Lessons from the Junk Drawer: Guest Post by Jennifer Van Winkle

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I tell myself “I’m an organized person” as I pull out the kitchen junk drawer and dump its contents into a moving box. Items clatter into the box in one haphazard heap, and I’m disappointed because I have run out of time to make this box look as tidy as the other ones.

I’ve become addicted to the zen-like repetition of wrapping glass stemware in newsprint, slotting them in a satisfying grid. In contrast, this rattly box, with metal bits poking out in disarray, is like fingers on a chalkboard to my inner neat-freak. Sarcastic and brutal, I reprimand myself for falling short.

And you call yourself organized.

An organized person probably doesn’t even have a junk drawer.

My self-esteem in tatters and the idea of a perfectly executed move flying out the window, I resort to disheveled packing in a last-minute frenzy. The big U-Haul truck is here to move everything to our new house, and my kitchen still has a bunch of stuff in the drawers and food in the fridge.

Up till now, I purged unnecessary items before I packed them to prevent storing things we didn’t need in our new house. I gave myself time to choose the things I lovingly nestled in paper padding, leaving behind anything that didn’t make the cut. Every item that made it into those first boxes I knew was and would continue to be useful in the next season. As I watched moving boxes fill and stack neatly in the basement, brimming with utility, none of it junk, satisfaction grew in my heart. When the boxes towered, I patted myself on the back for being so good and organized.

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Yes, I am an organized person, those boxes proved it.

Now here I am packing the junk drawer with no organization, or intentionality, or scrutiny. It is full of stuff I don’t know what to do with--an appalling pockmark on my smooth packing operation. It is the bane of my existence, and I just want to shove it into the darkest corner I can find, shut the door, and pretend it never existed. It is my dirty laundry on parade shouting that I am a fraud.

How can I profess to be an organized person and be packing up a box of junk like this?

As the items skitter past me into one aggregated pile, I wonder where in the world I got the crazy idea that moving could be perfect? I’ve struggled with perfection for a long time. Mostly, it is an inner battle about the way I look and act being good enough, but this was a whole new level of perfectionism: perfect moving boxes. In a moment of clarity, I realized the junk in my kitchen drawer was not the only junk I was carrying around.

The confining ideas I held onto in my heart kept me from just living my life, and in this case packing my boxes imperfectly without a heap of shame on top, to just get the job done.

All I really long for in my soul is peace, not perfection.

No matter how hard I strive after perfection, in whatever different circumstance, I never end up achieving peace. Instead, I allow the recesses of my heart to be filled with ideas that stifle rather than enliven my spirit. Self-doubt accumulates when I fear having confidence will require more emotional strength than I have to give.

It is the same with the junk in my kitchen drawer. I say I am too busy to deal with it, but really I am afraid of making a hard decision about whether something should stay or go. So there it all sits, useful items smashed up against useless ones, the drawer barely closing.

All I really long for in my soul is peace, not perfection.

I need a place to relax my overdriven mind and retire my anxious heart. I am afraid that my junk drawer will swell up and slowly overtake my house. The idea of only being able to reside in a portion of my home because of all my stuff takes up the majority of the space, fills me with worry and dread. I envision my house with plenty of open space, free of superfluous things because peace comes with room around it.

Like a tree, peace needs space to spread out its branches and sink deep its roots. If there is no room for peace to unfurl its canopy; if it must first traverse a pile of junk before forming a foundation, then whatever growth it may have will be stunted. Peace that is scarcely sown is no peace at all.

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An essential part of creating space is letting go of what isn’t useful, both physically and emotionally. I am learning that releasing the unnecessary emotional clutter first is central to having the ability to let go of extraneous material possessions. For me, that meant taking a moment to see the problem for what it was, instead of listening to the exaggerated accusations in my mind about the junk I had accumulated.

I took my rattly junk drawer box out of the closet, set it squarely in the middle of the utility room and promised myself that I couldn’t move the box until I had dealt with the contents. It took some time. I had to step around it to do the laundry forcing myself to look at it as I separated darks and lights. Little by little I was able to make decisions about my junk. Some of it was trash, some of it really belonged in other rooms, and the rest was useful. I quit calling it junk because it genuinely wasn’t anymore.

If there is no room for peace to unfurl its canopy; if it must first traverse a pile of junk before forming a foundation, then whatever growth it may have will be stunted. Peace that is scarcely sown is no peace at all.

As I released things I didn’t need, peace grew in me.

Perhaps you’re like me and feel emotionally buried by the physical and mental junk you carry around with you? Maybe you long for peace in your physical space but don’t know how to achieve it? I encourage you to make space for peace to grow. Take some time to sit with your junk and make some decisions so you can clear the internal clutter that weighs you down and stifles your creativity. Knowing what to do with things comes when we give ourselves space. Toss your junk in a box, shake it around a bit, then take a big deep breath in all that new space you created.

Now, go see how much of it you can throw in the trash.

Photo Credit: Unsplash


  Jennifer Van Winkle is a fun-loving, intentional-but-casual minimalist. She is an editor of and regular contributor to the  Kindred Mom  Blog and Podcast. Currently, she writes from home with kids underfoot on her personal blog  Pepper Sprout Home . She is passionate about squeezing the most fun out of life in the Pacific Northwest, to the soundtrack of laughter. She is always in search of truth and what it looks like to live authentically. Find Jenni on  Instagram .

Jennifer Van Winkle is a fun-loving, intentional-but-casual minimalist. She is an editor of and regular contributor to the Kindred Mom Blog and Podcast. Currently, she writes from home with kids underfoot on her personal blog Pepper Sprout Home. She is passionate about squeezing the most fun out of life in the Pacific Northwest, to the soundtrack of laughter. She is always in search of truth and what it looks like to live authentically. Find Jenni on Instagram.

