What Your Junk Drawer Reveals About You, According to a Psychologist
Who knew that the number of scissors you keep in your junk drawer could reveal so much about your personality?
What’s hidden in your junk drawer?
The junk drawer: Every house has one, and yet no one ever really plans to have it. It’s the great mystery of kitchen organization. One day it magically appears, filled with batteries, markers, tape, stamps, hair ties, old Cheerios and … so many scissors.
“Seriously, people, what is with all the scissors? Is there a scissor shortage on the horizon? Did a pair of scissors save your life?” asks Jeff Temple, PhD, the licensed psychologist we persuaded to be our junk-drawer expert. And it’s not just the scissors he’s side-eyeing. We asked Temple to pore over pictures of readers’ junk drawers and analyze what their drawers say about them—which will help you figure out what your own junk drawer says about you.
Why is your junk drawer so revealing?
A personality test like this is one part silly fun and one part science: How you choose which things to keep, how you organize your things and how you clean your space (or don’t) is rooted in psychology. These types of little habits can reveal a lot about the inner workings of your mind. So it’s not really about the junk drawer itself, Temple says, but about why and how you made it the way it is.
That said, this isn’t an exact science. “I’m going to start with a disclaimer,” says Temple, who is also a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “Psychologists are good at a lot of things. We can help people feel less depressed and anxious, think better thoughts and make better decisions. However, despite popular belief, we’re probably no better than the average person at picking a jury, determining whether someone is lying or deciphering junk drawers. But that won’t stop me from trying. It sounds fun—let’s do this!”
We decided to start with my junk drawer, obviously.
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Owner: Charlotte Andersen (me), 44, Denver
Location: Kitchen, next to the refrigerator
Number of scissors: 2
Nyctophobia is the clinical name for fear of the dark, a condition I didn’t know I had until Temple pointed out that I have nine (yes, nine) flashlights in my junk drawer. (See if you can find them all—it’s like a fun picture search but with bonus ADHD!) To be honest, I’m not terribly afraid of the dark, but there’s got to be a reason I’m hoarding flashlights. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom, and kids are often afraid of the dark? Being a mother of five also explains the birthday candles, superglue and batteries. And peep the old flip video camera that I don’t use anymore but won’t get rid of because it has videos of my babies on it.
So, what was Temple’s psychological analysis of my junk drawer? “Being a mother is important to you, but it’s also important to you to keep your own identity, apart from your kids,” he says. For instance, that giant red Sharpie you see? I use that to label my special treats with a not-so-subtle “Mom’s—DON’T TOUCH!” It’s not just about the sugar; it’s about feeling that I have some things that are just for me and only me. And while the flashlights may not indicate a phobia of the dark, they do show anxiety about future emergencies and a real drive to feel prepared for anything, according to Temple. It’s true: I do spend a lot of time worrying about future catastrophes, and I own a lot of random gear to prepare for them. At least the stuff in my kitchen is in my junk drawer and not on the countertops!
“Also, nice job on the scissors,” he adds. “Having only two pairs shows a lot of restraint.” (You’ll see what he means in a minute!)
Owner: Amy D., 40, New Orleans
Location: Kitchen island
Number of scissors: 7
“Amy likes to compartmentalize her life,” Temple notes. She doesn’t just know how to organize pots and pans but how to keep each thing in her life separate and tidy. “This means that if she’s stressed out at home, she’s still able to power through work undeterred—and vice versa, leaving work at work so she can be fully present at home. This skill allows her to fully focus on whatever needs her immediate attention.”
Temple adds that it’s also important to her to appear organized and put together on the outside, even if she doesn’t always feel that way on the inside. In fact, she likely keeps many things to herself, as indicated by the generic nature of her junk-drawer items. While some people prefer to keep treasured items nearby, she prefers to keep hers separate and away from the main areas of her house (and life?).
But while she may keep things close to the vest, she’s not completely buttoned-up. “As illustrated by that one masking tape that’s not hanging out with its sisters, she likes to occasionally take risks. Perhaps a spontaneous weekend vacation?” And he points out that there is an empty compartment—a rare find in junk drawers—which indicates that she’s waiting for something in her life to be fulfilled. “New job? Love interest? Move?” he asks. “Last, and this is above my pay grade, but what’s with all the scissors?!”
