The Junk Drawer Personality Test

The way we’re wired can show up in the strangest places

Photo: Johnrob / Getty Images

A few years ago, when I was dating the woman who’s now my wife, I cooked dinner in her home and was 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 all right—along with a hammer, screwdrivers, a tape measure, a chunk of string, a small tube of glue, and lots of other stuff.

Her house was tidy; everything arranged just so — the plants, the artwork, all the little touches. Every day, she made the bed, pillows arranged symmetrically. But when I opened the cabinets looking for a can of tomatoes — same thing. Everything all over the place, as if she had just dumped the bag of groceries on the shelf.

Her outer environment was immaculate. Her inner environment was random and very different from mine.

These fundamental differences between people can often create stupefying arguments about the most ridiculous things, leaving us scratching our heads, asking ourselves “How is it possible they do that?”

But we all behave differently because we’re all wired differently. Yet we tend to think everyone else ought to think and act as we do. When they don’t, we get annoyed and frustrated, and sometimes we argue, hoping we can change the behavior we find so perplexing and irritating.

How we see the world

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 can explain 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.

Some people lean hard to the left, some to the right, and some find themselves more in the middle.

Source: Insights Learning and Development

I thought my wife used sensation when I first met her based on her attention to detail and practical approach to life, but I was missing the fact that this is a function of her love of beauty and aesthetics. I soon learned that 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 tuneup.

I tried systemizing my wife’s cabinets when she was out one day. I bought some small baskets, 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 admiring my handiwork as if I’d figured out the cure for the common cold.

A week or two later, those cabinets were a mess. All my labeling tape fell off too. I said “fuck it” and gave up.

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). They are rarely late for a meeting, they seek situations that stimulate their senses, and they 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 startup 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, and poets often have a great deal of intuition.

Intuition and sensation in everyday life

Intuition and sensation can show up in a lot of ways in our lives. Some examples could include:

  • 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 are 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 that makes no sense to you, remember that their preferences are probably quite different from yours. So take a deep breath, and try to appreciate that what’s inconceivable to you is normal for them.

10 years as a monk, 49 years meditating, 30 years in the shark-infested waters of corporate America |

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