25 Things in Your Basement That a Professional Organizer Would Throw Out
Stocking up on random items is easy, but decluttering the basement and starting fresh is hard. Here’s what an expert organizer says you can and should toss, guilt-free.
Dump the junk!
We’ve all done it: We go on a cleaning binge because people are coming over, and at some point, we run out of time and just start tossing stuff into the cellar. The problem is that it’s all too easy to forget about that stuff once it’s there, and then your basement starts resembling a giant storage closet.
Whether finished or unfinished, the lower level of your home is not meant to be a long-term storage spot. Items such as dried-up paint cans, mildewed cardboard boxes and ancient electronics are found in the basement, and at times, should be scrapped. As a professional organizer, I’m sharing how to declutter the basement fast, along with more items you should remove as you tackle your cleaning schedule—and without regret.
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Most of us are in the habit of hanging onto the packaging from expensive appliances or electronics, just in case we ever want to box them up again. But if a cardboard box has been hanging out in your basement for months or years, it’s time to let it go. Plus, if the product is past its warranty period, you can feel confident about recycling it. Breaking down a big stack of boxes will give you an instant sense of accomplishment and declutter the basement fast. And it frees up space, so you’ll have room to move around while you find more things to throw out.
Old or broken electronics
Is it even a basement if you don’t have a console television or a broken VCR sitting down there? Yes—and no, they’re not worth keeping because they’re “vintage.” Stop rationalizing and start getting rid of your unusable things. Not knowing how to properly dispose of old and broken electronics might account for the fact that you’ve accumulated such a big pile of them.
Cans of paint
Basements tend to be a repository for hazardous materials—everything from mostly empty cans of house paint to expired batteries, insecticides, weed killers and maybe even a random car tire. Just like old electronics, these items that you no longer need, expired or not, should be disposed of properly to avoid fire hazards, among other things. And that doesn’t mean just tossing them in the trash. So what should you do? Most towns offer a hazardous-waste disposal option; if yours doesn’t, search Earth911 for local options.
Rarely used kitchen gadgets
Maybe it’s a waffle iron or a bread machine you received as a wedding gift and never unboxed. Or an old coffee maker you’re keeping just in case the good one breaks. Countertop appliances that never see the light of day need to go. This also goes for that ice cream maker and panini press you were so excited about but never found the time to use. What’s more, we can’t forget about those pots and pans that’ll never fit in your kitchen. Trust me—you won’t miss them.
Exercise equipment that’s collecting dust
Seriously, when was the last time you used those dusty dumbbells? Did you even remember they were down there? And if you’re using your treadmill as a clothes drying rack, it’s time to toss it and any other exercise equipment you’re not using. The good news is that you can easily declutter the basement (and get some exercise in!) by dragging it up and out.
Broken holiday lights
Almost every basement contains at least one broken strand of holiday lights. Give up the dream that you’ll ever get them to work again and throw them out. This is also the time to toss the popped inflatable holiday lawn decorations and that pre-lit reindeer with the left leg that’s gone missing. Some home improvement stores collect broken holiday lights. Or you could mail your lights to Holiday LEDs for recycling year-round and in exchange for a coupon. Pare down to only the working decorations.
Home renovation remnants
Are you hanging onto a few floor tiles from a bathroom renovation, two renovations ago? Or a mostly empty can of house paint that doesn’t look like it matches any room in your home? These home improvement leftovers, including scraps of carpeting, must go. If they are in reasonable shape, consider donating them to a Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
Games with missing pieces
Putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle only to realize you only have 999 pieces isn’t much fun. Sure, you could color in a tiny piece of paper to complete the puzzle, but will you really? And what about that Monopoly set that’s now missing the top hat and the race car? It’s time to say buh-bye to that set and any other board games that are missing crucial pieces. Believe it or not, you can cash in on your clutter by selling random pieces on Etsy.
That random box of stuff
At some point, we’ve all experienced the mystery box. It’s the unlabeled box that’s been sitting in the basement for years. You may have moved in with it and just never unpacked it—possibly more than once. No one knows what’s inside, yet you keep the box. Anything that’s been untouched for that long isn’t needed and therefore can be tossed immediately.
Coffee cans full of nails
Most of us have a coffee can, or 10, filled to the brim with rusty nails and screws. Organize your collection and pare down the ridiculous quantity of hardware—you can’t possibly have a need for every nut and bolt, especially ones that aren’t even in good shape. Also toss dried-out super glue and cheap clamps that don’t align properly.
