What to Store in Your Attic

I saved my 2nd grade Valentines for about 25 years.

I’m not terribly proud of that fact.

I didn’t intend to save them that long. I just decided to keep them at the end of the 2nd grade. I remember telling my parents they were really important, but I didn’t want to keep them in my room (my brother was making fun of me for hanging on to them).

So my parents stored them in the attic, where my brother and I discovered them when we went through our childhood home before it was sold. 25 years later.

And you know what is worse than your 11 y.o. brother making fun of you for keeping your 2nd grade Valentines for 6 months? It’s your 35 y.o. brother making fun of you for keeping them for 25 years.

But perhaps it was worth it, because when I opened the box, I was filled with sweet nostalgia as I tremblingly held cherished notes full of young love from so long ago.

Wait, that’s not what happened. The Valentines were disgusting – even though they were sealed up, I guess a quarter century of oven-like heat and attic filth took their toll. Plus they didn’t even say anything – just some stupid pre-printed message with a crappy 2nd grader’s signature. I shook my head in disbelief that I ever thought these would be worth saving. I felt pretty embarrassed and was glad no one would ever know about this (then my brother looked over my shoulder and said, “What’s that?”).

Looking back, I did miss a good comedic opportunity. I’m not much of a Facebooker, but I should have seized the chance to connect with some of the ladies who had given me Valentines. None of whom, btw, I have spoken to since grade school.

Hi! Remember me? I was hoping you and I could connect and catch up. I was just going through my 2nd grade Valentines again and REALLY like the one you sent me (see attached picture). It says you want to be my Valentine. WELL, DO YOU? DO YOU WANT TO BE MY VALENTINE?

That would have been funny.

Anyway, cleaning out my Valentines and all of the other crap that was in the attic made something very clear to me: when you store something up in your attic, you’re really just throwing it away. It may take years, or even decades, but it’s most assuredly on its way to the landfill.

The Attic: Worst Time Capsule Ever

Here in North Texas, an attic can hit 160 degrees in the summer. Our winter lows can, on rare occasion, get down to 0. In fact, Texas may have one of the most extreme attic temperature differentials in the world (State of Texas – you’re welcome for your new slogan).

Your attic may not see quite the same extremes, but it will get hotter than you’d ever want for anything you value.

There’s also the risk of insects and other pests getting in your stuff.

Plus, an attic can get pretty filthy. You may think that’s not a big deal, ‘cause you’ll seal stuff in plastic, right?

Maybe not. Over time, plastic will dry, crack, and flake away. My brother and I found some loose items covered with what looked like filthy black confetti. We both grabbed a handful (staining our hands black, btw) and looked at each other in confusion. Finally we solved the mystery – it was just the shredded remnants of black plastic garbage bags, and their precious cargo was as delightfully preserved as you’d imagine. (Fun note: I had also kept some of my childhood stuffed animals in one. Yes, they were lovely. And yes, I had a childhood hoarding problem.)

There may be worse places to store your stuff than your attic. A swamp and an active volcano come to mind. But sealing things up waterproof and burying in your backyard might be a better one, and that highlights how terrible your attic is.

What to Store in Your Attic

The short answer is: nothing.

The long answer is: things you don’t care about much, and which can survive extreme heat, pests, and filth, and which you’ll actually use on some future day. That should be a short list, and if you don’t really care about it, why are you storing it anyway?

The only items that make the cut for me are hardy seasonal items and cheap suitcases. These are good because I’ll see and use them at least annually, and if they melt or are attacked by rats, I won’t mind that much.

If you don’t have a reason to go into the attic to look for something, you’re going to forget about it. The next time you’ll see it is when you move. You don’t need it in your daily life, or you wouldn’t be storing it in your attic in the first place. And if you’re keeping a bunch of crap because you think your kids will want it, let me answer for them and say, “No, we don’t.” Clearing out the attic of my childhood home taught me that.

Important keepsakes should be kept someplace nice (even a garage is an idyllic paradise in comparison). Things you think you need in your daily life should, you know, be used in your daily life. Things you don’t need shouldn’t stick around, even if you do have room for them in the attic.

The Attic as Purgatory

Most things you put in your attic are either already garbage or will become garbage while up there. So use them, donate them (interesting note: donation centers prefer to get items before 25 years in the attic, not after), or throw them away. Skip the middle step of storing them for years.

Though clearing out an attic’s worth of junk was not pleasant, I’m thankful because it made me much wiser. Almost everything we found was thrown away, and the small handful of stuff we wanted to keep should have never been stored in an attic and was much worse for the wear.

In fact, the only thing of true value found that day wasn’t a physical thing at all. It was the richly entertaining story of me saving my 2nd grade Valentines for a quarter century. My brother prizes that most highly, and, unlike the stuff in the attic, it seems to get even better with age.


What do you store in your attic? Can you top my 2nd grade Valentines for worst memento ever? Was your brother mean to you too? Let me know in the comments.


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