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What is a Junk Drawer?

What is a junk drawer

Did you know there are people in the world that have never heard of junk drawers? Seriously, y’all. Think about that. THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WITHOUT A JUNK DRAWER??!! How is this possible? Are they ok? Do they need a junk drawer intervention? Please explain how this is possible (I joke, I kid). So, in case you are one of those people who does not know what the heck a junk drawer is, I have decided to answer the question, “What is a junk drawer?”

Related Articles: How To Organize a Junk Drawer and 10 Best Junk Drawer Organization Products

A Little History of junk drawers…

Historical Junk Drawers

Because I am a bit of a history nerd, I needed to know the historical context for junk drawers. Where did they come from? How did the junk drawer come to be a thing? The definition from Word Sense lists the first published reference to “junk drawers” back in 1912, from a dentist in New York. He referenced his “junk drawer” in the context of keeping all of his gadgets handy to where he was working. The drawer he references sounds like it fulfills exactly the same purpose as modern day junk drawers. It’s a place to keep all the odds and end so that they are close by when you need them. Apparently, junk drawers are not a new thing.

Junk Drawers: An International Phenomenon?

My next question was do people in other countries have junk drawers? Apparently so! According to this article, junk drawers exist around the world. Here’s what the author Marshall Connor says about international junk drawers, 

“Friends from England, Scotland, France, and multiple Caribbean islands all reported the existence of junk drawers in their nations. Different names maybe, but the same thing.”

From what this author could tell, junk drawers present an interesting, universal human phenomenon. Everyone has one, but everyone thinks they are alone. Growing up we had a junk drawer, and just like the author suggests, I thought it was just our family. And probably like every family, ours was unique in what our family thought should belong in the junk drawer. The odds and ends that created our family: take out menus (two working parents), pens with the name of said places of work printed on them, eyeglass repair kits, scribbled down phone numbers, and all the other oddities that represented our family unit. Kinda poetic, don’t you think?

Changing Locations

As a military spouse, we have moved houses as a family over 10 times. No matter what size house or the number of drawers, a junk drawer always seems to magically appear. So what do I keep in mine? Basically the same items as when I was young. Pens, pencils, scissors, random nails and screws, extra keys and a pad of paper to jot down notes if I’m not close to my desk. Not as many take out menus, and the names on the pens are from different schools, different dentist offices, and different places representing all of the places where we have lived  (I am a self-proclaimed pen thief). Right now, ours is in the kitchen, but it would be just as useful in a dedicated command center, which our base housing does not include. If you would like to read about 3 organizing challenges military spouses face, READ HERE.

Junk Drawers and Organization?

Speaking of organization, the words “junk” and “organization” don’t seem to immediately go together, do they? I wonder if “junk drawer organization” is a new phenomenon? Were there people in the 19th century with the “perfect” drawer containers, or is this a modern era problem? Either way, I’m here for it!  If you would like to check out my junk drawer organization process, please click here.

Junk Drawers tell our stories

So, what do you think about your junk drawer? Is it organized and accessible? Or is it a hidden space never meant to be seen? Before you go, I want to leave you with this lovely sentiment from the same article:

junk drawers have been compared to time capsules, collections of marginal things, a place of chaos created by sweeping clutter into a hidden drawer, and even mosaics of our mental state.

Finally, do you have a junk drawer? What do you keep in it? Is it organized or is it an understood, agreed upon, space of chaos? And, for real, if you do not have a one please reach out. I’m here for you. 

Related Articles:

How To Organize a Junk Drawer and 10 Best Junk Drawer Organization Products

Happy Organizing, Y’all!

8 Responses

  1. My early-morning eyes thought the quote said “collections of magical things” so I just had to laugh – my junk drawer is as far from magical as they come! Fortunately, it’s too small to hold much so it doesn’t become a dumping ground, but I’m sure there is junk in there as well as the day-to-day useful items.

  2. Of course I have a junk drawer! Mine is in the kitchen but it was in the entry in my home in Singapore. My junk drawer holds things much the same as yours: pens, a pad of paper or 2, chip clips, and random screws.

  3. Thanks for sharing the history of junk drawers. It was very interesting. I have one in my kitchen to hold items so I don’t have to run all over the house for string, elastics, paper pens, light timers, markers and tape. It makes life simpler.

  4. My junk drawer – which I call my “supplies” drawer – is pretty organized. I have organizers inside to help keep things in place. This sort of thing makes me happy.

    I do have a couple of other drawers where multiple users tend to deposit items, and these are the tough ones to keep in shape. It is a truth that any space whose contents is not well defined will end up full of random stuff, right?

  5. I do not have a junk drawer but most of my clients do have at least one. I do suggest that at least once a year they go through them and remove anything that is no longer relevant especially if they keep adding to that drawer.

    1. Fascinating that you do not have a junk drawer!! Although I will say our has moved to different parts of our different houses, and really could be more of an office drawer. I do agree that regular maintenance is needed. I have to clean our up at least once a week because the kids shove things in there when “cleaning.” Thank you so much for your comment!

  6. Jana- I love how you delved into the history of the junk drawer! You taught me a lot. And I cracked up with Janet’s comment about misreading the quote as “collections of magical things.” Frankly, I’d like a junk drawer that contains magical things. I also love how that quote describes junk drawers as time capsules. What an interesting connection!

    At this point, I don’t have an official junk drawer. All of my drawers are specific with what they contain. My husband might have one hiding somewhere, but if he does, I don’t know about it.

    I’m in awe that you and your family have moved 10 times. I’ve lived in the same home for over 36 years. When I cleared out and sold my parents’ home, they had lived there for almost 60 years. Several of my friends are in the process of downsizing and moving. I’m guessing they will be looking at their ‘time capsule’ junk drawers and reimagining what stays and what goes.

  7. I think your quote about “marginal” things has hit on the problem and the practicality of a junk drawer. If we are at all organized (and even if we aren’t), the contents of the junk drawer tends to be what doesn’t really fit perfectly anywhere else. The junk drawer is the Island of Misfit Toys, the square pegs of the household items. Yes, some things could be moved elsewhere, but who wants to go to the family filing system to get the takeout menus? Who wants to go to the work bench in the basement to get the teeny eyeglass screwdrivers? And everything else just doesn’t quite belong elsewhere, so the solution we find is to create the cafeteria table (junk drawer) for all the square pegs to eat lunch together.

    I loved your approach to looking at the history and sociological (and familial) aspects of the junk drawer. Thank you for writing this.

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Jana Arevalo

Hello! I'm Jana

Hi! I’m Jana! I have been a military spouse for 18 years, and I am experienced when it comes to PCS moves, organizing new spaces, and creating more efficient systems for my family. I understand the feeling of anxiety and overwhelm that can come with clutter, and that’s why I love helping military spouses, busy moms and small business owners declutter and organize their homes, digital lives and paperwork!

I am an Amazon Associate as well as an affiliate with some AMAZING military spouse businesses. When you make a purchase using my links you are supporting my small business and I am so grateful! Thank you!


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