Functional free spirit
Owner: Hanna S., 41, San Francisco
Location: Kitchen island
Number of scissors: 8
Hanna’s drawer suggests that she has a Type A personality, is ultra organized and lives by the motto “everything has a place and everything in its place,” according to Temple. That’s a good thing, considering the impressively wide variety of items in her junk drawer, from sewing-machine needles and maps to children’s hair bows, a string of pearls and six rolls of tape. But, he adds, the fact that the plugs are mixed in with the medical supplies indicates that while her system makes perfect sense to her, she likes to keep other people guessing. The multiple fly swatters and fly tape are an original touch and suggest a tinge of ruthlessness in keeping things the way she wants them.
“As a fun bonus, I see a hint that she has recently traveled internationally, so I would say that she is a free spirit who doesn’t like to be tied down to any one place,” Temple says. (Can you spot it? It’s the electronics adapter near the yellow tube.) The fact that she keeps these niche items close at hand shows how important her freedom is; she can be on a flight to Paris with less than an hour’s notice. However, Temple says: “I remain confused about all the scissors.”
Owner: Jessica M., 32, Ogden, Utah
Location: Kitchen nook
Number of scissors: A whole drawer full
By her own admission, Jessica is a little neurotic about organization—hence, the retired card catalog that is multiple junk drawers in one. But “junk” is really not the correct word: She has each drawer neatly categorized, labeled and organized. “If Jessica is looking for a job, hire her!” Temple says. “Just like she doesn’t believe in junk drawers, she doesn’t believe in dropping the ball. She will arrive on time and leave when everything is done for the day, which will be at exactly 5 p.m.” Jessica is likely punctual, orderly and very sensible.
The old-school nature of her special junk drawer also shows that she has a keen sense of nostalgia and enjoys reminiscing. If you have a childhood story, she wants to hear it (probably).
Is one of the little drawers just for scissors? Yep. “Of course,” Temple laughs. “How many scissors can you really fit in a card-catalog drawer, though?”
Owner: Rachel L., 49, Lakeville, Minnesota
Location: Buffet counter in dining room
Number of scissors: 4, plus a pair of folding travel scissors
“I’m sorry, my eyes went straight to the scissors first—that’s all I can see now,” Temple laments. But these aren’t just regular scissors. These include a uniquely handy pair of folding scissors. “Why do you need travel scissors? What are you doing on vacation, Rachel?”
Rachel actually has an answer: “I’m overcompensating for growing up in a house where there were never any of the practical tools of life—tape, glue, pens and especially scissors. I learned to be very good at ‘cutting’ by folding a piece of paper and tearing it very carefully along the crease.” This is a very insightful observation, Temple notes, showing that Rachel is self-aware and introspective.
“She appears organized but is also unpredictable and fun, as shown by the combination of three pocketknives and bubble gum,” Temple says. And that’s just part of what her junk drawer reveals about her. “Rachel is a duck—calm on the surface, but paddling like crazy underwater.” Having multiples of each item hints at stress (which she’ll never show), but it’s the wallet and keys that really tell the story. Most people would keep these items in a separate area (like by the garage), but Rachel is so used to having to deal with chaos that she keeps her keys and wallet right at hand so she can run out the door immediately … and perhaps bring along her travel scissors, because you never know when you’re going to need scissors!
Owner: Tom H., 67, Smithfield, Utah
Location: Drawer at the far end of the kitchen
Number of scissors: 2
The only man brave enough to both claim and submit the household junk drawer for Reader’s Digest‘s analysis, Tom says it’s his go-to place for small household projects, like tightening a screw, touching up the baseboard paint, replacing the batteries in the fire alarm and hanging pictures. This shows that he takes pride in his home and enjoys being a literal “handyman,” Temple says. “Tom’s a helper, and if you need something done, you don’t have to ask twice.”
