The Junk Drawer. It’s that catch-all place (often found in the kitchen) for various and sundry things that don’t seem to have any other home. The drawer for the homeless things.
I’ve noticed that these days the junk drawer is no longer limited to a drawer. (Do you see where I’m going with this?) It has overflowed its sides and now many of us find that we are living and working in it. The desk, the office, the dining room table, the chair, the kitchen – they’re looking a lot like the junk drawer.
Here’s the deal: For energy to flow smoothly and efficiently, it needs to be contained. It has to have edges so that it flows purposefully in the direction it’s intended and doesn’t leak out all over the place. Look at the design of nature. Blood doesn’t just pour through your body. It’s carried with efficiency to the places it needs to go through a structure of blood vessels and veins. If your blood vessels and veins did not have good “edges,” you’d be in serious trouble.
Look at plants and animals. Look at rivers and streams. When the banks of a river cannot contain the water anymore, there is flooding, and that water once en route to the ocean is going to take a lot longer to get there. When our work and life has no clear containers, it “leaks” out and our energy and attention gets dispersed.
Why do containers help us preserve our energy? For one thing, containers create meaning. The brain is a meaning maker – perpetually identifying, sorting, grouping, organizing, defining. These skills operate beneath our awareness to help us know and navigate the world with ease. We don’t have to learn what a tree or a road or a car is every day. So it stands to reason that we support the mind and it’s activities when we create organizing structures in our environment. By creating containers for similar things, we distinguish them and give them meaning. It is the simplest trick that gives an immediate pay-off in efficiency, energy, clarity, ease, and even money.
Before I had this container for my office supplies, they were tucked in several different places with no real rhyme or reason. When I finally contained them in one place, I was able to see that I actually had 7 rolls of double-sided tape. When things don’t have a clear home, it’s easy to waste and to overbuy.
When the stuff of our work gets splattered together, the mind works overtime to refigure out what is what. Unconsciously, a part of our brain is sorting, separating, organizing the proverbial junk drawer we are working in. We spend more time than necessary looking for things, relooking at things, reprinting things, re-remembering things, and sometimes, re-buying things. Our energy, time, and attention gets drained. It subtly leaks out without our realizing it.
Don’t let things steal your energy. Free your energy by containing things.
There are basically two types of containers – Home Containers and Action Containers:
Home Containers: “Home” here doesn’t refer to containers you use at home, as such. “Home” here refers to containers that are the home for the things they contain. This is where these things live. Their home address. Some examples of Home Containers include:
- Project and reference files/folders (electronic and paper)
- Binders related to projects or topics
- Baskets, bins, boxes for similar materials, e.g., office supplies, stationery, journals
Action Containers: Unlike home containers, the things in these containers don’t permanently reside here. These containers temporarily house things that require the same action. They are more like weigh stations or a stop-over on the way the home. Here are some examples of Action Containers:
- In-box (physical and email) for things that you haven’t looked at, figured out, and processed yet
- Out-box for things that are going out of your office or home – e.g., to home, to office, to be mailed, to a colleague
- Folder or box for “Bills to Pay”
- Reading folder for documents you want to read
- Batch folders for any process that you consistently do related to documents eg., for signature, for approval, input into a system, to scan, etc.
So here’s my advice. If you’re noticing that your _____________ (office, desk, dining room table, kitchen counter, home – you fill in the blank) is looking alarmingly like a junk drawer, if your stuff is mingling without meaning, try this: start small with a container or two. There is no need to overwhelm yourself with a shopping spree at the Container Store. Start small: Put your tape, scissors, and stapler in a basket or box. Or put the materials related to the project that has taken over your desk and your life in a binder or folder. Try it out. See how you feel when you give meaning to the stuff by giving it boundaries, edges.
And while a trip to Container Store is great if and when you’re ready, you can also recycle containers. I reuse glass jars from salsa or other food for paperclips, rubber bands, pens, etc. I use a basket I received with a food gift for my envelopes, stamps, and return address labels.
Think edges. Think containers. Think boundaries. If you do this, you’ll spend less time thinking about your things. Learn to contain yourself and your energy by containing the things in your world – step by step. Give your things a home and get your edge back.
Some easy containers:
What has lost it’s edge in your world? What can you do to contain it?