Ralph Gardner Jr: Curating My Utility Drawer

Apr 8, 2017

Ralph's utility drawer
Credit Ralph Gardner, JR

There isn’t much you can control in this world. But when you run across something you can, no matter how inconsequential, you need to jump at the opportunity.

That’s why I spent a good hour Saturday morning cleaning up the utility drawer in our kitchen. I’m not sure everybody knows what I’m talking about, or maybe you have a different name for it, so I’ll try to explain.

Obviously, there’s the drawer where you keep your knives and forks and maybe a bottle or can opener or two. That’s not what I mean.

Then there’s another drawer for larger utensils such as cheese graters, turkey basters, mandolins, and eggbeaters. This is not to be confused with the receptacle, such as a large bowl, somewhere along the kitchen counter where you store things like whisks and spatulas for convenient access; when you need to flip an egg, for example, and time is of the essence.

We also have a slim drawer for kitchen knives; though I realize others might prefer to house them in one of those slotted knife blocks, which might actually reduce the risk of getting cut since you don’t have to stick your hand into a drawer filled with sharp objects.

Next to last – and I’m more than willing to acknowledge that every homeowner has his or her own peculiar way of organizing things – there’s that drawer devoted to products such as aluminum foil, Saran Wrap, baggies, wax paper, etc. Also the ties that come with them and seem to multiply spontaneously.

Finally, there’s the drawer I tackled Saturday morning. It’s the one where you house objects such as hammers and screwdrivers. Perhaps Duco Cement. Nails.

But it’s really a repository for anything that doesn’t fit neatly into any other category. For that reason it offers a window onto many things: such as humanity and its often ineffectual efforts to tame chaos; the level of OCD of the homeowners in question; and family history.

I can’t remember the last time I cleaned out the utility drawer. It didn’t seem that long ago. But it’s probably something you ought to do every few years. Like getting a colonoscopy when you turn fifty and at regular intervals thereafter.

What prompted me, besides the fact that I was looking for an excuse to procrastinate getting to work, is that things like the hammer, sitting atop a mound of objects such as loose batteries and scotch tape dispensers, kept jamming the drawer when I tried to slide it open.

Not to wade too far into the weeds, though I suspect I already have, but I sometimes debate whether the utility drawer is actually the proper place for items such as masking tape since it’s so bulky. Batteries, too.

But if not there, where? The problem is remembering where you moved them in some fit of pique. At least if they stay in the utility drawer, you know where to find them, even if the drawer increasingly resists your efforts to wrestle it open.

I’d just like to mention a few items I found in the drawer Saturday morning and remain there because I can’t think of any more logical place to put them: a cherub head; wooden bird callers, a spiked flower frog; finials in various shapes and sizes; a child’s marble, and an onion-domed bottle stopper reminiscent of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square.

I probably found a half dozen wine corks and transferred them to the large kitchen utensil drawer. My wife may no longer be able to locate them. (Though she’s far more talented at spotting things right in front of her face than I am.) But I’m convinced that corks fall into the culinary rather than the home improvement category.

I also rid the utility drawer of perhaps twenty rusty razor blades. Razor blades pose an ongoing dilemma. You don’t want to discard them after one use. On the other hand they’re sharp objects and pose a risk if you attempt to return them to the flimsy cardboard covering they came in.

We have a couple of razor blade scrappers and holders but exchanging the blades seems a lot of dangerous effort.

By the way, we also have a slim, sectioned plastic storage tray in the drawer where I segregate screws from nails, and nails from bolts, etc. My pleasure in placing them in their proper compartment borders on the perverse.

The main source of clutter in the drawer are tools such as screwdrivers, scissors, pliers and wrenches. What turns them into a source of clutter is that over time heavy objects have a tendency to shift towards the rear of the drawer and out of sight.

So I’m forced to travel to the basement – don’t get me started on the basement, an exponentially larger organizational challenge – for replacement tools.

That helps explain why, when I cleaned up the drawer Saturday morning, I found no fewer than half a dozen pliers and as many wrenches. Some appeared as if they dated to the late 19th or early 20th century and have probably been in the family that long.

A cumbersome leather hole punch, which looked like a medieval instrument of torture, was one of the first things to go.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but marvel at these sturdy metal implements that have survived across the decades and will be around well after I’m gone. If they could talk they might offer some insight into family geneology, at least as far as its tool use was concerned. Those long departed relatives might also offer up tips on how best to organize your utility drawer.

Though I suspect that’s a skill that every generation must discover for itself.

Ralph Gardner Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

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