Getting the most leverage from a redo of a room.
This week, I feel good. After another session of reclaiming my attic from years of clutter, I walked down the stairs, shut the door and gave myself a hard-earned pat on the back for making real progress.
Nearly halfway through our 11-week project, professional organizer Caitlin Shear and I attacked the mounds of baby equipment, toys and bags of baby clothes that have been accumulating up there for five years. My two children are no longer babies, and I've been looking forward to the day I could get rid of all this stuff.
Much of what my husband and I stashed up there is still in good, "lightly used" condition, and Caitlin suggested places where it would be appreciated. Among the things we're passing on: the Peg Perego high chair that had too many crevices to keep clean; the Pack-and-Play portable crib that my 2-year-old son, Charlie, hasn't fit into in six months; the nearly new Baby Bjorn carrier that neither Charlie nor his big sister, Margaret, ever liked; the ExerSaucer toy that they both loved; the extra toddler gate we never needed; and dozens and dozens of stuffed animals. I was delighted to see the stuff go and to think it would help another family. Most of it has been donated to Doorways for Women and Families, a shelter in Arlington.
I did keep the pink-striped Moses basket we received as a gift when Margaret was born more than five years ago. I'm hoping to pass it on to one of my friends or relatives. Actually, that's a total lie. It's the nicest present we received, and I don't want to give it to anyone. I want to keep it. Caitlin allowed it because I kept almost nothing else.
Clothes, I discovered, were much more difficult to part with than baby equipment. Every sundress revived some sweet memory; every bathing suit was a reminder of their early days at the beach. But even though I've been pretty good about weeding out outgrown clothes, faithfully sorting through and donating wearable things to AmVets every Dec. 31, there were still bags and bags of children's clothes all over the attic.
Finally I got ruthless. How many Old Navy T-shirts do I really need to save? Almost all of Charlie's 18-months wardrobe was packed up and donated. Maggie's size-5 clothes from last summer were delivered the next day to one of her preschool teachers, who knows Maggie's outfits better than anyone and had been eyeing a few things for her own daughter.
I didn't get rid of everything. During the past few years, any kids clothes I really couldn't bear to part with I would throw into one large plastic container, to be decided on at a later date. That box still has room for a few more memories, and I feel comfortable that I haven't gotten rid of every onesie.
I'm also keeping the bumper and other linens from Maggie's crib in hopes of one day converting it all into pillows of various sizes. And I've set up two plastic storage drawers, one for each child, for filing mementos from their earliest years, including their hospital I.D. bracelets, baptism certificates, cards they received from relatives and friends, and a lock of hair from their first cut. I totally fell down when it came to recording important milestones (first tooth, first steps) in the baby books. (Does Charlie even have a baby book?) I hope to be a bit better about these file drawers.
In the end, Caitlin and I packed up 31 items of baby clothing, a dozen cloth diapers, a changing mat, baby Halloween costumes and the 30-plus stuffed animals and sent them off to the Fairfax County Humane Society. This is a great place to give donations, Caitlin says, because it takes nearly everything. What humane society officials can't use or sell in their two thrift stores in Fairfax City and Falls Church, they get rid of so you don't have to. Doorways and the Salvation Army, Caitlin says, do not take toys.
A note about the attic: It's gotten very hot up there. Even though Caitlin and I spend no more than two hours at a time decluttering and are drinking plenty of water throughout our weekly sessions, it has been tough to get as much done as we want. In a perfect scenario, I would not be doing this project during a record-breaking heat wave in Washington. So if, like me, you have an attic that's in complete chaos, consider waiting for cooler temperatures to arrive before getting started. The kind of clutter I'm dealing with can be found in any room of the house, so you can adapt Caitlin's strategy of organizing by topic. We hope you're finding it helpful. Write us about your organizing issues at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTOS: Organizing - James M. Thresher; COPY BY: Liz Seymour - The Washington Post; WEB EDITOR: Janet Bennett Kelly - washingtonpost.com