In most homes, the attic and basement become repositories for all the stuff you don’t quite know what to do with- old, outdated clothes, things you’ve inherited from relatives, old tax returns and financial records. This is one area where the “if you have not used it for a year, toss it” rule does not work. This is a storage space, specifically for the things you do not use often. A lot of them may be sentimental- old baby clothes and high chairs, your prom or wedding dress. Cleaning out these areas can be an emotional experience, so it is a good idea to tackle it early, giving yourself plenty of time before your move because it’s going to take a while.
It is helpful to tackle one area at a time. If your attic/basement is already somewhat organized, you have a head start. All of your holiday decorations will already be in one spot, all of the old baby clothes will be in another. If this is not the case, start out by organizing it into piles (furniture, financial records, etc.). This will give you a series of short term goals to reach for and a sense of accomplishment when you complete each one. Tackle one or two piles each day and feel good about it. If you try tackling the room as a whole, it will be overwhelming.
Now that you have your space organized into sections, start with the most sentimental, the most emotionally difficult to deal with. The first time around you may hold on to more of these items than necessary- you probably have not seen them for a while and they bring back memories. By putting them first, you are going to have to look at the “finished” pile every time you come back into the space. If the pile is still too large, you will have more time to come back to it. I know you’ve heard this your entire life, but that is because it helps- make 3 piles: Keep, Give Away/Donate, and Throw out.
As you go through these meaningful items try looking at each piece for what it really is. Is it your daughter’s childhood or just a stained pair of baby overalls? Are you ever going to have another baby and if so, would you dress him/her in this outdated dress? Is that old, ripped table cloth REALLY your memories of Thanksgiving at your mother’s house or will you still have those memories if you get rid of it? This is the hardest part, but you knew when you put them up here that one day, you would have to deal with what to do with it.
Who Are You NOW?
As you go through the piles, you will probably come across old hobbies that you long ago gave up on. Are you ever going to take up macramé again? Are you really ever going to strip and re-finish that dresser? We rarely move backwards in life. If you tried a hobby and did not take to it, you will probably never pick it up again. Donate it to someone who will.
What to Keep?
Some memories will clutter your new home, others will make it yours. Keep that wooden toy trunk your father made for your children, as they may want it for theirs one day. Keep the homemade Christmas cards from your children and the letters from your spouse. These things do not take up much space and you can put them all in a box for safe-keeping. Anything that is truly special to you and that you want pass on to your children, to be part of your legacy. For financial and tax documents there are specific lengths of time that you should keep different types of records. Click here for specifics- http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/how-long-to-keep-financial-records.aspx .
The attics and basements of the world hold our lives, our memories, and our pasts. It is human nature to not want to let go. But it is also human nature to grow, to change and to move forward, making new memories. After all, if your storage areas are full of the past, there will be no room for the future. You still have plenty of memories to make.
Next week, in part 3 of this series, we will be talking about organizing and cleaning out the kitchen/pantry areas.