How to: Be at peace with your basement

I gave a presentation on rightsizing last week where I heard a woman describe the lower level of her home as “the basement of shame.”  She said it with a laugh, but there was a twinge in her eyes as she said it, which told us that she really did feel ashamed at the state of it.

The reason it was something she is ashamed of is that she has boxes (and boxes, upon boxes) of items from her mom’s house that have been stored there for over a decade.  Her mom passed away many years ago, and at the time they had to get her mom’s home empty in a hurry, and she couldn’t bear to let go of many of her mother’s items.  So the boxes came to her house and have been taking up residence in her “basement of shame” ever since.

That’s the thing about basements – they are an out of the way place where things go that we don’t have the energy to deal with just yet.  It is the place where delayed decisions go to die.  It is a place that gets filled up and then weighs heavily on our minds.

So how do you feel at peace with your basement?  First, take an inventory of what’s there.  What are we talking about in your basement?  How much of it is “excess stuff” that stresses you out and how much of it do you like and enjoy having down there?  Walk through your basement and open every drawer, every closet and every room.  Make note of the areas that are stressing you out.

Then, determine what kinds of things are cluttering up those areas?   Is it old photographs, keepsake items from family members who have passed away, toys from your children or grandchildren that never get played with anymore, old clothes no one is wearing, seasonal decorations that haven’t been put up for years, stacks of old paperwork and files?  After you identify what specifically is in the basement that is burdening you, tackle the items one category at a time.

  • If it’s photographs, start sorting through the photos, discard the ones you no longer wish to keep, and put those you do wish to keep in a neat and tidy photo storage box.
  • If it’s items from your mother’s house, put them all in one pile and start opening them one by one. Give yourself a reasonable limit as to how much STUFF from your mom’s house are you willing to store in the name of “memories.” (Remember that objects don’t hold memories, people do.)  Maybe that’s 2 or 3 boxes – be ruthless and make priorities as you sort.  Keep ONLY the best stuff, and ONLY as much as will fit in two or three boxes.  Let the rest of it go – sell it at a garage sale, donate it, get it out of your house.  If it’s causing you stress already, it is defeating the very purpose you had for keeping it in the first place.  Keepsakes are supposed to bring you joy and make you happy to remind you of your loved one – your loved one never wanted their stuff to be an albatross around your neck.
  • If it’s outdated toys that are no longer played with, ask your family members who have children if they would like the items and if not, donate them to a local child care center.
  • If it’s old clothing, bag it up right now and take it to a charity donation center.
  • If it’s seasonal décor, determine how much Christmas/Easter/Fall décor is right for you and your house, and then limit yourself to keeping ONLY the best items that will fit in 2 or 3 or 5 boxes (whatever you determine your limit is going to be).

Do you see the process?  It’s not rocket science, it just involves being thoughtful about your stuff, determining what your limit will be (how much STUFF you’re willing to store in your house) and sticking to that limit.  Because when you are intentional about what is being stored in your basement, when you have carefully selected and made an active choice about what you will keep, then you can no longer feel ashamed of your basement – you’ll feel at peace.