Thursday, July 31, 2008, 1:00 PM

Organizing and Decluttering

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
Liz Seymour and Caitlin Shear
Deputy editor of The Washington Post Home section and Professional Organizer
Thursday, July 31, 2008; 1:00 PM

Got an attic abandoned to clutter and chaos? For the past 11 weeks, Home staffer Liz Seymour and professional organizer Caitlin Shear have been sorting through, tossing out and tidying up Liz's attic -- one step at a time.

They were online Thursday, July 31, at 1 p.m. ET.

____________________

Liz Seymour: Hello. I'm Liz Seymour, deputy editor of the Home section and I just finished organizing my attic with the help of Caitlin Shear, a professional organizer of A Sorted Affair in Fairfax. We'd love to chat about our project and organizing in general.

_______________________

Philadelphia, Pa.: Married 22 years, with all the paper to prove it! Backstory with question at end: I have BOXES of files from previous residences (all rentals), mainly bills and credit card statements that I've been v-e-r-y slowly going through to discard by shredding. There's a real concern that makes me not want to toss anything before at least scanning it -- last year I received a notice from a bill collection agency that I owed $38.49 for an electric bill from the place I had moved from 5 years ago. (They had bought the defunct electric co's debt.) I ALWAYS pay my bills, and I was able to find the paper with proof that I had paid this one online - WHEW! I had no way of knowing that I would get socked with this demand to pay twice, and the collection agency threatened legal action if I did not supply proof; just my word that it was paid was not enough. I'm guessing that tossing anything from longer than 10 years ago should be safe, but is it worth SCANNING it first? The only time I reference those boxes is when it's time to move again. Thank you!

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says no way, don't bother scanning utility bills. Not worth it.

_______________________

Cluttered Hell, Pa.: Hello Liz and Caitlin,

I am drowning in a house that is cluttered from the basement to the rafters (mostly the basement). We have too much furniture for our home, not to mention that we've been renovating forever and have an entire bedroom and half-bath emptied and stripped to the studs. However, we still have a lot of stuff, despite the room that could be furnished with some of the excess. Adding to it are our three children under the age of 4 years. I'm busy, but being at home and constantly tripping over/squeezing by/picking up is driving me mad.

Our town has a town-wide yard sale every year that I've missed because of babies and child-wrangling, but next year... next year I have to do it. How do I start? Do you have any pointers for going through and making space to then fill with all of the stuff that I hope to put out for the yard sale? Really, this place is like one of those 16-spot puzzles with 15 pieces that you shift around to put them into order. Everytime that I clean out a space, it gets filled up with other stuff.

I figure that I can work on this slowly over the next 10 months, but I need some strategies for organizing.

Thank you for reading my question.

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says FORGET the yard sale. It's just way too much work to price it and clean it and prepare it for sale. Donate it or put it on Craig's list and save yourself a lot of headaches for not a lot of return.

_______________________

Alexandria, V.A.: I really enjoyed this series and feel like it has given me many helpful suggestions. My husband and I have been living in our home for nearly five years, and our basement is on its way to being a project that seems to large to tackle. How can I get dear hubby more interested in dealing with our clutter now, establishing an organizational system, and sticking to it moving forward? I truly feel like I am on my own with this one.

Liz Seymour: Well, husbands are tricky. Caitlin and my husband, Bob, spent one morning together and no offense, nobody got rid of enough as far as I'm concerned!!! Caitlin says she just shuts the door to her husband's office, in the sake of marriage preservation. I will say, now that my attic is neat, my husband is impressed with all the work Caitlin and I did.

_______________________

Memory Lane, Ohio: GREAT series! I really liked the discussion of the emotional content of objects. Here's my problem: My daughter has just started her first big job out of college. She is currently living with roommates in a house with little storage. I have a number of family heirlooms that I would discard, except for the possibility that she may want them when she has her own place--these are mostly china/glass/textiles. I also have things like a scrapbook of 1950s baby cards my mother got when I was born. They don't really mean anything to me, but they appeal to my daughter, who is a bit more sentimental than I am. She doesn't know what her taste/lifestyle will be like when she marries or has her own home. Should I continue to hang on to things I don't really like just in case she will want them? I do feel a little bad about selling family pieces or giving them to charity. No other family members seem interested in these things.

