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Decluttering a Basement

Think you’re the only one in your neighborhood with extra “stuff” in your basement? Call it what you will — the dungeon, hodgepodge, land of shambles, black hole, junk room, muddle, odds, and sods — most of us live with some degree of disorder in our basements.

As a matter of fact, some startling statistics can let you know your cluttered basement is far from the exception to the rule:

  • 54% of Americans find themselves overwhelmed by clutter, and 74% have no idea what to do with it.
  • The number 1 reason people gave for buying things that ended up unused and taking up space in their homes was that they simply wanted it.
  • 47% of those polled by OnePoll don’t let guests into parts of their homes because of how dirty and cluttered they are.
  • 1 in 4 Americans don’t have room to park in their garage.

If any of this resonates with you, we’ve got helpful ways to tackle and come to terms with decluttering your basement. In ways that won’t have you throwing up your hands in despair and thinking you’ll never be able to reclaim the space.

Tips to Get into the Right Frame of Mind

If you’re one of the over 50% of Americans stressed out by a messy or cluttered home, you may want to get into the right frame of mind before tackling this project. We’ve found a few helpful tips to share that might help break down this seemingly monumental job into manageable bites.

Sean Perry, a cleaning expert with Neat Services in London, England, recommends breaking up the job into 15-minute increments. If 15 minutes will hardly get you started, set a time limit that suits your working style.

Just make sure to take breaks, rehydrate and fuel up to you don’t dread the next time you want to continue the project.

Commit to a lot of “letting go.” We’ve seen too many people attempt to declutter their space but then struggle to let items go in case they might need them some unspecified time in the future.

Marie Kondo started a tidying revolution by asking her clients whether each item in their homes brings them joy before keeping them. You may not need to go to this extreme, but if you’re keeping more than you’re letting go, you may need to ask yourself if things are truly worth keeping.

A Cluttered Space

Here are six questions to ask, if you find yourself stuck at this point

  • Do I use this regularly?
  • Is it something I love?
  • Am I keeping it out of obligation?
  • Am I keeping it “just in case”?
  • Do I have more than one of the same thing?
  • Is it broken?

Make it as fun as possible. Nothing will eliminate the fact that decluttering is hard work, but there are some things you can do that can ease the “work” aspect and make the time go by more enjoyably.

How to Start the Process

Before you roll up your sleeves and start taking back your basement space, you take some pictures. Because once you have done all the hard work and can again move easily and freely around what was previously cluttered, it will be very rewarding to look back and see how far you’ve come!

Whether your basement is a finished or unfinished space, if it’s cluttered, there are sure to be lots of items that can and need to be removed to create a workable area where you can pull items out and decide what needs to happen with them.

The first step is investing in a box of heavy-duty, large garbage bags. It’s worth the investment in purchasing these extra-thick bags, as the heavier the bags get with unwanted items, the easier bags may tear.

Depending on how cluttered the basement is, you can gain quite a bit of space by starting in one spot and simply filling the bags with the things that will go directly into your large garbage carts or blue cart recycle bins.

Trashing Boxed Items

The more trash — destined either for the landfill or for a recycling center — you gather, the sooner your garbage carts will be filled. You may want to securely fasten the bags and put them in one spot ready for removal.

This will let you know if your city garbage pick-up service can handle the amount of trash you generate, if you need to take a trip to a recycling center or to the dump, or if you need to call JunkRelief to come and help you out.

Whatever can be broken down or collapsed will also give you more room to maneuver as you continue your decluttering project.

Depending on how much clutter has accumulated in your basement, you’ll have to assess whether you can sweep the entire basement, one area at a time. Or, if the clutter has moved towards hoarding proportions, you can simply gather any and all trash that you can reach.

Ideally, you want to clear enough space so that you can move towards sorting what remains after garbage and any recycling items are removed.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve cleared at least a little space, you’ll hopefully be able to use clear floor space to sort through the clutter left. A tried and true sorting system for clearing up is to create zones for items based on where they need to go.

But before you dive into the minutiae of sorting through everything that’s taking up real estate in the basement, you’ll want to do a rough short. Many people get overwhelmed and give up when clearing out rooms or even their homes because they try to do too much in one “pass.”

Think of sorting through your belongings the same way you paint a room. No one tries to apply every coat of paint in one covering. The darker the color, the more coats of paint it takes to get a fully finished paint job.

That strategy works well for clearing up clutter as well. It may take three or even four “passes” to clean out, declutter and set up systems to store everything you want.

Organizing Various Boxes

Once you’ve disposed of trash and the kinds of recyclables that fit into your large recycle cart, the first “rough pass” lets you sort things into four separate piles:

  • Items that can be recycled (but are too big or bulky for the recycle cart)
  • Items that can be sold (to help fund the storage systems and bins to house what’s left)
  • Items to give away (to someone who could use them or love them more)
  • Items that need to find a home in your newly decluttered basement

Don’t worry about sorting more precisely at this stage. Once you’ve determined what to keep and what to get rid of by recycling, selling, or giving away, you can take the next step of getting rid of the things that no longer need a home in the basement.

In Chicago, some recyclables can’t be put into your blue cart recycling bin. These items include:

  • Electronics
  • Ink cartridges
  • Batteries
  • Phones
  • Damaged books
  • Damaged VHS tapes, DVDs, and CDs
  • Aerosol cans
  • Paint cans


While this requires more work, it may be worth selling the things you no longer have use for. There are plenty of online platforms where you can post photos of your items, describe them, and offer them for sale.

Facebook Marketplace

Some of the best ways to sell your things online in Chicago are through:

Tips for selling online to clear out your clutter:

  1. Make sure the item is in good shape
  2. Take pictures from all angles in good, natural light
  3. Write a thorough description with any measurements, sizes, etc.
  4. Price it well, but remember that most people will ask if you’ll accept a price lower than your listed sale price.

Give away

Giving away the clutter you no longer need or want may be one of the most effective ways of clearing out extra clutter in your basement.

You’ll probably need cardboard boxes and some of your hefty, extra-strong garbage bags to contain the items you’re preparing to leave your home.

Craigslist Moving Boxes

The best places to find free cardboard boxes in Chicago are:

If you have many items to “pay forward,” you might want to offer family and friends the opportunity to “shop for free” in your basement. This saves you the work of boxing up and transporting boxes and bags to your local second-hand stores.

Set a window of time where people you know and trust can browse and take away items from your basement, and once that window has closed, the remaining items can be taken away to support a second-hand store.

Some second-hand stores like Value Village offer a 20% discount for donations, while others reward you with a smile and gratitude. Many local programs benefit from second-hand stores — the Salvation Army, hospital programs, etc.

Getting to this point will probably take longer than an evening or weekend, but once you’re past this point, you can start a deeper sorting to organize and find a home for what’s left.

How to Organize Everything You Own

The process is the same whether you’re organizing a room, basement, or entire home. You may find this hard to believe, but some people find this next step fun.

We’re going to break the work down to its simplest parts to make it as easy as possible for you.

Couple Organizing Boxes

Whatever is left once you’ve gotten rid of, sold, or given away needs to be boxed up and stored in ways and places that will keep you organized.

  • Group all like items together
  • Choose the right type and size of container or box
  • Clearly label the container or box
  • Place the containers and boxes where you can easily access them.

To start sorting what’s left, group all like items together. Like you did your rough sort, you’ll now want to create piles of things that fall into the same category.

  • Off-season clothing
  • Seasonal decorations
  • Sports-related items
  • Extra kitchen supplies
  • Suitcases and other travel items
  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Outdoor decorations
  • Extra books and toys
  • Extra pantry items
  • Etc.

Now take each of these categories and do a further sort. This will help you find the right size of container or box in which to place them. For example, when sorting your seasonal decorations, you can start by separating Easter, birthdays, Halloween, and Christmas decorations.

Then fine-tune the sorting even further. Organize your Christmas decorations into:

  • Lights
  • Tree ornaments
  • Garlands
  • Christmas dishes
  • Etc.

By choosing the right type and size of container or box, you can capitalize on how much space the boxes take up on your shelving. A great way to keep on top of what stuff is where is to keep separate items in their own individual boxes.

Using the Christmas decorations as an example, find one box that will hold all your indoor Christmas lights and one that holds the outdoor lights. Match the size of the box to what will be inside it and aim to have as little empty space inside the container.

That will help you keep similar things together and prevent you (or others) from adding unrelated items to a designated box.

Clearly label the containers and boxes. Once you implement an “only like things together” strategy, it becomes much easier to quickly and easily retrieve exactly what you’re looking for.

Clearly Labeling a Box

Place a label on more than one side of the box or container. By putting a label on the top, and two sizes of each box or container, you can instantly see what’s in each box, no matter how it’s arranged on the shelves.

Place the containers and boxes where you can easily access them. The last step in decluttering your basement is to install adjustable shelving and fill them with the boxes and containers you’ve just filled.

Again, keep similar boxes and containers together in designated areas of the basement. That way, you can send a family member downstairs to find their own pair of rollerblades in its designated area while you stay upstairs and enjoy finishing your cup of coffee.

And, as always, as you start to tackle your decluttering project in your basement, we’re here to help you clear out and haul away whatever you need help with. All you need to do is reach out and contact us.

You can do that through phone, email, text, website messaging, or filling out our form. With just a few pictures and some discussion, we can give you a quote to have everything hauled away, schedule a time to do it, and you’ll be free to have it handled and out of your hair ASAP.


Joe Weidman

Joe is a Chicago native, born and raised in Elmhurst. He founded Junk Relief more than 10 years ago and has worked with more than 20,000 homeowners and businesses throughout Chicagoland. His passion for starting a business in junk removal stemmed from seeing the need to do things differently. He prides himself on his company's model to provide unexpectedly professional service.


If you’ve got junk in Chicago or the Chicagoland Suburbs, we can help. CALL US or TEXT US at (312) 800-1940.


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