How to Organize a Basement

Organization can transform a basement from a sea of clutter to a usable space.
Organization can transform a basement from a sea of clutter to a usable space.

Many people think of the basement as a dank, dark place where boxes of holiday decorations and old furniture tend to accumulate. But with some organization, your basement can become a functional part of your home instead of a catchall for clutter.

Many homes have basements, and whether the basement is finished or unfinished often determines how the space is used. If you have a finished basement, this space can be used for any number of purposes -- as a family room, playroom for the kids, office for a home business, workout room or even as a man cave for the man of the house. If your basement is unfinished, you'll need to make sure the space is dry enough to house items that may be important to you. Basements can be damp places, so any issues with mold or water will need to be resolved [source: Energy Star].


A basement can serve your family's entertainment needs, but it can also serve as a great place to store items you don't need on a regular basis [source:]. Holiday decorations and seasonal gear like skis or inflatable pools can be stored there, as well as bikes, toys and winter clothing. Organizing your basement will allow you to use the space for both family fun and storage.

The possibilities for transforming your basement are limited only by your imagination, and most can be achieved in budget-friendly ways. However, before you can turn that space into a fun and entertaining place, you'll need to sort through all the things that have surely piled up. Check out the next section for tips on how to start organizing your basement.


Knowing what you have in your basement is the first step in getting its contents organized. There are sure to be things in your basement that you forgot were down there in the first place! Deciding what you need to hold onto and what you can toss or donate is a simple process. Grab some trash bags and a few storage bins and dive in.

You'll need to go through everything to get a good grasp on what kind of supplies you'll ultimately need to get organized. While you're completing your inventory, take the time to create a more formal list so that you can record any valuables for insurance purposes. The purpose of taking inventory is to see exactly what you've been amassing over the years and assess the value of your possessions. You don't have to decide what you'll be keeping just yet, but it may be wise to write things down and go over the list with other members in your household to determine what to keep.

You may also want to take this opportunity to step back and look at the space you have to work with. Once you've pulled everything out to take inventory, you can take measurements and start thinking about how you'll set up a functional space [source:]. Your list can cover more than the actual items in your basement -- it may help to include things like available lighting and electrical outlets.

Once you've completed your inventory and gone over it with your family, you can begin to sort out your belongings and place them in specific piles. Check out the next section for some tips on how you can effectively sort the items in your basement.

Just because you can hold onto an item doesn't mean you should. It can be hard to part with possessions, but if you haven't used that old ski machine in five years, it's probably safe to donate it to charity or to sell it on Craigslist. Go through everything to be sure that you're not hanging onto items you don't need or want.

Try sorting your items into a few different piles or bins. Put everything you want to donate in one pile -- old clothes, toys and sports equipment can be donated to your local thrift store. You can also donate clothes and toys that are in fair condition to a local shelter. In some cases, you can arrange to have an organization like the Salvation Army pick up larger items. Such service is usually free [source: Salvation Army]. In another pile, collect the items you've decided to throw out. Broken toys or tools can be trashed, and so can any miscellaneous clutter.

Your largest pile will most likely be the one that contains those things you want to keep. If you can find a way of storing these items that keeps them out of the way, then holding onto them shouldn't be a problem. However, if you find that your basement is still overflowing with stuff, you may want to go back and re-sort the pile to see if there's any way to further narrow down what you've decided to keep.

Throwing things away can be liberating, but inevitably, there will be things you need or want to keep. Check out the next section for tips on how you can store your belongings in a neat and tidy way.

Utilizing all the available space in your basement is the key to transforming it from an area that could double for a dungeon to a clean and functional part of your home.

When you're storing items in the basement, you'll need a few tools to help keep things organized:

  • Shelving - Floor-to-ceiling shelving is a good idea. Depending on the look and feel of your basement, you can use wood or metal units to hold everything from file boxes to toilet paper to bottles of wine. Don't forget to use all available space including the ceiling -- hooks or ceiling storage units can be a great place to hang bikes and other seasonal equipment [source: HyLoft].
  • Storage Bins - You may opt to store your holiday decorations or winter coats in clearly labeled storage bins. When selecting bins, try to find ones that are stackable and transparent -- this will optimize efficiency and ease of access.
  • Pegboard - Pegboard is an underrated necessity in the basement, especially if Dad wants to store his tools down there. Pegboard has many drawbacks, not the least of which is that it's not very attractive, but you can purchase plastic pegboard that makes up for some of its shortcomings [source: Garage Escapes].

Before you install anything that will be attached to the wall or ceiling, make sure you have made any necessary changes to the space, including painting or patching holes and leaks.

Not many people look forward to organizing their basement. However, if you can focus on the outcome and think of how great the space will look when you're done, you'll see that the time and effort is worth it. Whether you're organizing the space simply for organization's sake or if you're preparing it to be turned into an extra bedroom, you'll find that knowing what you have and where it is will give you some peace of mind. Recruit your friends and family and you'll be able to get your basement whipped into shape in no time.

To learn more about organizing basements, visit the links on the following page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Anxiety and Stress Disorder Institute of Maryland. "Understanding and Treating Hoarding." (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • Energy Star. "Damp Basement." (Accessed 1/16/10)
  • Garage Escapes. "The Drawbacks of Pegboard." (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • Grimshaw, Heather. "The Psychology of Clutter." The Denver Post. (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • HyLoft. (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • "Cleaning and Decluttering the Basement or Attic." (Accessed 1/19/10)
  • Rosehill Wine Cellars. "Wine Cellar FAQ's." (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • Salvation Army. "Donations." (Accessed 1/17/10)