The other day, in honor of spring, I decided to clean something. Not wanting to overwhelm myself, I resolved to start small and set an attainable goal; after all, I did want to set myself up for success.

So I cleaned out a drawer.

Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at

But it wasn’t an ordinary drawer, it was THE Drawer. You know the one — it’s the black hole of the kitchen, the catch-all place for Things That You’ll Get To Later. It’s The Drawer of Misfit Junk.

Cleaning it out is like hiking down the Grand Canyon. You pass layers of time as you go, and you stop along the way to excavate and reminisce when you hit the lower levels.

You start at the most negotiable outcroppings — the piles of take-out menus and Band-Aids. You continue, trekking past a new address card for an old friend; a dead boutonniere from last year’s senior prom; and a mini-fan that hangs around your neck and sprays water, which was purchased for a summer concert at Chastain Park. And then you reach the birthday card that you bought for your neighbor and put where you were sure you’d find it, but when her birthday rolled around you couldn’t, and so were finally compelled to run out and get another one (which was not nearly as perfect as this one that you just found).

Next, you hit the Layer of Random Photos. You find a picture from a homecoming tailgate, photos that your mother sent you of the Mother’s Day roses you sent her, proofs from your oldest child’s elementary school yearbook shoot, and a few photos of people you are sure you never knew.

You stop for rest and nourishment, because you have now arrived at the Mesozoic deposits. After fully rehydrating, you dig in again.

Robin travels through time in her kitchen drawer.

You pass an envelope full of school Boxtops for Education that you never turned in; a stack of receipts, neatly paper-clipped together, from Christmas 2005; warranties that have just expired for appliances that have just broken; a tiny box of wax strips for your daughter’s braces; and a clip-on bow tie.

You find earbuds in cases, earbuds out of cases, empty cases where earbuds used to be — until you reach, at the bottom of the drawer, the time before earbuds even existed in your house (let’s call it “B.E.”), where there lies a black foam disk that once covered the earpiece to a headset and a half-burnt candle in the shape of a 1.

And you are stunned to realize that you have lived here this long and that enough time has passed for children to have become fully grown and for extraordinary and life-changing inventions to have occurred in the world since you moved-in.

Time has a funny way of warping and folding over onto itself again. I have a rule of thumb regarding time: I estimate how long ago I think something happened, and then I multiply that by three. Because however long ago I think something happened, it actually took place far longer ago than that.

But digging through the drawer inverts that rule. Those things you unearthed that are now scattered all over the kitchen counter — they came from last week, last year, last decade. They are from a time that was both yesterday and a lifetime ago. Somehow, it’s all the same.

And then you view your little junk drawer as what it really is: a time capsule of your family.

So you pause, and then you put it all back again.

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see