After 11 weeks, more than $500 in new storage containers and dozens of overstuffed trash bags, I have cleaned out my attic.
It's not just neat, it's organized. That means the china rests next to the crystal and the silver, packed nicely in new quilted boxes. The Christmas cookie jar sits on top of the boxes of tree ornaments. My 2-year-old son's art portfolio lies atop the plastic bin of baby clothes I want to keep.
Everything is labeled and lined up along either side of the attic, leaving an open space more than 10 feet wide. So wide, I was able to unroll two Oriental rugs that had been rolled up for nearly five years.
Organizing the attic was an emotional experience. I had to face the fact that I was never going to use a lot of the stuff I inherited from my parents and it was time to get rid of some of it. I had to admit that there was no reason to hold on to the baby gear I'd been storing, because I wasn't going to have any more children. And I had to acknowledge my failure at household bookkeeping after spending hours sorting through boxes of outdated bills, tax returns and other documents.
Beyond the emotional toll, this was a back-breaking job. It took me weeks, because you can only work in two- or three-hour shifts.
The overwhelming emotion I feel is relief. I was ashamed about the way the place looked and that I could not find anything. Now I am proud and less stressed.
Some lessons I've learned
1. So much of what was up there was trash. Week after week as Caitlin Shear, a professional organizer with A Sorted Affair in Fairfax, who is helping me clear out my attic, and I sifted through my clutter, a lot of what we found needed to be thrown out. Not donated, not reused. I'm talking empty boxes, ATM receipts from a decade ago, the lease for the apartment my husband, Bob, and I rented nine years ago. Caitlin estimates that we threw out 60 percent of what was in the attic. We donated about 10 percent and kept the remaining 30 percent.
2. Time changes everything. I don't think I would have donated anything two or three years ago. Five years ago, I don't think Bob would have considered donating his archives of the 1995 Detroit newspaper strike. Caitlin said many people hold onto things long after their usefulness has ended because they reflect a time in life they don't want to let go of.
3. You're never really done. My attic looks great, but I need to work to keep it that way. Caitlin recommends a seasonal approach. For example, after Christmas, she wants me to see if there were any decorations I did not hang. They might be good for donations. Caitlin also recommends having extra storage containers on hand to start a new project and avoid piling stuff on top of stuff.
About this series Week 11
Got an attic or garage abandoned to clutter? For 11 weeks, Liz Seymour has been attempting to sort through and reclaim space, with the help of professional organizer Caitlin Shear. This is her final installment.