Decluttering Your Attic

This week I’m taking you to a dark place in the decluttering process: the attic.

There may be several reasons you want to declutter the attic: you might want to let go of the past, you might dread going up there every time you need something, like my mum, you might feel that you’ll be too old one day to access your stuff. Or perhaps you just want the satisfaction of a nice airy space above your head.

Whatever your reasons for tackling the attic, they’re one of the most terrifying places to start the decluttering process, and not just because of the cobwebs and spiders. The attic should be the last place you declutter because, for many, it’s such a monumental task that it can drain all motivation before you even start. Just looking at years of accumulated boxes, mystery bags, and cramped walkways is enough to make most people retreat back down the ladder and vow never to look at it again.  Attics also tend to be full of emotional and sentimental objects, including those from loved ones who have passed. Items like these will need significant time to evaluate, which is another reason this room should be dealt with last.

Because attics can be so claustrophobic, and it can be difficult to know where to start, I recommend starting with one corner and bringing the contents down to be sorted through immediately. Notice I didn’t say ‘later’ because the temptation will be to just ‘pop it into the storage room for now’. And ‘now’ becomes days, becomes weeks, becomes years, until your spare room has become a second attic. This is because dumping clutter into one spot tends to act as a magnet and attract even more clutter. Therefore, it’s imperative that you sort the attic bit by bit, just like every other room, but quick enough that it doesn’t become a pile of procrastination.  

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

So what kind of stuff do you usually find in an attic?

  • Festive Decorations
  • Photo albums
  • Old journals
  • Baby and kids toys
  • Old school work or art from yourself or your child
  • Old books
  • Bags of cables
  • Objects that never got used eg.old workout equipment
  • Old furniture
  • CD’s, DVD’s and videogame paraphernalia
  • Family heirlooms and sentimental objects
  • Unwanted gifts
  • Rolls of leftover carpet or wallpaper
  • Old clothes
  • Suitcases

First things first, lets deal with the most common stuff.

Photo albums

I could go right ahead and say that these days everything is digital, but I am a minimalist who loves to flick through a good physical album, so I’m not about to tell you to scan your photos and bin the rest (unless you feel that would be best for you).

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably got a stack of photo albums boxed up, some of them not even completely filled.

To minimise a physical photo collection, invest in a high-quality photo album which holds as many photos as possible, then sort through your collection in chronological order. To free up even more space, feel free to discard of duplicates or those which didn’t turn out very well. How many photos you have will determine the time it will take, but in the end you’ll find that you’ll be down to just one or two high-capacity albums and can donate or recycle the rest.

If you still intend to keep your photos in the attic, be sure to store them in an acid-free storage container which can withstand extreme cold, damp and heat.  

Old furniture

Furniture, especially wood or fabric, won’t keep well in attic environment and is vulnerable to mould and mildew. Dismantle and recycle old furniture which isn’t looking so great, and sell or donate pieces which are still in tip-top condition. If they’re in the attic in the first place, let’s face it, it wasn’t likely you were going to use them at any time in the near future.

But what if that dresser belonged to your dearly departed grandma? In that case, have a long, deep think about what it really means to you. Is it doing any service to you in the dark confines of the attic, never to see another sock or trinket ever again? If the answer is no, and you’re never going to use it, think: was my grandma personified by this dresser or was she a human being who lit up my world for who she was? If the answer is no, take a photo of it and donate it to someone who will love it just as much.

If, on the other hand, you have great memories attached to said dresser, it makes you smile and you can’t bear to part with it, consider replacing a piece of your own furniture with it. And if you have trouble blending it in with your current decor you could even repaint it, breathing new life into an much-loved piece.

Whatever you decide, don’t keep it up in the attic where it will be subject to the extremes in temperature and humidity. It’ll only lead to guilt and upset when you go back to find it damaged.

Festive Decorations

Festive decorations, whether it be for Christmas or some other holiday can mysteriously grow in size over the years. Before you know it, you’re bringing down bags and boxes every year with no idea which decoration is in each. Every Christmas I would just rifle through my lucky bags of tinsel, baubles and other Christmas themed trinkets, some broken and some yellowed with age.

