Basements have been frequently utilized as locations for scary scenes in movies. In Silence of the Lambs, the basement is a holding place for kidnapped victims. Who can forget the scene in Signs when an alien hand reaches through the coal chute to grab an unsuspecting child? More recently, in A Quiet Place, the basement used to muffle the sounds of the family’s newborn baby eventually becomes the setting for battles with aliens. We’ve become so accustomed to scary basements that as viewers, when a character opens the door to the basement, we yell, “Don’t go down there!”
Your basement is likely not that scary, but you may still find yourself hesitant to enter. Without some intentional planning, a basement can become a literal dumping ground for anything without an obvious home. Over time, clutter can build up so much that we don’t even know what’s down there.
If this scenario describes your basement, this article will help you transform it from frightening to functional. If your basement is in pretty good shape, this article will help you avoid the tendency to clutter it up. You can use these same principles for organizing other large spaces primarily used for storage, like an attic, a garage, or a bonus room.
No matter what room you’re working on, I always recommend starting with an assessment and plan. You might want to take some before photos so that you can track your progress. Take some notes about the current state of your basement. Get input from everyone. Talk about what’s working and what’s not working, and about current and future uses for the space. If you could wave a magic wand and the project was complete, what would it look like? How would it function?
There’s nothing wrong with using a basement for storage. Ideally the portion used for storage would only occupy part of the basement, not the entire space. Leaving part of the space free will allow you to use it for other purposes as a game room, home gym, wine cellar, or home theatre. Decide what portion will be dedicated to storage and what portion will be adapted for (saved for) another purpose.
For the portion you’ve committed to storage, I recommend purchasing sturdy shelving. Adjustable and movable shelves are especially helpful. As you declutter and place belongings into containers, you can use these shelves for labeled containers of items that will remain in the basement.
One unique characteristic of a basement that must be considered is that they are damp environments. You’ll need to remember this as you decide what to store and how to store it. You may want to invest in a dehumidifier to pull some of the moisture out of the air. Because of the moisture, plastic or metal shelving will work better than wood. Airtight bags or containers with lids will protect stored items from moisture much better than cardboard boxes. Because basements are prone to flooding, keep items off the floor as much as possible.
Once you’ve got a goal and some shelving, it’s time to take action. You’ll need to gather a few supplies. You’ll need adequate lighting so that you can easily see the items you’re sorting. Portable tables will allow you to spread out the contents of containers and to sort them into groups. A large trash can and a recycling container are also useful. Bring any empty containers you’ve got that can be used to store the items that remain. You may eventually need to buy a few more containers, but if you’re doing a thorough decluttering job, you’ll likely be emptying more containers as you go. So hold off on buying new containers until you see what you actually need. You’ll also need some empty boxes and bags for gathering items for donation, items to be given to others, or items to sell.
Now that you’ve got all of your materials, it’s time to get busy! When decluttering, I always recommend choosing a corner of the room so you’ll know where you’ve worked. Start working your way around the room one area at a time. Examine every loose item and open every container. As you consider each item, ask yourself two simple questions—Do I love it? Do I use it? If you can’t confidently answer “yes” to both, consider letting it go. Most of us have way more than we need! If you want to lighten your load, the number of items leaving your home should be much larger than the number staying.
As you identify items that will remain, place them into an airtight container and label it as specifically as possible. I recommend clear containers, but if you label well, it’s fine to use any kind. A good rule of thumb is to aim for about 80% full just in case you’ll need to add to it later. You can always adjust containers, their contents, and labels as you go. Continue this process all the way around the room. It can be done in a few large chunks of time or in several small ones depending on your schedule and energy level.
One common problem with having a large basement is that family and friends sometimes ask if they can store things there. If you’re not careful, your basement can turn into a free storage facility. Since it’s your home, you always have the right to refuse. If you do allow others’ belongings, set some guidelines. Set a limited amount of time and stick to it. Or only allow them a particular amount of space. As your needs change, you may need to go back to that person(s) and tell them that you don’t have room for their stuff anymore. It’s your home, and it’s not your stuff, so don’t feel pressured into a situation that isn’t working for you.
Before you take something to the basement, ask these questions:
- Do I really need this item? If not, set it aside for donation.
- Is the basement the best place to store this item?
- Is there already a container in the basement where this item belongs? If so, add to that container and adjust the label if needed. If not, either keep it loose or start another container.
Here’s to functional, organized basements free of fear! Happy organizing!