How to Clean Out a Junk Drawer

If you are looking for tips on how to clean out a junk drawer, today is your day. I am going to help you remove the clutter and transform your junk drawer into a kitchen utility drawer.

How to clean out a junk drawer

We all have them. Many of them are found in the kitchen but they can be in other rooms as well. Even the most organized among us have them in their home. The good news is that it’s not a dirty little secret or a crutch we all need. It’s simply an area in our home with a name that tends to give it a bad rap. 

The junk drawer. 

That place where our things go to die. 

A junk drawer with a red spiral notebook, a few pairs of scissors, a calculator, a screwdriver, and a tape measure.

If you turn to the internet and search “junk drawer” most information you find will be on how to get rid of it. How it can ruin your chances for an organized home. How, if you have one, you are headed down a road of cluttered misery. 

My take on the junk drawer is a bit different. Not only is it okay to have a drawer of random items it is necessary for anyone that is trying to remove the clutter and excess from their homes. 

Why do you need a junk drawer? 

First, most clutter-bugs think an organized home is one made up of a long list of rules and strict structure. 

Like the plastic-covered couches from my childhood. 

A couple (man and woman) sitting on a yellow couch wrapped in plastic, pouring 2 glasses of wine.

Clutter-free is frightening to some folks because they believe it feels like living in a white house, with white clothes, and white carpet and they are walking around blindfolded with a pitcher of red Koolaide. 

My goal is to help you to remove the mess and create a home you love to be in, junk drawers and all.

Is it bad to have a junk drawer?

The way I see it, a junk drawer is your friend. So, Instead of looking at your junk drawer as holding you back from a clutter-free existence, I want you to look at it as your ticket to freedom. Your chance to be clutter-free without all those strict and silly rules set in place to dictate how you need to live in your own home. 

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Rather than remove the junk drawer altogether, let’s instead give this drawer a new name. 

There is power in a name. Big power. And for us, that is where we are going to begin. Instead of calling this container of randomness a junk drawer, let’s call it a utility drawer.

An area in our home that holds a plethora of items that we just might need in a pinch. Need duct tape? Check the utility drawer. Looking for a pair of scissors? I bet you will find one in your utility drawer. Need a magic wand that you can use to whip up dinner tonight in a flash? Check the handy-dandy utility drawer.

A woman wearing a yellow button-up shirt, red cleaning gloves, and a red bandana hold a magic wand to a kitchen pan.

When you give things a new label you begin to see them not as a crutch but instead as a tool. One you can use to run your home more efficiently.

Now that we have removed the stigma of the dreaded junk drawer let’s set up a utility drawer in your kitchen that will help make the running of your home you run a bit easier. 

Before we begin you will want to decide on the purpose of your drawer. This will be your clutter guide as you go through items. It will also better help you to decide what can stay and what needs to go somewhere else. 

Junk Drawer Alternatives

General Maintenance Drawer

This is the most common type of drawer in many homes and if this is a drawer you may find helpful, then anything that belongs in this category can stay. Things such as tape, glue, scissors, pens, and pads of paper can all be included here. 

Kids Drawer

A great drawer to have for any parent is a kid’s drawer. Here you can keep an extra pacifier, travel toys, batteries, bandaids, and crayons. Anything you need quick access to for your kids. If you have never been in a mad search for a pacifier while your 1-year-old is having a meltdown then you may not understand how amazing a kid’s drawer can be.

Mother hand holding plastic baby soother pacifier

Kitchen Drawer

This is another super helpful drawer to have in your kitchen. Here you can keep seasoning packets, straws, twist ties, matches, and whatever you need in your kitchen that does not already have a specific home. 

Tool Maintenance Drawer

Most likely you already have one of these in your home. If not, you will definitely want to consider adding one as it can be an incredible time saver. Here you can keep small tools, hardware, felt, a tape measure, even Command Hooks are great to have in this drawer.

When it comes to setting up a utility drawer knowing a theme will help you to be more intentional about the things you keep inside. This will help you to fit in the drawer rather than overflow it with random items and junk.

What to get ready before you declutter your junk drawer.

