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August 07, 2012


Marcia Talley

Dana, I had to laugh because I've just spent a month clearing out our basement. With my mother-in-law's death, we inherited THREE housefuls of furniture and family papers, the remains of which (after distribution to children, etc.) were seemingly multiplying down there after I turned out the lights. In addition to the "foul matter" from every book I've had published, I found a red rope folder of all my college papers, one entirely in French (La Vie de Stendhal dans ses Oeuvres). Whoa! I used to be fluent!! After a neighborhood garage sale (the proceeds of which paid for my new iPad) we called College Hunks Hauling Junk who were precisely as advertised. All gone now! What did amaze me were old letters, evidence from the mid 70s that I was talking about it, dreaming of being a mystery author one day, way earlier than I now remember.

Hold on to those comix, by the way ... they could be valuable!

Karen in Ohio

Oh, dear, that is a job, isn't it? I did it several years ago, after also cleaning out my in-laws' home of nearly 70 years. I decided not to do that same thing to my own children.

My best tip: as long as you're shredding all those documents, anyway, use the shredded paper to mulch your garden. It makes one of the best mulches I've ever used. Shades the soil, and allows water to penetrate but doesn't let weeds grow. And when it starts breaking down it encourages earthworms, which is also good for the soil.


Marcia, I found a slew of assignments from my Japanese language classes; I can't even read a menu, now! Love that you rediscovered the roots of your passion for mystery writing in your letters! We're selling the comics, btw, using the Overstreet guide; it's adding up, quickly.

Karen, what a great tip! I never would have thought of it, but it makes perfect sense. Thank you!


Due to soil conditions or seismic activity, I've never had a basement, and I've always envied those of you who do. Dana, you've confirmed my belief that you can avoid the stuff in basements longer than what's in a garage or a closet in the house because you have to face them more often. Still, we went through years of things when we moved from CA to AZ. It really is like tracing a road map to forgotten parts of your life. I would add that it's good to make a "second look" pile with some things. I question some of what I kept, and wish I'd reconsidered some of what I gave away or sold.


What's down in my basement? A nightmare. I culled it once in 1997 when it flooded, but haven't since. I actually went down there recently and found a news article I had written as a reporter in college. I've been out of college 28 years. Thanks for the cleaning tips. I know I'll use them when I screw up my courage to go down there again.

Sheila Connolly

My basement is too damp for paper storage, so all that stuff is in the (hot, dirty, stuffy) attic. I've actually been pretty good about culling my old papers, but where I get stuck is my grandmother's papers. Yes, I have all of her diaries, checkbooks and financial records for the last few decades of her life (she died at 94). I delude myself that I'm planning to write a biography of her, based upon the checks she wrote to Tiffany's, Saks Fifth Avenue, et cetera. (The reality? I can't bear to part with them.)


Kris, the "second look pile" was part of what we did the last time we cleaned. Some of the stuff was worth hanging on to!

Joan, I bet you'll find lots of surprises when you go to clean--it's just like a time capsule!

Sheila,what a trove! That would be a fascinating project!

Toni L.P. Kelner

I'm rotten at big culls--can't make myself do them very often. So I try to do mini daily culls. As in five items a day. (Today one will be this shirt I'm wearing--what was I thinking at the store five years ago?)

My mantra is, "If we were moving out of state tomorrow, which of this would I bother to pack?" If I wouldn't take it to a new home, I don't need it in my old home.

We always have a pile gathering in the front hall, and when we get enough, I call one of the charities to come pick it all up.


Toni, that's good advice! I love that various organizations make it so easy to find a new home for stuff!

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