6 Mistakes You’re Probably Making with Your Junk Drawer, According to Pro Organizers

updated Mar 30, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Ah, the household junk drawer. Is there anything more convenient in theory and utterly chaotic in reality?

As a concept, having one location to dump the bits and bobs with nowhere else to go makes sense. After all, filing away batteries, flashlights, extra stamps, random receipts you’ll never look at again, junk mail, and years-old birthday cards in a drawer that no one can see is ideal, right? Well, not exactly. There’s a reason why these drawers are virtual black holes that you usually avoid when you’re not stuffing them full of junk. They’re just not functional. 

As satisfying (and sometimes, helpful) as it is to have an option to hide unwanted clutter away, it’s equally frustrating to have a space that doesn’t serve a purpose other than to accumulate trash. A junk drawer is an assumed part of most households, but it’s exactly what its name sounds like: a glorified trash can.

Having said that, for most people, eliminating this kind of catch-all space just doesn’t make sense.

There are ways to make a junk drawer work in your favor, though, if you take the time to be thoughtful about how you use the space (and maybe more importantly, how you don’t). Here are six ways you might not be making the most of your junk drawer — and how to fix the problem.

1. Avoiding It At All Costs

Raise your hand if you, too, avoid cleaning out your junk drawer. Well, that’s the first mistake you can make with a junk drawer (or junk cabinet, or junk pantry, or junk closet… ). If you never face the facts and come to terms with just how filled-with-junk your drawer is, you’ll go from zero to total chaos before you even realize what hit you. Whether it’s once a month or once a year, schedule time to go through your junk drawer and clean out things that you don’t use, are broken, or you’re holding onto for reasons you can’t remember. 

2. Calling It a “Junk Drawer”

As Shannon Krause of Tidy Nest explains, the biggest mistake she sees people make with a junk drawer is simply calling it a junk drawer.  “A ‘junk drawer’ will of course contain….junk,” Krause says. “Instead we like to call it a utility drawer — a drawer that contains a collection of utilitarian items like scissors, tape, keys, a tape measure, change, stamps, eye-glasses cleaner, etc.” 

Anne Gopman of Organized by Anne has a similar mindset, explaining that changing your mentality when it comes to your junk drawer could be a game-changer in and of itself: “Change your mentality and don’t refer to it as a “junk” drawer. It’s just meant to be the odd-and-ends for a particular area of the house,” Gopman says. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Not Using Drawer Dividers

Both Krause and Gopman suggested using drawer dividers as a way to manage clutter, if not eliminate it. After all, if you can’t actually see what you’re dealing with, it becomes very difficult to manage the mess at all.

“After you’ve cleaned and inventoried your utility drawer, add drawer dividers — they’re essential to keeping the drawer tidy,” Krause says. “Everything should be contained; never ‘floating around’ a drawer. It’s only a matter of time before drawers without separators become repositories for clutter.”

As Gopman explains, drawer dividers “create order in the space that allows you to actually see what has made its way into the junk drawer.” 

4. Thinking One Drawer Is Enough 

I know what you’re thinking: How, exactly, is another junk drawer going to create less junk? The truth is that it might not create less junk, but it will certainly create less clutter — and it might help you actually find the items you need, rather than losing them forever.

“Thinking that any and everything can live in a single drawer is what produces an uncontrollable junk drawer,” says Gopman. “Having one junk drawer for the entire house can also be a big mistake. You can have an odds and ends drawer in some of the highest traffic areas in your home to alleviate a space that is uncontrollable.”

5. Not Breaking Things Down by Room 

To avoid the giant, uncontrollable junk drawer that Gopman speaks of, consider adding different utility drawers throughout your house (you can also use baskets, cabinets, or other options if you run out of drawers) to catch odds and ends that belong in those particular rooms.

“For example, the ‘junk drawer’ in the kitchen should house the things you need, but are not necessarily food or cooking related — like tape, pens, rubber bands, etc,” Gopman says. “Or a ‘catch-all drawer’ by the door should house the items you need as you are heading out, but maybe don’t need on your everyday adventure.”

If you create separate catch-all spaces in the most frequented spaces of your house, you can make sure that they’re actually functional, which can sometimes be the biggest difference in having a junk drawer at all.

6. Thinking You Have To Have One At All 

Really, though: Who says you have to have a junk drawer at all? (Or even a utility drawer for that matter?) If you know you’ll never, ever keep a catch-all space clean or tidy for as long as you live, and that no amount of dividers or other tools will help you, consider getting rid of the concept altogether. Instead, you could use the drawer for something you know you’ll actually keep track of, like important bills or other documents. Maybe you could only keep crafting supplies in there, or stamps. Picking one thing and sticking with it may be easier than trying to divide items at all. 

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 6 Things You’re Probably Doing Wrong With Your Junk Drawer, According to Pro Organizers