Empty out all your decorations and only keep the ones you consistently use every year. If you add any new ones to your collection then remove an older one. By doing this you will pare down your decorations and keep them at a consistently manageable amount.

Baby and kids toys

If you don’t have children you can skip this part, but if you do have kids, it’s inevitable you will end up storing outgrown toys, books, and perhaps their cot and old baby clothes. There’s a myriad of reasons you might do this including ‘saving them for baby number 2’, or being unable to let go of their babyhood, although the latter is harder to admit.  It happens, and it’s completely normal.

The thing to remember is that children grow up and you want to enjoy them as they are in the present rather than clinging onto objects from the past. The years are fleeting and are gone before you know it, and those old baby clothes and toys will get damp in the attic when they could be serving a less fortunate family.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping one or two things from that period in their lives (I have a beautiful baby memory box with the special things in which are warming to go back to). A potential issue arises when you are keeping a hoard of their old stuff which they have no chance of returning to. Just as your value as a human being is not tied to your stuff, your child’s true essence is,ultimately, in their personality, actions and love for you.

If, however, you’re keeping the stuff for another child, you’re best not to keep these things in the attic unless they’re tightly sealed in an acid-free container which has no chance of damaging the contents.

Photo by Lauren Lulu Taylor on Unsplash

Old school work or art from yourself or your child

I used to keep every bit of my old schoolwork in several boxes. I rarely looked back on it but it was there because I was clinging to that painful part of my life. I liked to look back on the praise I had got from teachers because I had such low self esteem, and I liked to imagine a happier school life and what I would do differently.  More on this part of my story here: https://minimalistmojo.blog/2019/02/04/anchors-of-the-past-my-hoarding-story-and-how-i-woke-up-to-my-mess/

If you’re keeping old pieces of your own work, keep only one or two pieces which really mean something to you, otherwise just let it all go. I guarantee you won’t miss any of what you do let go, but you will appreciate the lightness, especially if it was linked to unpleasant memories or being used to fill a void.

When it comes to your child’s schoolwork (if you have children), keep a few meaningful pieces or curate it all into a scrapbook for pleasant viewing. I recently bought my child a scrapbook and printed a personalised cover for him and he loves it. When they get older you can ask your child which pieces they want to keep and then arrange them into a beautiful, personalised scrapbook which they can browse at their leisure or show off to friends and family.

When special pieces of work are kept in a beautifully presented way, they don’t even have to be kept in the attic and can be kept on a bookshelf, in a cupboard or in your child’s room. As always, if you choose to keep it in your attic, keep it in an acid-free storage box just like you would with photos.

Objects that never get used eg.old workout equipment

You know the kids of stuff I’m talking about here: those weights you kept ‘just in case’ you decided to work out, that guitar you’re saving for when you take those lessons you will get around to ‘someday’.

Here we are again with the ‘just in case’ words that derail every attempt at decluttering and simplicity. If such items are in the attic, the chances are extremely high that they will still be there for the next generation to sort out after you’re gone. Such items are kept for the ‘dream version’ of yourself (which we all have to some degree) and quite often doesn’t align with who you really are. I kept my work out clothes for a few years, seeing a version of myself jogging through my neighbourhood with headphones on and my running trainers pounding the pavement as I got fitter and fitter. It never transpired, and I realised that with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, it wasn’t viable for me. I’m not saying it’s not doable for anyone else with a chronic condition, but for me, personally, that vision didn’t align with the gentle pace I have set for my body.

Do away with anything you’re keeping from the you in an alternate reality and breathe in the space for the person you really are.

Unwanted gifts

I know how hard it is, when you receive a gift and feel too guilty to get rid of it so you keep it on display for a while then stow it away in the attic.

By storing unwanted gifts you are storing negative emotions including guilt and obligation. In most cases, the giver wouldn’t want you to feel this way, and it’s mostly in our minds. If you know that the giver would be offended, it might take some more careful consideration and some gentle words, but you should never be forced to keep something which doesn’t add value to your life. People who are easily offended when it comes to gift giving may well have issues with showing their emotions and attach their feelings to the stuff they give and receive, so do be sensitive and mindful about the process if you’re in that kind of situation.