The things we must protect

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The room in the corner feels much larger. The bare walls and open space feels warm and inviting rather than cold and sterile. For some reason, this empty room makes the reality of motherhood settle in much deeper than my growing belly.

And the open space creates a tension in my heart. One I haven’t felt before.

I feel a heavy weight, all the things we need and should get rid of. The parenting books unopened on the floor. I think of the hospital and giving birth and wonder how my body will actually do this. I know women do this everyday but I’ve never done it before.

Will it be possible for me too?

I look at myself in the mirror, my stretched stomach and chest covered in bright blue veins. A dark line runs up my belly. I can’t see my toes. I feel empowered and proud but wonder if this body, the one I’ve known and lived in for 29 years will ever be the same. The body I used to be quite unkind to and frustrated with most days.

The one I’ve now grown a deep appreciation towards.

It probably won’t be the same and maybe that’s a good thing.

I think of the nightly feedings. The family culture we hope to create. The way time with my husband will look and feel so different. The endless trail of thoughts seems to pause at the same place - how will my own rhythms and routines change?

You see, I crave structure and control, even as each day right now looks so different than the one before. I desire accomplishment and getting things done and admit to you this -- my expectations of what is good and enough is often too high.

 Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Yes, I am so incredibly excited to be a mom. There are days I want to meet him right now. I wonder if his nose, the one I saw in a grainy picture, will look like my husbands. I think about the dimple on his chin and our eyes meeting for the first time.

I ache to know the sound of his laugh. I dream of walks and marveling over creation together and can’t wait to see my husband as a father. I desire to lean on God in a completely new way, beg for strength during the pain and exhaustion, and learn how to ask and receive help.

But there’s a tension too, right?

When the walls feel bare and we wonder what we should hang up. When we are offered time and space and feel anxious to fill it. When the future looks murky and deep like the ocean but also tempting and inviting.

There’s fear of change and what might never be quite how it was. There’s worry and doubt of being capable and strong enough. The scarcity mindset sets in, of falling far behind in all we hope to do and accomplish.

How will any of it get done? Do I put certain dreams aside? Will they matter less when he’s here? Will they matter even more?

 Photo by  Ben White  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

In some ways, I think we are always in a season of too much and too little. Too much work and too little leisure. Too much hustle and not enough rest. Doubt without trust. 

We live inside both.

And as we dwell there, we ache for steady ground, a safe resting place, a way to stay tethered to the things that matter. We feel grateful and hopeful but maybe if we’re honest, a little restless and dissatisfied too.

We cup it all in our hands.

On my best days, I carry these hands to the altar, the ones filled with both joy and fear and empty it all out. On my worst, I keep filling them and wonder why I feel so tired.

It isn’t just motherhood, it’s an everyday we wake up sort of thing. It’s wondering if we’re doing what we need to do right now and if we’re doing any of it well. It’s the wrestle between where we want to go and where we’ve been called to go.

Because sometimes the call and the want looks the same and sometimes they look vastly different.

It’s owning our limitations, rather than ignoring them.

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Maybe you’re like me, someone who craves slowness and solitude but also loves community. Someone who enjoys time alone to recharge, walks on paths lined with trees, being close to the water, and time spent in her journal. Someone who wishes ideas and follow through came quickly but recognizes time and empty space are necessary for anything to grow.

You can’t rush a seed to bloom and produce fruit.

Why do we think we could do the same with our souls?

So maybe, when it comes to balance and structure and healthy rhythms, I’ve been asking the wrong question. Instead of, how will I get it all done, it should be -- what do I need to protect once he’s here?

Maybe it’s listing the things that keep me well and deciding to do them. Writing in my journal while he sleeps instead of washing the dishes. Asking a friend to come over for coffee when the house is a mess and we’re out of creamer. Saying no to one more commitment and saying yes to a nap. Taking a ten minute walk outside instead of scrolling on my phone.

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It’s choosing gratitude when this happens and offering grace when it doesn’t.

The things we need to protect might change. Expectations ebb and flow. Things needing our focus right now might move to the peripheral come winter. And things on hold, waiting patiently on the back burner, might be held close and dusted off by next year.

We might need to clear the cutter to find the empty space.

Or maybe, I need to learn how to carve out a nook in the mess and call it good and holy.

My prayer these days? Lord, make clear what counts and for how long. Help me chase gratitude and choose worship as I remain faithful to the work in front of me --- those tasks I want to do and those that feel hard to do. Help me say no and yes with authority. Not rigidity, just authority. Help me trust you while I wait for the margin to come. Knowing that just because I can’t do something right now, or hear “not yet”, doesn’t mean that thing will never happen.

Help me carve out a nook in the mess and still make art.

 Photo by  Hilary Hyland

Photo by Hilary Hyland

Our limitations can be barriers or borders. Barriers are what I put in the way of getting things done -- pride, discontent, and fear.

Borders protect my heart and keep me well.

Seeking balance isn’t so much the struggle as expecting balance to look the same in every season. Because we all have dreams, fears, and questions resting under the surface. And there’s a God who sees and tends to all of it, directing both the wind and our steps.

What if for right now, we chose trust instead of worry and surrender over control. 

What if we emptied our hands when it all felt too heavy to hold? Instead of collecting more.

Not because it sounds pretty on a page but because that’s the promise we’ve been given. That’s the place we’ve been called.

Let’s name the things we want to protect. And when we’re unsure of what they are, let’s sit long enough in the quiet to ask.

Things will rise to the surface and when they do, let’s offer a sigh of gratitude and relief. Trusting that they aren’t going anywhere, they dwell deep within us. We can hold it loosely for now.

Because our God cares about all of it. We haven't been forgotten.