Home & Garden: Organizing the Attic Home & Garden
Week One: Meet My Attic

My attic is a mess.

The ample space under my roof is crammed with toys, rugs, obsolete electronics, bank statements and tax returns, record albums, plastic bags full of baby clothes, books, two sets of fine china and enough Christmas ornaments for the White House tree. There is more than just stuff; there is stuff piled on top of stuff. There is no more than three steps of walking space in any direction. It is impossible to find anything. City building inspectors would have a field day writing code-violation citations up there.

Of all the people I know, I never expected to be confounded by clutter.

I grew up in a four-room apartment in New York. The six closets were so small that my mother emptied them out monthly, carrying plastic shopping bags full of old clothes and toys down the block to the St. Vincent de Paul donation box outside our church parish. In college, my friend Sarah nicknamed me One-Bag Lizzie for my ability to fit my considerable collection of Benetton sweaters into a single suitcase that I dragged on Amtrak when I went home on school breaks.

Yet here in Washington, in the biggest house I've ever lived in, a full quarter of the available floor space in my center-hall Colonial is buried under complete chaos.

It seems impossible that I could have amassed so much clutter. The answer has to do with laziness, procrastination, grief, lack of time and slovenliness.

I have a pretty good idea what happened. Having two children in three years brought a swift accumulation of baby clothes and equipment. Just before that, both my parents died. As their only child, I was the sole heir to all their possessions: lamps, rugs, artwork, photographs, furniture, death certificates, family photos and 1990s tax returns. When the movers brought it all to Washington, I directed them to carry everything straight to the attic and have never had the heart to sort it out.

Add to that a failure to create a filing system for massive amounts of paper, including bills and taxes, old family records and newspaper clippings. Mix in a lack of time to unpack and sort through boxes that moved with my husband and me five times in four years.

I've always rationalized that these are deeply personal and pretty forgivable reasons for my disorganization. But they're not unique.

So many people buy things, receive gifts, accept hand-me-downs and inherit stuff, much of which never leaves the house again. Attics (and basements and garages and closets) everywhere are crammed with useless items that owners won't or can't bear to part with. That is one of the many things I'm learning from Caitlin Shear, right, a professional organizer from Fairfax who has agreed to help me reclaim my attic.

At nearly 700 square feet, the space has great potential. If I can clean it out, I'd like to build cabinets for storage and move our home office (currently in my son's nursery) up there. Maybe even put in a flat-screen TV.

So back to the mess. In the next 11 weeks, with Caitlin's guidance, I'm going to see if I can clear out, clean up and organize. Follow my diary at www.washingtonpost.com/organize. I'd love to know what's in your attic, how it got there and why it won't leave. E-mail me at organize@washpost.com.

Next WeekGetting Started


Photo Gallery
Watch Home Deputy Editor Liz Seymour transform her 700-square-foot attic with the help of professional organizer Caitlin Shear.
» Photo Gallery
Got an attic abandoned to clutter and chaos? Join Liz Seymour and Caitlin Shear on May 15 as they tackle your organizing questions.
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About the Series

Got an attic abandoned to clutter and chaos? For the next 11 weeks, join Home staffer Liz Seymour and professional organizer Caitlin Shear sort through, toss out, tidy up and reclaim the space -- one step at a time.

About Liz

Liz Seymour, deputy editor of The Washington Post Home section, grew up in a four-room apartment in Brooklyn with two very organized parents and almost no closet space. Now she lives in a center-hall Colonial in D.C.'s American University Park neighborhood with her husband, Bob, children Margaret and Charlie, and one appallingly overstuffed attic.

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PHOTOS: Organizing - James M. Thresher, The Washington Post; Shear - Regula Franz; COPY BY: Liz Seymour - The Washington Post; WEB EDITOR: Janet Bennett Kelly - washingtonpost.com

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