How do I attack 7 years worth of stuff?
June 16, 2011 11:02 AM   Subscribe

It's been seven years in this big ol' rented house with a rotating cast of roommates. What's my best strategy for not only sorting out and packing up my stuff, but going through the lurking horrors of the basement, attic, and other spaces?

I've only lived one other place since I moved out of my parent's house at 20, and now I'm 28 and totally stoked on moving into a new place with my new partner. We're planning our move for the end of July, so I have a month and a half to whip this place into moveable shape.

Here are the main spaces I'm thinking of:
-Main basement space gets wet floors in the winter, and it's filled with boxes that will likely have grossness on the bottom.
-There's a smaller room in the basement that used to hold my "art stuff", but that got out of control and is rarely entered, any more.
-The attic has boxes and hanging racks of old clothes and linens.
-Several bookcases full of books, and more books in piles and along usable bookholding surfaces.
-A very full closet.
-A kitchen with a lot of superfluous stuff.
-There's accumulated rusty tools and old barbecues outside, along with miscellaneous garden stuff.
-There's old art projects and papers all over the place, in drawers and desks and folders, and It'd be nice to get those on track, too.
- I also have a lot of ephemera; hanging art and quirky things an interesting vintage stuff. I think I can figure out what I want and don't want, but it's a notable entity in this cleaning situation.

What should my cleaning strategy be? I'm excited to pick out the best and brightest stuff that I do want to take with me to this new place, but I don't want to do all the fun parts first and then get totally thrashed by the work of sorting through everything else. Room by room, theme by theme (all the clothes at once, all the papers at once?), alternating easy and not so easy? Perhaps I'd want to "reward" some hard slogs through the basement and attic with more "fun" sorting, like books and stuff?

I don't have a car, so trips to dumps and donation drop-offs will need to be scheduled for the hours when I can get a vehicle to use, not just a couple of boxes every day.
posted by redsparkler to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Going through and taking the fun stuff first might not be a bad idea. Box up all the fabulous stuff that you will bring, then just leave the rest for awhile. Let your friends pick through it. And what is left, the dregs, you can just toss. Finally, when the house is empty (or even when it is in the 'dregs' stage), invite your friends for pizza and beer to help you clean.

This will take the task of sorting completely out of the equation.
posted by Vaike at 11:11 AM on June 16, 2011

Are you looking to clean up and throw away, organize and trash, catalog/save/pack or what ? Not sure, based on your question.

You can rent dumpsters - there are a zillion places that do it. Then, throw stuff out into them.

My organization strategy is along the lines of: if I haven't used it in over a year, it can go. That seems to apply to most of your rooms here.

When cleaning: DON'T STOP TO LOOK AT EVERY LITTLE DIDDY. You'll never toss the shit and you'll get overwhelmed. Snap judgements, where 95% of the time you should say "toss this".. Otherwise, if you do pack up all your knickknacks, you're well on your way to a special episode of hoarders..

Don't quibble too much over "but it might be worth something" - selling can be a PITA, just toss it. Freecycle if you want (that's our usual answer), otherwise out it goes.

Based on your description, the art room would be the biggest heart-ache to throw away. Refer to the caps above.
posted by k5.user at 11:16 AM on June 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Minimize the number of times you handle any one item. Establish three large short-term storage spaces, preferably in rooms near exterior doors, preferably near the driveway: Keep, Donate & Trash. Get a bunch of cardboard boxes. In an area that you're cleaning up, have one box labeled "keep," one box labeled "donate," and one trash can open at any given time. Sort into those containers. When a box or trash can fills up, immediately take it to its short-term storage area and get a replacement container. Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by jon1270 at 11:18 AM on June 16, 2011

Many places that take donations offer pick-up service. Also, if you think you may have enough trash to make it worth it, think about renting a roll-off dumpster. They drop it off, you call them back to pick it up and the fee includes transport and rental of the dumpster as well as disposal of the contents.

Set aside a room or space for packed items and another for donations. I would get that grossness out of the way first and then hit the art room and then the attic. Basically, any areas you don't see regularly so you have plenty of time to get rid of things or just clean them up. Then when you have the hidden areas done, I would go by category. When you start packing early, go with the least used items first: christmas decorations, winter gear if you are in the Northern Hemisphere, etc.

For pictures and other big framed stuff, there is a product called a frame box that is really four boxes that fit over the corners of a frame (or many frames) and overlap to cover the entire thing. You tape the middle vertically and horizontally and you are all set.
posted by soelo at 11:22 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would move from the areas and stuff you use the least to the areas you use every day (from the attic to the kitchen, for example).

With stuff you don't use every day, consider sorting and packing as a single step, rather than going through stuff now and packing it later.

Ask friends to help you. Having a level-headed person sit with you while you go through things is a huge, huge help. They can ask the pointed questions to help you decide whether to keep things and most of all keep you on track and action-focused.