Gather Up Your Decluttering Supplies

A trash bag. I suggest something small, like a brown paper bag that you can set right up on your counter. Keep things at eye level so you remain focused and on the job at hand. 

A clothes basket. This is for anything you need to put away in another room. I love these baskets and have several of them in my home. They are the perfect container for holding random items of all different sizes that you can then put away quickly in one swoop. 

white clothes basket full of stuff with a label that says Put Away

A marker and post-it notes. I like to call post-it notes the declutterer’s best friend. They are perfect for making notes and labeling items that need to be dealt with later. Consider them your reminder system so you don’t have to deal with things more than once. 

A towel. Hmmm, didn’t see that coming did ya? But I am not your average declutterer! I am all about simple and using a towel will help to make this process much easier.

Here’s how it works. Whatever is going back into your drawer goes onto the towel. Use a towel that is in proportion to the drawer’s size. This will better help you visualize how much room you have. A stuffed drawer is not going to work no matter how organized you have it. So keep in mind the exact space you have to deal with when deciding what can stay and what needs to go. 

A small box. This is what you will put your donation items in. The key here is to keep the box in proportion to the job you are working on. With a junk drawer, a shoebox will work perfectly. 

Small trash cans. If you would rather have tools ready to go each time you clean out a drawer then I suggest small trash cans. You can pick these up at a discount store for less than $1 each and they are a great sized container to use for smaller sorting jobs such as this one.

To Dump or Not to Dump

This all depends on you. If you would rather dump out all the contents of your junk drawer so you see everything in one shot – go for it. If you would rather pull items out one at a time and deal with them that way, that works too. Remember to take into consideration your clutter personality and work with it instead of against it.  

For me, dumping is just too overwhelming and actually freaks me out a bit.

I do better by removing and dealing with items one at a time so the counter doesn’t end up a mess as I am trying to clean out my drawer.

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Where Best to Declutter Your Junk Drawer

Now that you have all your supplies ready to go clear off enough space to do the job without hindrance. If you are working on a kitchen junk drawer then the counter will work or even the kitchen table.

If you are working on a junk drawer in your bedroom then the bed itself might be the better spot. The trick here is to use an area that is big enough for you to spread out so this job is simple and not overwhelming.

How to Declutter a Junk Drawer

Step #1. Set up your supplies in your sorting area.

If the sorting area you chose is right next to your junk drawer then you can begin sorting things there. If not you will need to remove the drawer and take it to your sorting area. The closer you are to the containers in your sorting containers the less work this job will be.

Step #2.  Gather up any trash you can see right off.

This will help you make a dent in your junk drawer in a super simple and easy way. Usually, what we think is an overwhelming pile of clutter more often than not is buried under trash. Uncover what you need to deal with before you get started sorting through things.

Step #3.  Gather up any put-away items.

This is anything you can see quickly that belongs in another drawer or room altogether. Batteries in the office, clothes in the laundry room, toys in the playroom, or random nails and screws in the garage. 

FOR MORE TIPS READ: The 3 Steps to Take Before You Declutter 

Step #4.  Start sorting what is left.

Pick up one item at a time and either put it in the trash, the put-away basket, or the donate box. If you decide that an item is going to stay you can place it in the keep basket or, if you are using a towel for this project, you can place it there.

a towel with random items on it with buckets with sorting labels in the background

If you are not sure what can stay in your utility drawer remember your drawer’s purpose that we talked about above. The theme of your drawer going forward will be your guide as to what can stay and what will need to be kept somewhere else.

Step #5.  Wipe everything down.

Once you have gone through every single item, what you should have is a completely emptied-out drawer. Take a few minutes now to clean it out. Wash the inside and out including the tracks to make sure you are starting with a clean and fresh slate. 

a rag in an empty drawer waiting to be cleaned

Step 6. Organize what is staying.

This is the fun part of decluttering an area. I like to call this my reward for hard work. If you do not find organizing fun, no worries. Eventually, you will! As you clean out more areas and get better at organizing them you will also look forward to this step like I do.

