I have to come clean about something. I hail from a long line of junk drawer people.
The house I grew up in had a small kitchen with exactly three cabinets below and five above—three if we didn’t count the tiny and inaccessible cabinets over the stove and refrigerator. There were even fewer drawers but in spite of that, one of those drawers was a junk drawer, and every place I have lived since then has had one. Or two. Or several. I may have a problem.
Of course, the kitchen has one but so does my desk. Desks, actually. My dresser even has one, and my nightstand has two, and I’d be lying if I said that was all of them. Some items defy exact categories, so by default, it would seem silly to organize them separately. “And this is where I keep my rubber bands, sorted by length and thickness. Would you like a ten, a fourteen or one of my favorites—a one-seventeen?”
My wife will occasionally search for something in the main junk drawer in the kitchen. It could be nail clippers, it could be the checkbook, it could be anything, but she won’t be able to find what she’s looking for. Hands will be raised, harrumphs will be muttered, and within seconds, everything is out on a countertop, and she’s vacuuming stuff from the drawer corners that would need to be carbon dated to determine the age.
She’ll then square up the little boxes she uses to organize fifty-some-odd pens, reams of return address labels from various charities, pencils that still have the blunt factory edge, and whatever other miscellaneous bric-a-brac that is in there. It will look amazing when it’s done, but it will only last as long as it takes to close and re-open the drawer. It’s a magician’s trick. Now it’s neat and now … Presto-Chango! Messy!
Every so often I’ll need a pencil, so I’ll pluck one blunt pencil after the other out of the drawer, trying to find one with a point. None of them have a point because the only pencil sharpener we have belonged to my daughter when she was in grammar school. It resembles Cinderella’s shoe—and we can’t even find that because the junk drawer has swallowed it whole. I took to buying mechanical pencils but those were useless once the lead ran out because I couldn’t find the box of replacement lead. I bought more mechanical pencils.
Years ago, we kept losing scissors. How does one lose scissors? They found scissors in the Titanic wreckage, but we couldn’t find them in our kitchen. We solved that problem by stocking up with no less than four pairs of scissors. We now have more scissors than a barbershop, but good luck finding a ruler.
I have a tri-cornered architect’s ruler that I’ve managed to hang on to since a 1972 drafting class, but a normal, flat, twelve-inch ruler? I have no idea where to find one, yet I know we have several. Regular paper clips? Not a clue, but there are four electrician’s wire nuts humping each other in the desk junk drawer next to a frayed rubber band, two bullet casings, and an eyeglass screwdriver. We also save the straight pins that come out of new shirts, and for some reason, those always end up in a junk drawer—like a pointy version of Jenga. There are also staplers with no staples, staples that don’t fit the staplers we have, dead batteries and pennies galore.
There are notepads on top of Post-It pads on top of several jokers from decks of playing cards. I always take the jokers out of the deck because—and I say this with a great deal of arrogance—I never use jokers. Nobody does. In all the years that I’ve played cards of some kind, I have never seen anybody replace a card with a joker, so ours pile up in the junk drawer.
Every Christmas, we have to hunt down the ornament hooks, only to find them squirreled away in a cabinet that’s in the living room, which has turned into a junk cabinet filled with a hodgepodge of decorating stuff my wife collects. It’s mostly candles, and when the doors are opened, it smells like Pier 1 Imports. I have no idea what else is in there, but the drawer above the cabinet section holds no less than six remote controls one of which, for all I know, controls the DVD player at our neighbor’s house.
I recently needed a Band-Aid, and those are kept in a shoebox under my half of the bathroom vanity, so I was fairly confident I could get one before I bled out. I found the box and opened it, but couldn’t find a normal, rectangular, run-of-the-mill Band-Aid. We had knuckle Band-Aids, fingertip Band-Aids, Band-Aids that were big enough to patch a tractor tire, Band-Aids so small they could barely swaddle a baby finger, Band-Aid dots, Band-Aid squares, odd shaped Band-Aids that tapered at the end, gauze, gauze tape, waterproof gauze tape, clear gauze tape, Neosporin that expired in 1997, Ace bandages with no clips, Ace ankle braces, scissors (a-HA!) but no regular Band-Aids. I was feeling woozy so I just wrapped my finger in the last scrap of toilet paper. I went to reload the empty spool, but for some odd reason, the extra rolls of toilet paper are not stored in the bathroom. They are stored on the top shelf in our bedroom closet. One of these days I’ll have to ask my wife why that is because the extra rolls are an entire two doors of privacy away from the toilet.
Our absolute pinnacle of junk drawer clutter has to be the odd kitchen drawer that is the Neverland of weird utensils—soup ladles, big spoons, measuring cups and the entire coalition of peculiar kitchen flotsam all ends up in this deep drawer in a big pile.
Just the other day, I was trying to find the crinkle cut thing because I wanted to crinkle cut the dill pickles I was having with a ham sandwich. Yes, I live fancy. I knew this tool was somewhere in that bottomless pit of wayward utensils so I put on my miner’s hat, flicked on the light and went to work. It was a treasure trove of oddness.
There was a meat thermometer, a zester, kabob skewers, two sets of measuring cups, a bottle brush, not one but two devices that cut apples into neat pie shaped pieces, slotted spoons, non-slotted spoons, three different sizes of tongs, spatulas, pastry cutters, potato mashers, wooden salad grabbers that we have never used, and peelers of every variety but no crinkle cutter. I had to slice my pickles ordinary—sans ridges—with a knife as if I were some sort of barbarian.
I stared at this tangled mess of kitchen gear and admitted to myself that short of hanging each individual item on a hook from the ceiling, this really was the only way to store it all, and it is the same with every other junk drawer in the house. It’s organized chaos with a purpose, and that purpose is to keep all of this … this … junk out of sight.
I suppose people such as Martha Stewart have their junk drawers neatly lined up and they know exactly where everything is located. Everything is probably labeled and compartmentalized so that they can put their fingers right on anything at anytime, but that sort of behavior lacks a sense of adventure. As maddening as it can be to rummage through a drawer like a dog digging up a bone, I have barely enough room left in my head to know how to tie my shoes let alone know exactly where the hole-punch is stored.
For the record, I did stumble on the hole-punch in a desk drawer, right next to an odd size N2 battery, a dried up glue stick, a single clip that holds a screen in a screen door (which we do not have), luggage keys, a cup hook, one of those souvenir pennies that’s squashed into an oval, and a full sized Phillips head screwdriver. It was right where I left it, and if there is one thing that I can say with absolute certainty, it’s that if I ever need to punch a hole ever again, I won’t have a clue where to find it.