What's in Your Attic? Do you need it all?
Updated: Feb 14
It’s that place where things go to retire, never to be seen again. You know what’s up there…bins of sentimental items, as well as boxes of unknown stuff. I am guessing your attic is like most people’s, a mix of holiday, seasonal, sentimental, and forgotten items. Given that I have a plan to possibly downsize over the next two to three years, I have begun the process of organizing my attic, with an eye toward having less to move in the future. So what do you do if you are in the same situation? The first step is to stop and think about what your plan for the attic is:
Is your plan to downsize to prepare for a move or relocation?
Is it to organize for easier retrieval?
What really needs to be stored in the attic?
Are there items currently stored elsewhere that belong in the attic?
By thinking about what the goal of the attic is, it allows you to focus on what really needs to be done. The attic can be an overwhelming place to organize, especially if the temperature is volatile and the lighting is less than adequate. One of the best tools you can have in your hands as you approach your attic is a label maker. Label the bins as you move them, thus making decisions that may not have to be revisited. Once you have a plan in place, you can begin addressing the contents of the bins. I will cover some of the major categories that might be in the attic.
Holiday decorations – If you use them, keep them. Be honest with yourself about their use and whether or not you really need ALL of it.
For holiday items that will be given to other family members, you should label the boxes. It is amazing how much stuff people have in their attic for their kids and relatives. This should be revisited with the “receiver” regularly to ensure the path to give is clear. Believe me when I say that our children want a whole lot less than we save for them. Review your sentimental decisions with the family members in question, so that you do not save items, only to have to donate or discard them later.
Clothing – Seasonal clothes should be labeled using the same directions as above. If you do not wear the clothes when you swap seasons, then you need to donate or recycle.
For clothing of various sizes, you may want to review my closet organization blog for helpful guidance. Clothing that is being saved for growing children should be marked with size and season so it does not get overlooked when the opportunity to reuse occurs. Remember that aging deteriorates elasticity, and whites tend to discolor, rendering them something to donate or recycle.
Paperwork – The first direction is to keep what you have been advised to retain by your accountant or other legal guidance. As you review your papers, ask yourself if you need a physical copy for legal or tax purposes. If yes, keep it. If not, you can either scan it to a file or direct it to shred, as it may have identification on it.
If you have volumes of shredding to do, you might think about bringing it to another business that specializes in shredding. Or, there’s always the recycle bin. A general rule of thumb is seven years for taxes and supporting documents. If a document would be very difficult to replace, it is best to be kept and scanned. Documents such as birth certificates, wills, marriage/divorce certificates, social security cards, etc. should all be stored in a fireproof safe. My paperwork blog might also help you with decisions about paperwork.
Mementos – This is undoubtedly the toughest category that you will have to make decisions about. If there are items being stored for other family members, the boxes should be marked. Additionally, it is a good idea to take a picture so there is a clear view of how many bins/boxes are being held for them for future possession.
It can be a big shock to the recipient that they have eight to ten boxes of possessions being saved for them. They might end up making a different saving decision, and it is best to handle this when you are not operating under a time constraint from the move or sale of a home. The following are meant to be helpful ideas for this category:
Wedding Dress – Will it be worn again by family members or loved ones? If it has been preserved properly, you may decide to continue to store it. If not, decide whether you want to sell it through such platforms as Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, Craigslist, Oncewed.com, Stillwhite.com, etc. Remember, it will take work on your part to take pictures and decide on its worth. Be prepared that the valuation of your prized possession may be a bit shocking compared to the investment you originally made.
You can also donate the dress to charities such as Brides Across America, which supports military and first responders. Or, there’s Angel Gowns, which supports NICU parents and families of babies, helping in transitions that in some cases sadly end in not going home. Brides for a Cause also collects and resells dresses for various charity organizations. There is no lack of places that will take your donation, making it a sustainable investment while giving it new value outside of your attic. You can also upcycle and create pillows, communion or christening gowns, jewelry, and various home décor pieces, thus giving new life to your dress.
Photos – Scan or digitize old photos to preserve them in case of fire or loss. Protect them in a cloud service that can be shared or used for gifting photos. Where possible, get the family involved in photo decisions, as it is a very difficult process that could end up taking hours of your time later. Decide what your goal is for photos and how you want to enjoy them. With your goal in hand, take the liberty to discard photos that have little meaning, are blurry, or are duplicates. Great digital and paper photos can be used to make scrapbooks to preserve and share family memories. By thinning your photos you will enjoy them, rather than be distracted by too many. Remember, photos can be a time-consuming task and you may need help, or you can break it up into multiple days.
In my last pass through my attic I donated a bunk bed set, as I knew it was something that I did not want to move to my next home. I also had a collection of cake pans that we sold on Facebook Marketplace, and then gave the rest to charity.
I emptied about 15 or so plastic bins that I now store in the attic in preparation for an inevitable move.
Remember, you do not have to do this alone. It took a family to build the accumulation, so you might need to enlist their help. Another option is to hire a professional organizer to get you started and help you through the process. I’m just a click away!