Otherwise, lift the burden by regifting to someone you know will love it, or by donating to a charity for the less fortunate.  

CD’s, DVD’s and videogame paraphernalia

This kind of stuff, particularly discs, will not do well in an attic. For starters, discs eventually get what’s known as disc rot, and will eventually cease to play. Being stored in an attic speeds up the process as I discovered when I looked at some of my old PSOne games. https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-dvd-rot-1845719

Electronics that are of value to you shouldn’t be stored in an attic if you can help it due to the extremes in temperatures. Recently I decluttered my gaming room https://minimalistmojo.blog/2019/04/04/how-i-minimised-my-gaming-room/ and that gave me the space to bring down and display my beloved Sega Mastersystem II.

If you don’t have any such space, and you know you rarely access or even love the item ,then sell it on or donate it. Otherwise, invest in decent storage that will protect it in a harsh environment.

Old clothes and books

Over time, in an attic, clothes will get damp and grow mildew, and books will rapidly yellow.

Last year I came across some bin liners of old quilts and maternity clothes, and they weren’t in any fit condition to be donated. Not only were they damp, they stunk. Even the seasonal clothes I had been keeping in plastic containers had a funky smell to them.

For that reason I suggest you keep seasonal clothes on top of your wardrobe in a wicker storage box or under your bed. And for any clothes you’re keeping for the ‘alternate reality you’, don’t. Just get rid.

As for books, if you’re keeping them in the attic, you’re not likely to ever read them and they will quickly degrade if not stored in an acid-free container. Books are there to be read, to impart knowledge and entertain, and they aren’t doing much of that in your attic – donate them.

Photo by Aliis Sinisalu on Unsplash

I could go on with the many other categories of stuff you find in an attic, but some, like sentimental items and heirlooms, deserve their own post.

The benefits of decluttering an attic are whatever you make it. You can revel in the newly created space, relax in the knowledge that your family won’t have to deal with it all when you’re gone, feel the lightness as you live for the future, and enjoy accessing your treasures.  If you wanted to and you had the money, you could even convert your attic into a study or a spare bedroom for guests.

I hope this post has given you the boost you needed to climb that ladder and come back down it a lighter person. As always, if there’s anything you want to ask, please drop me a message in the comments session. In my next post, I will be talking about dealing with sentimental items.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash


Anchors of the Past : My Hoarding Story and How I Woke Up To My Mess

When I was a child I had a bit of a hoarding problem, as most kids do ;toys which I outgrew, and books which I no longer read yet insisted on keeping. I also kept old magazines and piles of school work.

Whereas most children tend to outgrow their old belongings as they blossom into young adults: I didn’t. I continued to hoard well into adulthood.

I wasn’t the sort of hoarder where everything covers every corner of breathable space – I’ve always been incredibly meticulous about tidiness. Instead, every available surface was neatly lined up with soft toys; figurines; ornaments from seaside resorts; books I didn’t read; DVD’s I didn’t watch, mugs from the Disney store, and those mugs you get free with Easter eggs.

What I couldn’t display on the sides I either stashed in the attic for the future or stored in my bedside drawers, which bowed under the weight and became a pain to open and close.

Things would fall out of the insides and down the back because there was simply no room for the immense amount of junk I was keeping in them: Keyrings; dried-out pens; old party invitations; old cables; small ornaments; needles;old school crafts; unworn jewellery, and unused makeup, were rammed into any available storage space.

I dreaded searching the mini-city of boxes atop my wardrobe because spiders often took refuge in the alleys between them. Even beneath my bed was edge-to-edge with plastic boxes full of clothes, games, cables,workout equipment, and everything else that didn’t have a home.

Out of sight, out of mind – or so I thought.

I was in my late twenties and renting a two-bedroom house with my fiance and toddler son before I realised how much stuff I had accumulated, and it took some hard truths to finally make me see it.

