In our home, few things cause more frustration, anger, annoyance, and downright disgust from Wendy than the general state of our basement. She's routinely upset at the heightened level of disaster I allow in the basement, but it's by no means just a storage area. I'm the first to admit, it's seen better days. Like the first few weeks after we moved in, back when we hadn't yet unpacked our boxes and didn't yet own many tools. 

Though our basement is quite large, roughly 15' by 30', it's unfortunately become our defacto laundry room/food pantry/storage area/dog washing station/project staging area/utility closet/woodshop/anything else we need to do with it. As you can probably guess, at any given moment we're actively using our basement for multiple projects and laundry, so the juggling act is not always easy. This has lead to a rather unsightly and disorganized mess.

We've made several attempts to organize the space, including building shelves, rearranging items, and collecting ans begrudgingly discarding loose wood scraps, but the nature of our ongoing projects tends to get us back to square one disaster in less time than we'd like.

From time to time, the basement can truly get out of hand. When this happens, and Wendy inadvertently gets separated from the pack and wanders into the basement alone, all bets are off. Moments like these usually start out as a goodwill gesture and offer of assistance. "Hey, I went into the basement and it's in need of a little tidying. Do you want me to help you clean it up?"

Building shelves, circa 2003

At face value, it's a simple and generous request. What I hear her saying is, "Hey, I noticed the mounting problem and I want to help." What she's actually saying is "The basement is a f#@$ing disaster, I'm about to divorce you because I just almost broke my neck tripping over some of the wood and tools you've left laying around because you are an insensitive jerk and don't want to find an appropriate place to put it, I borderline hate you and can't believe you've made me live like this, don't you see what I see, let's go into the basement and try to clean while I yell at you, and I better go down the stairs first because if I follow you down there it's just as likely that I'll push you down the stairs and make it look like an accident and we'll never even get to cleaning. Were you raised by wolves?" I've just re-read that several times ans I feel it is a very accurate depiction of the typical events, if I do say so myself.

I used to accept her offer of helping me clean until I learned better after 10 or so attempts. I may not be a quick man.

The thing is, she's 100% right, and I'm secure in my person enough to admit this. The basement is a disaster. There's too much down there and not enough room. The fact I'm using it as a wood shop makes it dirtier/dustier than it should be, and this is a bad thing since so much tends to revolve around being clean (laundry, food storage, dog baths, etc).

One of our resolutions for 2013 is to rid the basement of the hulking oil drum in the corner. It's currently hidden behind some drywall and peg boards to the left of the washer and dryer. But I know it's not just a quick and easy task of removal, especially if we can't even get back in that area to remove it.

Throughout 2012, and as 2012 turned into 2013, I slowly and methodically worked to get a handle on the basement. I made a point to throw at least one thing away or put away at least one of my tools I wasn't using every time I was in the basement. Sometimes I'd work for a few minutes, others an hour or more, but over time I started to notice a slow but significant reduction in the general mess.

After Christmas this year, where I was the fortunate recipient of many new and wonderful tools, I was faced with a problem. Where would I be able to put them?

More on those tools in the coming days. Before I'll ever get a chance to use them I think I'll need a good location for them. I glanced over at my rudimentary workbench and this is what I saw.

How had it gotten so bad? At that moment I resolved to clean and better organize the space, yet again. I worked for a few hours and slowly put everything in its rightful place. After a significant effort, our tools had been wrangled and my workbench was once again able to support work.

Another area of our basement that had reached maximum capacity was the small food storage shelf we'd been using for years.

This shelf, built by my parents in the 1970s, was made from particle board that had been sanded and stained. Who knew you could do that with particle board?

When my parents came to Alexandria for Christmas this year they brought a great little gift. They had an antique cabinet in their garage they weren't using any longer and asked if we wanted it.

Absolutely! It's a great rustic old piece that will work well in our basement to better protect the items it's storing. It's wider, deeper, and nicer than that old 1970s shelf.

I went ahead and filled all of our stuff back into the new cabinet, and after a few minutes all of our stuff had only filled about 2/3 of the cabinet's space. Perfect!

