Test Your Creativity with a Paper Clip

By Donald M. Rattner, Architect

One of the fun exercises I offer participants in my creativity workshops is called the Alternate Use Test. Developed by the psychologist J.P. Guilford, it's a longstanding and widely used exercise for measuring individual creativity.

The Alternate Use Test is simple to administer. Subjects are asked to write down as many uses for a specified household object as they can in a specified amount of time. The answers are then judged on a variety of factors, including quantity of ideas, originality, and detail.


In fact, the basic exercise is so simple that you can do it by yourself. All you need is a pad, a writing instrument, a timer, and a brain.

Try it now. In two minutes come up with as many different ways to use a paper clip as you can (besides its customary function as a means of holding papers together). Just to show you how doable this is, immediately after the image that follows these instructions is a list of 104 alternate uses people have come up with. And there are more where they came from.

The idea is for you to take the test first, then check out the list...

Okay, grab your timer and set it to two minutes. Ready, set, write!

1. Nail cuticle remover & cleaner

2. Bubble wrap popping tool

3. Carve fine details into nail polish on finger and toenails and bad boyfriend’s car

4. lock picker

5. Graffiti on plastic scratch tool

6. Worm hook

7. Paper note / memo hanger

8. To make pixel holes in paper

9. Narrow crack dirt remover

10. Pixel Stamp

11. DVD drive opener

12. Aerial for radio

13. Aerial for small tv

14. Plastic hole maker

15. Scratch beneath a bandage or plaster of paris cast

16. Finger / toe splint

17. Ear rings

18. Make into alphabet letters

19. Make into numbers

20. Decorative string for hanging light ornaments

21. Necklace

22. bangle

23. Nappy clip

24. Nozzle unclogger

25. Water divining rod for idiots

26. Metal detector annoyance

27. Marshmallow sticks

28. Cheese picker

29. Mini skewers at a little people braai

30. Cherry stalks holders at a buffet

31. Eye stalks, cherry on top for decorative cakes

32. Porcupine quills on a papier mache sculpture

33. Punch holes through polystyrene

34. Animal whiskers on a cake

35. Heat up and use as hair curling tongs for dolls

36. Dredlock detangler for when you change your mind

37. Hair accessory for sputnik hairstyles

38. Hair accessory for buns

39. Clean a tiny gun

40. Clean your cats nails

41. Scratch annoying black dirt away on oven dishes

42. Scratch ex’s car, scratch can go on forever as scratching sharpens clip

43. Scrape little chips of paint off surfaces

44. Gradually fray the rope of your rock climbing enemy

45. Suspend sheet in trees to make a canopy

46. Hold a small creeping vine in place

47. Sausage skin popper

48. Make holes in baked potatoes

49. Advanced sushi sticks

50. Meat skewer

51. Contents of a shaker – percussion music

52. Scratch enemies cd’s, dvd’s

53. Scratch dirt off coins

54. Hold bank notes together

55. Punch through the skin in oil paint tubes and silicon guns

56. Population demonstration (as in movie)

57. Clamping an artery

58. Toffee stick

59. Scratch into paint on glass for extra effect

60. Clean between bristles on a scrubbing brush

61. Remove hair from a broom or hair brush

62. Etching onto glass

63. Clean nozzles on aerosol spray cans

64. Remove excess grout from mosaics

65. Use the round part to massage the entrance of your ears and remove wax

66. Use round part to massage the webbing between fingers

67. Guitar pick

68. Use to carve into wet concrete

69. Tie around finger that’s been bitten by a snake

70. Tie around crayons and pencils so that they stick to a magnet

71. Use round part to tickle your nose

72. Scratch flaky skin off feet

73. Decorate a cat’s tail

74. Carve recipe onto pumkin / butternut / gem squash skin

75. Pop balloons

76. Stab shark’s nose

77. Hold decoration in place on a cocktail

78. Olive swizzle

79. Poke hole in take fast food tomato sauce satchels

80. Stems for flowers (real or fale)

81. Sun dial

82. Scratch name onto cactus leaves

83. Scratch name into fever tree

84. Golf tee

85. Goal posts on rugby / American football field model

86. Show jumping posts for model builders

87. Test hand eye coordination whilst moving paper clip along an electric wire

88. Move specimens around beneath a microscope

89. Hold a zip in place

90. Use as a button / clasp

91. Use to hold broken links in chain – jewellery

92. Hangers for empty silkworm cocoons

93. Hang paper clips on abacus instead of little balls

94. Nerve ending massager

95. Remove heavy plaque from teeth

96. Poke sleeping snake

97. Individual ant squasher

98. Carving fine detail into a potato stamp

99. Make a chain maille vest

100. Tie around veggie bags / chip packets

101. Make shapes for a mobile

102. Join to create bangles and necklaces

103. Use in a ‘guess how many’ fundraiser

104. Convert into earrings

Donald M. Rattner, AIA is an architect exploring the intersection of creativity and physical space. His new book My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation, is due out in October 2019 from Skyhorse Publishing. All photographs credited to the book are courtesy of the designers and photographers.

Donald Rattner