The Junk Drawer No More: Renaming and Reclaiming Our Family Archive

by Jo Upton
Originally Published: 

Mother’s Day is a big deal in our family. Each year a designated sibling hosts the entire clan. This year it was my turn. With only three days until the big dinner, I gave myself a pat on the back. For once I was running on schedule. The guests were invited, the menu was planned and the house was almost clean.

As a rule I settle for functionally tidy. But since our home had been chosen as the official gathering spot for both sides of the family, I felt the urge to clean and polish. I finished the obvious things first. Then, finding a little extra time on my hands, I decided to tackle the one spot in the house that bothered me most: our junk drawer.

I’m convinced that even the neatest families have them—those drawers where you put old phone numbers, the warranty on the washer and recipes written on the back of napkins that you always mean to recopy later. The place that collects all the little things you’re going to ‘put up’ as soon as you find just the right spot.

Our junk drawer is in the kitchen near the phone. I tried to shove a pencil in there one day, and it popped back out at me like something alive. I took that to mean the drawer needed cleaning. I also knew—since this fit loosely into the same category as dust under the refrigerator—the job belonged to me.

I set aside a time after breakfast, as soon as the children left for school, to tackle the drawer. It was a necessity that the children be gone. It was my only chance of clearing away the wonderful string and torn paper they’d be missing. They always wanted to save every little scrap for some future project of enormous magnitude. No matter how I reason, they always win, with their sad little faces and glowing testimonials as to the difference in their lives this one bag of garbage can make. No mother should have to face a bulging drawer and pitiful children at the same time.

So armed with a plastic garbage bag roughly the size of our first apartment, I headed for the drawer. I was determined to be ruthless. If I couldn’t remember the name that went with the phone number, I wasn’t going to dial it and play twenty questions with the person on the other end. If any warranty looked older than my marriage license, I would assume the appliance had fulfilled its mission and no longer required a back-up. This time I had every intention of finding the bottom of that drawer.

If any warranty looked older than my marriage license, I would assume the appliance had fulfilled its mission and no longer required a back-up.

My resolution was still strong as I worked my way through dozens of 3×5 cards listing cake ingredients, leftover thank-you cards with mismatched envelopes, and a bevy of small springs and bolts from something that had obviously exploded with great force. I had cleared out a respectable path when I hit my first snag—a picture of “Mommie” drawn by my 5-year-old. I read the date and looked at the abundance of misspelled words in the letter that accompanied my gift. My mind raced back to the day I received the picture. I could still see the look of satisfaction on my son’s face when I remarked how much it looked like me. The picture stayed. I folded it neatly and put it back into the drawer.

I was in the process of tossing a half dozen broken crayons when I found the envelope. I lifted it from the drawer and it rattled. I shook it again, just because I’d never heard an envelope before. It was sealed with several layers of yellowing tape. I peeled it open and watched helplessly as sand and small rocks tumbled out onto the floor. Then I remembered. This was my second grader’s memories of our trip to the beach. She fell in love with the ocean and begged me to let her take back the sand and stones that had collected in her shoes. Later she filled her sand pail with beautiful shells and forgot all about the envelope tucked away in her drawing case. Still, I couldn’t help but remember the way she’d beamed with excitement when she first emptied her sandals.


I got the broom and meticulously swept the sand and pebbles together. I placed them back in the envelope and returned them to the drawer. It was all downhill from there. I found small hearts made for Valentine’s Day, pictures of rainbows, and scribbled notes that always included at least one “I love you.” I spent time with each item recalling every little detail of its importance. My garbage bag was no longer growing in size.

After several hours of reading and re-reading each paper, my thoughts turned toward the reality of growing children. The years go so quickly. It’s never long until all we have left of the early days are little misspelled letters and the warmth in our heart when we read them.

My job was almost finished. I returned all the keepsakes and decided the drawer didn’t need to be cleaned—it simply needed to be labeled correctly. I picked up a broken red crayon and a piece of paper, wrote “TREASURES,” then taped it to the drawer. It was clear, at least to me, that the contents of this drawer were anything but junk. They were a very real—if somewhat unorganized—reminder of the children in our lives that make Mother’s Day a life-long celebration.

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