1. Archive


I've spent the past few weeks sorting through the piles of clutter in my very messy attic with Caitlin Shear, a professional organizer with A Sorted Affair in Fairfax, Va. Throughout the process, my husband, Bob, has been wary and even a bit skeptical.

Every Friday morning he can hear a two-hour round of laughter from our home's third floor and wonders what kind of hen party is going on up there. He doesn't seem to understand why certain items from the attic have found a new home in the kitchen. "Isn't that why we have an attic" he asked, "to store stuff we don't really use so it doesn't clutter up the rest of the house?"

At some points during these decluttering sessions, Bob would come up, look around and utter some hollow compliment about how much better the place looks.

Now that Caitlin and I are almost done, it's his turn to sift through the rubble.

One day last week, Caitlin and Bob sorted through a large pile of obsolete electronics and technology, newspaper clippings, a collection of more than 600 record albums, cassettes and CDs, and personal papers from a longer-than-usual bachelorhood.

When I returned home that evening and sneaked upstairs to see what they'd accomplished, I was delighted by the progress. His attic piles had thinned considerably. And I think they learned a lot about each other.

Caitlin learned Bob's collections concentrated on two subjects: music and the 1995 Detroit newspaper strike. We both lost our reporting jobs in that strike. Bob amassed one of the only archives of the strike, including newsletters, T-shirts, posters and more.

This stuff fills about five boxes in the attic, and Caitlin is concerned that we are not preserving it properly. She recommends acid-free archival newspaper boxes for the Sunday Journals and wonders whether Bob will consider donating the entire archive to a journalism school or related think tank.

Caitlin also suggested transforming the 15 strike-related T-shirts into a quilt and framing one or two of the picket signs, two ideas that Bob liked, to my surprise.

She made less progress on paring down his music collection. In a perfect world, he would like a music room on the main floor of our house, to store all of this music and the many components needed to listen to it. "Meanwhile, who knows?" he said, deciding to keep all of it up in the attic. For now.

This sounds like Bob did not get rid of anything, but that's not true. Nearly a dozen old computers, stereo components and other electronics were donated to Goodwill. There were also four more trash bags filled with paper.

He had not been looking forward to going through his stuff with Caitlin because he felt like he didn't have the time. But he found several gems while sorting through his papers.

He said Caitlin showered him with questions during the two-hour session, just as she does to me. He would be a third of the way through one box, and she'd drag over another to politely nudge him along.

"It's our own fault we got to this point," he told me. "But it definitely makes more sense to have someone to help you."

About this series Week 10

Got an attic or garage abandoned to clutter? Every Monday for 11 weeks, we bring you Liz Seymour's attempt to sort through and reclaim space, with the help of professional organizer Caitlin Shear.

Next week: End of a sorted affair