Rethinking the “junk” in the junk drawer

Photo courtesy of Paho Mann (

The ubiquitous junk drawer. It is the centralized repository where a plethora of useful and not-so-useful, like and not-so-like items seems to congregate. Think about it. Where else might you find a yo-yo with a broken string, rolls of tape, keys to unknown locks, full and half-used matchbooks, loose buttons, an undeveloped roll of film, outdated menus, loose change, and questionable batteries in one place?

The junk drawer seems to be a socially acceptable place for disarray. My professional organizer ears have heard few people express embarrassment about the condition of theirs. The drawer offers regular opportunity for impromptu treasure hunts. It also serves as a safe haven for things that are in the process of finding their way “home,” or that have no place else to live until, perhaps, they eventually find their way to the trash. For many, this collection and dispersal system works just fine.

But what if you wanted to rethink the junk drawer and remove some of the junk to make way for the more functional? Imagine being able to open the drawer and putting your fingers on the exact thing you need while eliminating the risk of being stabbed by a rogue push pin.

Here are some steps to help you bring about some transformation to your drawer:

  • Separate the contents of the drawer into three categories: stays, put away, and junk.
  • Sort the items that are staying in the drawer by putting like with like (i.e. batteries with batteries, menus with menus, tools with tools)
  • Look around the house for small unused receptacles that can contain some of the smaller collections in the drawer. Be creative. This is a place where actual “junk” can become your solutions.
reuse a butter dish to store paperclips

When a butter dish breaks, the lid can still be useful.

35mm film canisters are great for storing all sorts of things

Film canisters (yes, film is still around!) are great for small sharp items like tacks, nails, or safety pins.

a toilet paper tube is reused to store wires and cords

A toilet paper tube can be helpful for containing loose wires.

blueberry container with Albert Einstein

Thank you berry much, Mr. Einstein, you can help transform my drawer! Cut the seam of a plastic clamshell container, and you’ll have two receptacles that can hold any number of small items.

  • Gather the collections in the various receptacles you’ve assembled, and begin to fit the pieces in the drawer. This part of the process is akin to assembling a puzzle without a guide to follow. Be patient. You can do it…
junk drawer by Paho Mann

Store-bought drawer organizers can bring the right sense of order and containment to your drawer. If you have room and literal change to spare, you can reuse a tin for the coins! (Photo courtesy of Paho Mann)

organizing a kitchen junk drawer using trash

Reusing objects such as plastic clamshell berry containers, plastic film canisters, packaging from a friend’s iSomething-er-other can be employed to create usefulness and organization out of “junk” at no extra cost!

  • Enjoy your drawer of (re)usefulness.
  • Take a few minutes and put away those items that need to return to their usual places (i.e. the spool of thread to the sewing kit, the address book to the desk, etc.)
  • Sort “trash” and recycle, toss, or find new homes for these things.

And dare I say, if you have the luxury of spare drawer in your kitchen you can always make a true “junk” drawer. Or better yet, consider keeping it empty.


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  1. Avatar
    Sven Reply

    I think the kitchen drawer is like our own subconscious. Things pile up there and we don’t even think of it as a “place.” There are times when it’s nice to have a place that isn’t even a place, and then there are times when it’s nice to dive into our “underworld,” see what’s there, sort it out, and bring it to light. This is a beautiful post, not only domestically speaking, but metaphorically.

  2. Debra Baida
    Debra Baida Reply

    The kitchen drawer, like any space we occupy and evenutally explore is a reflection of ourselves – our subconsious, as you write, in addition to our hopes and our dreams, our successes and sometimes our failures.

    When a friend sent me to look at Paho Mann’s work (, I felt as though I was sent into a room of faceless individuals, yet I know something about each of them by being privy to a single drawer from their home.

  3. Avatar
    $0.01 Reply

    I have a drawer in my kitchen which contains birthday, Hanukkah and other short candles, matches, menus and seed packets. While it’s not organized per se, is it a junk drawer? I don’t think so. It’s just the drawer of fire, food to order and unborn plants and it’s a little messy. Absolution, please!

  4. Debra Baida
    Debra Baida Reply

    $0.01, this sounds like a very functional drawer in your world. A drawer does not have to be organized to be functional. If you can find what you need when you need it, with little to no frustration or delay, then you’re in business!


  5. Avatar
    Gina Ryerson Reply

    Debra, I’d call my junk drawer a misc. drawer. I weed it out twice a year or so. That way, I can always rummage through it easily enough. But your way sounds more effective.

    Thanks for reminding me to look in there again. I just found my tape measure, electrical tape and clips I’ve been looking for. I’ll find better place for these…

  6. Debra Baida
    Debra Baida Reply

    Gina, it’s great that you do a bi-annual purge of misc. This is a great habit that we should all practice in the many nooks, crannies, and spaces of our homes!

  7. Pingback: An Alarming Source of House Fires « Lisa's Table

    • deb
      deb Reply

      That is sobering information. Eek!

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