I've continued to work to organize the basement a little further and am quite happy to report that I am able to successfully maneuver throughout the basement without issue. It's rather easy to work down there, and I'm getting pretty excited for the day the oil drum is removed.

I'm planning an additional workbench to replace the drum that will allow my various larger tools a more permanent home. Things like the miter saw and mortiser. Only time will tell, but I think it will be far more functional.

I'm also looking forward to the day when we remove the clawfoot tub from its seemingly eternal resting place. The tub is nearing 100 years old, buts already spent almost 10% of its life in our basement. Don't let Wendy's smile in the photo fool you, that tub now wears a sad face.

We're going to need to find a good company to refinish it for us. I'm not interested in using the spray paint for this application but am extremely interested in what this "No Spray Tubs" is offering. Sadly, the company we were going to use went out of business, so we need to find a different local place that uses the same technology. I guess that tells you just how long we've actually been working on the master bathroom project.

In the meantime, I'm hoping my efforts haven't gone unnoticed with Wendy. Ultimately, she's the one I'm trying to impress with all of my organizing and cleaning. Mel and Lulu could care less, actually, I think they prefer the mess.

What cleaning projects have you been up to? Are you like us, in that the start of a new year makes you want to purge and reduce? I don't know what it is, but we get in this mood every January. 

Comments 21


1/7/2013 at 10:38 AM
Nice job - I bet it feels good to be on your way to a more organized space!

Our basement is 2000 square feet of dumping space. We had a nice little pathway cleared in between the junk to walk through until last weekend when I spent a day purging and organizing. Amazingly, almost everything filling the space was useless to us. Now that it's cleared out, I'm itching the finish out the space!
I know what you mean about having the itch to finish. Though I know it would actually cause a bigger mess, I really want to rip out the wall that surrounds the oil drum and free up that portion of our basement.
1/7/2013 at 10:45 AM
I spent a couple hours organizing one of our closets that had gotten out of control. It felt so good to see the finished result!
1/7/2013 at 11:06 AM
I'll be honest, our basement often looks a lot like yours. We did a big purge back in the fall but are still trying to whittle away at the lingering mess. You've made a great start on your basement! Fingers crossed you can stay on top of it in between projects ;)
You've hit on the biggest item, staying on top of it! Fingers crossed we won't have any major backslides.
1/7/2013 at 11:14 AM
Working space, storage space, laundry space ... I hear ya. Our basement is a similar sort of mess (my fault, I admit it) I clear it out enough to work on something, and that's all I can manage for now.

Cleaning projects? More like 'messing up the house worse' project at the moment. After scheming the details of how to add walk-in closets to our master bedroom, it's finally becoming a reality. Been sharing the process for the past four days or so on my blog ... hired this project out to a trusted contractor friend, in the interest of getting it done as quickly as possible. I'll be really glad to finally be rid of all the dust ... I guess that counts as cleaning. :)
I've actually been watching your closet construction and it's looking great! In a few weeks we hope to talk about what we did in our closets. Similar to your setup, we stole some space from our bedroom, however it's far less space than you have since you had a few good closets to start from. That's going to give you some great space!

From experience, cleaning the dust definitely counts as cleaning!
1/7/2013 at 3:57 PM
Our shed needs similar work to get it wiped into shape ... except it also needs to be rebuilt while it is cleaned and organized! And, I need to figure out how to power out to it without digging a trench (since that would cross our gas line).

Happy New Year!
Ah the logistics of electricity. My parents have a shed that doesn't have power and they put a generator in it that exhausts to the outside. It's less than ideal, due to noise and space it takes up, but it does what it needs. Good luck on the rebuilt. I wish we had an outdoor shed type space. Perhaps if we can make a land grab we can do it. :-)
1/7/2013 at 4:48 PM
Our basement looks about the same, despite having "cleaned" it good a few times over the last couple of years! Alex, you are to be commended on that workbench! I don't think mine has ever looked that good or that organized. I tried to re-organize my tool cabinet last weekend and got as far as the top drawer! I didn't realize how much stuff I had crammed in there. I also found a set of wood chisels I thought were hopelessly lost and about $2.50 in change.

