Three laws of basement storage

Holiday decorations, tools, and forgotten objects reside in our basements alongside spiders, mildew, and dryer lint. Basements are fantastic places to hide when tornado sirens blare, but are also places where stored objects are easily ruined.

If you use your basement for storing things other than root vegetables, let me introduce you to my Three Laws of Basement Storage. These Laws should be followed if you want to protect the things you have chosen to have in your basement. (“Things you have chosen” is my way of implying “stuff that is not clutter.”)

  1. Thy stuff, it shalt not be on the floor. There are two types of basements: those that have flooded and those that have yet to flood. Everything should be stored on shelving at least a foot off the floor.
  2. Thy stuff, it should be stored in air-tight, hard plastic containers. Sure, rodents will eat through plastic, but other pests (silverfish, crickets, flies, termites, etc.) tend to stay away from it. Do not store things in cardboard, paper, wood, or flimsy plastic bags if you care at all about what is inside the container. A few desiccant packets in your containers are also a good idea.
  3. Thou shalt own and run a dehumidifier/humidifier when necessary. Climate control is your friend.

What rules do you have for basement storage?

37 Comments for “Three laws of basement storage”

  1. posted by marie on

    I completely abide by these rules. I am storing a lot of stuff in my old bedroom at my parent’s house, and everything is in plastic containers. It usually gets flooded every few years, and I would hate to waste stuff. I also don’t have any furniture touching the floor. Metal bed frame, metal desk, and wooden bookshelves are on metal racks; otherwise they would also be ruined if water got in. (And also, this isn’t an area that gets flooded or anything; just that in the spring, water gets in through the foundation or something. It really can happen to anybody)

  2. posted by Sue on

    Thou shalt … organize thy stuff in “departments,” like at the clothing stores, or aisles/sections like at the grocery store.

  3. posted by Noelle on

    On the plus side, if you have just gone through a tricky breakup and your former SO will *not* come get his stuff and it ends up getting destroyed when the basement floods, you are completely justified in throwing the dozen ruined boxes away and being done with it.

    Hypothetically speaking, of course. :~)

  4. posted by Loren on

    Can we add ‘After a big storm thou shalt go down and check on things’.
    Our basement never flooded UNTIL there was a massive storm one spring and water overflowed from the little gutter that ran along the outside of the room, and the dehumidifier got overloaded and quit working. I only went down there once a week or so to change the kitty litter, so it was about 5 days before I noticed that there was about an inch and a half of water sitting in the back room.
    FYI Roommates apparently cannot always be trusted to TELL you that there is an inch and a half of water sitting in the back room…

  5. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    I don’t have a basement, but a couple more rules strike my early morning brain:

    Thy stuff, it shall be labeled clearly.
    Thou shalt check thy stuff regularly, to ensure the above mentioned rodents have not reduced thy stuff to trash.
    Thy basement stuff, it shall be included in thy household inventory, in case thou shouldst suffer a flood or other disaster and need to file Ye Torturous Insurance Claim.

    Ruth

  6. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    @Noelle: Ha! No kidding. :-)

    Thou shalt avoid storing anything of value that is not impervious to water in the basement if at all possible. I stored some stuff in my mom’s damp Ohio basement for the six years I lived in Hawaii, and even things sealed in plastic bags within in tight-sealing plastic bins with a dehumidifier running smelled like mildew when I retrieved them.

    Thou shalt properly label thy boxes as to the actual contents. “Miscellaneous” shall not be an authorized category for labeling purposes.

    When we were house hunting, I was initially concerned that this house we fell in love with didn’t have a basement. After nearly two years here, I have to say I don’t miss having a basement one little bit. It forced me to pare down the stuff I was schlepping from one basement to the next without consideration. I’m now down to one box of keepsake-type stuff that lives on a shelf in a closet. Everything else found homes on shelves or in drawers. It’s so pleasant to not have to look at a massive pile of boxes (and dig through them when you need to find something).

  7. posted by gypsy packer on

    Thou shalt pack all perishables in large airtight plastic bags before storing it in plastic. Once again, prevents insects and discourages mildew and rot.

    Thou shalt not store electronics in any place not climate-controlled. I ruined a good amp, two turntables, and a CD player storing them in an uncontrolled storage locker.

    If you have sinus troubles, do not use basement storage for anything not made of plastic, glass, or ceramic. Wood mildews and you can either bleach it or toss it. I’ve heard that 100% oxygen in an airtight compartment will kill mildew on furniture, expensively.

  8. posted by SandyO on

    Since I have no basement, the rules should also apply to the attic and garage except that I wouldn’t store clothes that I wanted to keep there.

  9. posted by Molly on

    Oh, ye torturous insurance claim… yes indeed!

    And when the children move out, their stuff moves out too, so that your basement may once again be organized.

