How to Organize Your Basement in 6 Easy Steps

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With more time at home and warmer weather approaching this a great time to tackle some of the bigger organizing projects you have been putting off. 

My family and I struggle with our unfinished side of the basement.  It is the room where we toss bags of kids clothes that are too small or too big.  We sore infrequently used furniture down there and store broken items that need time to repair.  It is also the area that we use to rotate seasonal decorations, have a make shift home gym, a craft closet and a huge train table with antique trains that takes up almost all the free floor space.  I constantly find myself frustrated that we have too much stuff, but like most families, we just don’t have the time to go through it all.  Well, one positive of being locked down because of COVID was that my husband and I were able to make the time to really tackle the space.

Step One:  We went through EVERY bin and box

I have been working with clients as a professional organizer for over 15 years and this step alone is probably the hardest part of the project.  You have to acknowledge what you have and what you have been ignoring when you are in a basement.  It is too easy to throw things in storage and forget about them.  I often call the basement the procrastination room. Everything we do not want to deal with or decide on in our main home ends up down there.

How to Organize Your Basement in 6 Easy Steps
We pulled all the bins out into a sorting area.

My husband had been procrastinating going through the 20 plus boxes of his grandfather’s train collection that we had inherited.  We already boxes important collectibles in special bins, distributed them to other family members, or play with them regularly on train table. Under the table were the boxes that had non-collectibles, figures, half built projects and other random train related paraphernalia collected over 50+ years by his grandfather. These decisions were harder because we knew much of it had to go. However, the items still represent the memory of his grandfather’s lifelong passion.  The memorabilia quandary is a common problem among my clients. Deceased relatives belongings end up in their homes, never used, but never to given away. 

Put aside the emotions and use practicality and reality to decide what you really will use.  Know that you can’t keep every memory, but you can keep a few to represent them all.  If all else fails, take out the camera and take pictures of the object.

Step Two:  Let It Go

Let go of projects that might happen some day, like reupholstering an old chair or fixing a broken bureau.  These larger items take up tons of space.  If you can’t create a realistic time line to complete a project it is time to move on.

Ask yourself how many seasonal decorations you actually need for your house.  I found that I am ignoring most of what I am storing for holidays because my life with children has been busier.  Putting out large scale décor for every holiday is not realistic or appealing for me anymore.

Again, does having items in your basement mean out of sight out of mind?  What do you really go down there to look for regularly?  The rest is probably unnecessary.

Step Three:  Make clear categories

Once we knew what to keep in the basement, we divided everything into clear general categories.  Holiday items broke down by day or season (i.e. Halloween, Spring, or Thanksgiving).  We labeled tools and equipment by categories, such as “Plumbing Supplies” or “Painting Supplies”.  Small tools went on the pegboard. We made bins to store rotated toys from our playroom, gift wrap bags and memorabilia items that were too special to let go of.  This is where you get to customize what is important for you to access in your basement.

Step Four:  Create Vertical Shelving

We were lucky when we moved in our home that there was great shelving built on the longest wall of our basement.  Because the center of our basement is a train table, we have maximized vertical storage on every wall we can with metal racks and wooden shelves. 

How to Organize Your Basement in 6 Easy Steps
Even with all this shelving everything is still a mess…but just wait.

It is harder to store larger bins without looking visually cluttered when a basement has mismatched furniture, cobbled together bookcases and shelves. Not to mention you may be losing valuable storage space. Investing in building or buying good shelving that can hold large storage bins is worth it.   It will be eye pleasing, but more importantly, you won’t have to dig through stacks of bins and boxes to find what you need.

Step Five:  Labeled Bins

Without proper bins and good labels it is much more difficult to have an organized basement.  If you can’t see what you are storing with a quick glance, you will never want to grab anything from your basement. 

I recommend clear bins when possible.  Over the years we have amassed a lot of different style storage bins, however, with the right labels and grouping like bins together on shelves, you can create a clean looking storage system.

How to Organize Your Basement in 6 Easy Steps

I created my own labels with a black background and white lettering in two different sizes.  I printed them on my printer and used clear packing tape to affix them to all of my bins.  What a difference visually having coordinated labels creates in a space.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR FREE EDITABLE LABEL TEMPLATE: Black Labels

Step Six:  Everything has its place…so return it there!

When you finally create a good basement organization system you want it to stay that way.  What often happens is people take something out and don’t return it to the bin it came from.  Even more common is to just throw the item on top of the bin, but not open the lid to put it away.  We are all guilty of doing this. 

Clearing out our basement took a lot of free time. There is no reason we should have to do this more than once a year.  That’s why we are all working hard to put everything back in its designated spot once we remove it.  Nothing can stay organized, no matter how fancy your products, no matter how perfect your shelves, if people in the house don’t keep putting items away.

If you find certain areas keep regressing, it is time to take a look at why.  Maybe the area is not easily accessible.  If you use the items too often, the basement may not be the best place to store them . It could be that the bin has a difficult latch.  Identify the stumbling block and address it.

How to Organize Your Basement in 6 Easy Steps

If you follow these steps you can have an organized basement too.

Happy Organizing!

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About the Author:

Kristin founded Livable Solutions professional organizing in 2004. She made a hobby into a career and loves to help others organize their time, homes and offices.  She also teaches other basic organizing principles through lectures and seminars.
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