Small space: Organizing the basement
For lots of people, the basement is the repository of all manner of storage, ranging from miscellany that you don’t need but can’t quite bear to part with, to valuable items such as furniture and important papers. Last summer, heavy rains in several parts of the country led to thousands of flooded basements. Whether you suffered the calamity of a soaked basement or not, it’s time to go after the huge dragon of stuff stored in your dungeon.
According to Estelle Gee, a home organizer and the founder of Orderly Lives, “cleaning out the basement requires you to be thorough and ruthless, and to maintain it that way. Otherwise, it spreads like an amoeba; it will never go away unless you face it head-on.”
How to start organizing your basement
Part of the problem, says Estelle, is that even with a finished basement, we don’t tend to access basement items as often as more high-traffic areas of the house; it’s too easy to store and forget, and before long you can end up with a Mount Everest of things you have no idea what to do with.
As with any organizing job, the easiest way to start is to break the task into manageable chunks. If your basement has multiple rooms, concentrate on one room at a time; if it’s one big space, tackle it in sections. You’ll be creating four piles:
a) yard sale or charity;
b) recyclables, including leftover latex paint, old electronics and paper;
c) garbage; and
d) stuff you want to keep.
Organizing sentimental items
Some things will be easy to categorize (a broken VCR can be recycled without much hesitation), but you’ll likely have other things that you’re not so sure about. Sentiment can often make the process even more difficult, says Estelle. “Ask yourself some hard questions. Is this really useful, or do I just think it might be? Perhaps you kept your old baby crib, thinking that your kids might need it some day. They may never have kids, or it may no longer meet safety standards when they do. It’s probably best to let it go.” Another question is to ask whether it fits with your life today: you may have kept all your aquarium equipment, thinking you’ll get back into it someday. Chances are you won’t.
Consider the basement's unique conditions
While you’re organizing your basement, take a moment to consider the unique conditions that are different from above-ground areas. Consider installing a ventilation system or dehumidifier, not only to protect against future water damage, but mildew and mold, which are harmful to your health. Don’t put items on the floor; shelving units look more attractive, keep things neat and protect against damage in the event of another flood. Box and organizing stores, along with IKEA, all have a wealth of options for shelving units, from sturdy but utilitarian to quite attractive. Whichever you choose, buy plastic storage bins and label them with contents; these will not only provide further protection in a flood, but will guard against mustiness and mildew as well.
Storage ideas for an organized basement
Arrange items in broad categories and store them according to how often you’ll retrieve them: items you’ll use regularly (tool box, paint supplies, hobby equipment) at the front; things you will need access to later in the middle (seasonal items, winter sports equipment); less used items in the back. Anything flammable or hazardous, such as paint thinner, kerosene or chemicals, should either be stored in the garage, or far away from any heating or gas sources such as the furnace or hot water tank.
Try not to let the basement become the forgotten dungeon of your house, says Estelle. “Deal with your ‘stuff’ regularly or hold yard sales or giveaways regularly, once or even twice a season. And it’s easier to keep it organized once you have a system, such as labelling boxes and having a designated place to put them.”