We are nearing the end of this challenge, and thought we’d save the best (and perhaps most challenging) for last!
Just about every home in America has some kind of built in storage space, whether it be a garage, attic, basement or weird hidden nook under the stairs. And just as ubiquitously, nearly every household has the same skeletons lurking there and causing clutter buildup: postponed decisions.
What do these postponed decisions look like? That chair that you were thinking of refinishing, the clothing item from three months ago that you need to return, and the freezer that doesn’t work are all items that represent an action that has not yet been taken.
But in addition to housing those postponed decisions, residential storage spaces must hold a lot of other practical things that actually belong there, like paint, garden tools, holiday decorations and sporting equipment. The result can mean chaos for a lot of families.
Half the battle with cleaning out a storage space like this is making those decisions and then taking action.
Home storage areas are often considered the hardest to tackle on one’s own, due to inevitable overwhelm related to facing all of those decisions at once. But interestingly, they are often the easiest to work in when you have a professional organizer or some other accountability person working alongside you. Why? Because explaining your reasons for keeping something to another person (getting the thought outside of your head) allows you to finally make the decision for good.
It is also worth noting that having a second person when working in storage spaces is also incredibly important for safety. When items get piled up and are heavy to move, it’s best to have someone spotting you!
How to Organize Your Storage
Are you ready to get started! Let’s break it down.
1. Before you begin working in a storage space like a garage or basement, be prepared! Wear sturdy shoes, gloves, and a mask if necessary. Be sure to eat and drink lots of water beforehand. Choose a day that is completely open and make sure to have helpers on hand. Large storage areas are especially hard work, and often represent many years of buildup. Be realistic about how much time you need and clear your schedule for at least an entire day.
Make sure to have boxes or bins handy for sorting, and lots of black garbage bags for donation items. Finally, have your calendar or planner with you (I’ll explain why in a bit).
2. As you work, focus first on placing like items together. This will help with the decision making process later on. “Batching” this work makes it much less overwhelming, and lets you see everything you have. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself during this stage – just focus on getting like items together.
3. Once the piles are sorted, you can begin to declutter. Make those decisions now and don’t hold back! Ask yourself more questions beyond: “do I want to keep this?” If the answer is yes, then ask when you plan to address it. Here is where your calendar or planner will come in handy. Pull it out and decide when you are actually going to repair that chair or return those clothing items, and add it to your schedule. Pushing yourself to schedule it will help you verify that you are serious about taking action. If you are not, let it go.
4. Once you have decluttered, you are ready to containerize! We HIGHLY recommend clear bins for everything in a storage space. The light in these areas is often less than stellar, and clear bins allow you to easily see what is inside. Large label sleeves let you relabel easily as contents inevitably change. We like these Self-Adhesive Poly Pockets from Smead.
5. We recommend creating “zones” in storage areas. Similar to a classroom or other high traffic area, zones helps communicate where things live! For example, group sports items and camping gear all together in one spot. Think about the “valuable real estate” areas and reserve them for items you are getting into often, such as canned goods or gardening tools.
6. As we said, storage spaces become crowded because we put off making decisions. Part of staying organized is about keeping up the work. Going forward, commit to spending five minutes a day making decisions and putting things away! You will be amazed at the difference five minutes a day makes.