Liz Seymour: Put an expiration date on these items so that you (and she) are forced to come back and evaluate these items again. Maybe 3 years? At that point she may be married or no longer living with roommates.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Where should lamps, bed frames, etc., be donated?

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says general household stuff can typically go to the Salvation Army and Goodwill.

_______________________

Reston, Va: Congratulations on your organized attic. Uou have inspired many of us I am certain. My own overload area is craft projects, specifically, yarn, as I crochet and knit. Every few years I purge but somehow it creeps back. I've got baskets and tote bags stuffed with it. Any thoughts on the best way to tame the beast?

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says you should first make a list of all outstanding projects you already have materials for. Then, make yourself stop bringing in new stuff until some of those projects are completed and given or displayed.

_______________________

Chevy Chase, Md.: Thanks for taking my question. Like many living in small older homes in close-in suburbs I have very limited storage -- no garage, no attic, small cellar. So I need to be very discriminating about what I keep. I have a big hang-up over giving up clothing, furniture, books, electronics, TV, stereo etc. to the "right" recipient. This slows me down. Books usually go to Friends of Mont Library or a local pre-school or school. I give a lot of things like children's clothes and toys in good condition to Goodwill. Do you have suggestions for where to donate other things? (I gave up on consigning long ago. Was not worth the trouble. Ditto for holding a yard sale.) Also, where to properly dispose of or recycle things like PCs, monitors (no one wants CRT monitors anymore, even for free). I could use some quick references for these (preferably online site or sites listing donation and recycling/diposal sites) that I can refer to when needed.

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says any recipient who will use it now is better than sitting on it so no one uses this. Liz thinks this is very profound. I had the opposite problem in that I was willing to just throw everything in the trash. But I didn't.

_______________________

Tampa, Fla.: Thank you so much, I loved this series! And the way it was presented on the Web was so appealing. I was wondering if you have any new insights on decluttering books? It is my Achilles heel. I love books and it's so hard to get rid of them, even though my bookshelves are too full and honestly not at all pretty to look at.

Liz Seymour: This is an excellent topic because both Caitlin and I love to read and have tons and tons of books. She was very kind when I had trouble parting with all the great paperbacks I read in 1992 but I nevertheless got rid of them. I kept many more hardbacks, but really, just the books I treasured. Caitlin even wants me to remove the books from the attic and actually buy some bookcases for my living room and store them there. I hope my husband is reading this.

_______________________

Pennsylvania: We have just moved from a small house with no storage space (1200 sq feet) to a much larger house with lots of storage space (2800 sq feet). We now have lots of space for our stuff, but how can we keep our stuff from multiplying to fill up all the new space? I've always operated on the theory that your stuff expands to fill the space provided. Plus, we have a baby due in January.

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says you're right: Stuff expands when you have the room. And we both have young children and can tell you that you are about to accumulate even more stuff. She recommends you designate boundaries for things, for example, you cannot buy any more linens than what will fit in your linen closet. No overflow. Enforce that and you won't fill out the space with more stuff. Good luck.

_______________________

Anonymous: Speaking of the emotional content of items, when artists sell a picture they usually have a photo of it for their archives. I'm wondering if you have tried doing this with items to donate/discard? That way you do have a picture to go with the memory, but may be able to let go of the "things" easier. Your thoughts on this?

Liz Seymour: Interesting you say that. Many, many of the folks who e-mailed me suggested that as well. Caitlin says it's a great way to hold on to the memory and not hold on to the item.

_______________________

Montgomery Village, Md.: Thanks for the inspiring article! My husband and I are young, in our first house less than two years, and hoping to start a family soon. Right now, I have an empty attic and a mostly empty basement. What are some tips for keeping us organized as we start accumulating stuff? Anything in hindsight you wish you had tackled 10 years ago?

Liz Seymour: Have empty containers on hand and a labeler so stuff doesn't pile up.

_______________________

Damascus, Md.: Liz, thank you so much for the series. We are doing it for the entire house. You are correct; two to three hours is the limit for me and I have found that books are the easiest (I want it or I don't!), and paper the hardest. I am finding Christmas cards from years ago. I read them and toss them. What fun.

Your attic looks very tidy!

Liz Seymour: thank you so much. I now realize I cannot function in life without Caitlin.

