If you have five million boxes of staples and there’s not a single pencil in site, you’ve got to do something immediately to get rid of your surplus to get the things you really need.

You don’t want to file a request in triplicate that won’t get here till June.  Take matters into your own hands before it’s too late.

Here are four ways to dump your surplus and get what you need

Organize a Yankee Swap

The Yankee swap is a holiday gift swapping tradition that allegedly took its name from prisoner exchanges during the Civil War.  Confederate troops were anxious to trade Yankee soldiers to get their men back, especially toward the end of the war.

Yankee swaps became useful holiday traditions for offices or large families.  Everyone only has to bring one nice gift instead of having something for everyone.  This is a broke teacher’s dream.  The first person opens a gift, then the second person gets to choose between opening a gift or stealing the first person’s open gift.  If person one gets their gift stolen, they open the unwrapped gift originally assigned to person two.

This continues until all gifts are opened, with the occasional unsanctioned side swap while nobody’s looking.

If you’ve got four hundred thousand paper clips or a lifetime supply of sticky notes, you can bet your broke teacher butt one of your colleagues is hiding the treasures you need inside closed desk drawers and cabinets.  A Yankee swap might be a fun idea.

Organize the swap over coffee.  Have fun with it.  Put items in stapled bags on the table.  Pick numbers to see who gets to choose their bag first.  Then–let the trading begin.

If you’re afraid you’ll lose the thing you really want and end up with something dumb, you don’t want a Yankee swap, you want a flea market.

Plan A School Flea Market

Find a time when everyone in the school will be getting together.  Professional development day or faculty meetings are perfect for this.  Send out an email asking everyone to bring their extra supplies, and have tables ready to display the surplus items.

Then, either send people up in order–for answering questions, doing good deeds,  for being the principal’s favorite, or just let people wander over and use the honor system to take what they need, putting any supplies remaining in a community closet.

That’s probably the easiest way–how else do we determine the exchange rate between the extra stapler I brought and your erasers?  That’s tough to do without the United States Treasury.

It’s best to let teachers take what’ll be useful to them, but beware.  There’s always that temptation to pilfer and hoard in case you need something useless to trade later…. it’s tough to be transparent and let go. Teachers are guilty of taking things they might need rather than things they actually need, and you don’t want to let a friendly exercise in repurposing end up like a run on the banks or Black Friday shopping for the last TV.  We’re all adults here.

Send Out a Sad Sounding Email

If a public trade doesn’t work, send out an email sounding pathetic.

“I need 130 manilla folders, please.” said the email.  That email was so polite I bet most people deleted it.  I offered some recycled folders, but certainly not 130.  You’d have to prove you were curing cancer with those folders to get me to give you 130.

That’s how you know you have a good teacher friend–they’ll hook you up, but 130–that’s insane.   I bet, though, someone’s got double that much hoarded for an apocalypse-style prepper-scale emergency.

What if the letter said the following, “If my students don’t have 130 manilla folders by sundown, they can’t take their end of year assessments, and school scores will go down.  Our goals won’t be met, and everyone will receive a downgraded rating or evaluation, which is guaranteed to be in the press.”

That would have a much better shot than the simple, “Would you please share,” style email.

But if writing good copy and being nice doesn’t work, you’ll have to do something desperate–something we all save for last resort.

Offer food

Everyone responds to food, coffee, and chocolate.  Bribe people for their surplus supplies, then just wrap up and give away the 499 extra boxes of staples you were saving for the swap as Christmas presents.  Then, you won’t have to buy anything in December,  but you’ll have the things you need now.

You will have cleaned out the clutter, saved the environment by reusing and recycling, and everyone will walk away smiling.