Someone else’s stuff
Your basement may have inadvertently become a storage unit for someone else’s stuff. Maybe that person left it behind when they moved out. Or someone asked you to hold onto something with the intention of coming back for it. Declutter the basement by asking them to come collect their belongings.
Unless you’re opening a florist shop, you don’t need to keep more than a few vases and pots. Toss the cobweb-filled flowerpots, crumbling florist foam and cracked vases. If you’ve amassed quite the collection, find out how to donate the ones that are still in good condition, or call a local florist to ask if they want them.
Old sports equipment
It doesn’t take long to accrue enough balls and bats to be able to outfit a whole team. You may have also accumulated equipment for sports you no longer participate in, like skiing or snowboarding. Or maybe the items were for kids who’ve now outgrown them. (Think: cleats, knee pads and helmets.) Pass along the items to a friend, or maybe there are some things you can donate.
Items earmarked for donation
You already did the hard part: While decluttering other rooms in your home, you decided to give away certain items. The only problem is, you never got them out the door. They’re not doing anyone any good stuck in the basement, so schedule a pickup by a charitable organization. Do it now (yes, right now) so the items actually leave your house this time around.
Storing unused books, including textbooks, is a waste of space. Books do not store well in dark, damp spaces, like unfinished basements. Many local libraries accept book donations, which they, in turn, sell to benefit the library. Of course, recycle any books that can’t be salvaged.
Framed posters and paintings
If it isn’t on the wall now, there is most likely a reason. If you aren’t displaying that canvas painting, poster or piece of metal art, then out it should go! The art pieces in decent condition can be donated, while those creations you couldn’t clean stains and smudges from are ready to be thrown away.
Items you meant to sell
The time has come to toss or sell your clothes and unwanted items that you’ve been saving for a future garage sale that’s never going to happen. The truth is, letting that stuff sit in the basement for months hasn’t made it more valuable. You will, however, find value in reclaiming space in your basement by letting it go.
Half-finished craft projects
Unfinished craft projects tend to be cast aside, left to collect dust in the basement. Unfortunately, starting, say, a Christmas craft project is usually much more fun than finishing it, and you certainly won’t be more inclined to complete that needlepoint, cross-stitch or quilt by hiding it in the basement. Declutter the basement by throwing away these forgotten items.
You may have inherited furniture, upgraded one piece but kept the old one, or picked up someone’s castoff curbside with plans to refinish it. And now your basement looks like a furniture store. These pieces tend to degrade in storage. Sell, donate or pass them along to someone who needs the pieces you have to share.
It’s time to toss suitcases and carry-ons that have taken one too many trips. Retiring broken pieces, like luggage with wheels that don’t roll, cases with cracked telescoping handles or busted zippers will help declutter the basement.
All the baskets
Wicker doesn’t last forever. It’s time to throw away all those brittle and broken baskets—the tall ones, the small ones, the seasonal ones and the ones you can’t remember where they came from. Donate any that are still in good shape. And if you have a picnic basket, unless you picnic regularly, let it go and use a cooler instead.
Party supplies that aren’t in perfect shape
Leftover party supplies need to go, especially the crumpled ones. This includes crushed party hats, blowers that don’t blow and crinkled crepe paper. Say goodbye to the torn tablecloth and the “Happy Sweet 16” banner from a decade ago. Use up any leftover-themed paper goods, like plates, napkins and cups, and start fresh for your next celebration.
Old lighting fixtures
It’s all too common to find unused light fixtures hiding in the basement, from lamp bases and random lamp shades to a ceiling fan or wall sconce. Whether you upgraded when you moved in or you’ve made some design changes in the last few years, chances are you saved the old one just in case. But remember: If you liked it or it worked properly, you wouldn’t have replaced it, so throw it out.
Rickety card tables
Pieces of flimsy, foldable furniture need to go—including furniture that’s difficult to clean. Unstable furniture like tables without locking legs can be dangerous to use, and no one wants to sit on a rusty or uncomfortable folding chair. Declutter the basement by throwing it all away—and don’t look back.
Organizing equipment that didn’t quite work
There’s a good chance you bought something to help you get organized at some point that either didn’t work or you stopped using because you found something better. Now that solution has become part of your basement-clutter problem. Let it go, regret-free, because if you needed it, you would have come looking for it by now.