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Published February 13 2010

De-junk drawers

It’s the catchall for the stuff that doesn’t go anywhere else.

It’s the junk drawer, that place that seems to attract Chuck E. Cheese tokens, Canadian coins, thumbtacks, ticket stubs, leftover soy sauce packets and the assorted bric-a-brac of our lives.

And just about every house – no matter how tidy or organized – seems to have one.

“I had about six junk drawers,” says Chris Fisher, who had professional organizer Melissa Schmalenberger help clear the clutter in her Dickinson, N.D., home. “If there was a drawer in the kitchen that was shallow – it was a junk drawer.”

Schmalenberger, who runs MS. Simplicity in Fargo (www.ididit-fargo.com), occasionally gives classes on how to de-junk this troublesome spot. She has people bring along their junk drawers – a practice that makes some of them pretty sheepish.

“Usually when I begin the presentation the group is very timid and sometimes even embarrassed by the mess in the junk drawer,” she says.

But before long members realize they share the same insecurities, and overabundance of stuff, and everyone is sharing tips with each other.

“My organizing lessons are simple,” says Schmalenberger, who has found junk drawers that contain everything from nine rolls of Scotch tape to curls from baby’s first haircut. “If you know how to keep your junk drawer organized and clean, you can keep the rest of your life and home organized as well.”

Indeed, Schmalenberger’s tidy south Fargo home includes color-coordinated closets and a silverware drawer that would make Martha Stewart purr. But she also has a junk drawer – albeit a well-ordered one. Inside, there are calculators, a protractor for her sons’ math homework, sticky notes, tape, pens, pencils, rubber bands, highlighters and a staple remover.

Her one salute to excess: multiple pairs of scissors. “Who needs this many scissors?” Schmalenberger says with a smile. “I’m a work in progress, too.”

5 steps to decluttering

During Schmalenberger’s classes, she has participants follow a simple five-step process:

1. Dump out the whole drawer on a flat surface. Vacuum and wipe out the drawer.

2. Throw away anything that’s broken or has no discernable use.

3. Weed out anything that belongs elsewhere – like the hair ribbons that actually go in the bathroom drawer – and put in separate pile.

4. Group like items together. For instance, put pencils in one pile; glue and tape in another.

At this point, you need to assess whether you really need 30 pens or seven rolls of packing tape. When combing through possessions, Schmalenberger reminds her clients to remember the 80/20 rule, which says most people use 20 percent of their items 80 percent of the time. So before hanging onto something, ask:

If throwing out items makes you cringe, consider donating spare office supplies to churches, schools or shelters.

5. Place items back in drawer. If you don’t have a drawer organizer, now is the time to get one. “Do not buy organizational products before you organize,” Schmalenberger says. “Everybody’s different, and no divider is perfect for everyone.”

To find the right product, assess how many piles you’ve created. Do you have lots of little items that might need mini-containers? Do you have oversized items that wouldn’t fit in a standard-sized divider? Also keep in mind how much space the different categories of items will take, which items should be more conveniently located, and what the overall dimensions are for the drawer itself.

Don’t dig deep

Some other things to consider when de-junking the junk drawer.

After working with Schmalenberger, former junk-drawer junkie Fischer says she still stores her items in several drawers. But now they are carefully organized. One drawer, for instance, holds adhesives (tapes, glue, etc.); yet another harbors mailing materials.

To Fischer, these orderly nooks save time, erase frustration and help her feel better about herself. “I am so thankful that I am no longer rummaging through junk drawers trying to find what I knew I had – I just didn’t know where. I am keeping with it because it looks good and it feels good.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525