[IMGCAP(1)]We recently hired a new employee, and in preparation for her first day, I reviewed a few of the empty cubicles and desk spaces near our bullpen to determine exactly how clean I needed to get the space she was going to occupy. Too clean, and we'd seem needy, so she'd lord it over us for the rest of her working life; not clean enough, and we'd seem like we didn't really value her (which we do, Tamika—we really, really do!).

So I poked around among the half dozen empty workspaces on our floor, and discovered an interesting fact: Though all had been occupied by very different people, and vacated in very different circumstances (in happiness at the prospect of a new job, in despair at being laid off, in haste in the face of a court order), all of these workspaces contained the exact same detritus, the same leavings, as if every employee is reducible to a certain amount of non-functioning pens, dry highlighters, bent paper clips, one plastic spoon, and a thin scattering of a weird kind of dust. (This, by the way, matches the biblical description of what the Rapture will leave behind of the elect, right down to the single packet of Splenda.)

This all got me thinking (which was easier than cleaning Tamika's desk): No one leaves a desk behind "broom clean," as the landlords say. We all leave a certain amount of office equipment, condiments, lunch supplies and other stuff that is clearly garbage right up until the moment the security guard hands you the cardboard box and says, "You've got 15 minutes"—at which point it becomes something you're comfortable leaving behind for a complete stranger to find.

With that in mind, I decided to sift through the debris and make some judgements as to what, exactly, it's OK to leave behind, and what we really need to clean up before we go. Here are my thoughts—feel free to disagree, or add your own below.

Magic markers and highlighters—no. But pens—a surprise yes. All markers and highlighters go dry within 75 seconds of purchase. Pens, though, you never know about—they might regenerate. Besides, they offer new employees an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the vendors in their new market.

Plastic forks, knives and spoons—no. We don't know what you did with them. Do you really think we're going to put them in our mouths?

Staples—yes, but only if any individual stick is longer than the first joint of your thumb. Smaller than that and they just jam the stapler. Seriously—you're leaving us three staples? I don't care if they're sticking together—it's three staples. Throw them out.

Salt and pepper packets—split decision. Salt is a no, because we all have far too much sodium in our diets. Pepper is a yes, but no one ever uses it. You decide.

Paper clips—sorry, but no. Useful as they seem while you're cleaning out your desk, they're not. And yes, it's true that you can never find a paper clip when you need one, but that won't be fixed by leaving a bunch behind. They'll sit there long enough to annoy the new occupant, and then disappear a week to 10 days before that new occupant actually needs a paper clip. It's an instinct they have.

Bulldog/binder clips—no. The Fish and Wildlife Service needs your help in exterminating these vicious finger-clamping brutes, which breed in unoccupied desks. Originally brought into the country from Indonesia by an unsuspecting office manager in Skokie, they have now overrun the lower 48.

The heads of all the people you defeated to get your current position—no. Take your trophies with you.

•  Loose change—yes. In these tough times, the scattering of pennies and nickels (rarely dimes, never quarters) left in the top drawer of the desk unit can be turned into a "signing bonus" for the next employee to occupy that spot, while the change welded to the bottom of the drawer by melted cough drops is a form of incentive program.

Welcome, Tamika!

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