Everybody at work has a stapler. It's one of those essential bits of kit they grabbed from the stationery cupboard, probably in their first week, along with a pencil sharpener, a rubber and a pair of scissors. Or it might be a replacement stapler, sourced after some unseen worker wandered by and 'borrowed' the original, never to bring it back. Even in a supposedly paper-free office we all have a stapler, because sometimes there is paper, and sometimes a paper clip or clear plastic wallet just won't do. It may not get used very often, indeed increasingly less so as work goes digital, but the stapler is still a staple of office life.
I'm the one at work who does the tidying up. Everyone else bungs stuff in cupboards and piles paper in corners, but I'm the one who goes back and files things away. I have shelves where I can still pinpoint projects from eight years ago, and a pretty good understanding of where everybody else's projects from eight years ago are too. I'm the one who rejigs the contents of cupboards into coherent themes, and packs boxes off to archive before the accumulation of paper gets too much. And when the threat of an office move is in the air, I'm the one who systematically fills the crates so that everything has its correct place in the new location. You're not surprised, I'll bet.
I've been tidying up the cupboards recently in anticipation of yet another office move. The team may be moving to a different corner of the building, sometime yet to be confirmed, probably at a moment's notice. It's bound to be somewhere smaller with less storage space, because it always is, so I'm taking the opportunity to rationalise what we've got and downsize a little. This means delving into the darker corners of cupboards that don't normally get a good seeing to, and poking into long forgotten boxes full of hastily-stashed belongings. And that's where I found the staplers.
Our team used to be bigger, several dozen, and collectively we owned a lot of staplers. Then came the redeployments, and the redundancies, and the occasional mysterious overnight disappearance, and now there's only a handful of us left. A few former colleagues discarded their assorted stationery before moving on, some may even have taken it home, but the majority left theirs behind on desks and in the backs of drawers. There are more important things to think about when life moves you on, and generic stationery detritus rarely gets a second thought.
And that's one of the things I've been sorting through this week - a mini-mountain of part-sharpened pencils, assorted paper clips and leftover post-its. Some of it's clearly worthless, like the redundant biros and fluorescent highlighters whose ink has long run dry. But there are other items I'm loathed to throw away, for example a pile of perfectly good rulers, and three squished rolls of sticky tape, and some never-scribbled-in notepads. What to do with them? Our team's no longer big enough to have need of so much raw material. None of the teams sitting nearby are interested, because they all have drawers full of their own bits and pieces. And although there's a communal stationery cupboard down the corridor, that's officially for new stuff only, so recycled second-hand goods shouldn't be sneaked inside.
Which makes me the custodian of the Stapler Graveyard. I've found two dozen all told, here and there, and reassembled them on a single shelf in a single cupboard. Most are black, a couple are silver, and only one is long enough to puncture the centre of an A4 piece of paper. They're of all shapes and sizes, dependent on which stationery own-brand was supplying the company at the time of acquisition. And they come with a selection of assorted staples, in small cardboard boxes, deliberately sized to fit certain mechanisms but not others. Alongside I've put the staple removers, those small snappy metal contraptions you can never find when you need them. And I've shoved the four hole punches down the far end, because nobody uses ring binders any more, so hole punches are almost an extinct species.
Unconsciously I've laid out the team's discarded staplers like a mausoleum, packed close together in rows and files. Each chunky black headstone represents a former colleague - some even have sellotaped names to act as an unintentional epitaph. Every individual owner has passed on, many to a better place, some to employment purgatory, but others regrettably to somewhere more hellish. I used to work with these people every day, now most are nothing but a distant memory, dearly departed. But each lingers on, in some small way, in the collective apparition of their discarded stationery.
I've deliberately left a narrow empty space up the side of the shelf where one day I'll add my own office stapler to the collection. And here it'll remain, alongside those from all my colleagues, until someone new comes along and clears our unwitting memorial clean away. At times of uncertainty, and diminishing national importance, we're none of us safe from change. The Stapler Graveyard will eventually claim us all.