_______________________

Atlanta, Ga.: I think the way that this series came together was great -- meeting with a professional for just a few hours a week, then using the tips from that time together to finish the task (homework!) on your own. It sounds like a great way for someone to be better able to afford professional help. How can one go about finding a professional firm to hire? Thanks!

Liz Seymour: In this area, go to DCOrganizers.org to search for an organizer by zip code. You can also try the National Association of Professional Organizers Web site at www.napo.net.

_______________________

Philadelphia, Pa.: Caitlin,

Clothing clutter is my biggest problem. I like fashion and I like most of the clothes I own so parting will be tough. But honestly, sometimes I think I could simplify my life if I didn't have so many choices in the morning! How can I say sayonara to the excess? And how do I know what's excess?

Liz Seymour: I hope to have Caitlin back to clear out the dark recesses of my clothing closet. She says to think of your clothing as a collection that needs curating. Every curator will reevaluate at certain points, weed out stuff and only keep the best of the core collection. She suggests doing this once a year or seasonally.

_______________________

Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Liz. I saw that on Bob's day with Caitlin, they cleaned out a lot of old electronic equipment. I have old Palm Pilot(s), a VCR that died from lack of use, and myriad cords and chargers from equipment I probably don't even have anymore. What's the best way to clear out this kind of clutter and to keep from collecting it all over again with the next batches of gizmos and gadgets that I get? Thanks!

Liz Seymour: Hard not to accumulate new, Caitlin says, but suggests you go to the nearest Staples store that allows you to drop off any outdated electronics. The store charges $10 for bigger components.

_______________________

Takoma Park: Hi, I am a bit of a packrat and a huge paper piler. I will inevitably live with some chaos because I have a toddler and work full-time. I actually hired a prof organizer 8 months ago to help me go through 3 years of paperwork. She created a beautiful file system for me, but 8 mos later I'm drowning in paper again. I just can't make myself file the stuff and it inevitably covers my dining room table and desk. A combo of procrastination over making decisions, lack of energy, and boredom. Any suggestions for how to fight ones own inertia?

Thanks, I loved the series!

Liz Seymour: Eight months later you're drowning in paper again??? I'm so so sorry. Caitlin wonders if maybe your filing system is too complicated. Call that professional organizer and ask her/him to help you tweak the system.

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: My in-laws are true packrats. They have a large home that is filled to the gills. Whenever they run out of room, they build a barn! My FIL has just retired and my MIL is planning to retire next year. Is there anything I can do to help them decide that they need to clear out some of the clutter they have? My FIL is fond of saying that someday my husband and I will have to deal with all his crud. I finally got tired of hearing that line and told him that I have a match and know how to use it. It didn't really help the situation. I try to stay out of it now, but if you can offer any guidance, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Liz Seymour: What a saucy in-law you are!!!! We love that. The NAPO Web site will help them find someone in their area who will help them deal with chronically disorganized people. A neutral person is critical. Good Luck.

_______________________

Friendship Heights: What is the best way to retain letters, documents that are worth saving but contribute to clutter? Is scanning realistic?

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says scanning is unrealistic. You should only keep documents that are impossible to recreate or find and paper that you need for your taxes. You cannot recreate a letter from your parents. You can find a magazine article.

_______________________

Clutter Hell, Pa.: Thank you Liz and Caitlin! Like Chevy Chase, do you have a list of online places that take donations? I have nice work suits that would be great for someplace other than Goodwill.

I've been FreeCycling and donating to Goodwill what I can when I can, as well as selling a few items on eBay.

What I can't get over is feeling like I'm giving a lot of money away, which is why the yard sale is appealing. But then again, sanity has no price. Thank you for your advice.

Liz Seymour: The Post Home section did a great story in January with lists of donation places, organized by topic. Search the Post archives for it if our producer can't find it before this chat ends.

_______________________

Upper Marlboro: Greetings,

I just can't seem to keep going once started. I find myself clearing the clutter in one room and moving it to another. Seems there is no where to put the clutter. Had a yard sale last weekend, although for a charity, was looking forward to ridding myself of some things. Came home with more than 3/4 of the items. Friends keep telling me it's to be expected with little ones, but for me it is now becoming something that brings depression.

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says everyone gets one shot at a yard sale and after that you should donate it. There are many people who could use your items!