  10. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    All of these laws are FANTASTIC!! Keep them coming!

    And @Ruth, you’re cracking me up with Ye Torturous Insurance Claim — brilliant!!

  11. posted by Rue on

    I’ve never had a basement in my life. Never even knew anyone who did until I moved from Texas to Michigan – I guess having a basement is more of a northern thing?

    My family (and most other families I’ve known) stash would-be basement items in our garages. I’d say the same rules should apply for garages as well. Garages aren’t in as much danger of flooding, but you still have all the other problems – pests, not temperature-controlled, etc. Anything I put in the garage now goes in a plastic bin. (I learned this lesson a long time ago when I’d put a carboard box of out-of-season clothes into the garage…some kind of pest got into the box and everything came out with pee stains and holes in it.)

    Of course, ideally none of us would have so many things that we need to store things in the basement/garage/attic…:)

  12. posted by Celeste on

    @Rue: part of the basement determination is land cost and the other is climate. In some places land is relatively cheap so it makes sense just to spread the house out on the main floor, like the classic ranch house. In the north, you have to dig so deep to get below the frost line (to have a stable foundation) that it makes no economic sense NOT to go another 18″ and have a full basement that can be used as storage or finished off as extra living space.

  13. posted by Celeste on

    My main rule for basement storage is shelving. Even when your stuff is in plastic tubs, it takes up a lot of floor space when you stack them, and it’s awful when the thing you want is in the crate that is 3 tubs down on the bottom. My preference in plastic tubs is for smaller tubs for heavier items and leave the big tubs for lighter items.

    The most important rule of basements is to have only good things go down there. Once you turn it into a graveyard for broken things, you’ve lost the battle.

  14. posted by DJ on

    “There are two types of basements: those that have flooded and those that have yet to flood.” Amen to that!

    We live in a very dry area. Our basement got a mini-flood due to our own malfunctioning plumbing.

    Happily, everything stored in the affected area was either a) more than a foot of the ground on metal shelving, or, b) in hard plastic containers.

    My big goal/rule is to go through the stuff we have stored down there once a year and toss anything that we haven’t used in that time frame. I’ve gotten our stored goods in the basement primarily down to holiday gear and camping equipment.

  15. posted by infmom on

    What is this “basement” of which you speak? :)

    Our stuff is on shelves in our storage room and in the garage. We learned the hard way about not putting things on the floor the second month we lived here–unusually hard rains led to flooding, which led to our losing 15 cartons of books. Sigh.

  16. posted by Sky on

    My home was not blessed with a basement. For that, I am eternally grateful. Thy crap multiplieth enough without extra storage areas.
    Thou shalt not keep unused items stored in plastic boxes but give them to the poor, and forever live an organized life.

  17. posted by Kuri on

    I’ve been meaning to follow these rules for ages. Need to get some cheap shelving first. At least I did manage to scavange some pallets as a short term solution to get non-flood proof stuff off the floor.

    Rule: #4 (Which I do now follow after some hard decluttering) Thy unfinished basement shall not become a ‘holding area’ to store all and sundre items about which thou are not sure what to do.

  18. posted by Kuri on

    Also, if there is flooding, foundation repairs are a worthy investment.

  19. posted by Eileen on

    If you love your books – only keep them where you live for at least a few hours a day. If you sleep/play/watch tv in your basement, books can live there. If you don’t, your books can’t live there either.

    I work in a library that gets lots of donated books that were stored in basements – that slight mold or mildew smell is killing your books and taking away any value at all. We often have to recycle them immediately to avoid introducing new mold into our collection.

    If you’re relegating books to basements and attics with extremes of temp and humidity, just give them away now, for your sake (and theirs!)

  20. posted by Kathy on

    There are two types of basements: those that have flooded and those that have yet to flood – I just had to LOL at that.

    I was visiting my parents one summer when they were renting a 100+ year old house and went downstairs to check the hot water heater setting and not only was the basement flooded, the boxes were actually floating, due to the amount of water!

    My normally very calm father freaked out and ran down there to save whatever it was that was so important that he couldn’t put it in the house or even remember what it was.
    In the process, he disturbed a group of bats that was roosting in the basement.

    The pandomonium that ensued was something that still makes me chuckle.

  21. posted by enigma on

    Oh, the irony …

    “Yes” to all the rules and how I wish there had been some writing on the wall that I should ever think of following them.

    Five weeks ago, the heaviest rains ever in my area have caused the canalization to flood the streets and eventually my basement appartment despite in-built, regularly checked non-return flaps or whatever they are called.

    Here are some of my observations / lessons learnt:

    When you leave your home, have someone “capable” check it, possibly on a daily basis. Someone who will only tell you that some water had entered does not really help you (In my case: I was away for another three weeks before I could take a look at the damage myself and was worried 24/7/3).

