Tips for maintaining a multipurpose area that holds everything you actually need.

Junk Drawer
Pawel Wewiorski/Getty Images

Heads up: It’s probably time to revisit your junk drawer. Not to grab your go-to tube of lip balm or a piece of gum, but to finally organize it

Before we move forward and tackle your junk drawer, let’s do a little historical rewind. References to a junk drawer date as far back as 1901, when a short story in The Michigan Alumnus mentioned “junk in the drawer.” In 1912, a New York City dentist used the exact phrase, and wrote, “…if you happen to have one in your junk drawer…” to describe a drawer full of dental supplies. 

These days, junk drawers hold a little bit of everything—and some have more “junk” than others. Amanda Titchenal, founder of full-service organizing firm Well Organized, has a suggestion: Transform it into a “utility drawer.”

Junk Drawer Office Supplies
A utility drawer organized with a variety of plastic dividers, each containing items like staplers, pens, pencils, rubber bands, and more.

Amanda Titchenal

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“In every house, I try to have only one junk drawer—but I like to call it a utility drawer,” she says. “If there’s a home that’s really large or two stories, sometimes you can have a utility drawer in an upstairs laundry room and then one downstairs in the kitchen. If you have more than one junk drawer in a room, that’s a problem.” 

If you’re up to it, open your drawer and start reviewing its contents. Titchenal recommends emptying the drawer and throwing away any broken crayons, dried-up pens, or random screws. 

“I probably go through and clean mine out every two months,” she says. “What happens is, people start shoving stuff in there, or they’re in a rush and want to clear a counter, so they just throw things in there.” 

Titchenal argues that your junk drawer can and should be multipurpose, and give you the opportunity to grab what you need and go, without needing to visit every room in your home. For instance, you won’t have an entire toolbox in your junk drawer, but it might have a screwdriver or hammer you could use in a pinch.

Junk Drawer Tools
A utility drawer containing a few tools, such as a hammer, flashlight, and screwdrivers.

Amanda Titchenal

Here are the main items that go into a Titchenal-approved utility drawer:

  • Pens and pencils
  • Paper pads
  • Tape
  • A box cutter and scissors
  • Batteries
  • A tape measure
  • Gum and mints
  • Chapstick
  • A lighter or matches
  • Some sort of multi-tool or hammer and screwdriver
  • A nail file
  • Phone chargers
  • Sunglasses and glasses cleaner
  • Office supplies like paper clips and a mini stapler
Junk Drawer Organization
A utility drawer for a glasses wearer, complete with cleaning solution, plus gum, phone chargers, and pens.

Amanda Titchenal

As she does with most areas of her clients’ home, Titchenal also encourages categorizing in the junk drawer. So, after clearing everything out and sourcing the items you really need, find a divider that fits your drawer. Clear, plastic ones are ideal, since they’re the easiest to keep clean. Titchenal prefers the iDESIGN Linus Shallow Drawer Organizer and The Home Edit Organizer Bins.

The Home Edit Large Bin Organizer
The Home Edit Large Bin Organizer, $8

“Each little compartment is a different category,” Titchenal says. “One drawer divider could be all the tools, one could be personal items like mints and Chapstick, one could be office supplies.” 

iDESIGN Linus Shallow Drawer Organizer Clear

Courtesy of The Container Store

iDESIGN Linus Shallow Drawer Organizer Clear, $8

The junk drawer is perhaps the smallest spot in your home to organize, but it can certainly throw off the balance of your space. Once you’ve taken care of the drawer, you can move on to follow Titchenal’s tips to purging your garage and hanging up clothes in your closet.

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