_______________________

Culpeper, Va.: Am I crazy for saving the best of the boxes (either broken down or intact) from our prior moves? How about packing material?

Liz Seymour: Yes you are crazy, unless you are moving within the year.

_______________________

Fairfax, Va.: It is absolutely critical when "getting rid" of items that are FAMILY RELATED or SENTIMENTAL to photograph all furniture and other photographable items; scan documents and pictures; make a computerized list of book titles. Then document the name of the person the items belonged to and the approximate timeframe of their use. (The lack of this kind of foresight has frustrated me throughout this series because it has failed to address the above methods of EASILY PREVENTING the loss of wonderful memories and information and the resulting possible anguish years down the road for surviving family members and descendants. I know; I've been there.)

Liz Seymour: What's critical is that you don't get rid of something you don't really want to get rid of. That was definitely the case for me. Anything family-related or sentimental to me, I still have!

_______________________

Tipsville, USA:1. Don't buy so much stuff to begin with.

2. The Montgomery County dump takes lots of stuff for recycling, including old electronics.

3. A friend of mine who has been there (and come out the other side, thank goodness) says mental hospitals are a great place to donate old magazines. Cooking and travel mags are especially popular, he says.

Liz Seymour: Yes, very good comments. Thank you.

_______________________

Wrangling books: For the person looking to manage her book collection. My father and I are both bibliophiles and have large collections. Years ago my mother instituted a rule that for every book that came in, one had to go out. We followed this more or less successfully, and it really helped. Now that I've been in my own home for 15 years, I follow it, too. My father has instituted his own rule that every book he owns must be out on a shelf -- no books in boxes!

Liz Seymour: Excellent tips. Thank you very much. Caitlin is a big fan of Levenger for things to enhance the "findability" of your books.

_______________________

Fairfield, Conn.: After 20 years of battling clutter, I have finally realized that the solution isn't the "big cleanup" but daily, weekly and monthly routines and 15 minute decluttering sessions that keep things relatively under control. I bet if you go back to someone's house a year after a big decluttering (a la clean sweep) you'd find it almost as bad again. Clearning out the clutter is one thing, but it is only a temporary fix unless you develop the habits to prevent it from building up in the first place.

I learned this lesson from flylady.net -- are you guys familiar with the site? I swear it changed my life.

Liz Seymour: Yes, flylady is fabulous, Caitlin says, and she compares clutter to losing weight. It's a lifestyle change. And little changes make a huge difference.

_______________________

Carrollton, Tex.: Having a undetected plumbing problem, which seeped into my piles of paper (and other numerous objects) in the kitchen has been a immediate motivator this weekend for me to work on my clutter. Reading your sessions this morning reinforces the call to continue my one sheet at a time clearing -- first to go are the 2-foot pile of 15-plus-year-old Spanish language newspapers. I planned to practice the language. The zoning technique was particularly helpful. Thanks! Keep on trucking away.

Liz Seymour: Glad you've enjoyed it. Good luck with your projects.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: I have been fascinated by the series and have already contacted A Sorted Affair for help with my own clutter. The one question I haven't seen answered: How much money did you spend to organize everything? I often get grand organizing ideas in my head, but then I balk at the prices of the various bins/baskets/containers. What is a reasonable budget for this type of project?

Liz Seymour: I say in today's column that I spent about $500 on containers and other storage bins but colleagues in the Home section told me this morning that I could have spent less if I'd shopped around. And they're probably right. It is well worth it, tho my husband was aghast when he read that amount in the paper this morning. I don't think that's a lot. Look how great it looks!!!!

_______________________

Detroit, Mich.: As the director of a large archives of American history, the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University, I would just like to add one thought: If you find historic photos or documents among the clutter you are handling, you might consider contacting an archives in your area before tossing them in the bin. Sometimes what may seem ordinary may not have any serious monetary value, but it may have historical value for your local archives or historical society. Not all material does, but you just might have a gem.

Liz Seymour: Yes, I'm hoping my husband will call you with his extensive archival collection from the 1995 Detroit newspaper strike.

_______________________

Baltimore, Md.: Any advice on how to get my 89-year-old widowed mother to part with stuff she doesn't need? We are moving her out of a three-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment in a retirement community, and she wants to take way too much furniture. She seems to want it just for nostalgia. She never even sits on the sofa or upholstered chairs; she always sits on her rocking chair.

