Unusual necessities for an old house

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Obsolete Design Elements, Home Improvement Tips, Old House Musings, Old House History

Last week I read an article about junk drawers, and how everything imaginable finds its way into the recesses of that one place that seems to catch everything–even the occasional thing you can’t describe, explain or even figure out what in the world it is.

Image credit: Antiquekeys.net

Junk drawers in most houses hold a mixture of household items, such as stray nails and wall anchors, that extra pull cord for the ceiling fan, a handful of batteries, electrical cords to who-knows-what and the occasional hex wrench from who-knows-where. But is the junk drawer in the old house any different? I raided mine to find out. Here’s what I found:

  1. Shims. These can be used for virtually anything involving doors and windows, but they come in especially handy when shoring up bookcases on uneven hardwood floors. In fact, we use them so often that “shimming it up” became our code for making something neat, tidy and in its place.
  2. Level. To make sure the aforementioned shims are doing their job properly.
  3. Skeleton key. Unlike many skeleton keys that fit long-gone locks, this one actually works. It gives us access to the attic and the cellar, which is why it sits in the junk drawer–nobody ever wants to go into the attic or the cellar. Don’t you know there are ghosts in old houses?
  4. Curtain rod parts. There are some interesting scrollwork pieces that must have been left by the previous owners sometime over the last century, because I have never used those curtain rods, nor have I located the matching parts that would make a complete set.
  5. Sandpaper. Most of it already used, in various grades that come in handy for those rough areas of the hardwood floors that are showing their old house orneriness.
  6. Fuses. There are about a dozen or so in there for those times when someone braves the basement to make the lights come back on. One of the fuses in the junk drawer was burned out–why did someone put it back in there? I left it alone so the next person can wonder, too.
  7. Extra outlet insulators. In the occasional fit of energy saving frenzy, I will search for outlets that don’t have these yet. They really do work to cut drafts.
  8. Dremel tools. Ah, here we go! The Dremel is an old house owner’s best friend. Perfect for jobs that are too big for hand tools but too small to break out the heavy machinery, the Dremel might be my favorite Christmas present ever.
  9. Batteries. For the Dremel, of course.
  10. Souvenir penny. This is one of those flattened pennies that kids love to purchase out of machines at touristy places. This one came from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It’s kept in the junk drawer because it works better than a screwdriver to tighten the the wide wooden pegs of my antique hutch.

There are plenty of little extras, of course. Pencils, small rolls of blueprint paper, a small compass with a broken face and two Royal typewriter keys are part of the strange collection. But in looking through the drawer, I realized that the things in there were certainly typical of an old house, but not the same things I found in my previous, much newer house.

Mystery solved. Anyone need a shim or two? I’ve got plenty.