Some of you wanted to see if I’d catch that typo, right? Some of you were hoping that I had created some miraculous organizing wizardry that involved a nice glass of wine or massive amounts of booze and party supplies. Alas, no.
Sometime in the not-to-distant past, I invoiced a client and typed “drunk drawer” instead of “junk drawer.” I had to laugh; was it a Freudian slip? Was I itching for a cold cocktail? It was about 90 degrees in my apartment on that hot September day in San Francisco.
The typo gave me pause, though: is the proverbial junk drawer what a drawer would look like if professional organizers put it together during the end of a drawn-out cocktail hour? Why do so many of us have junk drawers, to begin with? And where did the term originate?
According to WordSense, the term was referenced as far back as 1912 in William D. Tracy’s “Notes on Practice.” As far as I can tell, he was writing about tools in a dental practice.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot more information online that I could easily find. Except that, did you know that eBay sells vintage junk drawer lots? There is truly something for everyone. Before some of you get excited, though, remember that you would have to keep that precious space occupied for 50 years before it POTENTIALLY became worth anything. Even then, it probably wouldn’t be as valuable as the cost of that square footage being used for thumbtacks, broken figurines, and rusty staples. I found the webpage quite fascinating, although definitely curated (no broken toothpicks to be found).
Junk drawers seem to creep up over time. They might have started as tidy utility drawers: a stapler here, a few twist-ties there. Perhaps a few rolls of tape and an old screwdriver, unworthy of the toolbox.
In time, it becomes the catch-all for items that have no home. The Island of Misfit Toys, if you will. Sometimes they get so packed that they no longer close (or fully open). Sometimes we’re afraid to stick our hand in, for fear we’ll stab ourselves with an errant staple. (Organizing rule #1: never ever stick your hand into a dark drawer packed with unknown contents. You could come out with a nasty injury if a razor blade or open boxcutter is buried amidst the ancient band-aids and crunchy rubber bands.)
So we eventually decide it’s time to tackle the junk drawer. But it’s overwhelming. There’s just so much tiny STUFF! What if we fail? What if we get it WRONG? What if we accidentally throw out some unknown part and then find its mate weeks later and exclaim, “I KNEW I shouldn’t have thrown that out!”
“What if? What if? What if?!” We’ve all been there: not sure how to proceed for fear of making a mistake. It’s normal. It’s also pernicious. It also perfectionism: it can eat away at our confidence, stifle our creativity and inhibit our ability to move forward. It can be a massive stumbling block when we want to organize our homes to live more comfortably. I am ever vigilant of it lurking in the corner and watch out for it to rear its ugly head. When I catch it, I call it out to the mat, and my client and I figure out how to acknowledge those what-ifs and still make progress.
So the next time you become afraid to start an organizing project such as the junk drawer, do this: remind yourself that you WILL make mistakes, and that is ok. It’s part of the process. As the saying goes, sometimes we win, sometimes we learn. We cannot make progress without making mistakes. It’s just not possible. It’s tricky to remember and sometimes even harder to emotionally reconcile. It’s definitely possible, though. I’ve seen many perfectionists bloom as we work together. They become comfortable with errors because they know that the overall goal is so much more important than the mistakes they might make.
So that’s it for my impressions on the drunk/junk drawer. Take a stab at it; you’ll be finished in no time and it will no longer be the graveyard of delayed decisions. You'll be left with something much more useful than detritus. Just don’t blame me if you can no longer properly say the words junk and drawer together!
Author: Judith Dold
Musings from yours truly about all things organizing.