By Jennifer Kelly Geddes
Dec 30, 2021

(Getty Images)

No matter how organized you are, there are certain types of clutter that are almost impossible to purge—even for professional organizers.

Often these are dark, less-trafficked areas of the home such as attics, basements, or garages. Decluttering these spots often falls dead last on everyone’s to-do list, and even the experts often let these messes slide.

“I’d call these spots ‘lower priority’ since I’d rather spend my organizing time and decorating budget on the parts of my home where I spend time and that I enjoy every single day,” says Darla DeMorrow, author of “Organizing Your Home with SORT and SUCCEED.”

Still, cleaning up these last holdouts can be particularly satisfying since it’s a sign you truly have your house in order. And if you’re hoping to sell your home soon, it’s a must. Curious where these clutter traps are hiding? Here are a few that you (and even professional organizers) may have, and how to purge them for good.

1. Holiday decor in the attic

Photo by Truorder 

Jeanine Boiko, a New York real estate agent, used to have attic eaves that were literal showpieces for her holiday decor.

“They were all nice and organized with everything in place in plastic tubs. Plus, there was plenty of room,” she says. But over the years, the holiday collection grew—and the pretty space became a disaster.

“Now it’s so packed, I actually just toss things in and quickly close the door behind me so it’s out of sight, out of mind,” she says.

The fix: Make a promise to tackle this spot before the holidays, or at the least while you unpack to put up your lights and ornaments. If anything doesn’t go up, that means there’s no reason to keep it.

Boiko already reports that she has a plan in place to keep, toss, and donate much of her holiday gear. You can also check with friends and family to see whether they’d like to shop your lights and tinsel before they decorate for the holidays. This way, you can lighten your load while helping others get into the holiday spirit.

2. Important files in the basement

Photo by Tailorly, Professional Home Organizing 

If Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Ida taught us anything, it’s that basements should be verboten when it comes to storing anything of value. Tax returns, delicate artwork, precious mementos, and irreplaceable photographs are just some of the important items that can fall prey to water damage if stashed in this area.

The fix: If the basement is the only spot you have to store the bulk of your paperwork, be certain it’s in waterproof bins that are up on high shelves. It’s best, of course, to remove anything of value from a place that’s prone to wetness. However, if you can’t do this, at least protect your files as best you can.

3. Mystery boxes you never opened from your last move

Fact: Too many homeowners move to a new house with boxes from their old one that they never opened. Carting unpacked crap from home to home only serves to perpetuate a cluttered existence when your goals should be a fresh start with no mystery boxes in tow.

The fix: Stop stalling and open them this weekend! Decide what you want to keep and what can be donated. If you’re faced with a mountain of cardboard, make a plan to unpack a couple of boxes at a time, chipping away weekly at the pile until it’s finally gone.

4. Tools and paint

Photo by Closet & Storage Concepts – NJ, PA & DE 

In the organizing world, there’s a difference between “organized for show” and “organized enough,” says DeMorrow. And her tools and paint are squarely in the latter category.

“It’s not magazine-ready, and that doesn’t bother me, because I know where everything is, which is all off the floor and grouped,” she says.

The fix: If you have similar groupings of stuff that speak to you and you’re fine with these piles, then you do you. But if you have a chance to make a dent in this clutter, give it go.

For DeMorrow, this meant finally tossing a load when she recently moved her shelving units from one side of the space to the other.

“We’re in the process of reclaiming part of the basement for a teen hangout,” she explains. “So I was able to get rid of about a dozen dried-up paint cans, and that made me very happy.”

5. Mudroom shoes and backpacks

Photo by Ashley Elliot Design 

Marty Basher, the organizing pro at Modular Closets, lives and breathes smart storage. And yet even his best intentions can’t tame the mudroom he’s arranged for his family between the kitchen and garage.

“Part of the problem is that it’s fairly hidden so no one really sees the clutter that ensues,” he admits. “But we’re constantly reminded every time we trip on a shoe or backpack when we head through the mudroom on the way to the garage.”

The fix: Basher has worked diligently to create a home for every item (think cubbies, drawers, wall hooks), but still certain things never make it to their designated areas. If you’ve installed every organizing product you can think of to corral this spot’s clutter, try Basher’s Plan B.

“It really comes down to enlisting the family to work together, which means a quick 10 minutes a day should keep the mudroom in check,” he says.