Life Lessons In A Drawer

by Janie Emaus
Originally Published: 

The junk drawer.

That space you promise to keep organized. You’re always going to be able to open and close it. And at any given moment in time, you’ll be able to rattle off an inventory of its contents.

All good intentions, of course. But not everything in life turns out as we had planned. Because somewhere along the way, with no consideration for your feelings, this drawer becomes a living, breathing organism pulling objects from all over the house inside its cocoon.

A menu from China Palace. It finds its way into the junk drawer alongside its siblings, those other take-out menus from various restaurants in the neighborhood—necessities on those days when you drag yourself home from work, the kids are fighting, there is nothing to cook, and you’re tired as hell. A dozen $5 off coupons for your next trip to Target. Into the drawer they go. Those “Over the Hill” birthday cards from everyone you’ve ever known. They’re sucked into the drawer. Receipts, nail polish, screwdrivers, shoelaces, phone chargers, Legos, scissors, hair clips, Scotch tape, postcards. Everything is welcome. And nothing ever leaves.

The other night I decided to get a handle on my junk drawer. I dumped everything out onto the living room floor, figuring this would be a task that I’d complete while watching TV. Sitcoms came and went. The news. Late night talk shows. And there I was still sorting through all that stuff, reliving my life for the past few decades.

I’d forgotten to RSVP for a wedding shower in 2012. My friend had done things the old-fashioned way and mailed invitations. I hadn’t planned on going to the shower. But I now chastised myself for not responding. When had I gotten too busy to remember social etiquette the way it was before social media?

Next, I opened an envelope of photos taken on my 35mm camera. I remembered how much I loved looking through that lens, and the excitement of opening the package of developed photos a few days later. Flipping through them now, I saw myself 10 years younger, before I had those wrinkles on my forehead, the ones that appeared when my daughter was in middle school.

Buried beneath a deck of cards was a pretty wooden fan given to me by a friend who was experiencing hot flashes in my pre-hot-flash days. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t ever need this thing. Wrong. In fact, I used it while I continued through the pile sitting in front of me.

The tape measure brought back our plans to buy a new couch. But then the toilets overflowed and, well, a plumber was more important. We did end up with new seats, but not the ones I had planned on.

And the address book, so faded and torn. Names and numbers were scribbled every which way. I carried that book with me for years. At least I never lost a number due to a dead battery.

Of course, I tossed out a few things. Pieces of paper with writing so small and faded that not even my reading glasses helped make sense of the words. Cereal coupons from the last century. Floppy disks for a computer that had long since been recycled.

But most of the items were things I wanted to keep. After all, that’s why they were there in the first place. So, I put them back in, neat and orderly.

In addition to the fact that the drawer now fully closes, this process has opened my eyes to some things that needed to be done. I found a blank piece of paper and made a to-do list: 1) Call old friends and see how life is treating them, 2) mail birthday cards instead of sending e-greetings, 3) print photos off my iPhone, 4) buy a new couch, and 5) find an anti-aging cream that really works. I would start on this list, well, tomorrow. Now I had to decide where to put this very important piece of paper so as not to lose it.

Hmmm…what better place than this very drawer? Because when you get right down to it, none of this stuff is junk. From now on, I’m going to call it “My Life Drawer.” And I’m going to keep it well organized. Or at least try.

This article was originally published on