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Junk Drawer Workshop: Tiny Items, Big Fun

“I’ve been wanting to do a workshop where people bring their junk drawers,” I said to pal Melissa Levis of the Wilburton Inn. Melissa and I were knee deep in pillows, books and bedspreads as I helped guide the Wilburton Inn through a Spring Cleaning transformation.

Next I knew, the Wilburton Inn Spring Cleaning workshop was planned, and to my delight, participants arrived with their junk drawers and junk baskets in tow.

What can you learn from a junk drawer, you may ask? Oh so very much.

At the heart of any good organizing technique is a ‘like things’ sort. This means putting pens with pens, books with books, and so forth. A good way to get started on any project. But if you want to dive deep and begin to understand your organizational behavior, you need to take things a step further.

Lizzy, a teacher, volunteered to have me guide her through a deconstruct of her most chaotic household drawer. We went item by item, and as she worked I asked her, “tell me about this?” A simple enough question. But when Lizzy slowed down to answer, nuanced answers about her life surfaced.

I encouraged Lizzy to tell the story of the item. Not what the item literally was (‘a watercolor paint set’), but why the item was in her home in the first place (‘an art supply that I bought for my son that he hasn’t used yet’). Through telling the item’s story, Lizzy began to recognize patterns, the junk drawer turning into a metaphor for aspirational and hidden issues in her life that needed to be addressed.

As Lizzy worked, we formed piles of like themes on the table. The beauty of this work is that when we go for story, piles form made up of all types of objects, now grouped by theme, and no longer by object.

What began as simple curiosity for the group turned into a revealing look at the themes of Lizzy’s life. Lizzy had piles called ‘items my husband bought that I don’t use’, ‘sports equipment for my son that we haven’t given him yet’, and ‘craft supplies I’d like to take to school’. Lizzy also had more universal piles like ‘home office supplies’, ‘kitchen supplies’, and ‘things for my husband to review’.

Of course, this work would not be complete without a few laughs.

“I have no idea why you are in here,” Lizzy said to a Betty Crocker frosting cover that surfaced. And to a long lost jar opener she exclaimed, “oh, I did not know where that was.” The group cheered her on, supportive of each story she told and each pile that formed.

It goes without saying, Lizzy came across more than a few things that she was ready to let go, and a small bag of trash formed. Lizzy held one item and said, “now if I were home I would probably toss this,” a comment which elicited more than a few giggles from the empathetic crowd. I took a moment to share my simple philosophy on garbage: If you’re ready to throw something out – go for it.

Lizzy conquered her drawer, and soon enough husband and wife team Gary and Cathy got in on the action. Together they reviewed the contents of their kitchen junk drawer. I helped them to find the story behind all their tiny odds and ends, and we corralled all tiny items together, eventually putting them together into inner containers so they would no longer spill all over the drawer.

But the biggest discovery for Gary and Cathy was that stuffed inside this small space was a large rolling pin long out of use. Cathy categorized this item as ‘art work’ sharing that she wished to hang it on a wall along with some decorative dishes. With this large item gone, and tiny items consolidated or thrown out, Gary and Cathy were rewarded with nearly empty drawer. They agreed to repurpose for active kitchen items only once they returned home.

Ada Sue got in on the action too. Her basket of kitchen items revealed her passion for cooking gadgets, and soon enough she had a category called ‘gotta be in the kitchen’, with another called ‘I use that everyday’, and another called, ‘occasionally in use’. In the end, Ada Sue let only one item go (‘to donate’), which was a fun lesson for the group to observe. As someone gleefully said, ‘these items are at least in the right category!”

In the end, I was thrilled to have so many wonderful participants. We laughed, we learned, we gained life lessons and we conquered junk drawers. I was honored to have my mom Sheila there, and special thanks to Melissa Levis and the Wilburton Inn for being such wonderful partners in this endeavor.

Southern Vermonters, mark your calendars! I’ve got another junk drawer workshop coming up on August 14, 2016 2pm-5pm at The Left Bank in North Bennington, VT. Pre-register today. We’ll continue to take on clutter at home, one manageable project at a time.

Have you recently organized your junk drawer? Tell us how it went in the comments below.

Photo credits: Judith Frangos, Maeve Richmond

Maeve Richmond is the founder and head coach of Maeve's Method, a home organization system based in New York City. She specializes in parents & kids, couples, small space solutions, space planning and decorative elements for the home. Contact her at [email protected] or @MaeveRichmond.

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