waiting for me gets me excited about putting them to work.

I can’t be the only one who gets nostalgic when the school supplies come back out so I thought I’d share some of my favorites. Of course, I hope you’ll share your go-to school supplies for grown-ups in the comments.

The basics (i.e., the stuff I can’t resist stocking up on during back-to-school sales):

I use post-its and index cards every single day and would be helpless without them. While I don’t use Crayola markers much anymore, I use Sharpies all the time for planning and brainstorming on my gigantic post-its.

  • Fresh markers (Crayola and Sharpies)
  • Sticky notes
  • Index cards
  • Altoids and a little bit of chocolate (I keep both in my desk drawer)

All the pens and pencils

Nerdy bookish accessories

  • Post-It super sticky easel pads. I love these giant sticky notes for brainstorming. These smaller sticky notes (11″ x 11″) are great when I want a smaller and more portable option.
  • Address and envelope guidea handy tool for those of us that have trouble writing in a straight line (raises hand). I use a Lettermate, which is no longer in stock, but there are plenty of other great options at Paper Source or your local bookstore.
  • Book darts have my heart, forever and always. I’m so thrilled we have some in our merch store!
  • Notebooks. I’m a Rhodia reverse book devotee (bound | spiral) for brainstorming and note taking
  • My journal lives on my desk: I use the Leuchtturm 1917 journal (lined | dotted | squared | plain) for planning purposes.
  • My Reading Life: A Book Journal is a must for tracking my reading and I like to keep it on my desk. In my line of work, I find myself constantly referring to it to confirm what I recently read and to jot down what I may want to read soon. (There’s a new version available for younger readers: My Reading Adventures: A Book Journal for Kids.)

To corral it all

  • Desk tray: this marbled melamine tray holds pens and pencils, an eraser, a few paper clips, and a dime (that I use to easily change my keyboard and trackpad batteries as needed).
  • I love these versatile plastic desk organizers, and have them in a variety of sizes. I’m pretty sure Target envisioned them for bathroom storage use but I LOVE them for my office supplies.
  • Small zippered pouches to organize the extras—and drop in my purse if I plan to do some journaling on the go.

Do you enjoy school supply shopping as much as I do? What do you keep on your desk and in your desk drawers? Please tell us all about it in comments!

P.S. 6 work-from-home staples for life these days, and my favorite book journaling tools.


Leave A Comment
  1. Adrienne says:
  2. Deb R says:

    I have to have bright colored Post-It Notes. I use them for so many things. And nothing brings back school supplies more than the smell of freshly sharpened pencils!

  3. Rhonda Lippert says:

    My favorite has always been the smell of new crayons. I have them on my desk (though I never use them)—just looking at them makes me happy. 😁🖍

    • Lois says:

      My husband is an OT and he said that the fat pens and the gripper piece that you can add to pencils that provides the same function are also good for kids developing fine motor control and just learning to write.

    • Colleen Bonilla says:

      Thank you for this, Janna. I’ve been having such a hard time writing lately (yes, gripping the pen or pencil!!), and my doctor just informed me that I have arthritis at the base of both my thumbs. I love to journal so I’m going to try the fat pen. Thank you, thank you!!

  4. Sarah Williams says:

    I just retired from teaching this past June. I LOVED ordering supplies for my kids, and I enjoyed buying (my own $) a few extra for myself at home. I found the 11 x 11 sticky Post-It Note pads so useful in both my classroom and home office. They can be easily managed and fit into many spaces the traditional chart paper does not.

    And the pens! Love all the pens!

  5. Joanne Ashford says:

    I love browsing the back to school aisles at Target also! I had to “curate” my collections last year, lol as I just kept adding to my stashes. I repurposed an old mini-caboodle for paper clips, binder clips, small post-it notes, push pins… it is so cute on a desk shelf and corals a lot of small items. This year my new crush is on the black Dixon Ticonderoga #HB2 pencils…perfect for crossword puzzles.

  6. Donna Brown says:

    I love the occasional trip to the office supply store to stock up on basics and look for new finds. I have even been known to create a gift of new office supplies for a family member’s birthday. Anne, can you tell us how you use index cards? I only ever used them for research papers in high school.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I love the Nomad dot grid sticky notes and Strategist dotted index cards from (Tools for Thinkers). All their tools are great!

  8. Susan says:

    Items I use everyday include coloured highliters (the pastel ones are nice, soft on the eyes); index cards and coloured gel pens for the daily to do lists; coil scribblers for general office notes, brainstorming; flat 32 page Hilroy scribblers for designated projects.

  9. Heather says:

    On my desk: a cute spiral-bound notebook for brainstorming & other things — currently loving my Michael Roger’s Decomposition Notebook in the Sunflowers design, spiral-bound 5×8 index cards, Sharpie pens, and multi-colored paper clips.

