10:21am

Fri August 15, 2014
The Protojournalist

What Your Junk Drawer Reveals About You

Originally published on Sat August 16, 2014 4:58 am

The Great American Junk Drawer can be an accidental time capsule, a haphazard scrap heap, a curious box of memories and meaninglessness. It can also serve as a Rorschachian reflection of your life.

You know what we're talking about: The drawer of detritus. The has-been bin. That roll-out repository where you toss your odds and ends. Sometimes very odd odds and ends. Sometimes whatnot never to be seen again.

Various places on the Internet, such as The Junk Drawer Project and House Beautiful, showcase people's messes and miscellanies. We found a few images of junk drawers on Flickr. And if you don't have enough junk of your own, you can purchase a Junk Drawer Starter Kit on Ebay.

You can tell a lot about a person or a family from the household junk drawer. "I snoop through people's drawers, pantries, closets and garages as part of my research," says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at Golden State University, "and I can say without hesitation that the junk drawer is the most revealing place I can look."

In a typical junk drawer, Kit says, people stash:

  • frequently used tool-like things, such as scissors, bag clips, magnets, pens and tape
  • small objects — safety pins, thumbtacks and toothpicks — that might get lost in the world at large
  • hastily stowed items, like receipts and spare change
  • infrequently used medications — ointments, aspirin, Band-Aids, antacids — for otherwise healthy people
  • infrequently used car and household knickknacks, like ash trays, scratched-up sunglasses, frequent shopper cards

And then, she says, "it gets interesting, because what people also store in junk drawers are things they can't part with, but don't use — like vacation mementos and love notes." Puzzle pieces of the past.

By digging through someone's household junk drawer, she says, "you can also clearly see a household's composition and hobbies." Often there are abandoned toys and crafts.

"Good intentions like Nicorette and sunscreen are often in there," she says. "New arrivals to the junk drawer scene are tech accessories for long-abandoned products, such as chargers and cases. For some reason people can't throw them out, but they don't know what to do with them. And, of course, I usually find a few old shopping lists in there somewhere, too."

What is in Kit Yarrow's household junk drawer, seen at the top of this story?

"I think my job keeps me from collecting too much clutter," she says, "so I don't have tons of stuff in there."

A couple of her favorite things: a small wooden cup from a friend in Finland and a $5 bill "that someone left on my windshield — no idea why. I've had that in a junk drawer for more than a decade to remind me of the kindness and quirkiness of others."

So what does your household junk drawer look like? If you feel like it, please post a photo of your miscellany bin, your cabinet of curiosities, your household junk drawer in the Comments section below. (There's a small icon below the comment box that enables you to upload your picture.)

Along with your photo — and others — we may get a visual sense of the sensical and nonsensical stuff we keep around our houses in 21st century America.

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The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers — Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR. @NPRtpj

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