Going through stuff is exhausting. Don't try to spend eight straight hours at it. Set a timer. Do it in one- or two-hour chunks, then take a break.

Make sure you have an ample supply of moving boxes, tape and markers, contractor-grade trashbags, and boxes/bags for giveaway. Consider buying a bunch of clear plastic tubs for stuff you're going to keep -- they are waterproof, easy to stack, and you can see what's inside them.

Identify and label staging areas in your house for packed boxes, stuff that is going to Goodwill, things that are going to other people. Also make sure you have capacity for the trash you're going to generate. If necessary, get a couple of trashcans, or find a dumpster.

As you begin working on each area, make sure you have a box or bag for each of the following:

* Keep (pack)
* Throw away (landfill trash)
* Recycle (paper etc.)
* Give away (Goodwill or whatnot -- this will be the biggest category)
* Give to someone specific (avoid this category if possible, as each item you put in this box creates a task to get it to the right person)

The friend who is helping you is in charge of taking bags and boxes as they get full to the staging area or out to the trash, and bringing you fresh ones.

Your goal is to spend as little time as possible with each item: just long enough to decide which box it goes into. Focus on maintaining momentum -- don't let yourself settle down to read your old journals or play those great old records.

Good luck! It's a great process -- way better than therapy, in my opinion, and you'll feel great when it's done.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:24 AM on June 16, 2011

Set a goal of spending a certain amount of time and then stop and do something fun. If you set a goal of finishing a room, you'll get frustrated and burned out if it takes a long time.

Rule of thumb: break for 15 minutes for every 45 of work. But don't spend all day at it.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:25 AM on June 16, 2011

Response by poster: I was worried that I had played it too cool with my question; I forgot to mention my ADD tendencies and the nagging fear that somehow none of this will get done until the last minute and it will be crazy awful.

However! These comments are exactly the sort of things I'm looking for!

There's a no-mans-room on the main floor that will make a perfect staging area, so that's a total go.
posted by redsparkler at 11:34 AM on June 16, 2011

I wasn't in quite as dire a situation, but I did just move from an over-packed apartment that had been collecting stuff since I moved in. My tactic was really similar to ottereroticist. I'll add two pieces of advice:

* I started ASAP (for you, that would be like today) with the least-used room (for you, this sounds like the art room). Temporarily store boxes in a closet or your bedroom till you get this room emptied out. Once it's cleared, you can use it to store boxes or items for donation. Move from least-used to most-used room.

* if it belongs to someone else (something that may be possible with the fact that you hae had tons of roommates) we put it in a box with their name on it. Or, if you'll never see them again, just donate it or throw it away.

I forgot to mention my ADD tendencies and the nagging fear that somehow none of this will get done until the last minute and it will be crazy awful

I can sympathize. Start right now! Get some boxes/bins and some tape and a black sharpie and some trashbags and start, like, tomorrow. It's better to get done early than to be scrambling. In our recent move, we had packed up 10 boxes of books, knick-knacks, and artwork before we even put an offer on a new place. Do at least 30 minutes of sorting/packing/cleaning every day.
posted by muddgirl at 11:38 AM on June 16, 2011

Best answer: I have moved lots and lots of times, so I haven't had the experience of going through 7 years worth of stuff, I do know how to efficiently pack for a move.

First anything that has been on the wet basement floor you throw away. Don't even open the boxes. Just toss them. I had to move out of a flooded basement apartment and that is what I did. Yes you will probably wish you had something from one of those boxes, but obviously there is nothing crucial in those boxes or they wouldn't be sitting on a wet basement floor. Right? Just toss them. You can replace something if you find you need your xyz widget two years later.

Yes to having three containers/boxes/bags whatever with you for "keep" "donate" "garbage." Take your donation items before you move a few boxes/bags at a time. This is very important. Nothing is worse than having tons of help to move and then everyone leaves and you realize you have 3 carloads to take to Goodwill or wherever. Be liberal with your donate and garbage containers. Donate your books! Donate your clothes! Be super particular with your keep boxes. Start today and set a timer or listen to a podcast or something. When the podcast ends or your timer goes off that is it for the day. Do this every day until d-day.

If you find you are filling up your garbage cans, but don't want to rent a roll off dumpster and you live near large apartment complexes with multiple dumpsters out source your garbage. Don't know about the legalities of this, but, uh, some people I know may have had success with this strategy in the past.

Keep like boxes with like. Art stuff near other art stuff, kitchen stuff with kitchen stuff. That will make unpacking that much easier and you can try to direct the boxes to their correct locations in the new place.