    When your place was flooded and urgent measures like dehumidification or even demounting / destruction of furniture etc. need to be taken while you´re absent, make sure you have someone competent to handle it for you, don´t let the reconstruction company do whatever they want, they are there for the business ! (In my case: They not only took out the floors in all rooms and dehumidified but also wanted to take down all wallpapers and the put in new screed and cheep wallpapers at an exorbitant price).

    If you have things in certain order like books, etc. put them in (plastic) boxes, label them yourself and keep them in shelves (In my case: I had wrapped some of my favourite books in plastic foil as they were yellowing and had packed them in cardboard boxes which I simply stored directly on the floor – I now consider myself lucky. Everything else, that company threw into boxes and not in an organized fashion, they simply don´t care -I have been home now for two weeks and still haven´t found certain important items).

    When you leave your home, be prepared that a stranger to your household may enter your house for such legal purposes to help you in a crisis – therefore, don´t leave anything of value or importance lying around, relying on your housesitter to keep an eye on those people… I have found some of the tiniest items like a broken key from my laptop but not my USB-stick …

    Check your insurance policy for flooding (In my case: flooding is covered with regards to the building and anything directly attached to it, anything else is not covered, i.e. not the ruined carpets, not the ruined bookcases, not the ruined appliances, not the ruined doors, you get the picture).

    I am certain that other lessons still wait for me to be learnt from this but luckily, all I can say is that, after all, money can replace whatever is worth replacing, no one lost his/her life, no one got hurt but I have to help myself as there will be no financial aid from nobody.

    “There are two types of basements: those that have flooded and those that have yet to flood.”

    How true is that ! And how expensive to avoid or to repair.

  22. posted by Karen on

    Our new rule is, “Thou shalt not purchase a home with a basement.” Seriously. All the basements we’ve had have flooded. WHY do people even build homes with basements? It’s the typical American desire for more, more, more space in our homes so we can fill that space with more stuff we don’t really need.

    We have an outbuilding that was a brick “garage” for the riding lawnmower the previous owners had. We changed this building into a playhouse for the kids, and store quite a few toys out there. No need for a basement “playroom”, which I’ve heard is one justification for a basement.

    The peace of mind that comes from having no basement is well worth “losing” that storage space.

  23. posted by Missy on

    We live in a 1600 sq ft ranch that has an identical basement below it. It’s 75% finished and we use it as a living space to watch TV about 5-8 times a month. Honestly, we could live without it entirely. And I would prefer that because when I am trying to get my husband to throw something away his rationale is, “It’s not in anyone’s way. We have the room, heck we have a WHOLE BASEMENT we can fill!” So, if anyone out there is wondering if they need a basement, the answer is NO. We naturally expand to fill whatever space we are given, so our possessions have increased to fill this space and make it “livable and useful”–couches, TVs, mini fridge, bed, etc. Honestly we don’t need this stuff. I am done, stepping off the soapbox now. =)

  24. posted by Marie on

    Rule #1: There are some uses for basements you just can’t replace. (Exhibit A: Our neighbors would not be happy if our band decided to move practice to the living room. Exhibit B: Basements are naturally climate controlled, and sleeping in yours rather than blasting A/C in your bedroom all summer long will save you hundreds of dollars a year.)

    Rule #2: Some basements will never flood because the developers are on crack and build on land totally unsuitable for human habitation. (Our property is on a 36 degree angle and our soil is 90% shale. We can’t even get the ground to hold enough water to grow grass. Let me tell you about xeriscaping in the northeast.)

  25. posted by Charley Forness on

    Thou shalt toss said stuff if thou hath not used it in a year.

  26. posted by Rebecca on

    Basements are a safety precaution in areas that frequently get tornadoes, such as OK, KS, MO, and other states in tornado alley. I wish commentators would divorce themselves from the concept of space being evil, as opposed to what some people choose to do with their space. Properly used, a basement can be a beautiful room(s). I’ve seen home gyms, bars, lounges, playroom for kids, band practice areas, offices, full baths, sewing rooms, craft areas, etc. No one decrees that a basement has to be for junk. I no longer have a basement, but then again, mu husband and I have a “use it or lose it” policy.

  27. posted by Michelle on

    When we decided to move and needed to show the house, all our extra stuff from upstairs was put into the basement. Somewhat haphazardly, because we had so much to do to get the house ready. Of course this coincided with a plumbing problem that flooded the basement, so I learned the lessons above the hard way.

    But the experience also turned me into a more aggressive unclutterer. Now when I’m tempted to hang onto something, I think, if a flood destroyed this object, would I be distraught? If so, it probably shouldn’t be in the basement; if not, it shouldn’t be in my home at all!