The day of truth started with an irate phone call from my mum, who’d just spent the day clearing her attic. Most of the stuff was mine and she was ‘not hanging on to it all anymore because she was getting too old to keep manoeuvring around my stuff up there’.  

Anyway, she loaded the car and drove it all over to my house. Anyone watching out of their windows at her bringing the stuff to my front door may have been mistaken for thinking that she was moving in, because there was a terrifying horde of bin liners and boxes.

Part of me wanted to just store it in our shed and deal with it another time, but my fiance had threatened to bin the lot if I didn’t sort through them there and then. He and I had had a few rows about the amount of stuff I had, and now it was coming to head.

There was no way that it could all go into our attic because even that was brimming with paraphernalia, so much so that I pictured the ceiling collapsing into one of the bedrooms and killing someone. A bit over-dramatic, I know, but it was a sure sign that something needed to be done, so I reluctantly started sorting through the bags, placing items into separate piles of things to keep and purge.

At first, the ‘keep’ pile far outgrew the ‘purge pile’, and as the clock ticked on I came to realise that all I was doing was moving stuff around the floor. I wasn’t making so much as a dent, and the living room looked like an obstacle course. With a small toddler running around, there was no way I could leave the room the way it was.

 Not only was I suddenly forced to confront all of my stuff, I had to dive deep into my psyche and find out exactly what was keeping me attached to items I knew I was never going to use again, or that were quite simply, rubbish. I had to become ruthless right on the spot, so I started evaluating the objects one by one, thinking deeply about why I wanted to keep them.

If I really cared about it all so much, why was it that I didn’t even know I had them until just now?

It was a slow and exhausting process, but eventually, all that was left was a single plastic box of some old school reports and pieces of school work that legitimately made me smile. As it turned out, there was no discernible reason I could think of to keep 90% of what was in those bags.

As bags started going outside ready for the charity shop or the wheelie bin, I realised something that forever changed how I live my life: I felt free, as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and a part of my mind had had years of grime removed.

I hadn’t realised just how stressed I had been from keeping all my stuff, even in places I couldn’t see. It wasn’t out of mind, it never had been. All I was doing was storing emotional anchors from my past.

Almost all of what I had been keeping was nothing but emotional baggage; things that were anchoring me to parts of my life that I simply couldn’t let go of, or had never dealt with.

In my childhood, fights were often repaired by the buying of gifts, so I clung to the items as if they were real feelings. I didn’t have many friends at school and was often bullied, so I kept presents that old friends had bought me in the past – even those I hadn’t spoke to for years and never would again.

 I kept keyrings, soft toys, letters and postcards from people I no longer knew. I was so under-confident in my abilities that I’d kept all of my school work just to look back on the praise I had received for good pieces of work. Most of it was essays, stories, leaflets and any other writing assignments I had worked on in class. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer ever since I was a small child, so I would keep essays and stories with teachers praise written on, which reminded me that I could, in fact, write.

I was an adult child, clutching onto the past rather than letting go and embracing the future. Simply put, I was substituting my lack of satisfying attachment to the people in my life, and my lack of self confidence, to things.

Aside from the more depressing reasons for my hoarding tendencies, I was addicted to the temporary excitement of buying new stuff, and therefore, terribly prone to buying things as soon as my wages went in the bank.

I’d come up with convincing reasons as to why I needed to add to my DVD collection, or why I needed yet another snow globe to add to my window ledge. One day, I even bought a cheap CRT television, convincing myself I would find the space for it. I didn’t.

An old picture of me with the clunky CRT TV I bought to play my old consoles on, knowing that we didn’t have the space. Just look at my guilty, caught-out expression.

I used to convince myself I was tidying and ‘decluttering’, when all I was really doing was moving stuff to another location.

Rather than dealing with the problem, I would hide my past under the bed or buy more storage, which would inevitably get filled with more clutter. The more storage I bought, the more stuff I consumed, the more clutter I kept, and the more my space shrank. My true self was being crushed under the weight of material possessions, but it wasn’t until we finally bought a home that I realised my work was far from over.