Goodbye, Clutter: How to Reorganize Your Junk Drawer

There's nothing junky about a junk drawer: It's a fantastic catch-all for odds and ends around the house, to keep them right at your fingertips should you need them in the future. Well, theoretically.

In reality, our junk drawers tend to be "I know it's in here somewhere" situations. That isn't a big deal when hunting for a purple pipe cleaner, but is problematic when looking for a receipt to return a purchase, or that halfway filled-out W-4 or roughly 20 wasted dollars in change.

Everyone's junk drawer might look different, but—whether or not yours, like ours, includes rubber bands, old thank-you notes, paper clips, spare buttons, highlighters, orphaned staples and anything else you find on the floor/counter/car seat—we'd all like to get these black holes under control.

So, your junk drawer might start like this:

But what if, instead of an incomprehensible jumble, it looked like this?

The best part about this impeccably organized junk drawer is that it repurposes unused things around the house ... thereby tackling even more junk ... for free.

Here's how we did it:

1. An Ice Cube Tray

A 99-cent ice cube tray is the perfect organizer for the little stuff: spare buttons, matches, rubber bands, hair ties, safety pins, bobby pins, beads that fell off your favorite sweater, orphaned sticks of gum and more. By picking a cube (or two) for each type of junk, we kept our littlest stuff accessible and orderly.

Don't have any? Try using egg cartons, muffin tins, cleaned tuna cans or cupcake liners instead.

RELATED: How I Simplified My Life to 100 Things

2. Teacups

We repurposed some of our least favorite teacups (that just happened to cost $1.50 each) as containers for change, lipstick, half-used Metrocards, bracelets, rings, sunglasses and more. We sorted our junk by theme (for instance, makeup and jewelry share a cup). If you don't have teacups that you want to dedicate to the cause, recycled plastic or paper cups are just as effective.

Don't have any? Try using bowls (we added one for our bigger junk), clean takeout containers or saucers.

3. Freezer Bags

We're big fans of going as paperless as possible (see our guide to doing that here), but the odd takeout menu and postcard tends to clutter up our junk drawer faster than we can say "recycle." The obvious answer is to invest in some 99 cent folders, but the less obvious is just as effective: freezer bags. Oversized Ziploc bags will hold nearly any document, so designate a bag per document type--one for receipts, one for takeout menus, one for notes you scribbled while on the phone. The bags are also great for unwieldy things like phone chargers and headphones.

Don't have any? Try clothespins (to keep your paper together, at least) or baking sheets to serve as makeshift desk trays (like this) instead.

Tips to Keep Organized

Now that we've gotten our junk drawer under control, we want to keep it that way:

  • Be ruthless about what goes in the drawer. A receipt from lunch goes in the trash. (The expense has been recorded in your Financial Inbox anyway, right?) Leftover screws from putting together your shelves: trash. Stretched-out hair tie? Trash.
  • Line the drawer. So things don't slide around and get increasingly messy every time we open and close our masterpiece, we lined the bottom with simple non-slip drawer liners, which we got for $3 on Amazon.
  • Reorganize every three months. Or whenever the mood strikes. But we like to set a calendar reminder to remind us to go through our junk drawer while talking on the phone or watching TV, to keep things from getting out of hand.
  • Mykonos04

    What perfect timing! I am spending all weekend organizing. My hubby will be out golfing and the step-brats are at their she-witch-mother’s house and so I can finally make this house shine! I love the bit about the ice-cube tray. Too cute!

    • Katizz

      LOL! Liked your post about the she-witch and step brats.  Thankfully mine live in a different country. Enjoy your organizing weekend!

  • N.Dublin

    This advice is not really helpful or solving the problem of the messy drawer. 
    The dryer ball == take the time to walk it to where your laundry stuff is.  Seriously.
    Pens == you have only 3 in the house, sure keep them tipped funny in a vintage bowl.  But my guess is you have LOTS of pens, sharpies, pencils and highlighters.  Take the few steps to put these pens in with the other pens.  Got a mug or two of pens, or whatever you use, put like with like. 
    Makeup + lotion packets= get it out of the junk drawer and give it the respect it deserves. Make up outdates soon enough so, walk the few steps to the bathroom to put your make up away. The whole point of a junk drawer is ‘junk you don’t use that often, so you forget about it in the junk drawer.”  

    Put things where they belong.  Don’t just beautify the junk drawer. Empty the darn thing out and put stuff where it belongs and where you will actually find it to use it.

    So too with the gadget cords. We live in an era of lots of gadget cords.  Label them with a label maker if you are super nerdy, or flag them with masking tape so you know which one goes with the camera, vs the phone vs the other camera.  And seriously, use one of those rubber bands to keep the cord neat and ready to grab and go.  Snarled cords suck.  And pretty antique cups + messy drawers don’t keep cords neat.  True organization does.

    Seriously — who only has three little rubber bands for a neat ice cube tray?  Get real Learn Vest. 

    Better yet — find a system that works for you so you know what gadget cord goes to which gadget.  This pretty drawer is pretty inefficient and useless when it comes to sprawl and accumulation.

    Instead put stuff where it belongs.  Everything has a home (or work up to that), and the home is not the junk drawer.   This post really is not helpful.  Its fluffy.  And I know that as a smart woman who is here to learn about finance, these fluffy posts (especially when they present inaccurate ways to organize) are insulting.  Learn Vest — stick to talking about money and not about how cute it is to use tea cups to hold make up in the same junk drawers holding screwdrivers.   Your readers deserve better than this drivel.

  • Caitlin McLeod

    Like the organizing ideas–but I don’t have a junk drawer. Instead, I try to keep things where they belong–like makeup a basket in the bathroom, jewelry on hooks in my closet, paper clips and push pins in containers on my desk, and so on. (Yes, I still get piles of junk–mostly the paper variety!) Regarding leftover screws–don’t toss them! Keep them for the unforeseen moment when you really need a screw to hang a picture or something and the hardware store is closed….Empty pill bottles, baby food jars, and film canisters (remember those?) also make excellent places to store loose buttons, beads, nails, push pins, and other little things. Small paper lunch bags would work as well as ziploc bags, and eliminate the more plastic. Or how about pretty gift bags with handles to corral loose papers? Look through your stash!

  • Lauren Bee

    I think no matter how hard you try-everyone ends up with a junk drawer. I liked the freezer bag idea for take-out menus. I tried to make mine into a notebook but their slim shape didn’t work so well with a three ring binder.

  • Irkitated

    Every household has an unorganized mess that is otherwise known as the junk drawer. It is the place where the things that could one day be useful go to die a slow and dusty death.

    But it is time to sit up and pay attention because apparently now your junk drawer can cause your house to go up in flames!

    Read about my own terrifying junk drawer experience here

  • Carry Porter

    Thanks for the idea on using ice cube trays and egg cartons. I just tackled my junk drawer and made use of the tip!