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The Attic: As Bad As The Basement, Only Higher
by Marjorie Dorfman

Why is the attic the place where everything unwanted or unused seems to end up? What can be done about its ability to keep us all a bit disorganized? Read on for some answers, that is, if you can find some space.

Whether one tells tales of toys or flowers in literal or proverbial attics, the conjured image is much the same: a dark place of memories, secrets, dust, clutter and often mice. If you live in a house with an attic, you are probably in just as much trouble as if you had a basement. And if you have both, may the dark clutter gods protect you. Clutter, my friends, is not blowing in the wind. It’s here, it happens often and it often reigns supreme (that is, when it can find its own crown among the assorted debris).

Did you ever wonder who designed the very first attic and why? No, well okay. How about the issue of junk? Did homo sapiens always have a need to possess it or did it evolve like man, from some infinitesimal speck of sand or in the back of an old Chevrolet? In the ancient world, there were citadels to store grain and basements for that which there was no room for above, but without grain to store we in the modern world are still running out of attic space.

No matter where attics came from, I have never seen a bare one. If I did, it would appear to be a true contradiction in terms. They always seem filled to the brim with "things" floating and standing that one no longer uses but cannot throw out, repair or otherwise deal with. Its very existence spells disorganization for everyone. This is especially true after holidays, when things usually stored away need to be put back and there is never enough time or energy to put it exactly where they were on that high shelf you can’t reach without the ladder anyway. So decorations plural transforms into clutter singular that sits and gathers dust, preparing for the next holiday or worse, the greatest dustbuster of them all, eternity.

So how can one solve this problem? It seems too simple to say, "well, throw everything out." No, my friends, the secret to dealing with an attic is organization. It is a miracle that as I write this word that I am not struck dead by the powers that be in the land of the Great Manitou. This is because I am not organized and it is highly unlikely that my condition is curable, although it may be treatable, as it has improved somewhat over the years. (Life has forced me to keep track of bills, children and other things. My first file cabinet was purchased only after I had written so many stories that I could not find them in the pile that had grown on a table next to my television set. When it became level with the antennae, I decided to get organized. Don’t let this happen to you.)

Back to the attic. And holidays. And clutter. Consider the words "condense" and "stack." There is no trick reference here to milk or buxom ladies; only key words to help with the situation at hand. One major problem is that after a holiday not everything makes it back to its proper place at the same time. (In my house, none of it does, but that’s another story) The easier and lighter things seem to get back home first. Putting everything back in its place becomes so much more of a chore when it is done piece-meal and yet, it’s the only way for most of us who lead such busy lives. Woe be to the procrastinator as well, who may pass the misplaced item on his or her way up the stairs many times per day and figure it will be there tomorrow and if he or she is, he or she will then bring it up to the attic where it belongs.

Attack, destroy, throw out or donate to charity. You must look at everything in your attic in this cluttered new light. There will be some things you can put away and keep and if you do it with organization and thought, you might even be able to find them again. This may work with records and magazines. Forget about the fact that record players don’t exist anymore and neither do records for that matter. Memories are deeply etched and mustn’t be denied. Magazines may date back to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922, but if you really must have all those National Geographics all yellowed and torn, then you really must keep them. You never know when the old boy (Tut) might want to borrow your copy for his own nostalgic reasons. But, and here is the rub a dub, if you really hate searching through piles and piles of God knows what, decide that most of it will have to go in one way or another. Consider your clutter an unwanted house guest or relative.

That being said, where would you put an unwanted friend or relative? Out on the porch? In the yard? Or in the dumpster? The choice is relative and can only be yours. Perhaps I was hasty and left out a few options. Label your possessions and put them in large containers. Letters and other paper ephemera can be collected and put all in one place. If you have much of this, then two or three large containers will do. If you can stand it, find the time to sub- organize; it will save time later. In other words, letters should be in one box and clippings and maybe cards in another. You divide and decide. It is, after all, your clutter.

Tell yourself that you need to have a clear path to the window and anything blocking must either be moved or gotten rid of. A true test of an organized attic is whether or not you can walk around in it. Dust is a given and should never be eliminated. It’s part of the clutter package. Tackle one project at a time. Whatever you have the most of should be organized first. (If it’s unwanted relatives or houseguests, I really can’t help you.) Don’t be whelmed by the task, as Mel Brooks used to say. It’ll get done. If you put it off much longer, all those things not in their place for the holidays will be in the part of the house where you want them. That might work for some. If you are among them, it is too late for you and may I say sincerely: "happy holidays."

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Copyright 2004