The Junk Drawer

Every home has one – maybe even more than one.  The humble ‘junk drawer’.

You know the drawer; paper clips, old keys that you don’t know what they open but you don’t dare get rid of, broken pens, 5 cent stamps, batteries that might still be good, loose coins from another country, expired coupons.  Probably a good dose of dust bunnies and lint, too.  Maybe it’s not even a drawer – it could be a basket, or bin, a box, or a shelf.

In my last job, when people would ask what I did, I’d say, “You know that drawer in your house where you keep all the random stuff that you need, but don’t know where else to put it? That’s my job.  I’m that drawer – when people don’t know where to look for help with something, they come to me, the junk drawer “.

Maybe it wasn’t a very good analogy, and probably a worse political decision to say out loud, since they did decide that they didn’t need ‘that drawer’ any more, but that’s a blog for a later date, when I’m finished therapy.

You can learn a lot about people by looking at what they keep in their junk drawers.  Of course, snooping isn’t very socially acceptable, so it’s not too likely you’ll ever understand the anthropology of what is held in those secret compartments.

I suppose no drawer ever starts off as a ‘junk drawer’.  Maybe it had dreams of being the utensil drawer or the important paperwork drawer or something, but somewhere along the line, maybe during a frenzied ’10 second tidy’ before the in-laws showed up, things just got scooped into it, and it’s fate was sealed.

We have a few junk drawers in our house, which I would argue, shows some semblance of organization.  For example, in the kitchen, we have one that houses twist ties, elastic bands, plastic forks, and other miscellaneous kitchen-type items.  I would dig through the loose items – straws, plastic bread clips, and half-burned birthday candles looking for stuff, but recently, my wife did a full-on tidy, and now everything is organized and easy to find.  Maybe that disqualifies it from the ‘junk’ categorization now.

We have another one, that isn’t a drawer, but a box that sits in the living room.  In it, we keep address books, stamps, pens, tape, paper clips, at least 2 calculators – I guess in case we don’t believe the answer from the first one, and some other office type items.  There are a few weird coins from countries I know I’ve never visited. I don’t know how they got there.

I have one in my bedroom.  It’s mostly a loose change collector – at one point it was so heavy with small change that it was actually hard to open.  I also keep broken watches, old eye-glasses, some shopping receipts, Canadian Tire money, and of course, some paper clips.  No junk drawer is complete unless you have some paper clips in it, and maybe a couple finishing nails.  It’s kind of like a fridge – it’s not a family fridge unless there’s a half-eaten jar of Cheese-Whiz in the back of it and it’s covered in fridge magnets.

For the sake of family unity, I’m not going to confirm or deny the existence of any possible junk drawers that my wife or kids have, other than to say that you could classify my kids bedrooms as very large junk drawers.

Junk drawers are often looked at as dirty little secrets in an otherwise orderly environment.  Maybe people view them as a precursor to a mild hording obsession, or that they shine a light on a disorganization problem.

Oh, sure, I bet Martha Stewart doesn’t have one, but she has a team of anal-retentive employees who ensure her home is magazine-shoot ready at all times.  I bet if we all had that kind of resource at our disposal, there would be no ‘junk drawers’ in our houses either.

I’m not so sure that’s a healthy sign, though.  A space in your home for all the little things that show us that we live there has a comforting feel about it.  It may be disorganized and is mixed with things that aren’t related in any way, but it represents the living parts of our existence, and we hang on to them like ancient relics.

Having a junk drawer is as normal as having your kids’ artwork scattered all over the fridge.  I was chatting with my neighbour who’s daughter just started pre-school.  We joked that they would need another fridge just for all the artwork that came home. Its about living in the moment, and embracing the joy of life without feeling like everything has to be hidden away, or compartmentalized in water-tight, sterile containers somewhere out of sight.

I’ve always found something very comfortable about those disorganized, overstuffed drawers.  Looking for something in it is a bit like a mini treasure hunt, where you went in looking for a glue stick or some push-pins, and while searching for them, you came across an old swimming lesson badge for one of the kids,  or a school picture that was sent to you by a relative that sparks a warm memory.

In all of the cluttered chaos, there’s a sense of life and belonging that exists inside that small, humble compartment.

In the end, I think that in its own way, the junk drawer is more important than any other drawer in the house, not just in what it holds, but in what it represents as a memory capsule for the family.

Of course, maybe it could be that we just really do have minor hording and disorganization tendencies, but I ask you this;  Would you rather be friends with someone with a junk drawer, or someone who has everything sorted, itemized, and stored in alphabetical order?

I rest my case.

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