Man drawer mentality

Reclamation yard oddments

Observational comedy, which relies so much on the shock of the familiar, is a brand of humour which works only if the audience relates to the material. It’s the kiss of death for a comedian if their material rings no bells for the expectant listeners sat in front of them.

Let me give you an example of observational comedy that worked for me at the time, introduced by a British stand-up comic a few years ago on one of his TV shows. This is the concept of the man drawer.

What’s this? Well, it’s the notion that men in particular can’t bear to throw anything away that might conceivably be of use in the future. Those odd keys which may have unlocked something or other in the past but the man’s forgotten what they were for and unconvinced are redundant? Into the man drawer they go. Batteries removed from some no longer functioning device but which may still have some juice in them? Add them to the collection.

And so it goes on: perfectly usable salvaged shoe laces, reclaimed door hinges, spare Allen keys from IKEA, a staple gun with a box of the wrong-sized staples — all candidates for the man drawer, just in case. The instinct is good: reuse, recycle, re-purpose, but also save money while saving the planet and avoid that inevitable irritation when you urgently need that thing that you only chucked out last week.

I’m not saying that women don’t have this penchant for saving otherwise extraneous material, of course they do. But the comic routine that introduced the concept of the man drawer to me was also, I realised, a perfect metaphor for my brain.

I’m an inveterate seeker after trifles, you may have noticed. And I’m not the only one: most of us are. Most bloggers I follow are, and that’s what makes me follow them.

But I’m less good at recalling those trifles when needed, if at all, the reason being I’m even worse at storing them. They’re all chucked in my man drawer of a brain. Even the phrase “inveterate seeker after trifles” is one I’m convinced is a quote I’ve picked up from somewhere, but neither Google nor my grey matter search engine can locate the source. (I may just have to claim it as my own.)

Actually, it’s more than a man drawer. My head feels like a reclamation yard. The kind you enter and random bits of statuary sit in one corner, roof tiles from a Victorian outhouse in another; marble fireplaces lie stacked up in their component pieces next to rusty palings; old railways signs, vitreous enamel advertising, cast iron door furniture and vintage stained glass from a demolished rectory are stored under cover, all opposite a miscellany of panelled wooden doors from a variety of epochs and buildings.

But can you find that precise bit of plaster moulding you spotted two years ago? And if you do find it will it not have rotted into a useless crumbling mess by now?

Yep, that’s my mental man drawer: a disorganised junkyard.

And you? Do these observations ring any bells with you too?

41 thoughts on “Man drawer mentality

  1. Lol. Oh yes, I recognise this all too well with the result that our studio, attic and so many other books and crannies around the house (as well as the drawers) are stuffed beyond belief. In my defence there have been a few occasions where I have been pleased I didn’t throw that offcut of wood out or whatever else. Still, the balance is hardly a balance!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad it’s not just me, then, Alastair! Yes, we have a builder who, usually successfully, rummages amongst our wood offcuts whenever there’s a repair to be done.

      These days, though, most other scrap—metal, electrical, plastic—gets taken to the corporation recycling site where hopefully it gets repurposed rather than go to landfill or dumped illegally somewhere in Malaysia. There’s still too much questionable stuff stored in boxes in the cellar though…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. …I couldn’t possibly comment, but I’m sure those keys must open _something_… (also: I’m suddenly reminded how much fun an afternoon at a reclamation yard is. You just never know what you’re going to find, useful or otherwise).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. piotrek

    Yes, most definitely! I have so much stuff of that sort in my drawers, and not only mine, inherited things my Grandpa stored in the drawers of the flat that I later inherited and now live in… multi-generational issue 🙂

    And recently, a certain someone moved in and I had to make some space… negotiations were not easy 😉

    Decluttering of my brain is another thing, here I retained full control of all the space (well, to a degree we can control our brains…) and I’m convinced learning random facts you’ll never monetize is essential for overall happiness 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Learning random facts you’ll never monetize is essential for overall happiness”: I couldn’t agree more, Piotrek; in fact, I’d say it’s part of what makes us human, storing up ‘useless’ information because it’s fun rather than essential for day-to-day living. The moment we stop being as curious as a child is the first day of a lingering death.

      I’m both lucky and unlucky: I’ve retained very little from my family history — some letters, a few books, some photgraphs and a few Japanese woodcuts — I feel like an island with an isthmus washed away by a high tide where they’re concerned.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. piotrek

        Amen to that!
        I’m very lucky, many Polish families lost everything in the last century, some – a few times over. I have some pre-I WW documents and a lot from 20-ties and 30-ties… I like to feel a sense of continuity 🙂


        1. A sense of continuity is often an antidote to alienation and disaffection, though that sense can so easily be distorted by false histories. But of course the loss of a cultural heritage can be devastating to a community so it’s good that many Poles such as yourself were able to retain as much as they did, given what has been lost.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. I also don’t have much, neither does my Maltese husband. But he has a wealth of stories he is passing to our girls.

        I do have though, a treasure of that essential useless collection of facts, lol!

        Husband has a few of those men drawers, hahaha.

        The memories of childhood take a new literary quality to me. I have some of them written, which helped me remember them. I often go there with my thoughts, it’s a vacation I can afford.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oral family history is important, Silvia, I agree: I do regret I didn’t get my mother to record her memories of growing up in India, she was just so random in her anecdotes that I never got a coherent narrative out of her.

          To compensate I’ve been taking notes of my childhood in Hong Kong up to the age of ten so I’ll have the basis of a memoir to pass on to my own kids.

          I do therefore hope you and your husband write down your separate undoubtedly fascinating upbringings so that there is some permanent record for your children and grandchildren to treasure — just as you treasure your own ‘vacations’ of the imagination.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m glad to hear that. Your life sounds like the child of Ishiguro-Rushdie characters, so fascinating and exotic.