Liz Seymour: Are you having a senior move manager help you with the move? That person can measure the space and let you know what won't fit and help make some choices.

_______________________

Saving moving boxes:"Am I crazy for saving the best of the boxes (either broken down or intact) from our prior moves? How about packing material?

Liz Seymour: Yes you are crazy, unless you are moving within the year."

I would respectfully disagree with this one. Boxes and packing materials are expensive. We reused ours on our last move and saved A LOT of money. Boxes that were too weak we pitched.

Liz Seymour: If you have room, fine. But if you don't have room and there are no moves in your immediate future, recycle those boxes.

_______________________

Oakton, Va.: Loved the series! Any thoughts on how to organize babies/kids clothes? My 2 1/2-year-old has the next 2 size hand-me-downs from my niece sitting in plastic bags on the floor of her room and I'm saving her clothes for the new baby. I'd appreciate any tips on how and wear to save these clothes. I feel like I'm drowning in them and can't get the nursery or the toddler room organized.

Liz Seymour: I remember those days. Caitlin says she put them in spacebags with a piece of paper that has the size on it so you can locate them. Then, when you take stuff out of that spacebag, put stuff they've outgrown in it and pass it along to someone else.

_______________________

Burke, Va.: Besides contacting the professional organization, what are some questions that would be useful to ask?

Liz Seymour: Are you insured?

How long have you been organizing?

Are you a CPO (certified professional organizer)?

Do you have helpers, others who work with you?

And, Caitlin adds, ask about their style, if you feel comfortable with them, you will get more done. If you have an organizer who has children, more likely to help you in that area because they have lived it.

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: OK, what if we don't have the resources to hire an outside consultant? Would love to, as I think I need someone to keep me on task, but the budget won't allow it. Any tips?

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says to check out the clutter diet, an online system that's about $15 a month. You are coached online by an organizer to help do it yourself and stay on track.

_______________________

Fairfax, USA: In one of your recent pieces, there was a photograph of a Bruce Springsteen album. I certainly presume that it was not discarded or otherwise shabbily treated, but preserved and accorded the respect that such a masterpiece merits. Please tell me that "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" was accorded a place of honor in the newly organized home. Framed, perhaps?

Liz Seymour: I know this is you Tom Jackman and I'm not giving up my Springsteen.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Kid's clutter: I avoided accumulating all our kids' many school/craft/scouting projects by taking a photo of child with project and tossing the project. Also, I had a plastic file-folder- sized container (smallish with handle, not a huge bin) in which I saved a select few school papers each year. I let my kids decide which to save as they got older as they knew which meant something.

Liz Seymour: You're bragging!!! That's fantastic. Good for you.

_______________________

Place to donate dress suits: Dress for Success (www.dressforsuccess.org) is one of my favorites, but there are lots out there!

To me, it feels a little more targeted than dropping off suits at Goodwill. I like the thought that someone will get the suit (that I inevitably paid too much for and grew out of too fast) and will be able to use it for work. Feels better to me than thinking it'll end up cut to pieces as part of some undergrad's art project.

Liz Seymour: Caitlin says they're a good organization but they frequently need larger sizes. Same with Suited for Change. If you've got some, please take them there.

_______________________

Under the Bed solution: I've heard that getting bed lifters is a great way to create extra storage space. Thoughts on how to mask those unsighty, but immensely helpful monsters?

Liz Seymour: bed skirt. Caitlin has hers hidden under the bed skirt. Liz likes Lands End and Restoration Hardware and Garnet Hill for nice bedskirts.

_______________________

Finding the gold in the clutter: Not really the metal, but I can't find my parents' WWII letters that I know exist because I saw them when I was 12. There was so much clutter that I overloaded when their house had to be cleared. My husband says the letters are somewhere in what we have.

Does the lady with the in-laws with so much stuff know what the gold is in her case? Does she know where it is? Do her in-laws?

Liz Seymour: Very good point and Caitlin says zoning really helps with that. I found my report cards and notebooks from P.S. 127, which I attended in the 1970s. It was very fun to find. Not to mention all the important papers I found.

_______________________

Durham, North Carolina: Congratulations on your completion (for now)and thank you for sharing your mess, regardless of shame and embarrassment.