    I also love having washi tape and stickers — loving my The Paper Studio stick-a-bilities Botanical design stickers — to decorate & spruce up my planner. I switched planners this year to Wisdom Supply Co’s Zero-Waste Weekly Planner and loved it so much that I just pre-ordered my 2023 planner this morning!

  10. Michele says:

    If you appreciate good pens, try So much fun to browse! Zebra Sarasa gel pens are my current favorites.

    • Heather Edwards says:

      YASSSS! Jet Pens. All the good Japanese pens and good for finding the .38 and smaller pen points. Plus if you only want a few colors in a pack you can order individual colors of ink. I have ordered 2 times this week from

    • Georgia says:

      Yes yes yes! I was going to suggest too and I believe it’s a small business! I love the Stabilo Pen 68, the Energel Clena by Pentel, and Otho Graphic Liner.

  11. Grace says:

    Thanks to you, book darts are now an office supply staple! I also like the ONYX Uni-ball pens in black and blue, 4X6 index cards, and Zebra mildliners.

  12. Colleen Bonilla says:

    Now see? You guys are all getting me into so much trouble. I LOVE office supplies and want to buy every item mentioned here! I’m just going to have to restrain myself and buy a few of these goodies at a time. Fat pen, address/envelope guide and 11×11 post-its first! (Tee hee)

  13. Helene Watt says:

    I love office/school supplies. I can’t resist pocket folders especially if they beautiful designs on them. All my book notes, reviews & booklist goes into them
    Keeping everything together

  14. Lisa says:

    Okay you guys, this Pilot Frixion Ball LX Erasable Retractable Gel Pen is probably the most expensive pen I’ve ever bought (about $30), but it is THE BEST, and it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. The erasable part works so beautifully (better than with the less expensive ones), there is NO smudging, and in Anne’s amazing journal, there is the faintest, tiniest amount of ghosting that you can barely even detect. You buy the refills with it that are very inexpensive, and I have only had to refill once after very heavy use, and it was super easy to do.

  15. Lisa says:
  16. Marilyn says:

    When I was in elementary school the big thing was choosing a school bag and a lunch box. I never ate in school,but I still wanted one. I always loved shopping for school supplies. The excitement of opening a brand new composition book was unforgettable.

  17. Marion says:

    When I was in school we went after the first day of school to buy what we needed. A composition book and then in the upper grades a loose leaf binder and paper. A gummy eraser.pencils.pencil case,school bag,lunch box and a sharpener. There is nothing to match the feel of new pens,notebooks and pens even as an adult.

  18. Teri says:

    I love binders for holding papers for different projects. I’ll get them in different colors and love how they look lined up on my bookshelf.

  19. Matthew McDonough says:

    I live in Japan, and we have a store here called “Daiso” that is sort of a Japanese “dollar store” (or 100-yen shop). I believe one opened recently in NYC.

    Anyway, one of the best things about the store is their endless supply of amazing office supplies and interesting, innovative ways if keeping it all organized.

    It’s an organizer’s (and an office supply junkie’s) DREAM!

  20. Pamela says:

    Gosh, they didn’t have Trapper Keepers when I was younger – doesn’t that make me feel old.

    I love stationery! “post-it” sticky rolls for annotating sheet music or notes. And Washi tape!!! And bound A5 or B5 journals – Zen are great but expensive; Clever fox comes in lots of colours.

    And I’ve recently moved back from disposable pens to fountain pens that fill from ink bottles. Better for the world and such a joy.

    Great post!

  21. Suzanne says:

    Blackwing pencils for the win. But I love the black Ticonderoga pencils and couldn’t find them this year. 😫I also have a thing for scissors. I buy them as souvenirs when I travel. I love good Japanese scissors.

    • Terri says:

      Agree.. My husbands favorite is the Blackwing Japanese pencils for work. Soft lead. Hooked my father in law on them for his crossword puzzles.

  22. Amanda Fadden says:

    I am overly thrilled at this article. I find great joy in finding the *right* office supplies so that transferred into adulthood. Will be asking for Book darts in my Christmas wish list.

  23. Alana says:

    Just last week I made a list of little things that bring me joy… office supplies and art supplies are at the top! The smell of new Crayolas is definitely pure joy.

  24. Ellen says:

    I love the smell of a freshly-opened box of crayons! Next would be newly sharpened pencils, though I prefer to write with one specific kind of mechanical pencil. And I always have to have Pilot pens with green ink!

  25. Angela says:

    Oh my…I thought I was the only one obsessed with all things office supply!! Paper – notebook, spirals, journals – and colored pens are my must haves! I recently discovered the Supernote, which is an electronic notebook, and I’m loving it! Keeping all my notes in one place and never running out of room has been a game changer!

  26. Shelbie Howard says:

    OH MY GOODNESS!! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE LOVE LOVE the Pilot 4 Colors Ballpoint Pen, Acroball 4 Extra Fine, Black, Red, Blue & Green! It writes so smooth, and it’s worth every penny! I use it for work and for personal use!! Thank you, Anne, for this recommendation!! 🙂

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