Good luck! I just moved for the 5th time in 4 years so I feel for ya!
posted by ephemerista at 11:42 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have moved more times to more places then i care to count and I'll tell you right now that it's a lot of work, and you better start now.

pro-tip: If you haven't opened a box, touched an item, or worn the clothes in the past year then throw it out. (If you have a room full of art supplies that you haven't touched in years then you obviously are not enjoying the stuff so you should give it to those who will.)

like others have said: put time in every day.

And for the love of everything you hold dear, pack those books in small boxes.
posted by zombieApoc at 12:20 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Boxes that used to hold handles of liquor are awesome for books. It will take approximately 1 million boxes to pack up one bookcase, but they are so much easier to move.
posted by muddgirl at 12:36 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Good point on small boxes for books -- or any kind of papers. People's eyes are bigger than their biceps when packing. There is almost nothing that should go in a very large box (say, dorm fridge size and up) unless it's exclusively linens or loosely folded clothing.

Winnowing is really important. You'll be amazed at how liberated you feel to get rid of stuff like those really old magazines you'll never go back to.

Generously estimate the number of boxes (and consequent time) you will need. I once packed up my apartment "halfway" into 25 boxes, and in the end filled up close to 125 (a lot of books I wish I'd winnowed, among other things). If I'd had any idea it would be so many I'd have been at least twice as far along by moving day; if I hadn't had my family to help me I'd have been lost.

It can help to make a note of the contents of boxes. Not just by labeling them, but by numbering them, using color-coded stickers and a legal pad to cross-reference. A typical way to move from house to house is doing a "like to like" sort, e.g. kitchen items to kitchen, but that may not work so well in your case.
posted by dhartung at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2011

You're moving out of a shared house. Is everyone else moving, too? The key thing to know here is, don't be the last one out! This wisdom is the result of breaking up a 3-bedroom household after 1 yr (me), roommate N: 2 yrs, roommate P: 9 yrs. What a nightmare of all P's stuff and all P's former housemates' stuff!

As soon as you start exploring you will likely find all sorts of relics (Why is this here, wasn't this lamp Jon's? Oh, the guy before Jon, and then he gave it to Jon and he just left it? Why didn't he throw it out?) Don't assume they have intrinsic value just because lazybutt Jon didn't haul it to the curb. Throw out with a vengeance or - depending on how much time you have and how gracious you are to your other roommates - just ignore. Try not to accidentally leave any of your stuff in the pile, and remember, it's better to throw it out than donate it to the house unless your housemates specifically ask for it.

ps - most office supply stores have banker's boxes 6/$10 or so, and that's about the perfect size for packing boxes of books if you're willing to throw some money at it.
posted by aimedwander at 1:58 PM on June 16, 2011

Nthing that you need to do a high-level blitz-sort, not a detailed one where you're looking at every individual item. After my mother's death I blitzed through about 4/5 of her stuff (before I hit the "my brain cannot make another single decision" point and just boxed up the rest of it to deal with later) and got rid of most of it.

Seventeen years later, out of the contents of a three-bedroom house with large closets and an exterior storage shed, there are only three items I regret not keeping.

And never, never label a box "MISC". If a thing isn't important enough to classify it more precisely than "MISC" you should toss it. Otherwise you'll wind up a year after the move finally opening up the "MISC" box or boxes and wondering "Why on earth did I bother to pack and move this?" Similarly, any box labeled "KITCHEN JUNK DRAWER" should be moved from the kitchen straight into a dumpster.

The boxes that reams of copier paper come in are as good as bankers' boxes and can be gotten for free if you or any of your friends work in an office or anywhere similar. Or you might go chat up the employees at the local copy shop to find out how they dispose of their boxes.
posted by Lexica at 2:01 PM on June 16, 2011

Last time we moved we got a couple of Bagsters. These are smaller and cheaper than a full rollaway dumpster, and a little easier to manage.
posted by jeoc at 3:05 PM on June 16, 2011

When in doubt, throw it out.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:14 PM on June 16, 2011

Barnes & Noble has been my seekrit squirrel source for excellent book boxes. They're a good size. No handles, but hey, they're MADE for books. Call your nearest and ask if you can have some. Most of them have a recycling dumpster out back that you can wade through at will.
posted by clone boulevard at 8:43 PM on June 16, 2011

Best answer: Being the Last Roommate Standing in a house share is always a pain. But! All that stuff? Is now *yours*. Which is bad, because wow do you have a lot of stuff, but it's good because you get to decide what to do with it and you don't have to wait for anyone else's input.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking, "Well, this is Bob's toaster oven, I should call him and see if he still wants it before I get rid of it." If Bob wanted it, he would have taken it with him, or called you about it five years ago when he moved out. Just treat everything as though it was yours.

I like alternating slog with fun, but I find it easiest to get the kitchen done at one time, and the bathroom done at one time.

And yeah, throw out all the basement boxes and give away anything you haven't touched in the past year.
posted by mgar at 12:25 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

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