The Junk Drawer

I just did something remarkable, so much so that I had to tell you about it right away: I didn’t just toss the junk on my desk into the junk drawer. I was trying to clear off some space as a way of delaying the inevitable work I needed to do. I picked up some junk that had accumulated on the surface of my desk and pulled open one of the two junk drawers beside my desk–and I froze. What am I doing? I thought. I have enough junk in those drawers, I don’t need any more. Instead of tossing the junk into the drawer, I tossed it into the trash.

Having recently completed a big project at work, junk drawers have been on my mind lately. I often compare the rollout of a big software project to the cleaning out of junk drawers when moving from one house to another. The big items–beds, sofas, televisions sets, dining room table–are easy. They are the low-hanging fruit of the moving process as well as the software process. With a couple of strong backs, it takes almost no time to move a sofa, or dismantle a bed. Much harder, and much more time consuming, is the stuff scattered throughout various junk drawers in the house. There’s a ton of stuff in those drawers, and you have to make a decision about each item. And because they are hidden in drawers, you don’t see them and don’t think about them when considering the bigger picture.

I just went through the junk drawers in my office to give some examples of the kinds of things that accumulate within them. Here is what I found:

  • A bottle of lens cleaner. Okay, I use this fairly frequently, along with the microfiber map of the DC Metro System, when cleaning my glasses or computer screens. Can you wash a microfiber cloth? Mine seems to be rather dirty at this point.
Microfiber map of the DC Metro System, dirty.
  • A box of a dozen Pilot G-2 black gel roller pens (0.7) with 6 pens remaining. These, and their blue cousins) are the only pens I use. I go through one of these black pens every 25 days or so. I always have one black and one blue pen in my back left pocket along with my Field Notes notebooks. (Maybe I should refer to that as my “junk pocket”?) But do I really need the box? Couldn’t I dump the pens in to a container of some kind? Well, then I’d need a container and six for one half dozen the other.
  • A bottle of Rite Aid brand allergy relief pills that expired back in March 2017. I probably can get rid of those.
  • 2 NetGear PowerLine ethernet devices that allow you to use the phone lines in your house for ethernet. These were useful in the old house, but we don’t need them in the new house, what with the improved wireless access and Fios. I can probably get rid of these as well.
  • A bottle of Naproxen tablets that expired back in April. The bottle is mostly filled and I can’t remember why I bought these in the first place.
  • Not one but two Geometry and Math kits with compasses, small rulers, protractors, triangles. I can no longer remember when or why I bought these, either.
  • A baggie containing screws from the door to the stairwell that we removed when we moved into the new house. At least the bag is clearly labeled: “For stairway door.” Now if only I could remember where we put the door.
  • A bag of a dozen or so black, thick Field Notes rubber bands.
  • A pair of old reading glasses which don’t come close to helping me read anymore.
  • A single-punch hole puncher
  • A 3/4 full bottle of Target Clinic hand sanitizer. How about that! It expired in 2015, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?
  • An unopened package of 3M Command Brand Damage-Free Picture Hanging Strips.
  • A slightly out-of-focus pin that says “Eat Drink and Be Irish” that would have been a useful accessory on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • 5 ink cartridges for the printer–still useful because we still print things, especially with the last three months of school taking place at home.
  • A family photo from back when our youngest was born.
  • 13 “Forever” stamps.
  • Roughly 100,000 return address labels that St. Jude’s continues to send me after I once donated some money to them a few years back. I thought they used the money to help fight children’s cancers, not make return address labels.
  • Some expired credit cards.
  • A package of thousands of colored dot labels.
  • Boxes that once held FitBits and iPhones.
  • A bag of peripheral cables from the 1990s.
  • A VHS cassette with a label in my grandfather’s handwriting that has faded to the point of being unreadable.
  • An old mousepad.
  • A stapler remover that reminds me of a Langolier.
  • 5 colorful wristbands from our last trip to Disney World

Yesterday, I talked about catching up on my to-do list. I think I should probably add “clean out the junk drawers” to the list. On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t. I would only be making room for more junk to accumulate and if I left the drawer full, it would force me to either find another place for the junk or throw it away, whichever is easier.


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