However, the presence of a dry-erase marker and absence of a normal marker is a bit of an enigma, showing he’s a little unpredictable and an out-of-the-box thinker. Perhaps he prefers the impermanence of dry erase, allowing him to fix mistakes in the moment rather than fully committing his thoughts (or grocery list) to permanent marker.
Owner: Louise D., 43, Ashburn, Virginia
Location: In the kitchen, office and junk room (yes, she has an entire junk room)
Number of scissors: Probably dozens, if you count the ones in the junk room
The first thing of note about Louise’s junk drawer is that it started in one, overflowed into two and then ended up taking over an entire messy room. Most of the “junk” has to do with her job, since she teaches first-aid and CPR classes from her home. This explains the gloves, gauze bandages and other medical supplies.
“Louise loves her job in the health-care industry—maybe a little too much, as she is clearly taking her work home with her,” Temple says. “She also leads a busy lifestyle but feels the need to be prepared for anything.” (As evidenced by the three packages of watch batteries.) He explains that it’s important for her to keep moving no matter what happens and won’t let a scraped knee or even a pandemic slow her down. Who has time for organizing when your work is so important?
And, he adds, at least her abundance of scissors has a good purpose, as emergency workers need to keep them handy for, yes, saving lives.
Owner: Christa H., 35, Austin, Texas
Location: Kitchen, next to the dishwasher
Number of scissors: 1
“Well, for starters, Christa has the appropriate number of scissors, which can only suggest that she is the most normal of the bunch,” Temple says. “But what does normal mean anyway? Does being normal in this sea of abnormals just mean that she’s really the abnormal one?”
Christa says the decision was practical: Why would anyone need more than one pair of scissors? “Exactly!” Temple says.
As for the other elements, the child lock on the drawer shows that she is a mother, of course, but also that she’s concerned about safety and is very protective of her little ones. She’s not always The Adult, however, as indicated by the googly-eyed pencil case. “Christa has a sense of childlike whimsy and fun,” he says. Christa admits this is true, as she paid a neighborhood girl to come over and organize her junk drawer for her because she would rather be doing fun things with her kids instead of organizing.
Owner: Lola J., 50, Baltimore
Location: Kitchen corner
Number of scissors: 2
The chaos of Lola’s junk drawer reflects the chaos of her life, Temple says. In her defense, Lola swears the drawer is all her husband’s doing. The fact that she compromises on this issue shows that she prioritizes relationships and has a strong marriage.
“But while Lola’s life may be chaotic, she is ready and prepared for everything,” Temple says. “If you’re out to dinner and need a Tide-to-go pen, look to Lola. Need advice on whether you should go on a second date with that guy? Look to Lola. Need someone to organize your drawers? Maybe don’t look to Lola.”
The number of pretty little notebooks indicates that she is thoughtful and likes to keep track of her thoughts daily. She’s creative—an artist or perhaps even a poet.
Owner: Shalom E., 52, Minneapolis
Location: Two kitchen drawers, one on each side of the refrigerator
Number of scissors: 0
“I’m going to nail this one because Shalom clearly snuck into my house and took a picture of my junk drawer. We are kindred spirits,” Temple says. “Shalom knows how to have fun (wears mirrored sunglasses, has a fish and a flask, voted for Zoe) but also knows how to recover (electrolytes, Ricola cough drops).”
Her eclectic drawers also contain a dreidel and inspirational buttons, showing her spirituality; a broken bannister spindle, indicating she’s thrifty; and a rogue birthday candle, attesting that she, too, has many children. Plus, she has roll-on whiteout—a holdover from an earlier time, a hipster penchant for using typewriters or a hint of something a little heavier. “These visible reminders of bygone days may indicate that she has a hard time letting go of the past,” Temple says.
However, the total lack of scissors concerns Temple. “I never cared before, but now I think that a junk drawer must have some scissors,” he says. “Is Shalom OK? Has anyone checked on her recently?”
About the expert
- Jeff Temple, PhD, is a licensed psychologist, professor and the John Sealy Distinguished Chair in Community Health at the University of Texas Medical Branch. He is also the director of the Center for Violence Prevention and has published 230 scholarly articles in a variety of high-impact journals, including JAMA.
- Psychological Science: “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity”