So often when I arrive at an organizing job a door is opened onto a dark, uninviting space filled with stacks of dusty, slumping boxes and detritus. It’s usually a garage, attic, barn or basement. Even though I have seen so many of these spaces by now, it’s always overwhelming at first. But I have the physical, mental and emotional took kit to overcome the overwhelm and in the process can even find some fun on the way to done.
First, you’ve got to dress appropriately. Usually dusty, these spaces can also be oily, damp, rusty and otherwise generally dirty. Wear clothes you don’t care about. It’s amazing how much more quickly you can move when you’re not worried about staining your pants or snagging your sweater. Gloves keep your hands safe and clean, ditto enclosed shoes for your feet.
Dress warm enough and in layers. Napa Valley summers always shock tourists with how chilly the mornings can be, and even we locals forget that a 100 degree day usually starts with a 50 degree morning. That said, once you get moving you will heat up quickly, thus the layers.
Have water, caffeinated beverages and light snacks easily available for breaks. Little treats really make the work more pleasurable, but keep it light—heavy foods will make you sleepy. Also, tissue for the sneezing that the dust might cause, eye drops and any allergy medicines are good to have at the ready.
Make sure you start with tools you might need easily accessible. Typical items required on these types of jobs are scissors, box cutters, shipping tape, trash bags, a labeler, Post-it notes, a Sharpie pen. A broom, vacuum, dust rags and other cleaning supplies could come in handy too.
The mental tool kit consists of knowing where to start. Basically, start anywhere. I usually start with the easiest thing, which is collecting any obvious trash and recycling and getting that out of the space first. From there move on to the surfaces of things before starting to open drawers, cupboards and boxes.
If you dump the contents from boxes, cupboards and drawers out into an already chaotic space, it becomes quite daunting. Clear a table or counter first so that you have a pleasant place to sort. If there are no tables or counters in the space, consider bringing in a folding table as a work space. Not having to crouch on the floor or bend over to sort through boxes is a huge part of making the job more comfortable and prevents a lot of aches and pains later.
Be sure you have enough light. If there’s not enough light in the space to work and feel emotionally comfortable, bring in some standing lamps for additional illumination. Emotionally, dark corners and the unknown—there might be spiders and rodents lurking about—make a project really scary and unappealing. Light can at least take away the mystery and if there are unwanted creatures, you can deal with them and move on.
A timer is also a good mental and emotional tool. Tell yourself you will work for an hour, then take a ten minute break and watch a snippet of a favorite show or have a little snack and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Letting yourself get too thirsty zaps your energy. Sometimes plain still water is more energizing than caffeine if you’re dehydrated.
Another tool for the emotional component is music. Music can keep you company and lift your spirits when working on a less than pleasant job in your least favorite space. Even better company than Spotify—helpers! If you know you will need someone to haul away trash and donations, do your research before you start to find out who will take what and what the cost will be. Then be sure to schedule them in advance.
My favorite way to keep spirits up when organizing an unappealing space is to imagine how it might be completely transformed. Clearing and cleaning a dismal garage, attic or basement might be the first step in creating a home gym, an office, an art studio or a guest room. Day dream about how you might paint, put in a window, change the flooring. At the very least, when it comes to the garage, imagine how great your freshly washed car might look parked inside.