10 Strategies for Organizing your Attic (or any space you've been avoiding)

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2013 edition of The Neat Sheet.

"This is the year the attic is getting cleaned out!"  While I seem to utter those words to myself every year*, I was determined that in 2013 I really would get the attic cleaned and organized.

Recently we updated my daughter's room, and the attic slowly got stuffed with her old furniture, plus outgrown toys and clothes. That was combined with the usual boxes, papers and other random items that get "stored" in the attic. Finally, there wasn't room for anything more!  So for the past month I have been diligently working on my own organizing job, and it's almost done.

Here's what I've learned along the way:

  • Make a date to start your organizing project. I scheduled an organizing session with myself - even put it on my calendar. It really helped me get started.
  • Gather supplies. My supplies included: paper and pen for notes; sticky notes to quickly mark boxes or items; gallon-size plastic bags for storing small things; empty trash bags; empty boxes and bags for donations; and my smartphone to look up donation guidelines from several organizations.
  • Take stock of what you are storing. For my first attic session, I looked around to see what had accumulated, and got a sense of what needed to be done. This was more of an assessment and planning session.
  • Break the project down into smaller steps; maybe make a list. After I took stock I made a list of smaller projects that I could do in short time periods. My attic projects included making decisions, selling items, sorting and purging boxes, moving some of the furniture we had stored in the attic around, and giving away items. I was as specific as possible so I'd remember what needed to be done the next time I worked on my project.
  • Purge the easy stuff first, the "low hanging fruit" as some of my clients like to say. After taking stock and making my list, I went through and did the easy stuff first: threw out trash, pulled out boxes we had been storing and recycled them, and started putting the items to sell in a pile.
  • Keep making dates to work on your project. I kept going by working on my attic in whatever downtime I had during the week, and even on the weekend while my daughter was at some of her activities.
  • "Decide to Decide" as Kathy Waddill notes in her book, The Organizing Sourcebook: Nine Strategies for Simplifying Your Life. There were many things in limbo, waiting for decisions. Well, my husband and I made the choices for what to do with all things! Some were sold, others given away, and a lot donated.
  • Once you've made the choice to get rid of items, get them out fast! Although I shed a few tears for some of the baby things that were getting sold and donated, I tried to get the items out of my house as quickly as possible.
  • Keep similar things together and create zones for what you are storing. Some of the zones in my attic are: off-season clothes, furniture, travel bags, holiday decorations, kid stuff (clothes, dolls, toys, and books in separate boxes), and  work-related books and products.
  • Check in on your newly-organized space at least once a year. Life happens, and even if your attic is organized now, it may not always be that way! If you've put in all the work to get it cleaned out, be sure to revisit what's in there at least once a year.

Have you tackled organizing your attic? What worked for you? I'd love to hear your ideas!

*The attic has been an ongoing organizing project of mine for the past 5 years. First, I organized 4 years of my daughter's artwork just before she started Kindergarten. The following year we had to have some re-wiring done in the attic, which meant every single thing was moved around...so I took a little time to clean some of the "stuff" out. Then 2 years ago I purged the 6 bins of clothes I had saved from my daughter. I also started to clean out baby toys, but never finished. I'm happy to be on my way to having it done in 2013!