Minimalist Mama

Find the motivation to tackle the attic, basement or garage

The weather’s getting cooler and that gives me an opportunity to work on an area that might take longer than a few hours — the dreaded basement, attic or garage.

Every home seems to have a dumping space, that place where items go to be forgotten but not discarded. This month, I explore ways to declutter the storage areas in our home.

But first, some tips.

Plan ahead

If you know you plan on discarding a lot of items, consider renting a Dumpster for a short time or know the hours the transfer station is open so you can toss the items yourself. Some private trash haulers will accept additional items for a fee, so check first before you get too many trash piles started.

Enlist help if you can

The more hands to help move and sort through items, the less likely you will get overwhelmed and quit too soon. Make it a party — serve pizzas or other fun foods to entice your friends and family to help. Professional organizer Peter Walsh recommends a “labor exchange” with friends and family: Tackle your space one weekend, theirs the next.

Set a timer

Determine if you are going to spend 1 hour, 3 hours or more and then stick to it. Knowing there is a time limit often helps keep up the motivation and ensures the project does not get too overwhelming.

Continue to sort as you did throughout the rest of the house: keep, trash and donate. This time you may want to add another box for “goes somewhere else.” You can put these items where they belong AFTER your timer is up; otherwise, you’ll just get distracted putting things away.

If you’re working in a large space like a garage or basement, consider laying down blankets or tarps to keep your items corralled for each “pile.” It’s easy to make some quick decisions: throw out outgrown toys, broken items, expired household supplies or anything you haven’t used in two or more years. If you are keeping items, sort them into broad categories that you can deal with later.

Start with items with which you have the least emotional and sentimental attachment: tools, half-empty paint cans, sporting equipment, holiday decorations and so on. Some local nonprofits gladly accept these items and will even pick them up. Do a little research before you get started so you know how to sort.

If you’ve used the “box it and banish it” method, determine if this is when you tackle those items, but be warned that this is not the time to go through old photographs and reminisce over high school yearbooks — save those for later. By not pausing to let emotions get in the way, you can make progress and see immediate results.

Determine what your storage system will be once the space is cleared out. That may mean you need to buy additional shelving units or plastic totes. But don’t rush out to buy them until you know exactly what you will be storing. Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist makes a great point: Don’t store or “organize” stuff you should be discarding.

Why use plastic totes instead of free boxes? Purchasing totes of the same size and shape make it easier to stack and organize — you can even color code them if you like, red and green for holiday decorations, or a favorite color for each member of the family. Using plastic bins helps ensure that critters or insects can’t easily access nesting materials like paper and fabric in sealed plastic bins.

Ask yourself: How many do I need? Do you need 12 screwdrivers if you only use two? Psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less,” offers a great perspective for learning how to not add new items to recently purged spaces.

Once you have your piles, schedule your giveaways and donation pickups as soon as possible to get these items out of your home. Now is not the time to “save this for a yard sale.” If you know you have some items of value that can be sold online or at a garage sale, put them in a designated area of the garage or basement but mark your calendar to deal with them in the spring.

When organizing a garage or basement, get the kids involved to help sort and organize smaller items such as nuts, bolts, nails and screws. Creating an organized storage system for these items will make it easier to find them the next time you need to use them. If you don’t have a storage unit for small items, repurposed Tupperware-style containers from the kitchen work well – and help remove them from your kitchen!

Next month, we tackle bathrooms, from towels to cabinets. Share any tips you have for decluttering at Minimalist ­

Minimalist Mama is published on the first Sunday of each month in the Lifestyle section. Brigandi can be reached at