    For example, I’d been holding onto my first musical instrument, which I hadn’t played in 7 years; I knew I should donate it but couldn’t seem to let it go. It was in the basement during the flood, and as I threw out the heavily mildewed instrument and case, I realized that I wasn’t going to miss it–but I did feel bad that it couldn’t have a second life with someone who really wanted to play it.

  28. posted by Joanna on

    I live in a basement (basement apartments are very common where I live, and way cheaper than regular apartments) and am about to move out into a more expensive apartment because I was traumatized by the two floods I had :)

    My rule would be ‘thou shalt not carpet the basement.’ Cleanup would have been so much faster, easier and more thorough if we didn’t have carpet down here.

  29. posted by bilboleslie on

    Here’s another one: A basement sump pump is mandatory. It is also mandatory that it be plugged in. (We learned this one the hard way last year… in our second flood.

  30. posted by Nancy on

    And the basement sump pump shall have backup battery power in case the power goes out, because if a big wet storm causes a flood, there is a chance that the power could go out too.

  31. posted by Bobbi on

    Re: Rubbermaid bins on amazon – I have 18 of these. They cost less than $6 during the January organizing sales. I’m thinking there is a typo on their price. $26.00????

  32. posted by Caroline on

    I have a few:

    1. Thou shalt pack items into smaller bins which can be thus easily moved and stored in smaller spaces under stairs and on closet shelves.

    (Instead of one monster bin, why not use two smaller ones and save your back and search time? They take up the same space as a larger one, so no clutter from “extra” bins.)

    2. Thou shalt paste a label on both the lid AND the side of yon rubber bin. Curse the evildoer who opens two bins and switches the lids with the labels on them.

    3. Thou shalt not store items sensitive to moisture in the same room as ye olde washer and dryer, even when in a trusty rubber bin, sealed from the cursed humidity. No solution is impervious!

    4. Thou shalt realize that well-organized storage bins can be pleasing to the eye when stacked neatly in an open area of yon basement, if no other place can be found. Pick a colour and style which shall complement your decor.

    5. Though shalt not use wicker, cardboard, nor cloth storage baskets or file boxes to store important papers for the IRS. Furthermore, thou shalt find a storage place which is not in yon basement for any important doucmentation.

    6. Thou shalt not use storage bins as coffee tables unless you are a college student, and then much rejoicing can be had, for you are exempt from furniture/storage bin laws. *wink*

  33. posted by wendy on

    Let there be light! Dim and dingy corners attract bugs and junk. We replaced all the light fixtures in our unfinished basement with fluorescent tubes and now it is a more pleasant place to work or exercise, and much easier to find and manage the stuff that’s down there.

  34. posted by twosandalz on

    Based on my experiences with basements, my personal Laws of the Basement are these:

    1. Reserve thy plentiful basement space for messy projects (like re-finishing furniture).

    2. Thou shalt store only hardware (hammers, drills, that kind of stuff), yard tools and implements of snow removal in thy basement.

    3. That which serveth thou in thy house-proper shalt remain in thy house-proper. Maketh thou cozy, climate controlled homes for paperwork, christmas decorations etc in the main floors.

    For verily shalt thou deprive creepy crawlies of hiding spaces when thou limiteth thy basement clutter.

  35. posted by Lisbeth on

    Charley, I love the “Thou shalt toss said stuff if thou hath not used it in a year”.

    In the last ten years I have moved at least once every year which has made it very easy to deploy a ‘one-in-one-out’ rule – and I can’t imagine having a basement full of stuff. I was actually quite relieved that all my childhood dolls and dolls clothes had been stored in cardboard boxes because when clearing my mum’s attic a few years ago, it was very easy to toss all the things that had been chewed on by rodents. So the benefit of cardboard boxes (and floods) must be that they make it very easy to decide on which things to hold on to and which to toss!

  36. posted by Ellen Daehnick on

    Thou shalt not keep the boxes your stuff originally came in.

    Do you *really* think you’ll be able to wrangle that blender back into the Styrofoam inserts / folded cardboard cushioning? When you move, you or your movers will wrap that sucker in blank newsprint, put it in a standard moving box, and be done with it.

    Only exception: computer/printer/stereo boxes. When these things break (and they do), you’ll need to ship them in for repair, using the original boxes. Usually, the cushioning inserts are cleanly fashioned and easy to reposition on the equipment to get it in the box. So, you get a hall pass to keep these.

  37. posted by Carrie on

    I also don’t beleive that basements are all bad. Ask any parent with two or more children if they need the extra space! (especially those that have a cold winter and can’t get the kids outside) As my kids are now starting to have more and more friends over it’s even more important to have the extra space. I’m a work at home mom and during the winter months I want to go crazy and probably would without the basements extra square-footage!

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