I have a cousin who loved nothing better than a new set of Flair felt pens for Christmas. During our annual Boxing Day call, he'd gleefully announce: "Love my Flairs!" My mother adored getting Post-It notes in her stocking, and in return she jammed a rolled-up Children's Orthopedic Hospital calendar into everyone else's. Inevitably, down in the stocking's toe along with the Mozart Balls and Almond Rocas, we'd always find little boxes of paper clips, ink cartridges, or amusing notepads. Santa's workshop must have had an office annex.
Yeah, maybe it's like getting socks or underwear, but there are all kinds of useful odds and ends that make giving office stuff a fast, cheap, and helpful holiday tradition. You can get the stuff just about anywhere, from grocery and drug stores to business supply superstores to the Web, not to mention fancy stationers. Your gifts can be off-the-wall (a paper shredder!), or can indulge family and friends by acknowledging their little office supply fetishes (red paper clips only!). At the very least, you can help them cut down on their felonious habit of raiding the company supply cabinet.
Fat pens: Remember those huge pencils from kindergarten? Notice those zeppelin-like fountain pens from Mont Blanc? Now the masses can have fat writing utensils, which are harder to lose, easier to grip, and less cramping than the old, narrow Bics. The new best pal of the graying Boomer is Pilot's Dr. Grip, a retractable pen featuring a thick body and a flared soft plastic shaft that allows fingers a comfortable hold. They eliminate writer's cramp and they're cool looking too: The tip is metal, the rubber shaft a kind of milky, translucent gray, and the top black or blue. They're widely available; www.officemax.com has them for $4.44 each. The Bic Wide Body($6.99) is another extra-wide variety with a no-slip grip. For a slightly fancier wide-body variety, Cross makes the Solo Classic—a black (make that "ebony") and gold ballpoint that comes with a nice presentation box. Possibly the most elegant cheap, chubby pen you'll find. Only $19.99 at Office Depot.
Shredders: These are for the person who has everything—to hide. Institutional models run into the thousands of dollars, but you can get small, inexpensive portables for the home office. The Fellowes Shredstick is the cheapest I found. It looks like a small wand and fits the width of a standard wastebasket. It cuts 85-by-11-inch sheets into strips for the low, low price of $25.99. A step up is the Fellowes PS55 Personal Deskside Shredder. It comes with its own wastebasket and fits like a lid over the top. You can chop up to seven pages simultaneously, just ahead of those auditors. Only $59.99. Both from www.officedepot.com.
Home office: H.O. fetishists can locate familiar but hard-to-find stuff on various online sites and in catalogs—stuff that makes the home feel like a workplace away from the workplace. How about one of those store signs that looks like a clock and says "Will Return"? You can set the hands how you like 'em. They're only $3.10 at Office Depot. Fascinated by those red-and-white candy-striped coffee stirrers you use to play with the brackish sludge from the company coffeepot? Stocking-stuff them at $2.99 a box from www.officedepot.com. Or, if you do lots of meetings and conventions, bring a bit o' the break room home with a Hormel Chrome Coffee Carafe for $36.99. They're oddly comforting, even if the coffee in them isn't.
Boutique office supplies: These can be had at smaller shops such as Medici Ming Fine Paper (1222 A First, 624-1983). They specialize in exotic papers, European stationery, and imported, hard-to-find stuff (not all of it expensive)—like those inexpensive but traditional black and red journal-sized notebooks with lined paper from China ($6.50). Or, for the same price, a stick of lovely imported sealing wax in red, gold, black, or another exotic color—quite possibly the least useful thing you can get someone in this e-mail age.
The megastores: The biggies offer a wide array of office supplies that can replace that highly practical household stuff you're always losing. And it's inexpensive. A run around an Office Depot near downtown (1551 Airport Wy S, 587-2582) proves the point: A pack with five compartments filled with multicolored paper clips of all sizes, plus an array of colorful clamps and pushpins, screams "stocking stuffer" at $4.39; classic wooden rulers like the ones you used in school are available in 12-inch, 15-inch, 18-inch, and 24-inch lengths (to hell with the metric system, thank you very much). They range from 99 cents to $1.99 and are smooth and spanking new. Office Depot had a huge selection of scissors, shears, and edgers, too. The classic forged steel scissors, the ones with the black-painted handles, are only $3.79 for the 7-inch pair. (No running! Point down!)
These warehouses are also heaven for people seeking storage containers: file and paper trays, file sorters, safes, file cabinets, plastic boxes, and paper cartons of all sizes and descriptions. A staple is the ubiquitous plastic crate—stackable and, unlike the old milk crates, colorful. Oxford Deco crates come in shades like plum and frost red, and they have the look of some kind of geodesic cube Bucky Fuller might have invented. They're only $6.99, and will keep anyone on your list organized. Even you.
Knute Berger is the editor-in-chief at Seattle Weekly.