Small baskets, I find work the best in a utility drawer. They are durable, work great to keep things corraled, and come in just about every shape and size you can imagine. Try not to overthink this step. Your goal here is to contain like items together so it is easier for you to find things when you need them. 

  • A long basket will hold pens, pencils, and scissors. 
  • A short basket will hold post-it notes and tape. 
  • A larger basket will hold tools, duct tape, and glue.
  • A small basket will hold paper clips, hardware, rubberbands 

Use the containers to corral your items not contain them. By that I mean you are not using any stifling rules here. You are simply sorting things out so they are easier to find when you need them but also easy to put all the way away when you are done using them.

an organized junk drawer in a kitchen with containers fills with office items

I realized early into my decluttering journey that strict organizing rules would not help me but instead discourage me from cleaning out my home. Instead of rules, I prefer to look at these containers as guidelines. For example, as long as you get the items into a container in the drawer then you are good to go! 

This is not me:

A black and steel rod screwed into the wall with black and steel kitchen utensils hanging from it.

This, however, is me:

A cream colored box with the word 'Utensils' on it, holding black, steel, and wooden kitchen utensils.

I know simple is what keeps me clutter-free going forward, so every time I create a new system or implement a newly organized area I am sure to use something I will be able to stick with more easily. 

  • Tossing utensils in a box or crock…easy.
  • Hanging utensils up in the order of their size…hard. 
a ceramic crock fill with kitchen utensils

What if you are done with your drawer but there are still items remaining on the towel? 

This happens quite often and is actually a good thing. If you have finished organizing your junk drawer but still have items left on your towel that means you are able to see the exact purpose of your new utility drawer. You are already able to visualize what belongs in this newly decluttered area and that is a big step, huge actually. So pat yourself on the back and get back to work. 

If you find there are a few things left on your towel, you will need to move those items to your sorting area.

Donate – Throw Away – Put Away 

Continue until your towel is completely empty then give it a shake and toss it in the “put away” basket. 

Step #7. Deal with your sorts. 

One of the biggest issues when decluttering is stopping before you are done. That means we need to deal with what we sorted out. Those items that didn’t land on the towel.

First, tie up the trash and put it in the trash can. 

Next, close up the donation box and put it directly into your car. Do not skip this step! Even if the box is not completely filled up, close it and walk it out to your car immediately. Get that stuff out of your house and gone for good. 

A man loading a carboard box into the trunk of a blue car.

Finally, grab your basket of “put aways” and take a walk around your home. Stroll from room to room putting things away as you go. Don’t forget to toss your organizing towel into the laundry. When you are finished you can put your clothes basket away and consider this job completed. 

Remember, having a utility drawer in your home is not a hindrance but instead a super valuable organizational tool. One you can use to run your home more efficiently.

Now instead of running around looking for items to do a small home project, you have everything you need right where it’s supposed to be. The beauty of these drawers is they can be located in most rooms in your home. But be careful here. Use these drawers to corral room items and not as a place to hide random things until you get a chance to deal with them later. 

This drawer has a purpose and that means only the items needed for that purpose can stay and the rest need to go. I say embrace the junk drawer and use it as a weapon for good instead of a crutch for clutter.

Now that you have my step-by-step guide on how to clean out a junk drawer, put it to the test and see if it works. Once you do leave a comment below so I can celebrate your “win” in creating a home you love.

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  1. My husband and I each have our own “junk drawer” .
    I really love your suggestions.
    And they both look great and things are easy to find , instead of wasting time looking for something.
    He threw something into mine the other day, and I told him. “No no , you have your own “ lol
    Love all your tips, so glad I found declutter in minutes

  2. Good morning! Today was the first chance I have to catch up on email and blog reading in 2 months. I live with dementia x 2. My sister-in-law came to live with us 7 months ago and her dementia has progressed to the point of needing specialized care. needless to say, the clutter has accumulated quickly. Funny thing about clutter, it makes dementia worse! My dear husband is on the same path but not as far down it as she is. But I digress, I found in my attempts to keep order that the less clutter was the better both were with the other chaos that animals, chores and children provide! Now as I clean the house in her absence, I realize how important it is to declutter for my own sanity! Thanks for the tips!!!

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