Baby steps toward unburdening myself of ‘stuff’

I’ve lived in this house for 35 years this year. I used to clean the attic out religiously every couple of years, but it has been many years since I last did that. It is way overdue.

The attic, which is directly above the kitchen, was built to be the sleeping loft in the original structure in the mid-19th century, and likely was accessed by a ladder or stairs from the main part of the cabin — what now is the kitchen.

The space did not become an attic until the second part of the house was built in the early 20th century. An access door was added, and to this day it is a little bit of a tricky move to enter it from the stairs leading to the bedrooms.

Access door to the attic.

Now the attic is full of stuff that probably should be trashed. My late husband Jim was emphatic about saving boxes that new possessions came in. I can understand the need to keep boxes from electronics that might have to be sent away for a repair, but not every box should be kept. Especially these days when it is less expensive to just get a replacement unit and take the old one to recycle.

I have tossed some boxes already.

There are suitcases with broken latches Jim wouldn’t let me throw out because he might get around to fixing them someday. That day never came, and the next time I clean out the attic, they are gone.

There are old files well beyond seven years old that should be shredded and discarded. The boxes of family memories need be stored better as old houses have mice that tend not to discriminate with their chewing and defecating.

Some of the treasures most precious to me — like the baby clothes my mother and grandmother made for my brother and me, my Barbie dolls with their homemade clothes including a ski set my grandmother knitted with tiny pink flowers in the collar of the pine green sweater, and my brother’s toy cars and trucks we spent hours playing with in the sandpile my mother and stepfather got for us for that purpose — are stored carefully in mouse-proof containers.

But there’s the toddler-sized wood rocking chair where I would sit “reading” my books before I could read, the wood doll-sized swing my father made for my baby dolls, and the antique bed we stored there that should come out and be seen.

There are lots of things I simply put in the attic “temporarily” to get them out of sight until I needed them again or could get around to cleaning out that storage area.

The trouble is the attic is at least a two-person job because of its location. One person needs to be in the attic to hand stuff out to a second person who is standing on the stairs, and the luxury would be to have “runners” to deposit items into the appropriate piles of keep, throw, or give away.

I will work that out when the time comes. Just know that the time is coming, and soon I hope.

In the rest of the house, I have accumulated furniture, mementos and other things, and the result is there is just way too much stuff. Its presence has become a burden and not a convenience or a pleasure.

Old farmhouses are notorious for not having much storage space anyway, so whatever a person has is out there for the world to see. When the original part of my house was built in the 1840s, people did not need closets for clothes. They used wall pegs to hold their change of work clothes and their Sunday best. They could not afford and did not need things that had no direct purpose in daily life.

Consequently, storage space was not at the top of their priority list. There were no closets at all in the bedrooms until I had them built in the 1980s, but there was no room to give them any real size.

I found these beautiful cabinets at the Maine State Prison store in Thomaston. They provide good space, but I still overflow them.

It’s kind of ironic that our modern life filled with “conveniences” seems to require so much more space, but a person can bring in only so many storage cabinets before the old farmhouse looks cluttered with storage cabinets.

And I refuse to rent off-site storage as some have.

It is a true dilemma, but one for which the obvious solution is to get rid of some stuff. Toward that end, I am trying to pay attention to what I actually use in the course of my daily life.

I’m also fortunate to have a good friend who is an excellent organizer and sorter of possessions who makes me face the real question: Why are you keeping this? She helped me get through my closet cleanouts, and that experience has given me courage to tackle smaller projects on my own.

Little did she know those were just warm-ups.

View of the attic from the attic doorway.

Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.