March 13, 2013 at 3:22 PM ET
Is your basement a giant storage room of chaos filled with stuff you never use? Do you store kitchen appliances you never use there, just in case? Is it the resting place for toys that don’t get played with, school projects that never get looked at and cute shopping bags you feel the need to save?
Kick the Storage Habit
The first step to a de-cluttered basement: Stop using it as a way to avoid making decisions! Next time you head down the stairs, ask yourself why you’re holding onto the thing you’re carrying—read: old vacuum cleaner, shoe box, or never-played with toys. Once you ask, you’ll often find there really no reason to keep the item at all. That’s when it’s time to find a better home for it—donate it, give it to a friend, or trash it. But keep it out of your basement.
Get Ready to Purge
If there wasn’t so much clutter in your basement, what would you be able to use that space for? Deciding on an “end game” will give you the inspiration to tackle what’s ahead.
Step 1: Donate and Trash
Make a pick-up appointment with a local charity that accepts donations—my favorite is GoodDonor. The idea at this stage is not to go through everything but to try to make a big dent quickly by wedding out the stuff that you know you don’t need. Have some large trash bags ready to immediately pack up the things that aren’t even worth donating. Devoting just a few hours to removing stuff you know you don’t want will open up space and give you the motivation to keep going.
Step 2: Empty Out a Section
Pick a place to start, maybe a small 3-foot area next to the steps, and empty out that entire area so you have a cleared space to start sorting stuff as you declutter.
Step 3: Purge and Sort
Pick a section next to your “emptied out” area and work your way from left to the right, touching every single item, every box, and every bin. Nothing should be left until “later”. Decide on the spot whether to keep it, donate it, toss it or relocate it. The criteria to keep an item? You have to love it, use it, need it, or want it... AND have room to store it.
Too often, we hold onto things out of guilt because someone special gave it to us. But as long as you acknowledged the gift when you received it, your obligation is done. If it isn’t useful and doesn’t make you happy, get rid of it.
Continue working from one section to the next, over days or even weeks until you have purged everything you don't want or need. As you go, sort like-items together into piles. This will make it easier for you to determine how to store them once you are done de-cluttering.
Work in 1-2 hour bursts and walk away from the project when you start to become sluggish with your decision-making. Step 4: Put Stuff Away
Once you’ve removed everything you don’t need, put things away in a newer, clean, and organized space. And turn your newly organized basement into a functional area that your family can really use.
iVoice correspondent Sharon Rowley is the Mom to 6 kids ages 7-12. Sharon blogs daily at Momof6 where she shares her ideas for Moms, and you can find her on Twitter @sharonmomof6
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.