            Thanks for encouraging us to keep the family history. It’s important, Indeed.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I was very attracted to de Bono’s ideas on lateral thinking in the early 70s and though I haven’t read his stuff since it influenced much of my school teaching career: secondary education in particular separates learning into discrete subject areas — a massive failing, in my opinion — which means that students learn little about the interconnectedness of things.

              This separation can even lead to a false hierarchy of subject areas where, for example, STEM subjects are seen to have greater intrinsic value than the humanities, arts and economics. My subject, music, was therefore often devalued and derided (and still is by some authority figures who ought to know better).

              I tried always to point out that a proper study of music gave you insights into language (phrasing in music, for example, and musical terms in Italian, German and French), into physics and biology (how vibrations are made vocally and instrumentally and how they’re received by the ear and brain), history (the evolution of styles over time and their relation to political events and individuals), geography (where these styles developed and how they influenced other areas), physical education (how to sing and play efficiently and with coordination), social sciences (co-operative music making), mathematics (note durations and divisions, pulse, overtones), the other arts (self-evident) … Well, you get the picture!


            2. Yes, I didn’t know until recently that Edward de Bono was Maltese — when I was younger I accepted the huge variety of surnames in common English use without question.


  4. The problem is, the kind of salvage/reclamation yard you describe is one of my favourite places to drift about in.

    I do have the desire to own a brain-shaped file system – rather like the one a character in a Stephen King film called Dreamcatcher had… and yes, I did just have to google that one. On the other hand, who would I be if I was that organised? I’ll stick with drawers – I’ve got several containing many of the kind of things Michael McIntyre lists.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, salvage yards can be fantastic, Cath, and I love it that creative types can imagine the detritus of lost years placed once again in sympathetic surroundings. If only our house could manage monumental gates upon which to mount those stone lions…

      Thank goodness we’ve devised storage systems like the Internet with retrieval systems like Google for all those bits of info that our inefficient brains can’t process properly. However did we manage in the past?! Oh wait, books… 😁

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Lynn, an uncluttered mind is an arid mind, I suspect, or at least one which admits of no growth or change. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I look at the personal spaces on my side of the bed, by my laptop and on top of the piano! As for the cellar, let’s not go there…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! Ours is not a tidy household, so I sympathise! We’re not big collectors, but there’s a jumble of houseplants and musical instruments (the other half, not me sadly) and photos and magazines and notebooks … Creative, that’s what we are. I shall comfort myself with that thought 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, Chris, you had me chuckling 😀 The other half has a man garage – everything is saved and stored and I have to concede that frequently he has been able to produce just what’s needed at exactly the right time. As for a man drawer brain…. I have no more space in mine. I make lists; I use Google; I read books; I try to tame the beast to no avail. It’s the luck of the draw whether the right thing is retrieved on cue 😵 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m envious of your other half’s dedication to efficiency, Sandra, I simply lack the stamina for such self-discipline!

      As for your fine, kind self, I have a vivid image of your brain as one of those enclosed gift cabinets you get at the end of a pier, for which you insert your money and then vainly try with a mechanical grabber to retrieve your chosen toy — but it always eludes you and you get some crap present instead.

      There’s a name for this instrument of torture, it’ll come to me in a moment, it’s on the tip of my tongue, it’s… Damn! I’ve lost it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “An inveterate seeker after trifles” – I like that a lot! I keep notebooks in which I squirrel away pictures, quotations, words, book titles, song titles, lists of all kinds, and I treasure them for their randomness. A kind of mental (wo)man drawer. And I agree with you that that joy in the curious is one of the great pleasures of being human.

    Incidentally, that Michael McIntyre sketch is one that my husband and I quote quite a lot, particularly when my OCD kicks in and I start randomly attacking the house in a clearing frenzy (scary to witness!!) 😀

    This was a lovely post, Calmgrove. Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad this post has rung so many bells with bloggers and that you relished the Michael McIntyre sketch that kicked it off! Also, my partner has a similar clearing frenzy every so often (until she runs out of energy) so your situation is scarily familiar…

      I also have a very mixed selection of notebooks full of, well, notes, mostly of non-fiction titles, quotes and aphorisms that interested me after college, then increasingly of spidergrams of essays and articles I wrote for an Arthurian journal I edited in my spare time, and latterly key points for reviews on this blog. I can’t (yet) bear to dispose of them, a kind of record of passing obsessions akin to other people’s diaries. Plus ca change…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh no, definitely don’t get rid of them. There’s something very … comforting … at the least about such things. I think it was Piotrek who commented about continuity – that’s what my notebooks give me. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Haha – yes, both the physical man-drawer and the brain as junkyard ring loud bells! If I could only remember ten per cent of the info that has passed through my head over my life I’d be able to appear so intelligent. Unfortunately the only bits that stick are the total trivia, like Dickens building a wall down the middle of his bedroom when he fell out with his wife. Interesting, you’ll agree, but hardly a masterly intellectual critique of his work… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh, I don’t know, I’m sure a wall could be a metaphor for any number of things in Dickens’ life and work!

      I think it’s possible that the odd facts and images that stick in the mind are the unconscious mind fashioning metaphors for us. Just as long as we don’t mislay them under other junk!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The more one reads the more literary connections are made, I’m certain, and hopefully one then sees parallels with one’s views of people and the world in general.

      Unfortunately that’s also the way things work for those into conspiracy theories and truly fake news, so that’s one massive downside!


  8. Hee hee! My whole family is like that–Bo, the kids, me. “This could be useful someday!” I’m doing my darndest to change that, but it’s a hard mindset to change, esp when one’s had a frugal upbringing. My writing self is a lot like this, too, as you are. It can all be useful someday, right? It just needs to find the right story.


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