I remember when Jerry and I decided to clear out our attic about two years ago. Knowing that the attic was filled with our family mementos, Jerry wasn’t thrilled with the idea of dragging down 22 Rubbermaid containers and let’s not forget the two large bags of stuffed animals.

Our kids, who were then 27 and 29 years old, were overwhelmed with the daunting task of going through their “stuff”. So, the boxes sat in our basement for about a year. Mike finally went through his boxes just before he moved to San Diego. He pulled out the items he wanted to keep, but 90% of what I had saved went in the trash.

Erika has been harder to nail down. She’s gone through a few of her boxes, but there are still 6 or 7 of those tubs down in the basement waiting for her review.

I think she’s using the excuse of having two young children (and a third on the way) to avoid what is lurking downstairs.

Anyway, I felt gloomy when I saw the containers (each labeled with either Erika’s or Mike’s name and the school year) stacked up in rows. It was evident that I saved pretty much everything our kids painted, drew, colored, penned, glued … well, you get the picture (pun intended). And because I had saved so much stuff, neither of the kids wanted to walk down memory lane and decide what to keep.

This is what most of us do. We keep too many things that we just can’t relinquish to the trash or to charity. Items that are reminders of days-gone-by, which we are sure will delight our kids when they find our relics years later. But, no matter how much we believe in our little stack of fun memories, it’s the volume that is upsetting to our descendants.

So how do you take charge of your own personal bats in the belfry? Here are a few tips on how to lighten your load, both emotionally and physically:

  • Get in the right mindset. You have to give yourself a pep talk before you can start a project like this. Write down your goals – smaller goals that will be easy to reach and then the big, ambitious goal (say emptying ¾ of your attic by the time you’re done). Read what you wrote and re-read it until you feel certain of your task.
  • Talk to your descendents. One client cleaned out her attic before downsizing and she showed her adult son everything she had saved. After reviewing it all, he very clearly told her what to keep for him. When her son saw his parents’ new, smaller home, and all of the boxes stacked for storage, he said, “Thanks Mom. You just burdened me with your burdens. What’s sad is that when you and dad are gone, I’m just going to get a dumpster.” That was hard for my client to hear and hard for us to read. But, it’s the truth. We are just overwhelming our kids with what we, ourselves, can’t part with.
  • Antiques, photos, greeting cards, fine china, knick knacks and other nostalgia? You obviously have no need for them, otherwise they wouldn’t be in your attic, right? They’re just getting dusty in your attic. When you’re working with nostalgia and sentimental items, it’s a short trip to developing unhealthy compulsions. So, donate a lot of it to charity. To help yourself get over feelings of melancholy or guilt, try to envision other families starting their own histories with your stuff. Other people are going to be blessed by your donations. Another way to help boost your emotional state is to chronicle your nostalgic items by photographing them and keeping the photos in an envelope or a folder on your computer with notes describing the history of those items.
  • Now that you have wrapped your mind around the reason you’re de-cluttering, get rid of stuff that is clearly trash. Toys, board games and collectibles that no longer contain all of the pieces or are damaged are essentially of little value. So why hold onto them?  Dolls that are smudged or whose hair looks like Medusa’s? Trash them too. Clothes, shoes, purses, belts that are in need of repair? Bag them and trash them. This leaves you with an empty area, which brings me to my next suggestion …
  • Have a large, clear area to repopulate with “like” things. In other words, go through the stuff in your attic and put similar items together. This opens up other areas of the attic so you can put other comparable boxes together. Before you know it, the stuff in your attic is now organized and easier to tackle.
  • Take one of those open spaces and pull up a chair, pillow, anything that will be comfy for you to sit on. Have 2 bags set up: 1 for trash, 1 for donating. Use the boxes you are emptying to fill with the things you’re deciding to keep.
  • Although the attic is the hardest to clear out, it’s worth it. When you move, you’ll be glad you’re not bringing those boxes and bags with you. Likewise, in the future, it will be good for your family if they aren’t burdened by making decisions during what could be a very emotional time in their lives.

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