How to Declutter Your Attic, So It Isn’t a Chaotic Mess

By Jennifer Geddes
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Few dare to learn how to declutter an attic. After all, this is where junk goes to die. Once stuff lands here, you forget about it entirely—out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, not really. These once dark, cobweb-filled eaves are undergoing startling transformations into playrooms, offices, and other types of useful space. Even if all you want is a storage space, wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly where things are, rather than needing to rip open every box to find those Christmas lights? To realize your attic’s true potential, you’ve got to go about the process of decluttering.

Time it right
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The great thing about the attic is that most storage is there for long-term use, which means that once it’s decluttered, it’s done for years to come, explains Marty Basher, a home organization expert at Modular Closets. “The bad news is that the attic is second only to the garage when it comes to clutter and chaos.” As such, this is a major project that should only be taken on when you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and purge, suggests Jacquie Denny, co-founder of the estate sale auction site Everything but the House. You’ll be smart to tackle this task first thing in the morning, when your energy is high and the temperature is comfortable, she says, adding, “Stay motivated by playing some upbeat music, and enlist family and friends to help you lift heavy objects.”

Prep ahead
Prepare in advance, with all the materials you’re likely to need, including boxes, trash bags, and markers, recommends Denny. “And check charity, garbage, and recycling schedules to be sure there’s a convenient pickup within a few days, so your bags don’t pile up.”

Sort, sort, sort
Start the process by clearing a path through the attic, if necessary, says Maeve Richmond, an organizing pro with Maeve’s Method. “You’ll need ample floor and work space in order to sort,” she says. Next up, divide and conquer. “Start with three piles labeled ‘Save,’ ‘Toss,’ and ‘Donate,’ and then make trips to the curb or the car when ‘Toss’ and ‘Donate’ become sizable, so you have enough room to work,” says Basher. “Once you’re faced with the ‘Save’ pile, it’s time to make some big decisions about whether to purge more.”

Get the right bins
After you’ve sorted your piles and are left with what you’re keeping, you’ll need to choose the kind of shelving, boxes, and bins you’ll use for storage. Because of the extreme heat and cold in most attics, experts recommend heavy-duty plastic totes or bins made from high density polyethylene plastic. “It’s not advised to have loose items lying around an attic, so store as much as you possibly can inside the right bins,” says Basher. Keep like items together and segment your attic so that each area has a category, such as holiday decor or porch cushions, he says. Be certain every bin is labeled on the front with a detailed description—not just “holiday.” For example, you might write “Xmas mantel lights,” “Front door wreath,” or “Christmas tree ornaments” on separate boxes, so that when you’re hunting in the attic for something, you won’t have to open several bins to find it.

Make a few bucks
Still got baby and kids’ clothes in the attic? “Kids grow out of them so quickly, so why not get some money back from the ones that are too small?” suggests Andrea Woroch, a money-saving expert. At thredUP, you can sell gently used baby and kids’ clothes and accessories, and the parent buying the merchandise pays for shipping, which means there’s no cost on your end. “Or you could scope out a consignment shop or host a clothing swap with other families to see if you can collect items in bigger sizes for your older children,” she adds.

Re-purpose the memories
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Some of the items most commonly stashed in an attic are family photos and other heirlooms. “Challenge yourself with this one,” says Julie Coraccio, an organizing expert with Reawaken Your Brilliance. “When was the last time you looked in these containers?” She has a point: If something is important to you, do you really want it boxed up in the attic? Instead, try to incorporate these heirlooms into your home in a way you enjoy. For instance, “Make a quilt of those old concert T-shirts, or create a cool shadow box of photos,” she says.

Keep it clean
Look at that: You’ve actually got a clean attic! Now, make a solemn promise not to load it up with junk again. “Learn how to avoid accumulating things going forward, and let the items you do have breathe,” urges Richmond. Remember, just because you have the space doesn’t mean you should fill it.