For example, I didn’t think it would be so hard to let go of things that have zero sentimental value, such as those dozens of ballpoint pens. I was also surprised to find myself missing the young children who crammed much of the junk into these drawers in the first place — and who are now grown and off at college. And I never expected to burst into tears sitting on my bedroom floor when I unearthed old photos and letters. But perhaps this journey to junk-free bliss can help you in yours. So here are a few lessons I learned from my week of clearing out several junk drawers in my home.
The Setup: Kitchen
I love the open shelves and uncluttered feel of my kitchen, shown here. But the cabinetry hides a multitude of sins, including the two junk drawers beneath the microwave.
And I know exactly how long the junk has been piling up in those drawers: 884 days. We moved back into our remodeled kitchen on Labor Day weekend in 2014. And in spite of all my intentions to keep this kitchen as simple and orderly as it was on the day it was finished, the junk has been accumulating ever since.
I eyeballed my junk drawer and purchased drawer organizers at The Container Store. I bought eight of varying sizes for about $45.
One thing I learned: All those manuals for your kitchen appliances won’t fit in an 8½-by-11-inch container because they’re not standard sizes. Another lesson: A mix of free-standing containers gives you a lot more flexibility in how you organize, especially when working with a large drawer.
BEFORE: The next day, I opened the top drawer in the file cabinet in my home office. This is a big, deep drawer. The junk here is in layers.
In addition to what you’d expect to find in an office junk drawer (envelopes, business cards, sticky notes, thumbtacks), I also found an egg-shaped kaleidoscope, a small handmade flower fairy, an assortment of paper hearts with words like “brilliance” and “splendor” written on them in red marker, and a spool of white thread.
I bought organizers at Office Depot for about $50. I didn’t measure the drawer first, which would have been a good idea. Mea culpa. I hoped to stack printer paper in the tall organizer, but it was too tall for the drawer.
I bought the antique walnut table that sits next to my bed at an auction dozens of years ago. I seldom open the drawer, except to grab a pencil for underlining something in a book I’m reading in bed, or to tuck away a photo or note or memento I don’t want to lose. I haven’t actually sorted through all the items in this drawer since we first moved into the house 14 years ago.
I found photos from my high school prom and from a Halloween party when I was in my 20s and single, a photo of my father and father-in-law from my wedding, and a picture of me standing next to Michael Jordan during an interview from my early days as a journalist.
I found love notes my husband wrote to me before we were married, some jotted on bits of scrap paper. I found handmade Mother’s Day cards and birthday cards from my daughters, written in that loopy, slanted kid writing. “I love you with all my might,” my oldest wrote on one.
I’m at an age at which loss begins to be a bigger part of life. My father and my father-in-law both died five years ago. I lost a dear friend to cancer two years ago. My children have grown up and moved out. The world is a chaotic place. Instilling order into one tiny corner of it feels mighty fine. And it feels equally fine to hold onto the small treasures that mark the milestones and joys and heartbreaks of all these years.
I put everything back into the drawer — that is, stuffed it back — and closed it. Without regrets.