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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Obsessing over my OCD

Here’s a quick test:  Can you tell why the person who lined up the M & M’s in the above picture does not have OCD?  Answer is at the bottom of this blog.

I think I’m pretty normal.  Now, don’t roll your eyes – I bet you think you’re normal too.  Sometimes, though, I wonder if I’m a bit off-center with some rituals and habits.  Of course, keeping things in order brings, well, order to what would otherwise be chaos.

So, why is it considered a ‘disorder’ if someone tries to keep things in order?  To me, that’s backwards.  The experts say it becomes a disorder when something becomes obsessive, unhealthy, or consumes an unreasonable amount of time or effort.  Come on people!  How can we keep order without diligence? Sounds like a conspiracy by the anarchists.

I started to notice a while ago, that I like some things kept, sorted, organized, or conducted in a specific way.  If not, I rationalized, some unknown chaos would ensue.  I like paperwork piled neatly with no stray corners. and in line or perpendicular to the desk. I think that’s called ‘right-angling’ or something…and the boards on my back deck aren’t completely perpendicular to the house.  I try not to look at it.  Other than that, any type of obsession I may have is just practical.

Case in point:  The dishwasher.

Lets get this argument out of the way right off the bat.  Tines DOWN!  It’s the only way that makes sense.  If the tines are up, you have to grab the eating part of the fork with your dirty fingers to unload the dishwasher, thus making the whole washing part irrelevant.  I don’t want to hear about the utensils getting a better cleaning if the tines are up – if your dishwasher can’t clean them the other way around, get rid of it.  Besides, if the tines are up, no matter how clean your dishwasher gets them, they are dirty the second you touch them.

We have a new dishwasher, and the utensil tray forces you to ‘hang’ the cutlery with the tines up…stupid, stupid, stupid!  If you come to our house to eat, you should probably bring your own utensils.

Its also very important to ensure efficiency with your loads by putting dishes, glasses, and whatever else in the dishwasher correctly.  There is an order to things, people!  I’ve been known to sneak into the kitchen after everyone has left and reorganize the entire thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love it when the kids actually put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  I just wish they could do it right.  I’ll open it up to see mayhem – various sizes and shapes just lumped together with no thought about efficiency or logic.   Filling the glass rack from the front?  Come on!  How are you supposed to fill the dishwasher if you put all your dirty glasses at the front of the rack? Start at the back and move forward…basic in and out principles.  I can’t believe I’m the only one who feels this way, right?

See?  No OCD here – just ensuring the proper order of things.

Okay,  grocery shopping.  My wife and I get the groceries together.  If I go alone, I make the mistake of getting what’s on the list, then leaving.  Apparently I’m doing it wrong, so we go together – I push the cart, load the belt, and pay.  My wife is in charge of filling the cart, and bagging the groceries.  Here’s where it gets a little complicated.

Unless you’re at Costco, the shopping carts aren’t all that big, so it’s critically important to load them properly.  The carts where we shop have a main basket level and a smaller upper basket level to them.  We start with vegetables and fruit – simple enough.  It all goes in the upper basket where the grapes won’t get squished.  Then we move on to bread – same deal.  Top rack.

As long as we move through the store in a logical order, and I place things where they belong, such as putting all the frozen food together (so they have a better chance of staying frozen longer), dairy together, and dry goods in their own sections, I’m good.  If, however, I’m asked to walk back to another aisle and pick up something we forgot (that wasn’t on the list to begin with), I come back to chaos!  It’s like the dishwasher.  OMG!  There’s frozen dinners mixed in with the dairy products!  And who put the dog treats in the top rack with the fruit and bread?  Now I’m breaking out in a cold sweat!

And what about those people who don’t pull over when they stop to read the label on a box of cookies?  What is wrong with them?  Move your cart fully to the right side!  On an angle?  Are you nuts?  The entire flow of the store is off balance now.  I only hope they didn’t park near me! Then, when they finally notice that they’ve blocked an entire aisle, they move the cart and offer a weak ‘sorry’.  And what do I do?  Like the stupid, polite Canadian that I am, I say ‘no problem’.  No problem?  The veins in my head are about to explode……gotta breathe.

I dare you to tell me this doesn’t make you even a little crazy!

You might think this is all a little OCD, but you’d be wrong.  Its all about order.  The aisles need to allow for fluid movement.  I deliberately put items in the cart a specific way for a specific reason – the loading of the belt at the cash register.  Again, start with dry goods – they go on first, so that they get packed first in the bags – makes sense, right?  Heavy cans at the bottom, lighter, perishable stuff at the top.  The last things that are loaded are the breakables (or squishables) – bread, eggs, and potato chips.  Somehow, though, despite my ritualistic effort, I’ll sometimes find an item that my lovely wife slipped in that I hadn’t noticed, like a large can of tomatoes that she grabbed on the way to the cashier.  Major stresser!  Now what? The dry goods are all loaded! Where the heck is the can of tomatoes supposed to go?  With the bread?  It’ll be a slaughter!  The bread doesn’t stand a chance with the canned tomatoes.  Crazy?  I think not.

Here’s an acid test to prove that I don’t have OCD, so before you send me replies with recommendations to 1-800-GET-SHRUNK, hear me out.

My garage – total disaster!  I have half-finished projects, tools laying around, broken household items not fixed, and dirt on the floor.  That makes me normal, right?  Especially if you knew how mad my father would be if he saw it.  Now that was an OCD tool guy if I ever saw one.  His tools were hung individually on pegboard hooks.  Each spot was outlined with the tool that belonged there, then the tool was colour-coded  with spray paint so that the tools in the garage didn’t co-mingle with the tools from the workshop, or the cottage, or his car (yes, he kept tools in the car, too).

Clearly, this obsession missed a generation.

Not convinced? Okay, how about my sock drawer?  Again – nothing in order.  Mismatched socks, missing socks, socks with holes in them that I should have thrown out, even things that don’t belong there – suspenders!  Who wears suspenders any more?  Larry King totally rocked them, but that’s about it.  They should go, but nope.  Still there.  Shoe laces!  What the heck are shoe laces doing in my sock drawer?   And I have no intention on tidying it up.  Obviously, no OCD here, so no need to worry.

Now, if I could only get my neighbour to straighten his fence boards, everything would be just right.   Maybe I’ll wander over one night…

ANSWERThe person who lined up the M & M’s does NOT have OCD, because although they are organized by color, the letters on the candy are not consistently straight on each one.  In the picture, they are randomly set.  Some sideways, some upside down.  Did you get it without peeking?  Maybe we need to chat…