Organize Basement

This page is on how to organize a basement. Even though I am writing this specifically for a basement, the ideas explained here can be adapted to other storage areas like attic, furnace room, crawl space or under the stairs space.

Everybody needs more storage space. So utilizing all the available space in your home is important. A well-organized basement will simplify your storage problems, help keep the junk out and free up valuable space in other parts of the house.

The storage areas can be used to store items you don’t need or use on a regular basis like seasonal items (holiday decorations, out-of-season clothes, inflatable pools), luggage, furniture items (like beach chairs and folding tables), keepsakes, paperwork (old tax documents, statements, receipts etc.), and so on. You can also use the basement to store canned goods, wine, paper towels and toilet tissues.

If you haven’t read my article on tips yet, I strongly suggest you read it before you organize the basement. That article will help you get through these tasks a whole lot easier and keep your results once you are done.

Depending on the size of the room and the number of items you have, it could be a large task to organize the basement. It will take time. So have realistic goals. Split tasks into small chunks, so you can complete them in a reasonable amount of time and make progress. Do what you can in 1 or 2 hour maximum. Set this as your goal. You might be tempted to do the next task but proceed only if you have time left in your 1 or 2 hour time limit. If not, wait for the next day or weekend, otherwise you will be exhausted. Also look at what you have accomplished for inspiration and motivation.

Your first task when you organize the basement should be clearing items in open areas as explained in article Home Organization Tips (when you begin). Bring all the things you don’t want to store in other parts of the house as well. Now, go through everything and sort them into categories like keep, sell/donate and trash. You can further divide “keep here” items into categories like holiday decorations, out-of-season clothes, luggage etc.

Attics can get quite hot during summer/warmer months. So it is better to do the organizing at night (if you have adequate lighting) or during cooler months.

Move the things you are going to keep to an adjacent room if possible, so that you can inspect the basement for holes, water leaks and bugs. If you find anything, take care of those first. Then clean the space before you organize the basement.

The best way to organize a basement is to divide the area into zones like holiday decorations, out-of-season clothes, luggage, furniture, paperwork and so on, just like a playroom. This will provide specific places for everything and make it easier to find things when you need them. You only need to look in a particular zone, saving you time.

Arrange zones based on usage. “Often used” zone should be closer to the entrance or in the front, “seasonal” zone should be on the sides or in the middle, and “rarely used” zone in the back.

Take inventory of all the things you decided to keep. This will give you an idea of the number and type of storage containers and shelves you need.

If your storage area is tall, consider installing shelves or get free standing shelving units. This will maximize the available storage. Another benefit is that you don’t have to lift the boxes at the top to get to the ones at the bottom (unlike stacking).

Shelves are great to store pantry items, wine, paper towels and bath tissues. Assign shelves for each category. Put heavier items on the bottom shelves. Do not exceed the maximum weight limit of the shelf.

Use sturdy plastic boxes (clear or colored ones) with lids to store things when you organize the basement. Even though they cost a little more than cardboard boxes, they are much easier to move and stack. Also their tight lids help keep moisture, bugs and dust from damaging or destroying contents. When using colored boxes, designate one color for each zone.

Always label these boxes on the sides and on the top even if they are clear. Be specific when labeling. Label “christmas ornaments and lights” instead of “holiday decorations”. Similarly, when labeling clothes, write the type of clothing and who they belong to.

When arranging boxes, keep smaller ones in the front or on top of larger ones.

You can also use boxes that are specifically designed for holiday decorations like ornaments, lights and trees. These are available at supermarkets.

A space saving option when you organize the basement are vacuum sealable storage bags. You can use these bags to store out-of-season clothes, rarely used and bulky items like sleeping bags, comforters, blankets, quilts, pillows etc. These reusable bags compress the contents when you take the air out using a vacuum cleaner. They are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. Manufactures of these bags claim that they are airtight, watertight, mold, mildew, bug and odor proof. You can reuse cardboard shipping boxes to store these compressed bags. Storing them sideways inside the box instead of stacking will provide easy access.

Vacuum sealing hanging bags are available for items you don’t want to fold, like jackets and suits. You can either install a closet rod across one side of the basement or use a garment rack to organize hanging clothes.

When storing suitcases and other luggage, put smaller ones inside larger ones. This will save space. You can label “small one(s) inside” and also take photos of the ones inside and stick them on the outside one. You can cover the luggage using large trash bags to protect them from dust. Put labels and photos on the trash bag instead of the luggage, when the trash bag covering the luggage is not transparent.

If your folding table is small or if you have enough space, you can unfold the table and stack the chairs underneath. Use the table top to store air mattresses, sleeping bags, camping tent etc.

Paperwork like statement binders and receipt magazines (explained in the home office article) can be stored sideways in plastic boxes with the year label facing up. You can find fire safe or fire resistant boxes to store important paper work like tax documents at supermarkets.

Please read my article on garage for tool storage ideas if you use the basement as a work area or if you store tools in the basement.

Create an inventory of your newly organized basement. List each zone and the main things it contains, so that you will know where to find and put items in the future.

Important tips when you organize a basement:

  1. Water proofing sealants are available at home improvement stores to paint the concrete walls and floor. Use a sealant that protects the concrete and also blocks gases like radon.
  2. Make sure the floor drain is clear of debris.
  3. You can use a dehumidifier in the basement to get rid of moisture and musty smell. But only use it if you have installed a vapor barrier or sealed the concrete, otherwise it will draw moisture from outside. Remember to empty out the pan everyday.
  4. If flooding is an issue, elevate the boxes from the floor by putting them on shelves. Ceiling mount shelving units will work great in this situation.
  5. If moisture is an issue, do not store books, papers and photos in the basement.
  6. Leave enough space around furnace, water heater and softener, fuse box, sump pump etc. for easy access.

Once you organize the basement, be sure to maintain it. If you need to add a few more items, put them in the appropriate zones. Otherwise, you'll be making more work for yourself in the future.

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