COLUMN: Snapshot of Life in a Junk Drawer | InsideNoVa Culpeper – Culpeper Times

One of the most universal human practices is the creation and maintenance of a junk drawer. It is a practice that spans all corners of the globe, cultures, genders, and it has endured for centuries.

The popularity of this practice intrigued me. Most people think that it is just something oddly inherited from their family—something to be keep quiet about and off social media like a wacky uncle.

While most people’s attention bounced from the war in Ukraine, to gas prices and finally Will Smith’s slap, I conducted a one-man poll to determine the who, what, when, and why of junk drawers.

My research found that 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. These are all valid observations.

When I spoke to people about junk drawers they usually smile and say, “I thought that my family was the only one that did this.” It is almost therapeutic for people to realize they are not alone.

Some people have multiple junk drawers, one colleague said her entire home could qualify. Many have multiple drawers, closets, guest rooms, and even garages that fit the bill.

A popular television show American Pickers delves into this phenomenon and people are riveted.

Searching through other people’s junk collections can even be profitable.

Sometimes historical items are found next to the hysterical items in a junk drawer. I offer this

Cautionary tale from Stirling Rasmussen, a docent at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. This account is related to Marine Corps legend Sergeant Major Dan Daly, hero of the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I.

“Dan Daly’s replacement Medals of Honor were found in his sister’s junk drawer. When I tell this to tour groups at the museum, I precede it by asking if they have a junk drawer. Everyone seems to have one.

After the story I suggest that when they get home, they check it,” said Rasmussen.

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.

I had always thought the junk drawer was a southern practice—like being nice when you are being mean. Not so, northerners love them as well.

Mary Norton, a friend from Spartansburg, Pennsylvania told me her mother always said, “If you don’t have a junk drawer, every drawer in your home will be junky.”

In this exploration I also had to come to grips with my own junk drawer located in my kitchen aisle. It is a drawer that fits the bill as a classic junk drawer. My wife calls it “your drawer”—she prefers the portable version of the junk drawer I call “her purse.”

I posted a cathartic photo of “my drawer” on social media. This was a risk. It was like stepping into a confessional or telling your family that you are fly-fishing curious.

Happily, I was not shamed or canceled.

My junk drawer included: Pens, zip ties, batteries, tools, a pamphlet on Florida fish, a couple menus, steel wire, a Fishburne Military School medal, stickers, tacks, crayons, a toy soldier, a San Cristobal cigar band, and a playing card with Aziz Salih Al-Numan, a regional commander in the Iraqi military. Who knew my drawer could be harboring such people?

Most frequently found items in junk drawers, according to my research:

Batteries (no idea whether they are charged), pens (with or without ink), old photos, receipts, business cards, rubber bands, tacks, glue, love notes, toys, vacation mementos, name tags, crayons, tools to do lists, cake candles and menus.

One work colleague and friend, Donna Sheads, offered this conundrum of a statement.

“I organize my junk drawer,” she said with a laugh. “Maybe I have OCD.”

Sabrina, a friend from Richmond added this, “My junk drawer is a little peek into my life at this time. I feel like the junk drawer is a living, breathing thing that changes with you. It would be a neat project to photograph your junk drawer yearly and compare after about a decade or so. I imagine it would tell quite a story.”

In a world where we share photos of our food, kids, pets, fish, and vacations why not our beloved junk drawers? It is ok, everyone in the world has one and they are hilarious.


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