In my grandmother’s house, in the second bedroom, there is a drawer. Whenever we visit her, I derive a small thrill from opening it: the amount of random crap accumulated there is simply stunning. Pens and clips and crumpled-up paper — more misplaced miscellany than I can describe. This is the junk drawer.
My grandmother is probably the reason I got so excited when I discovered Erin Thompson’s Junk Drawer Project online. Paging through it, I felt understood. I thought of my own junk drawer, whose organization is guided by a carefully considered personal logic. I realized that I consider my junk drawer very fondly, regarding it almost as a family inheritance.
Thompson’s project is quite simple: people submit photos of their junk drawers and answer a set of five questions that she’s developed. She got the inspiration, she told me over email, from watching her dad clean out his junk drawer. “I studied philosophy in college and was challenged to think critically about abstract objects or ideas. I guess this stuck with me, because I became bent on arguing and defining the purpose of the junk drawer and how it should be maintained (the philosophy of the junk drawer),” she explained. “I started asking my friends about their junk drawers and quickly realized that the way that people curated their own junk drawer totally made sense for their personalities. I am finding that you can learn a lot about a person by way of their junk drawer.”
The site seems to bear this out. There are the neat drawers and the messy ones, the sparse and the dense. The range of visible objects is surprisingly wide: makeup, markers, coupons, photos, cables, and a remote control. And Thompson’s questions result in funny and charming stories. You should and could spend a long time reading through the entries on the site; in the meantime, I asked Thompson to send me a picture of her own junk drawer and to answer her own five questions.
Jillian Steinhauer: Who are you, and what do you do?
Erin Thompson: My name is Erin Thompson, and I work full time for a gift and stationery company in Venice, CA. I’m also the mind behind The Junk Drawer Project, and I am working on a few side projects, including a cloth and linen line that uses a Japanese cloth dyeing method called Shibori.
JS: What are three words that describe your junk drawer?
ET: Bed, Bath & Beyond.
JS: What is your favorite memory surrounding an object in your junk drawer?
ET: My boyfriend bought me the carved owl pen from a shop in Big Sur on our way to Monterrey. The trip was planned last minute, and we spent the weekend exploring San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Monterrey, and Santa Cruz. There are so many great memories surrounding that trip, including the conversations we had during the hours and hours of driving. Everything we did was spontaneous, which felt really refreshing.
JS: What is the oldest object in your junk drawer, and what are you saving it for?
ET: It’s hidden, but I got the red wooden fold-out fan in Barcelona on the tail-end of a summer spent studying abroad in Greece and traveling through Italy, France, and Spain. I was backpacking and couldn’t buy too many souvenirs. I justified the fan because the heat in August was unbearable, and it could fit in my bag. I’m saving it for warm California days like today — it’s 84 degrees at the beach. It’s also sentimental because it reminds me of my experiences traveling.
JS: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
ET: I read this advice last night in a piece by Jonathan Harris, and it really resonated with me: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive. The world needs more people who have come alive.” I am still trying to figure out what makes me really come alive, but I am excited about the process.