Does playing music or talk radio help you sustain the several hours of work daily -- especially if you have ADD? I appreciate multiple suggestions, but a 15-30 minute session just about drives me crazy in the messiness which I have created in a spare bedroom upstairs.

Liz Seymour: All people with ADD should have music playing in the background. Also take frequent breaks. Some professional organizers specialize in helping folks with ADD. That's an option too.

_______________________

Re: "Resulting possible anguish": I'm sorry, but seriously? "Resulting possible anguish"? I highly doubt it. Each generation has to do what's best for them, in fact each person has to do what's best for them. Keep the genealogical records and family photos if you want, but there's no point in keeping big, old, beat-up, family "heirlooms" when you legitimately need the space. Quality of life for the living is paramount. There won't be any anguish or gnashing of teeth if you get rid of it.

Liz Seymour: That's how I felt. I didn't want all this stuff to control my life. Frankly, I just didn't want all this stuff.

_______________________

Tricky Husband: So what's the cost for a professional organizer? And how often do they come over? If you're just telling me to toss everything, I probably don't need to pay a lot to hear that in person.

Liz Seymour: There's a huge range in costs, depending on the experience level of the organizer. And it's not that you're paying for someone to tell you things. You're paying for someone to help YOU do something about it and guide your decisions.

_______________________

Downsizing in Dupont: I just moved into a MUCH nicer, but smaller place. The problem is, the things that make it great also give me less area to work with. Can you help me think of creative ways to maximize space? I've heard of coffee tables that convert into dining room tables -- any thoughts on where I can get one?

Liz Seymour: I'm quite fond of the upholstered storage ottoman and I have a wonderful console table that belonged to my parents that opens up to seat 20 people. Scour catalogues and online sources like Solutions, Home Improvements, West Elm and others.

_______________________

Boston, Mass.: Expecting that the 11 weeks may not be reflective of the norm involvement of an organizer. What is the norm please and price range by how determined? Thank you and great job?

Liz Seymour: It depends on the scope of the project. The organizer may give you an estimate at the first meeting.

_______________________

Dayton, Ohio: My husband and I have a craft room -- half his fly-tying stuff and half my scrapbooking stuff. We need to turn this room into a nursery by the end of the year. Do you have any suggestions for how to corral our craft projects and move them to another room/space?

Liz Seymour: Congratulations! It depends on what other space you have in your house and I hate to tell you this, but once that baby comes, there's not gonna be much time for scrapbooking and fly-tieing!!!!

_______________________

Williamsburg, Va.: Another idea on books. If you want to get rid of paperbacks you read in college, you can make a list of those titles, maybe adding a note on what the book meant to you at the time. Then if you ever want to read them again, you can get them from the library. This only works with common works of fiction, not hard-to-replace specialized titles. Also if you look at the price of these paperback books on various used-book sites, you can see that they are generally very easy to find and cheap to replace, so let them go!

Liz Seymour: Great idea if you've got lots of time.

_______________________

Ottawa, Ontario:

Where can you get those quilted containers for fine china?

Also is there anything that one can keep silver in so that it does not need to be polished?

Liz Seymour: Aren't they lovely????? I LOVE them. You can get them anywhere really. I bought mine at The Container Store. Stack and Stacks is another great online source, Caitlin says.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.:1. How much does an organizer cost? In addition to the $500 on bins and boxes, how much does someone from NAPO generally charge?

2. Does A Sorted Affair also work in DC? The Web site says NOVA, but she did your house near AU. I live in DC, too, and wonder if I can hire someone from the company.

Liz Seymour: Caitlin works in the Washington metro area. It really depends. Every organizer has their own price. We think the DC area range is anywhere from $40 to $200 an hour.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: When this series first came out, I was so excited because I was looking forward to advice on technological choices such as scanning in documents and photos and using online or software-based organization programs that use barcode scanners to catalog documents, books, DVDs, etc. But all the solutions in this series were so dated and old-fashioned that it wasn't very useful to me at most times.

Liz Seymour: Wow. Those applications were beyond what we really needed for the attic project. So sorry it wasn't useful to you.

_______________________

The anguish is real: I have to disagree. There IS real anguish when one member of the family decides to discard a family heirloom he/she doesn't want. You should have seen the look on my mother's face when she learned that her father had sold his house "contents included," and all the family heirlooms were GONE.

