I just started a new job. The person that previously had my desk left some things on the desk. I waited 2 weeks and she has not returned to pick them up. Should I throw these things away?

Things left behind:

  • 2 bottles of disinfectant
  • A notebook with some notes/math equations
  • Random papers from some sort of presentation
  • Family picture (I think)
  • Some other non valuable stuff

I don't know this person.

  • 14
    You could always ask people in the immediate area who used to sit at your desk, find that person's email and send them an email saying "Good Morning, I think I believe I was assigned to sit in your old desk (located on the 4th floor, by the elevator [or some kind of detail]). I think you may have left some items here, including a family pictures and some of your other belongings. If this is correct, let's coordinate a time so I can return these items to you."
    – Mark C.
    Sep 15, 2014 at 13:17
  • 9
    There seems to be a huge cultural difference between working in the US and here in Germany. I cannot think of a single company I know/worked with (no matter how big) where one might have such an "issue" at all or not solving it by simply talking to co-workers.
    – Uwe Keim
    Sep 15, 2014 at 17:27
  • 10
    @UweKeim I am in the US but I think this question is strange too.. I see a lot of questions here that really should be resolved by having a simple conversation with your manager or coworker(s).
    – Philip
    Sep 15, 2014 at 23:29
  • 1
    I agree with Philip. I'm in the U.S. also and I find the question strange. It seems like it would be easy enough to simply talk to coworkers.
    – reirab
    Sep 15, 2014 at 23:34
  • 2
    I also find it strange that a question where the obvious answer is "talk to your colleagues: they're human beings, you know!" gets 30+ upvotes. Sep 16, 2014 at 0:14

2 Answers 2


I would put them in a box/bag and give them to your Human Resources department -- if they tell you to throw it away then you can.

If you throw them away without instruction, then you essentially take on some responsibility for those items.

Edit: If you really want to cover yourself in case HR does tell you to throw the items away, you could send an email to HR, write something like -- "based on your instructions, I threw away X items on date Y," and ask them to reply to confirm. That way you'd have a paper trail of sorts.

  • 14
    For a small office, do this and pass it to your HR. For a big organization in a large office building I would suppose you can drop it off at a "lost and found" dept if you have one, or the security post, then just email the HR dept a note about it. But never just throw the things away. The previous person might be intending to collect them but being too busy at the moment. If you have that person's contact, or can obtain the contact from HR or someone, you can send them a reminder note (it will be a nice gesture on your part, but not necessary).
    – ADTC
    Sep 15, 2014 at 4:16
  • 15
    I would add specifically for the notebook, show it to the ex-employee's former boss. It's unlikely, but it might have worthwhile content that never made it into "the system", and so somebody able to recognise that should be given the opportunity to check it if they want. HR might show it to the former boss anyway, but then again if you say to HR "these are X's old things" they might believe you without looking in the box at all. Sep 15, 2014 at 8:13
  • 3
    I'd add that the notebook and/or papers from the presentation could potentially be company property, if they contain sensitive information.
    – Joe
    Sep 15, 2014 at 18:29
  • I would guess that they probably are company property. Generally, anything created in the course of company business is company property, not the former employee's property.
    – reirab
    Sep 15, 2014 at 23:36

Get a box, put the stuff in, put the previous occupants name on there if you know it, and then give it to someone else -- your supervisor, human resources, office manager.

You shouldn't have to put up with it, and if you throw it away, you will have been the last one to touch it and thus the obvious target for any complaints. Dealing with such things are why those positions exist.

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