Want To Learn About Someone? Check Out Their Junk Drawers
A few years ago, when I was dating my wife, I cooked dinner in her home, looking for a knife to chop vegetables. She said to try the top drawer near the stove. When I opened it, I found a knife alright, along with a hammer, screwdrivers, a tape measure, a chunk of string, a small tube of glue, and lots of other stuff.
I was puzzled. Her house was tidy; everything arranged just so — the plants, the artwork, all the little touches. Every day, she made the bed, pillows not just tossed on the bed but arranged symmetrically.
I opened the cabinets looking for a can of tomatoes — Same thing. Everything all over the place, as if she just dumped the bag of groceries on the shelf.
Her outer environment- immaculate. Her inner environment, random — and very different from mine.
These fundamental differences between people can often create stupefying arguments about the most ridiculous day-to-day things, leaving us scratching our heads, saying to ourselves, how is it possible they do that?
The reason people behave differently is that we’re all wired differently.
And, it’s all too human to think everyone else ought to think and act as we do. So, when they don’t, we get annoyed, frustrated, and argue, hoping we can change the behavior we find so perplexing and irritating.
Why we see the world the way we do.
According to Jungian personality theory, the way we function in the world results from our three psychological preferences.
- The way we orient ourselves in the world and how we gain energy — introversion and extroversion.
- How we make decisions — thinking and feeling
- How we take in and process information — sensation, and intuition
It’s the last one that explains what’s the junk drawer — sensation and intuition.
When we take in and process information using sensation, we use our senses and focus on the here and now. When we process information using intuition, we take it in more imaginatively, focused on the future and what could be.
This chart explains it more. Some people lean hard to the left, some to the right, and some find themselves more in the middle.
I thought my wife used sensation when I first met her, based on her attention to detail and practical approach to life, missing the fact this is a function of her love of beauty and aesthetics. What I soon learned is she’s ruled by intuition. How stuff looks in drawers and cabinets is simply not of interest to her.
For me, it’s pretty different — I’m very sensing. I organize my junk drawer with small boxes holding various bits and pieces. I’m damn proud of them, and if they get out of line, they get a tune-up.
I tried systemizing my wife's cabinets when she was out one day. Happily, I tromped off to the corner store and bought some small baskets. I cleaned everything out, arranged the new baskets, canned goods in one, flour in another, even labeling the shelves to provide further clarity. I stood back from my handy work, admiring it as if I just figured out how to cure the common cold.
When she came home, I proudly showed her my work.
She laughed in my face.
A week or two later, those cabinets were a mess. All my labeling tape fell off too. I said fuck it and gave up.
The differences between sensation and intuition.
People with a lot of sensation can easily pay attention to fine details, particularly if they are introverted. Their mind is like a photographic plate, picking up and retaining things like the expression on someone’s face, specific clothes someone wore, what precise words they said.
When someone is more extroverted and sensing, they are likely to keep their environment neat and tidy (like me), never be late for a meeting, seek situations that stimulate their senses, and have little patience in discussing abstract topics.
Sensing is the world of the here and now, the practical. Sensing wants to have a map, follow directions, understand the steps in a recipe, keep accurate notes, and have a tidy desk.
Intuition is the world of what could be. It’s our sixth sense — the ability to pick up silent signals, see patterns, make connections between seemingly disparate bits of information. Intuition is “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning.”
It’s not uncommon for start-up founders to have a lot of intuition. They’re looking for the next big thing, spotting the possibilities and getting ideas started. Founders like this also need someone with a lot of sensation to ground their vision in day-to-day operations.
People with lots of intuition can get lost in their daydreams, become forgetful, and may look lost to people with sensation. And, they may get physically lost too, wandering about, exploring, adrift in thought, not interested in the practicalities of the world around them. Artists, musicians, poets often have a great deal of intuition.
How intuition and sensation show up in everyday life.
Intuition: Doesn’t care which way the toilet paper sits in the holder — new sheet from the bottom or top.
Sensation: Has a strong opinion about it.
Intuition: Gets dressed to go out, not that concerned if things match.
Sensation: Everything matches — belt, shoes, handbag, accessories. Hair coiffed immaculately.
Intuition: Figures out which way the bottom sheet fits the bed on the fly.
Sensation: Puts a mark on one corner of the sheet to note which way the sheet goes. (When my wife caught me doing this, she laughed in my face, again.)
Intuition: May follow a recipe once; after that, it’s all improvisation.
Sensation: Follows the recipe and keeps following it precisely.
Intuition: Prepares food in a free-flowing manner.
Sensation: Vegetables chopped precisely and placed in small staging bowls.
Intuition: To-do lists kept mentally.
Sensation: Has to-do lists, checks things off, and if something gets done, and is not on the list, will write it in and check it off.
We behave differently because we’re wired differently psychologically. Our preferences are like an invisible, silent guidance system, continually operating below the surface and influencing what we think, say, and do.
The next time you’re about to flip out or think someone is a jerk because they’re doing something in your opinion, which makes no sense, remember, their preferences are probably quite different from yours. So take a deep breath, and try to appreciate what’s inconceivable to you, is normal for them.
And, if you’re getting to know someone, take a peek in their junk draw. You might learn something that makes you smile.
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