The Junk Drawer: Facing Down a Household Horror

Whether you have an old-school junk drawer packed with rubber bands, loose change, and dried-out pens, a new-fangled junk drawer full of chargers, tangled ear buds, and slips of paper scribbled with multiple passwords, or some combination of the two, chances are good you’ve given up sorting out this chaotic catch-all.

For many of us, everything we seem to be “missing” can quite possibly be found in that mysterious pull-out panacea called a junk drawer. People commonly discover items like old wedding rings, Boy Scouts badges, and the magic bolt to re-attach the headboard they bought for their bed years ago.

Junk drawers house an odd mix of the useful and the useless, the expensive and cheap, the urgent and the long forgotten, the one-time gadgets and the tools we use daily. And, really, there is nothing wrong with any of it.

The question is: “Does your junk drawer work for you?” If you’re unsure, here are some ways to decide whether this household holding pen serves your purpose.

  • Does the drawer open easily, or is it jammed so full that opening and closing it is a chore?
  • When you go to use a glue stick from the drawer, is it dried out and unusable? Do the scissors still cut, and do the postage stamps still stick?
  • Does it take you more than 30 seconds to retrieve a single usable thumb tack, a working battery or a stylish a hair clip from the drawer?
  • Would you feel embarrassed if your dinner guests accidentally opened the drawer and saw what’s inside it?
  • When you open the drawer, do you repeatedly hear your inner voice saying, “I’ve got to clean this thing?”

Get it out in the open

If these experiences seem familiar to you, it may be time to consider some junk drawer Judo. Now, before taking on this seemingly simple organizing project, remember that the most common mistake when tackling the junk drawer is trying to do it while the “stuff” is still in the drawer. This often-frustrating tactic is like trying to do a 500-piece puzzle while it’s still in the box.

There are  four simple steps to organizing the junk drawer:

  1. Dump the contents of the drawer onto a light-colored towel or sheet so it’s easy to see everything.
  2. Sort like with like. Resist the urge to toss or match a lost item with its mate at this point. Just sort credit cards with credit cards; business cards and little pieces of paper with addresses together; paper clips together; and lip glosses, nail files, and other small toiletry items together.
  3. Relocate the items that really don’t belong in the drawer, and take them to their proper homes. For example, paper clips go back to the desk in the office. Lip glosses go back to your makeup bag, and extra coins pile into your child’s piggy bank.
  4. Reload what’s left. No need to buy fancy organizing products. Use some of those small empty boxes you’ve been saving to wrap holiday gifts as the dividers for your drawer. Simple, inexpensive, and done!

One final note: some of us may find we really don’t need a junk drawer after all. If you don’t need one, decide what would work better for you in that precious storage space.

If you do want to keep the junk drawer, go ahead and use it. Simply make a note in your calendar to organize the junk drawer again in six or eight months to keep it under control.


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