October is always a great time for a last pre-winter organizing push. The weather is usually cooperating, the time hasn’t changed yet and since you’ll be facing the ghouls and goblins of Halloween soon anyway, you may as well face the spiders and skeletons in your closets, attics, basements and garages.
If you have deferred big organizing projects for too long, be prepared for some loss. Things improperly stored can be damaged beyond redemption. I had a client who had stored photographs in plastic containers in a shed and the heat had created condensation that literally washed the images right off the paper, turning the photos into a sticky, unrecognizable mess. Another had put off going through an overstuffed closet only to find that carpet beetles—those teeny bugs that munch clothing faster than moths—had gotten there first.
Lots of self-help books urge us to take on the biggest, scariest projects first. If you empty the metaphorical house of horrors—for most people it’s the garage–you will feel like a kitchen cupboard or a hall closet is a walk in the park.
Here’s some tips for making a spooky organizing project a success:
Give yourself plenty of uninterrupted time—a whole day or weekend. Put it on the calendar, tell your family it’s happening, and mentally prepare yourself.
Gather trash receptacles in advance. That could be bags, boxes, a pick-up bed or a whole dumpster, depending on the project.
Line up your helpers. If you are going to need hauling help, schedule it way in advance. You’re not the only one getting rid of stuff in the Napa Valley—these services book fast. They are also not cheap. If you are on a budget, call around to borrow a truck if needed or at least make sure the trunk of your car is available. Dump fees have gone up. Prepare for the costs.
Pre-plan your donation options. Gone are the days you could just show up and drop off at Goodwill or Salvation Army. Donation sites are overwhelmed and turning people away. This should make all of us reconsider what we are donating. It wasn’t so long ago that it was considered acceptable to donate something stained or torn or a non-working appliance. Unfortunately, most of this stuff belongs in the trash, sent to e-waste or—at best—properly recycled.
If you have truly nice things that could be resold, such as in-season clothing not more than two years old or sturdy, attractive furniture, you can find a home for it at a consignment store or a smaller hospice or church donation site. Make phone calls to these places, don’t just show up or you will waste a lot of time (and gas).
On the day of, wear comfortable, appropriate clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty, stained or torn. You might be encountering paints and oils, nails and sharp objects, dust and dirt, so you don’t want to be worried about your clothing. Wear gloves to protect your hands.
Have cleaning supplies ready. Broom, blower (great for garages), vacuum, rags, glass cleaner, soap and water are standards. Hand-held vacuums are great for drawers and cupboards. Make sure everything is charged or has batteries before you start. Don’t let little things like an uncharged Dust Buster derail your project.
One thing you don’t want to overdo in advance is buy containers. Everybody wants to do the shopping first because that’s the easy part. It will really serve you to wait and see what is left once you’ve cleaned out, that way you will know exactly the size, shape and type of container that you need. A lot of times you will have to break up a category—like summer outdoor pillows—into several containers. It’s better to go with a few slightly smaller containers than one ginormous container that is difficult to lift and doesn’t fit any of your shelving.
Mystery is great in an episode of Scooby Doo, but one of my favorite things about organizing is that it gets into the dark places—the places that can be scary whether it’s spiders you might be encountering or memorabilia you wish wasn’t memorable, like a wedding dress from a short, disastrous marriage. Once you shed light on these areas and deal with them, there’s no shadows and secrets weighing you down. The Halloween candy, however, is another story.