Illustration by Julia Rothman
We were almost done with the 500-piece puzzle of the planets when we saw we were short one piece. Before we could get discouraged, my son Ian, then age 4, yelled, "I'll check the Missing Piece Drawer!" He jumped up and ran from the room. At that moment I knew that this one utterly simple organizing tool was probably my best invention yet. Unlike my allowance plans, chore charts, and kid-friendly recipes, this idea actually worked as intended.
It started when I finally got serious about keeping the house clean. The task seemed endless, made more difficult because I was outnumbered by my children -- Ian, Adelaide, then age 7, and Brady, 9. Sometimes I felt as if no matter how fast I moved, the kids and their mess moved faster.
My husband, Nick, and I were especially frustrated by the constant tide of flotsam and jetsam that flowed through the house: misplaced board game markers, puzzle pieces, Legos, and parts to toys and games that wouldn't be nearly as much fun with some of their bits missing.
When the kids were younger, we had tried to return each tiny item to where it belonged, but at some point, we just got tired of trooping back and forth to the playroom and digging through the toy bin, or dragging out the Trouble game just to realize that the recovered piece was a marker for Sorry. And the exercise was pointless anyhow. These doodads, or others just like them, would find their way back under the couch in no time flat.
But then my brainstorm struck. What if I put the lost pieces in a single holding area? No longer would the onus be on the grown-ups to return the lost pieces to their home.
I cleared out a deep drawer in a central location. This would be the Missing Piece Drawer. I showed the kids this spot, and they understood the concept instantly. What an easy way to make our lives a bit more complete!
Since that day, the drawer has been the scene of many happy reunions: the single playing card returned to its deck, the cool item from a long-forgotten science kit rediscovered, the dollhouse chair matched up with its table.
I've changed my ways, too. Now I don't pretend I haven't seen the random toy parts about to be sucked up by the vacuum. Instead, I scoop them up and toss them in the drawer. When an orange jigsaw shape surfaces from under a chair cushion, I may not know which of our many Garfield puzzles it came from, but at least there's a fighting chance that one day the mystery will be solved!
To keep the drawer from filling up, we check it before each yard sale or trip to the thrift store, reuniting any items with games or toys on their way out. With all their parts intact, the playthings can go on to please more kids.
This simple idea has been a time- and sanity-saver, and on more than one occasion it has truly saved the day -- as when we'd almost finished the planet puzzle. "I found it!" cried Ian, racing back into the room, his hand clutching the missing piece held high. Victory!