Jul 27, 2010

Cleaning out the Attic

Hello everyone! Sorry I've been MIA lately, last week I was busy doing some major cleaning and organizing with my parents.

My mom and dad live in a wonderful old farmhouse that's been in the family from the beginning, built in 1926. Although the house has been remodeled and added on to, it still retains all of its charm. The only catch? This old farmhouse has an amazing ability to acquire and retain items up in the attic! When you think about how old the house is, it's no wonder there were so many things up there and since the house was in a constant state of remodel for most of my life (and still is, old houses need lots of love!) the most time we spent up in the hot attic was to toss in another knick-knack to get it out of the way of construction.

We originally started the attic clean out project a year ago. We spent roughly two days sorting, organizing and throwing things out (not to mention finding some neat old stuff!) before throwing in the towel. There was way too much to go through! Fast forward to this year and we decided it was time to get serious. We spent 5 entire days cleaning it out. Just think about that for a minute. 5 whole days from morning until night in a hot stuffy attic. 5. Yeah. And believe it or not we're still not done (getting there though!)

Above - An after picture (sort of). You couldn't walk through this room without running into at least 50 things. The boxes in the middle are mostly empty or need to be sorted and the old truck fenders on the left will be leaving soon. We were really surprised by how much room there actually was in there and we thought of a few ideas for this space for the future (stay tuned!)

Below - This part of the attic is partially insulated/drywalled and looking much much MUCH better than it did (wish I would have taken before pictures!) although there's still a bit more to do.

It's been completely worth every minute though, and we've found a few things we thought were lost forever, as well as some old things that would be neat for decorating.

So while I'm on this cleaning and organizing kick I thought I'd share a few tips that helped us conquer this monumental task, because when you're staring at a project this huge it is certainly daunting and can make you want to run for the hills.

1. Pick a date (or several) and stick to it! If you put aside time for cleaning in your mind, you'll be mentally prepared for the big day.

2. Get family involved or work with someone else. It's a big job to do by yourself. Even if you have someone just running garbage and recycling down to the cans, it'll be a huge help.

3. Decide how organized you want everything to be. Should everything be perfectly tidy and in place or do you want to just de-clutter so you can quickly find things?

We opted to haul everything out of the attic to organize it once and for all and sort things in the unfinished ad-on space that will someday become a rec-room. We did this simply because the attic was so messy we couldn't walk around in it and the ad-on space was huge and empty with only about 5 steps between it and the attic. If you have tons of stairs to climb up and down however, it may be more beneficial to do your cleaning and organizing within your attic.

Tip: If you take this route and haul everything out, it's a good time to check and see if you have proper insulation in your attic. Proper insulation will help keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer and will help you save on energy bills.

4. Go through every single box. Yes it's time consuming (this is the part we're still not done with) but I bet you will find things you thought you lost and also things you probably don't need anymore.

5. Dedicate a space to certain items. In my parent's attic, we made a space for kids toys and games (for the current and future grand kids), home remodel/project items, home decorating items, Christmas decorations, filing and paperwork, a mom/dad pile and a pile for my brother and I (things we haven't taken yet because we're both apartment dwellers with no room - another reason to clean and organize!) Now when we need to find something we know right where to go.

Tip: If you are storing clothes in the attic I'd recommend a cedar chest to ward off critters!

6. Make a garbage/recycle pile (self-explanatory), Ebay/Craigslist pile, and a garage sale/donate pile. Sometimes you find things that you no longer care to keep but may be worthwhile to list on Ebay or Craigslist. We found several pieces of furniture and some neat old items we plan to list. Whatever doesn't sell will then go into the garage sale pile. Why not make a little money for your efforts right? Whatever doesn't sell at the garage sale will be donated.

Above - a headboard and curved footboard we found.
Looks like someone started stripping it for a project many years ago!

Below - an old trunk. Maybe someone will want it for a coffee table?

As you go through things and determine that you don't want them anymore, see if they can be transformed into something new. We found old candlesticks, picture frames and vases that could be good as new with a simple fresh coat of paint. If you can save yourself money by re-purposing items instead of taking a trip to the store for new items then why not? Just make sure to use them and not let them sit up in the attic again!

If you don't want to hold a garage sale, simply skip that step and donate. The simplest tip is once the item has moved into the garage sale/donate pile it can't come back in! Remember, the point is to de-clutter and organize!

7. Get proper storage. Those plastic rubbermaid tubs really come in handy when organizing an attic, and they stack well. We used a few clear ones for items we'd like to quickly be able to see, as well as some solid ones for items that were sentimental but we probably wouldn't need to be looking at for a while. Boxes work well too and are probably the cheapest option, but keep in mind that attics can be musty and full of bugs and over time the boxes will deteriorate.

8. Ditch it! Speaking of sentimentality, if you have trouble getting rid of items because of the memories behind them, here's a few tips that may help:

For papers, the simple thing that helped me go from about 6 or 7 huge boxes to 2 smaller ones was the fact that while most of the papers were sentimental to me, I didn't want to spend an entire day looking through them every time I wanted to go down memory lane. Time is a valuable thing and while I don't encourage throwing everything out, try to figure out the things that really mean something to you and try to give yourself a box limit. I kept most of the things from my young childhood (mostly because my drawings were so absurd and funny to look at), some things from my middle and high school days, a few more recent papers and lots of artwork. But when the time comes to move again, I don't want to haul around several heavy boxes of old papers so trimming down my collection was beneficial to me.

Tip: Keep a shredder handy for receipts or papers with too much information on them!

For knick-knack items and treasures, there's nothing wrong with hanging on to things that have meaning to you, especially when they've been passed down between family members. The problem comes when you can't let go of anything and you wind up with an attic like ours. Try to look at items objectively. If it really has a lot of sentimental value to you, then are you really honoring it by keeping it couped up in an old dusty attic only to look at it once every 5 years? Maybe it's your grandmother's old mirror you can't bear to part with, or your father's vintage telephone. Why not let everyone admire these items? After all you think they're really neat right? Bring them down into your house and make a statement out of them!

For items you'd like to have a memory of but are taking up too much space, take a photo of them and then decide if you want to sell them or donate them.

9. Last but not least, if you haven't used or thought about an item in the last 5 years or so you probably aren't going to miss it. Harsh I know, but if the point is to clean things out, this tip will be your best friend.


  1. Hi, first stop at your blog. Great tips. I have been doing the same thing for the past week in my house. I don't have that type of attic though. I remember my grandparents had an attic like that and I loved going up there. As I recall, it had a very distinct, pungent smell in the summer months. I think it was the knotty pine on the walls, but it added to the experience.

  2. Good tips. In my family, we always just pulled everything out of the space and organized it from there. Come to think of it, it wasn't the organization part that was hard, it was KEEPing it that way, lol.


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