Just be respectful and ask around the family before you get rid of things you perceive as "stuff." Something that may be no big deal to you may be critically important to someone else.

Liz Seymour: Well that is certainly heart-breaking. We're assuming that most people are not in that truly awful situation and are in control of their family heirlooms.

_______________________

Mukwonago, Wisc.: Bravo, hooray, yahoo, "you done good" and anything else that goes along that line.

This series has been an inspiration. I love the fact that it has been broken down into doable chunks. It has been very inspirational for me to also get to work.

Liz Seymour: Thank you so much!

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: Thanks for sharing your journey with us. I'm happy your attic is neat and organized, but sad to see this series end.

Liz Seymour: Thank you. I was such hard work but I am so proud of myself and I gained a wonderful friend in Caitlin.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: A friend once gave me the best organizing advice I have ever gotten. She said, "Throw half of your stuff away. Arrange the rest like Martha would."

She's right. Some people -- quite a lot of people, actually --might need more elaboration on the whys and wherefores of throwing the stuff out, but every single thing I've read about organizing has always boiled down to the above.

Liz Seymour: You know that's actually really smart advice. You gotta hand it to Martha, even though both Caitlin and I have issues with her.

_______________________

Falls Church, Va.: Just wanted to let you know how FABULOUS your series has been! Liz, congrats on your attic. Caitlin, your advice and suggestions are great. Way to go, ladies!

Liz Seymour: Thanks very much. So glad you liked it.

_______________________

London, UK: As your attic now looks so neat and tidy, will you be painting the ceiling and walls to give the job a really good finish?

Liz Seymour: I would LOVE to paint it, add better lighting and built-in storage cabinets. Check back with me in a year and let's hope I've done something.

_______________________

Time in southern Maryland: Decluttering takes a big time commitment. For the projects that I have tackled, I have taken a few days off from work. The space I have gained in my home is worth using vacation time.

Liz Seymour: That's totally true, though neither Caitlin nor I have your stamina!!! I found that, especially when I was working alone, three hours was my absolute limit.

_______________________

Upstate NY: Here's a tough one -- toys. Both my kids have small rooms, but they are the only grandchildren old enough to actually play with toys and as such, they have a LOT, despite my efforts to ask relatives to give them savings bonds, books, etc. We have a playroom filled to the gills and now it's spilled into bedrooms.

What is a good way to reduce the clutter and not get their relatives annoyed that the large plastic whatever went to Goodwill? The kids are 11 and 8, by the way. The younger one has a lot more clutter than the older one.

Liz Seymour: You are the mommy, Caitlin says, and it's your house. Grandparents don't have to deal with it everyday. If there are school yard sales or ways to donate to women's shelters, you can lighten your load, knowing it went to a good cause. The kids will never miss it.

_______________________

Freecycle moderator: Yes, I'm biased, but I know that a lot of people declutter their house by making a pile of items they no longer want or need, and then give them away through their local Freecycle group. I've felt better about decluttering when I know the stuff will still be put to good use. And what could be easier than making the pile and having someone come and pick up the stuff??

Liz Seymour: Freecycle and Craigslist are great, especially if you don't have to field a lot of phone calls and have to spend a lot of time getting rid of your stuff.

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: My mom is in her 70s. She has all of our childhood pictures stored in a total of 10, 18-gallon Rubbermaid containers. They are not in any order, simply tossed in in the sleeves they came in from the film developer. My five brothers and sisters and I have offered to help her sort through these as we have no access to the memories, but the task is too daunting for my mom. Any tips to get her motivated, and any tips to make it easier? Thanks, I have truly enjoyed the series.

Liz Seymour: This was one of the hardest projects for me. I spent days in the attic sorting photos. Caitlin says the easiest way to begin sorting photos is to zone by decade. You'll be further along than when you started and have a greater chance of finding your first holy communion photo, as I did.

_______________________

Liz Seymour: Thanks very much everyone. This was a great discussion and a great experience for Caitlin and me to share our attic organizing project with you these last 11 weeks. Please feel free to send us your thoughts at organize@washpost.com.

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

Discussion Archive

Viewpoint is a paid discussion. The Washington Post editorial staff was not involved in the moderation.

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity