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Basement Storage – Episode II

By now many of you have heard about my organizational to-do list. Basically I preplanned the projects I should be doing in advance and now I'm trying to stay on schedule. Some tasks require large scale organization endeavors, while others are merely upkeep. For November I tackled my basement.

Down in the dungeon (it's unfinished) I'm blessed with a large space and plenty of room for storage. I even turned one nook into a sports equipment airing chamber. The bad news is that this luxury of space has prevented my wife and I from making storage decisions.

"should we keep this?"….."I don't know…put it in the basement."

The good news is that I already started the process of grouping things together and putting them in Roughneck storage containers that can survive the moist conditions of a basement. As a result, I was not trudging through loose items jumbled together in no particular order. There was a little order.

That said, my half-baked system was nowhere near perfect. Often things were just thrown into storage boxes with half-hearted thought about their commonality. Furthermore, since I was thoughtlessly putting everything down there, I now had over twenty totes! Things might have been packed but I didn't know where they were and it was a real hassle moving everything around to search.

And so I opened them all up and went through everything and sorted items into four piles;

* Keep

* Charity

* Recycle

* Junk

After that I further refined my keep pile into

* need once a year

* need 2-4 times a year

* need more then 4 times a year

Basically all the stuff in my basement was stuff I seldom used but there WAS a difference between Christmas decorations and extra linens.

With all this done it was easy to store everything in totes, label the full contents on the outside and stack them from 'needed less often' to 'most often'. In my case I could keep them all visible and figure out which one I needed with a glance.

October 006 October 007 
From this I learned two main lessons:

1) Maintenance is a lot easier then full scale reorganization

- advice as old as the hills but very true….build maintenance into your plan

2) Make your pattern simple and obvious

- likes together

- label everything and make it visible from the outside

- stack in order of use

I'm beginning to feel the momentum from my to-do list. Projects aren't as hard and I'm feeling the payoff in saved time and eliminated frustration.

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27 Responses to Basement Storage – Episode II

  1. jmorgan December 17, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    Three and a half years ago after moving into a new home I purchased around fourteen of these same RM totes for garage storage! Best thing I ever did for cutting the clutter. I hasn’t eliminated my clutter issues but that is a different story. I put a shipping label on the face of the container and took a black marker to note contents. Great for seasonal items. They stack nicely and haven’t tipped over yet. Big fan!

  2. Buck Krieger November 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    I bought a lot of your storage boxes of a certain size. (0286 2) Now when I want to buy some more of that matching box I can’t find them anywhere. The box I’m looking for is great for sorting things in my workshop. Plumbing, electrical, paint brushes, sand paper, carving tools, extra drill bits, spade drill bits, batteries, small special light bulbs and more than a dozen other things that are too numerous to categorize and store. The box I’m trying to find is the 0286 3 and it is great as part of a storage system.

    I’m also trying to find a measuring cup that looks like a beaker. It holds 2 cups and is marked for cups – ozs and mls. It is a very handy cup and I can’t find one anywhere. Any help would be appreciated. I’ve kinda been looking for years so anytime your help comes will be welcome.

    Thanks in advance,

    • Erin Gentry November 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

      Hi Buck,

      I am not sure exactly what size storage box you are indicating. The best thing to do is to call our Consumer Services department at (888) 895-2110, Monday – Friday, 8:30am – 5:00pm Eastern. They’ll be able to help you out with discovering what storage box it is and then where you might be able to order one. Or if it has been discontinued, a good comparable storage box for you.

      We no longer produce kitchen items ourselves, unfortunately.

      Sorry I was not more help!

    • George September 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

      Yes, bring back the Rubbermaid 0286. This is(was) a great container. It was the perfect size and stacked very nicely.

  3. Caroline September 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    I know this comment was posted last year, but I just read it and I wanted to say that the labelopes idea is genius. I was able to order a whole bunch of them for FREE from Canada Post and they, plus some trusty Rubbermaid Roughneck totes, will totally solve my work uniform supply problem. Thank you! :)

  4. Jack December 17, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    I use Avery Removable ID labels for my totes. I prefer the 3 1/3 x 4″ #6464. I use MS Word to print in large type, but handwriting would also work. I haven’t looked around but I guess there are suppliers other than Avery too!

  5. Diana September 30, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    Love this idea!

  6. David June 13, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    A warning from one of my mistakes that I learned from experience is be careful with ALL makes and types of PLASTIC storage containers because plastic inheritly does not breathe well(poor air circulation even with holes drilled in them) and bacteria, mildew, & especially very bad ‘mold’ can build up on certain items like some paper products, cloth-clothing, and other soft items. You should store this type of stuff in boxes made from a breathable material like wood(preferrably cedar or redwood) or cardboard boxes, with some air ventilation. If you are worried about mice or bugs getting through the air vents, then put ‘metal-wire’(or less effective plastic screen that mice could chew ) window screen over the vent holes or very narrow long openings between the 1×4 or 1×6 wood boards on the storage boxes.
    I had so much mold on some of my stuff in plastic storage boxes that I had to throw alot of it away. This can also be harmful if you breathe it in your lungs as well.
    BUT plastic containers are still very good to store hard items like electronics, tools, plastic items, Christmas decorations, etc. that do not mold.
    Hope this helps!

  7. Marriann March 29, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    AMEN! Love the idea of a shelving system that lets me get the bottom container without off-loading the ones above it!!!!!! I have that for my spring water huge bottles that get delivered,…why not for Rubbermaid?!?!?! I am such a container snob and will not buy any of the crappy Sterlite or other such junk out there. Keep growing Rubbermaid, your fans are behind you! And, colors-more colors please. I organize not only by person but by season. I have colors for some seasons (dark green for falll, purple for Easter, blue for summer…..) but need lots more!! Pinks, light and dark. Oranges, Blues, ….. you get the idea. Thanks!!

  8. Suzi February 16, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    You can purchase clear vinyl pockets the size of a 3×5 index card. They are sticky and you can apply them to the side of the tote and change the card when you change use of the tote. They are like envelopes.

  9. Anne February 15, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    I have a Brother labeller and a Dymo labeller that I can’t live without. We label everything, the labels stay on and come off when you need them to. The kids even label their things! The new labeller that are out there are really great!

  10. Brian Miller February 11, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    Lisa that’s a great idea!
    When you only have one line of totes with your label of contents facing you…’re ok.
    But if you have multiple layers of totes its easy to forget what’s where and avoid the whole thing like the plague. That’s how things get lost and unorganized.
    I like your spreadheet idea. Its kind of like a legend or a quick reference to find your stuff.
    Your last point is key….”I update a few times a year as needed.” That kind of regular organizational upkeep is crucial to any system.
    Good on you.

  11. Lisa N February 10, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    I number all my bins with sharpie markers on both sides and top (I have over 30!), then use an Excel spreadsheet to keep a list of all contents for the bins by number.
    Then I print out the spreadsheet wherever I store the bins (closet, basement, etc) and make notes on it when I empty one or change contents and update a few times a year as needed. Works great!

  12. julia February 10, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    Love the bins, but I bought the Rubbermaid containers with easyfind lids, Love them.

  13. Katie February 10, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    When we inherited our home, one large 20′ X 12′ room was full of
    amazing things like hundreds of unused, flattened shirt boxes,
    new clothes in a pile with the tags on, and two very old Hollywood beds. Once those were gone we planned to move in, and I had a very bad accident three weeks before moving day. I’m a big fan of Roughneck storage boxes so we had a lot of things we’d planned to part with before the move in those, and because of the accident they just got moved to the house.
    Nicknamed “The Rubbermaid Room,” it stayed packed full and totally disorganized as things migrated in. In the last three weeks I emptied ALL 40-plus bins, found homes for what was in them and 20
    of the bins! The plan is, as we can afford it, to seal the old floor, put in a new floor, paint the room and repurpose it as part guest and play room, part storage (with tasteful Rubbermaid boxes in plum, sage, green and gray)!

  14. Lori February 9, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    I have a great idea for labeling. Purolator or DHL have these wonderful clear pocket “labelopes” that they use to slide the address label into on their packages. they come with a sticky back. So stick one of these to the tote and take a paper with your list on it and slip it into the clear pouch. Very easy to read and you can always update the list.

