Finding a Place for Everything

One of the great traps of the basement is that it can be easy to stash items away without really paying attention to how items are grouped. This can be especially troublesome if several members of the family are doing the same thing. Pretty soon, your basement or attic becomes a jungle that nobody wants to navigate.

A cluttered basement.


As in every part of your home, you'll want to try to crack down on clutter in these areas. The basement will seem much more manageable after you've gotten rid of the excess. If members of your family are open to getting rid of some of the items in your basement, you might consider assigning each family member the task of finding five or ten items to give away. You could even make it a race against each other or against the clock. If you're all working together, the project can move at a steady clip. That said, one rule stands: nobody is allowed to get rid of other people's possessions. The game can turn ugly pretty fast if family members are insensitive in this regard. Make sure all of the rules are clear from the beginning.

An organized basement.

Finding a Home for Your Possessions

Usually basements and attics are not very well-planned spaces. As you consider the items in your basement, it might be helpful to begin to think of them in terms of groupings — like items, such as sports equipment, wrapping paper and ribbons, or toys can be placed together so that they will be easier to find. Consider drawing a diagram of how and where you'd like items to be stored.

As you begin to organize your possessions into groupings, think about what types of storage might work. Sometimes you might be able to increase storage capacity by changing the arrangement of the storage devices you already own. Bookshelves that are placed perpendicular to the wall, for example, can increase storage and can help differentiate the space.

Even if you have ample lighting in your basement, keep a high-intensity, battery-powered flashlight near the entrance. If you lose power, you might need to access your fuse box, hot water heater, or furnace. Check the flashlight batteries monthly.

As you consider different storage zones, organize your belongings according to category, such as “holidays,” “sports,” “memorabilia,” and so on. There are some items that might be in your attic or basement for purely sentimental reasons. If you need to hold on to these items, there are a few things you could do to reduce the physical space they consume.

You can create a memorabilia box for each family member. Whatever the size of the box, you would seek to limit the amount of items saved to what you could fit in that box. Ideally, the box would be plastic to protect fragile paper or photographs. While it can be worthwhile to hold on to items of sentimental value, it's best to put some kind of system into place that will force you to be selective. Another idea is to take a picture of items that have sentimental value but you know will never have a place in your home. Instead of holding on to the actual item, you can hold on to the photo (or better yet — you can store the image on your computer). This compromise will allow you to retain a link to the memory or person that the item represents without using precious storage.

Here are some guidelines for storing items:

  • Clean, package, and/or launder the items. Items that go into storage in good condition are more apt to stay that way longer. Polish your jewelry or silver flatware before storing it.

  • Categorize.

  • Sort and place similar items together.

  • Place items in appropriate (airtight) storage containers, which come in a variety of sizes.

  • Label. Mark each carton, container, or item with a descriptive label that's easily visible. For example, “Summer Clothing,” “Baby Clothing,” “1998 Personal Financial Records,” “Christmas Decorations,” or “Winter Jackets.

  • Store in such a way that your belongings can be easily found and retrieved without your having to dig through endless piles of stuff.

In any hardware store, you'll find a wide range of plastic and metal shelving units, some that are standalone units and others that need to be bolted and installed directly onto your walls. After you decide what smaller items you'll be keeping and what you will store in your basement, choose the best method for storing these smaller items, using boxes, shelving, cabinets, or perhaps a pegboard with hooks that gets mounted on a wall.

A Good Cleaning

The great thing about clearing out the basement is that now that you can see the floors and walls, you can get the dust and spiders out of there. Before you put anything back into the space, make sure that you've cleaned out the cobwebs. Otherwise, even if you've created some order, you'll probably still dread going down to the basement. Who wants to encounter spiders, dust, and grime?

To protect the items to be stored, think about what's required: cardboard boxes, airtight plastic containers, shelves, drawers, coverings (tarps), and so on. You can also store items by hanging them from the basement ceiling.

Next, install the shelving, lighting, or other organizational tools you believe are necessary. After the room is prepared, fill your basement with the items you plan to store there, starting with the largest items first. Refer to your hand-drawn diagram to figure out where things will go.

As you evaluate your storage plan, answer the following questions:

  • Are the items you're storing easy to find and readily accessible?

  • Are the items you're storing far enough away from your laundry area or workshop area? Is there a clear path to your working appliances, as well as ample space to work and play?

  • If you have children, does your storage area provide any potential hazards? Should certain items be locked up separately?

  • Have you protected your belongings against natural disasters and pests (flooding, mildew, mold, insects, and rodents)?

  • Are your stored items in the way of your home's hot water heater, furnace, fuse box, washer, dryer, or any other appliances in use within the basement? Are all drains and pipes clear from any obstruction?

If you're storing plastic crates or boxes, stack them up against a wall, making sure they are stable and won't fall. Also, make sure that the labels (describing what's in each box) are facing outward and are easily readable. Place the larger and heavier boxes on the bottom, and the lighter ones above them. Items stored in boxes at the bottom of the piles should be the ones you'll need the least often. Make sure you keep flammable items away from your furnace, hot water heater, washer, dryer, and any other potential heat sources.

Seasonal Organizing

As you decide where your various items will be stored, think in terms of when they'll be used. For example, you may want to store your winter clothing in containers near your holiday decorations. Likewise, you may want to store your grill near your Fourth of July decorations and lawn furniture. If you tend to go on a family vacation every summer (and use your luggage), you may want to store your luggage near your summer items for easy access.

Your most frequently used items should receive prime storage space so they're most readily accessible any time of the year. If you also use your basement as a workshop, exercise room, or hobby area, make sure your storage area is kept separate. You can use room dividers or other methods to section off each area of your basement as needed.

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