Your basement may not harbor anything scarier than decades of stuff you chose not to deal with. If the thought of going down there frightens you, take heart. Here’s everything you need to know to exorcise the junk and conquer the clutter in your basement.

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Organize Your Basement

Any fan of horror movies knows things are going from bad to worse when the hapless hero heads for the cellar door – “Oh, no! Don’t go into the basement!’ However, your basement may not harbor anything scarier than decades of stuff you chose not to deal with. If the thought of going down there frightens you, take heart. Here’s everything you need to know to exorcise the junk and conquer the clutter.

As with any decluttering project, the first step towards basement organization is to purge and clean. The authors of “Organizing for Dummies,” Eileen Roth and Elizabeth Miles, recommend that you put everything to the W-A-S-T-E test:

• Worthwhile – If you haven’t used it or don’t really value it, donate it to someone who will or toss it out.

• Again – How likely are you to ever use it again? If not very often, discard or donate it.

• Somewhere else – Is this a seldom-used item that you could borrow from somebody else should the need for it ever arise? Give it to that person.

• Toss it – Will getting rid of it ruin your life? If not, you know the drill.

• Entire item – Do you need the entire set or just a couple of pieces of it? Sort through the stuff you want and get rid of the rest.

What’s Okay and Not Okay to Store in the Basement

Once you’ve identified the keepers, you need to sort out what’s appropriate for basement storage and what isn’t. Because they’re mostly subterranean, basements tend to be damp, which encourages the growth of mold and mildew. That means there are some things you should never store down there. According to Suite101.com Contributing Editor Amanda Flanigan, “Do not keep items such as baseball cards, postcards, pillows, comforters, musical instruments, wood items, photos, CDs, DVDs, and things of that nature in a basement.” Basically, Flanigan says to avoid anything that can warp, mold or mildew. She also recommends that you not store items made of paper and cloth. In addition to growing mold, those items are attractive nesting material for mice. Finally, avoid storing anything that might absorb that musty basement smell (cardboard boxes, mattresses, fabric, etc.). If you don’t have a space where you can control the humidity, these types of items are probably better off in a climate-controlled self storage unit.

On the other hand, basements are great for storing off-season items like lawn furniture and holiday decorations. Sports equipment is okay, too, as long as it isn’t leather or made from wood that can warp or rot.

Whatever you decide to store in the basement, Kelly Lee-Creel, a blogger for HomeMadeSimple.com, says to “make sure everything is free of dirt and moisture before storing.”

Prep the Space

Now it’s time to turn your basement into a proper storage area. Nobody knows more about being neat and tidy than Martha Stewart, and her website, MarthaStewart.com, offers excellent advice for preparing the space.

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• Clean and paint. Scrub the walls and floor with detergent and water followed by a rinse with a diluted household bleach solution. When it’s all dry, paint with a mold-retardant product.

• Install shelving. If at all possible, never store anything directly in contact with the basement floor. Shelving allows air to circulate.

• Install a carbon monoxide detector. You might also want to check with your county extension agent to see if your area has radon gases in the soil, in which case, you’ll want to hire someone to vent the gases to the outside.

Unclutterer.com’s Erin Doland recommends that you purchase and use a dehumidifier/humidifier. “Climate control is your friend,” says Doland. Doland also advises that all things stored should be in air-tight, hard plastic containers to keep out silverfish, crickets and other critters. Toss in a few desiccant gel packets to control moisture.

A Place for Everything

Keep the clutter and chaos under control and make it easier to find stored things when you need them. Label all your plastic bins and group like-items near each other on your shelves. You might even want to designate zones by season (summer, fall, winter, spring) or type (toys, Christmas, etc.).

Keep it Clean

You’ve gone through a lot of effort to take the fright-factor out of your basement. Keep it that way. Once a year, review the stored inventory, using the same W-A-S-T-E system suggested by Dummies.com. If you’re running out of space down there and still can’t bear to part with some items, or if you have things to store that aren’t appropriate for a basement environment, look into climate-controlled self storage.

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  • F.Cole

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