Basements usually fall into two categories: over-utilized and under-utilized. If you have an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to stashing things in your basement, then you probably fall in the first category. Your basement is full of boxes, bins, bags, and randomly stacked stuff and no one in the family really knows what is actually down there; they just keep adding to the “storage.” An under-utilized basement may have a few boxes of holiday decorations on a shelf and some home repair supplies, and the rest is just a big empty space.
In either case there are things you can do to make better use of the available space for organized storage. After all, if your home is designed like most, your basement is the single biggest “room” in the house.
Assess Your Space
Every basement is different. You need to take a close look at the environment and its uses before you begin buying storage containers and investing in shelving units.
Use — Some basements are all or partly finished. They may include a rec room, home office, craft room, or other specific use space. Even an unfinished basement may have a laundry area, a work bench, or equipment like water heaters, circuit breaker box, furnace, etc.
Environment — Unfinished walls, cement floors, lack of windows or windows with little or no weather-proofing are common in basements. These factors can increase humidity, dampness, and the possibility of mildew, mold, and even pests. A basement that is prone to even slight, seasonal flooding or where the walls “sweat” can affect your ability to store certain items there.
After a thorough assessment you will be able to plan out which areas of your basement are best for storage and what type of shelves, bins, and boxes are best suited to that environment. You will also know what items should be stored elsewhere, which may include mildew and moisture sensitive items such as fabrics, photographs and paper memorabilia, cardboard, and even rust-prone metals.
No matter how much storage you currently have in your basement, before you re-organize you need to figure out what you have — and what you don’t really need to keep.
Follow the basic steps for de-cluttering:
- Sort through everything as quickly as possible
- Make an instant decision to keep, trash, donate/give away, sell, or repair
- If you have large collections, such as boxes of Christmas ornaments, set a numerical rule for yourself. For example: for every 10 ornaments you have, you get to keep three and need to dispose of seven.
- Immediately remove all items that aren’t in the “keep” category.
Now it’s a matter of organizing the things you are keeping. This may involve re-boxing like items together or transferring everything from random cardboard boxes and bags into neatly labeled plastic bins or tubs.
If you haven’t made a plan for what is being stored where, stop and do that now. It may make sense to stock household supplies near your laundry area or to create an overflow pantry in one corner of the basement. Perhaps all the sporting equipment can go in the storage space under the stairs or you can create ceiling storage by utilizing existing beams or installing hooks and ledges for oversized items. Make a definite plan BEFORE you begin putting things away.
Now it’s time to assemble and install any shelving, wall systems, or other storage elements. This may include stand-alone shelves, lockers, cubbies, cabinets, or even re-purposed furniture. Make sure they are installed properly to ensure maximum safety of use and protection from any environmental factors.
Time to put things in their proper place. Remember not to overfill any shelf, drawer or cabinet. Some stored items, like clothing, need proper ventilation and over stocking can cause shelves to warp or even snap over time. You should also consider ease of access when you come looking for something in the future. Don’t stack things too deep or too high to make it easier to retrieve later.
One last thing to consider is making an actual inventory of all the items you have stored. It can be a simple list of where to find camping gear versus Halloween decorations or it could be an itemized map of every box and bin. This inventory can prove invaluable in helping you locate things that you use infrequently as well as serve as a reminder to family members as to where things should be stored.
This process could take a few hours or a few days, depending on the size of your basement and the amount of items already stored there. No matter how much time it takes, when you look around the finished project, you’ll feel that sense of accomplishment and elation that comes from being organized.