  15. Jeanie February 9, 2010 at 6:01 pm #

    HI Jennifer:
    Try spraying hairspray to remove the marker from the tote.

  16. Brian Miller February 9, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    These are a lot of great ideas!
    I guess it all depends on how “neat” you want it to look.
    We all have different thresholds.
    To me the duct taped paper works fine.
    It allows me to easily see what’s being stored inside.
    That said….I wouldn’t be able to get away with it anywhere else but the basement (ok maybe the garage).

  17. Alicia February 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    Hi! I use a strip of Duct tape. The 3 inch wide works best. Lots of room to write and it does not come off until you want it to. I write on this with a Sharpie. I have some Roughneck containers that have had their labels for years with no problems.

  18. Michelle Schaefer February 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    I used to write on the bins with a Sharpie thinking I would NEVER change the contents…lol…not the case. So now I just use chalk…don’t even need the chalkboard paint. And then when you re-use the bin you can just erase and start over :)

  19. Visitor February 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Another idea is to paint onto the tote a little patch using chalkboard paint. If you want it to look really neat, first measure and make a frame with masking/painting tape so you get a nice straight edge when you paint the center. Then you can write with chalk. Not ideal if the kids/dog will erase it, but probably OK for many households.

  20. Visitor February 9, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    In office supply stores, you can find clear plastic pockets/sleeves. There are sizes for CD’s, computer disks, 8.5×11 paper, etc. Attach the clear plastic pocket/sleeve to the tote (open slit at the top) and just slide in your card/label. I have old ones for floppy disks that are intended to keep the disk with a binder or file, and they have a peel off backing.
    When we lived in NYC and shared the basement storage area with other owners in the building, a luggage tag worked great; just thread it around the handle. We couldn’t trust neighbors not to bonk off our labels when they were moving their own storage items around. If you don’t have enough luggage tags, make some with a laminator. There are probably a lot of recurring labels you use, so make some extras.

  21. Jennifer February 9, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    I am also a fan of Rubbermaid storage containers for my basement. We are in the process of a basement remodel and we had our contractor build shelves specifically for Rubbermaid totes. He basically made 2 walls of shelving with individual cubbies for totes. They are still finishing up, but I cannot wait!
    I am always looking for good ways to label my totes. I have tried the taping on paper labels or 3×5 cards and I am getting lazy with that. I have used the masking tape and labels from a label maker, but mine always start peeling rather quickly. My favorite look is just using a Sharpie Marker right on the tote itself, but then there is the obvious and frustrating problem of making a change on contents later on. I would love it if Rubbermaid came up with a solution such as a plastic sleeve on one side that a card could slide into, or maybe a small write on/wipe off area…who knows. Keep me posted if you ever have a brainstorming session or focus group on this topic :)

    • Adriana April 11, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

      I like labeling my totes using a piece of clear packing tape and a sharpie on the tape, that way you still have the flexibility of making changes and not ruining the tote, and I haven’t had a problem with them peeling off.

  22. ML February 9, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Just make your labels out of that beige colored masking tape. It comes in a couple of widths…3/4″, 1+”, and 2+”. This way you write on the tape whats in the box, and just tape it on. Add more? Use more tape. and it’s easily changeable. I personally write whats in the box on a 5 x 7 card or paper, and just tape that onto the box. Works for me. Hope this can help you out!

  23. Brian Miller January 5, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    Hello Mikael.
    Thanks for your note.
    As for a ‘shelving system that holds roughneck totes’ unfortunately we don’t make one. That said if you go to any big box retailer they’ll have resin shelving units (5 tier and 4 tier) that can hold them.
    As for the “suggestion box” go to

  24. Mikael January 5, 2010 at 8:46 am #

    Like your system – I’m a big fan of organizing using roughneck totes. Probably have 50 in the attic, basement and storage. However, I wish Rubbermaid would make a shelving system especially for the roughneck totes, so I can reach the bottom one without having to move the one’s stacked on top. It could be modular and made out of plastic tubes or something. Also, the labeling of totes can be an issue. I wish there was a neat and clean system to manage labels.
    - I tried to submit these ideas on the Rubbermaid site but I didn’t find a “Suggestion box” or antything like that.

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