As for the tub, I would take it to an auto body shop to sandblast, prime, and repaint the exterior if you didn't want to do it yourself. How bad is the interior? If at all possible, we would recommend cleaning it and leaving it original as long as there are no chunks of porcelain missing. You'd be amazed at what a little elbow grease can do to rust stains. Also, several of our neighbors have gone the refinishing route on their tub interiors and have told us they weren't satisfied with the results after a couple of years.

Back to the basement - our plans are to make our entire basement a rec room, except for one corner that will be the boiler room. One of these days...
I think I kept the workbench looking nice and clean for a good 15 minutes after the photo was taken. It's still organized today, but not quite as good.

We've heard a lot of different opinions on the tub, but I'm really leaning away from having it sprayed. I know we'll use it frequently enough that it will probably chip and peel sooner than we'd like. I've got a couple of ideas I think I'll research a little further.

You're basement plans sound good to me. Any rough eta on that project? An answer in possible years is perfectly acceptable.
1/8/2013 at 2:43 PM
Well, I'm 31 now. I hope to have the rec room in time for my 50th birthday!
1/7/2013 at 5:46 PM
tub-wise, you might want to peruse craigslist before paying to get the tub refinished. I just got one free in PERFECT shape. I think it's from a 1960s bath remodel but it's cast iron with pretty feet and super duper heavy.

We're in the midst of major remodeling and our basement is about the same. Paint, tools, trash waiting for a dumpster again, yep. No work-bench though. we just throw a sheet of plywood across the washer-dryer...non-optimal. Oh, and our claw-foot is in the shed with the snow-blower and lawnmower. Props to whoever moved that thing down the stairs. We barely made it to the shed.

We had a scrap metal guy come by and he said that all he needed was a hole in the top of the oil tank big enough to stick his head in. The scrap places won't take it if it has oil in it and they want to be able to tell.

And, lots of scrap guys will carry it out for you. easy peasy.. once you have a clear path...

Eventually our basement will have a wood shop and an electronics shop as well as storage. It's gonna be awesome!
Thanks for the advice on both the tub and the oil drum. I'm actually getting really excited about the oil drum removal. I just want the space. I think we can do a fair amount ourselves, but I'm relatively sure it has some oil in it that we'll need to get pumped out.

Your future basement sounds wonderful, I'll come visit once it's done. I think an electronics shop sounds spectacular.
1/8/2013 at 7:49 AM
My parents STILL have the ball and particle board shelves they built in the 70s. Same "bamboo" posts as yours. Same stain. I knew we were separated at birth.
That's hysterical. I guess it was a thing back in the 70s. Oh, if only our parents had the Internet and blogs, do you know how much stained particle board crap we'd see in basements today. Maybe yesterday's stained particle board is today's pallet wood.
1/8/2013 at 8:08 AM
So...Wendy, Ryan- same boat. I keep having to reorganize/clean up our basement work room. Mostly because havig a basement for the first adult time ever makes it easy to become a hoarder.

But when we got a huge table saw for Christmasi had to do another organizing round to make room.
Table saw weighs 260 # because it's cast iron so we haven't gotten it down there yet (hello, saw in dining room) but finally there is space.

I think work rooms require serious discipline at all times.
Good job, can't wait to hear how you get that tub whipped into shape!
1/8/2013 at 8:53 AM
My wife and I have pretty much the same discussion about our basement. She agrees not to go down there and I pretty much leave it looking like Baghdad circa 2003.

I like your Jet table saw and that sweet mortiser, btw. Nice.
The Selling Edge
1/8/2013 at 7:00 PM
Great time of year to clean up indoor spaces since we spend so much time locked up inside!
1/8/2013 at 10:44 PM
We have a large old basement too and it's become a dumping ground as well. We're currently renovating a bathroom and closet down there, so the mess is bigger!

Looks like you made some progress though and when you do more, it will feel great!
1/9/2013 at 1:28 AM
Great progress! I'm also totally drooling over that antique cabinet. It looks like the bottom half of a hutch similar to the one in your sun porch. At some point, someone chopped off the top part. Pity it's in the basement though :(
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