Cleaning the attic sooner rather than later

Cleaning the attic is a musty chore most of us put off until moving forces us to. That usually means throwing away memories that you might have preserved had you

Attic cleaning
This is what we saved, now stuck in my son’s room.

gotten to this backbreaking task sooner. Some say that if you haven’t used something in the past year, toss or donate it. That’s  downsizing at the point of a house sale.

Articles often advise ruthlessness when it comes to keeping or discarding. I liked “How to throw things away like a grown up” if just for the headline.

My wife and I do not subscribe to such ‘grown up’ measures so we put clearing out the attic on the to-do list last Fall. We will eventually move, but are not ready to leave the house where we’ve spent the past quarter century. Getting a jump on this walk back through time has given us a chance to savor memories and salvage more keepsakes.

Once or twice a week for about two months, we pored through boxes, suitcases, trunks and plastic bags, a few inhabited by smallish critters. We donated most of the kids clothing, books and a bag of about 100 Beanie Babies (we also gave some to a friend whose grandchild was out for a visit). Many empty and slightly broken suitcases went to Goodwill along with some outdated electronics I thought would cost me recycling fees.

Old checking statements and about two thirds of our work papers served as fire starter for the wood stove. There was too much sensitive data to simply toss this detritus into recycling.

People were still writing letters in the Seventies and we no exception. We each reread our own, chuckled and saved about two thirds of them. Of course, we kept my father-in-law’s WWII army jacket and had fun identifying what the pins and stitched patches meant. Our daughter’s accumulated American Doll paraphernalia remained, but the Barbies and even some of my wife’s dolls headed out.

As journalists and editors, we had just about everything we’d written over a half century of practicing our crafts. I winnowed about five year’s down to some original first issues of PC Week where I was an editor for 16 years and donated a couple of boxes to a local computer museum waiting to come out of storage. Several hundred newspaper clippings also dodged a bullet.

I’m not a pack rat, but it’s painful throwing away possessions that at one time I thought worthy of lugging up to the attic. Why would I think less of them now? Buying time allows you to search for organizations and people who might uniquely appreciate what you have to give away.

As I lifelong railroad enthusiast, I had just about every issue of TRAINS magazine back to the sixties. The hundred or so Model Railroader magazines I had tucked away dated back to 1946 where one issue featured a cover with a gentlemen working on his layout wearing a tie! I gave the issue to an Octogenarian friend. I advertised the rest on a Facebook for sale page. Free! A grateful woman a couple of towns away came over and picked up 200 issues. “My husband will love these.” That gave me satisfaction.

Another box contained my late mother’s slides going back 50 years. I decided to go through them and scan the keepers. My rule was to retain any with people I knew, which totaled about 450 or a third of what I had to check out with a handheld single slide viewer. I sprung for a Canon Mark II 9000F scanner, which does slides and dumped the images into the cloud so I could share them with friends and family.

Mother, RIP, would approve.

The slide purging motivated me to organize years of digital photos that had accumulated on my PC’s hard disk. I’m about half done moving them all to the cloud, which strikes me as a less likely place for them to disappear than a PC purchased in 2009. Kodachrome slides were nifty. Remember Kodak?

Now I’ve got a dozen family photos albums from my mother to go through. Their fate is to be determined, but scanning them seems like too much work. I’ll probably just keep them. Of course, this doesn’t include our own 20 or so photo albums heaped on top of each in a brimming upstairs closet.

Cleaning the attic was about 60-70% drudgery. The rest was a nostalgic journey and a reminder how our lives have flown by. Our clean attic contains about a third of the clutter that was there. In the process, we identified some important stuff, not that there’s any guarantee our heirs won’t heave it all into a dumpster. They probably will and I could not blame them, much less stop them.

Closets are next, then onto the basement.


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