What’s in Your Surprise Drawer?

We’re all careening toward year-end – for better and for worse – and I’ll get right to today’s message.

Especially with the sense that time is running out before the holidays take over, I want to talk about reliable creative resources: things you generally feel you can draw upon as needed, and that you replenish as a matter of course.

When I think about reliable and replenishable resources, I think back to my mother’s “surprise drawer.” Never one to waste anything, she developed the habit of stashing nonperishable treats – in other words, not chocolate bars or glasses of lemonade – in the bottom drawer of a small wooden chest in the hallway at our home.

She had a busy life, and didn’t go out to stores much at all. So when she came across something that might do later as a gift for a child’s birthday party, or for a holiday present for someone, she’d make room for it in the surprise drawer until an opportunity presented itself. Sometimes she regifted things that way, squirreling away something that she’d received and did not enjoy.

photo of a three-drawer wooden dresser

Three Reasons for Maintaining A Surprise Drawer

The rule when I was a child was never under any circumstances to peek in that drawer, which was under my mother’s stewardship. I recommend assuming her role: take charge of the drawer, and keep its contents up to date. Here are three surprise drawer equivalents in my creative life that I’d like to tell you about.
Store It • One of my go-to’s when I need inspiration is the Evernote app. (I’m not an affiliate – just sharing a recommendation.) I throw information in there when I’m reading articles online using Evernote’s Clipper tool. I add some tags that I can search by later. And when I notice a vague sense that I once read something useful, I can do a quick keyword search in my Evernote library, and will often come up with a few applicable resources for the problem at hand. You can generalize from this recommendation to any note-taking app, or a dedicated notebook or set of index cards, or bulletin board on your wall, etc. A repository of good ideas can take many useful forms.

Talk About It • Another reliable creative resource comes from my work as a creativity coach. Often, in conversation, we’ll come up with an idea or approach that feels fresh and inspired. And sometimes, even though we’re talking about the client’s situation, there’s a way to analogize that might help me as well. It’s a lovely bonus when that happens. (In fact, the idea for this post came up during a recent coaching session.) You can gain these same kinds of benefits from open-ended rich conversations with friends and fellow creative colleagues. A well-chosen podcast or YouTube video might also do the trick.


Write It • And filling out the list of my top three surprise drawer stand-ins is my journal. As you may know, I’m a longtime devotee. I’m likely to come across startlingly relevant and inventive ideas in there. The downside, of course, is that since I handwrite my entries, they’re searchable the old-fashioned way – which can be annoyingly time-consuming if I’m eager to find a nugget in a notebook. When I’ve filled it up, I review the completed notebook, and will often pull out some of the good stuff and convert it to searchable digital information, in Evernote, in a document, or elsewhere.  You can journal on a computer or device, to gain the benefit of easier searching. On the other hand, you may give up the sensory and psychic value of putting pen to paper.

Gift Ideas

Do you need gift ideas for people in your life? This fall, two of my clients released nonfiction books that I’m excited to tell you about. They’re both available at all the usual places, including Bookshop.org – the website that patronizes independent bookstores – and from multiple ebook distributors. Check these out, and consider which people – including maybe yourself – will love to receive these.

Stephanie A. Kennan’s The Family Caregiver: A Survival Guide to Navigating the Healthcare System, Advocating for Your Loved One, and Remembering to Breathe, is a terrific handbook for everyone who’s looking after a family member or loved one while dealing with doctors, insurance, hospitals, powers of attorney, and all the zillion other things that come with that tender territory. The author is an authority on healthcare policy in the US, who also served as her mother’s family caregiver for years. These BookshopAmazon, and ebook links will take you to the book.Cover of The Family Caregiver by Stephanie A. Kennan
Book cover for Dyslexia by Elizabeth Cottone PhDElizabeth Cottone, PhD wrote Dyslexia: A Universe of Possibilities based on her years as a one-to-one tutor of kids, and as an educational research scientist studying the brain condition that is dyslexia. Her book combines case studies, education theory, neuroscience, special education policy, and more, to highlight a path forward for the countless curious, inventive, creative, and challenged students born with dyslexia, ADHD, and other neurodiversity.
Available from BookshopAmazon, and ebook distributors.

What do you use for your stash of creative ideas? What’s in it? I’d love to know.

I hope, before the year is out, that you enjoy plenty of meaningful creative time. With my warm wishes for the holiday season, and an outstanding new year,