Can't go in the basement - it's too overwhelming - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 10 Old 07-15-2008, 04:30 PM - Thread Starter
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Our house is very tidy and relatively uncluttered on the top 2 floors only. We still have a ways to go and are getting there. The basement is another story. It is unfinished and currently there is so much clutter I can barely stand go down there. I get overwhelmed just walking down the stairs.

I have read many decluttering books, "It's all too much" and "clear your clutter with feng shui" but I still can't get motivated to tackle the basement.
Here are some of the challenges I see with our basement.

Children's items
We plan on having another child and have saved many clothes/toys etc. These are stored in bins but there are many!!

Professional reference material
I am currently a SAHM but formerly a professional and have kept all reference materials - just in case...
DH has kept every university textbook and every exam from his schooling (plus all his receipts, paystubs, etc. from the time he began work). DH is also very techie and has numerous computer items that he is "working" on. (He doesn't have time to "work" either!) There is an explosion of cords, telephones, mother boards, computer mice, hard drives and keyboards everywhere.

Parents items
My Mom and MIL are both packrats. Their houses are a different story but somehow we have inherited their rare cast-offs: old kitchen table, chairs, unwanted gifts/ knickknacks, the list goes on. Every once in a while my Mom will say, "I want that 'whatever item it is' back - since you aren't using it (or even if we are)". This makes me think twice before parting with something.

My father passed away a few years ago and I inherited all of his reference books, etc. I am finding it very difficult to go through his things. (I have already donated all of his suits, clothing, many fiction books).

My main issue is that every time I go into the basement to start decluttering I get overwhelmed. I freeze. Part of me wants to hire a junk removal service and get rid of everything but this really plays on my environmental conscience -a need to find a place to recycle some usable belongings instead of trashing them.

The other problem is by the end of the day I am so exhausted I can't find the energy to start thinking about the basement. After we put the LOs to bed, we tidy the house, dishes, start a load of cloth diapers, water the garden, talk to mom on the phone, prep food for the next day - and then I'm completely drained.
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#2 of 10 Old 07-15-2008, 07:43 PM
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We just went through this on a lot smaller of scales. We had a storage closet that was just an aweful aweful mess. You literally had to be careful to open the door because something would fall off the top of the stack and hit you on the head. It took us close to a month to clean it out and I still haven't put the things back in that need to go back in (which I narrowed down to Christmas items, DH's gear and a few pieces of furniture that we just aren't ready to part with yet). I almost dread moving things back in because I love to look in there and see the cleanliness..

Here some things I learned:
Childrens items: We are actually pregnant right now but I still went through and got rid of about 70% of the childrens items we have. I cut the toys in 3/4ths, DD is just now getting interested in toys at a year and a half so a lot of the baby toys were never even opened. We got rid of things I know I won't use such as the pack and play, swing, changing table, bath tub and nursery bedding set. I went through the clothes and only kept one tuperware container full. I know if I have another girl I am still going to get clothes and things from people and its VERY easy to find gently used baby clothing for cheap so I got rid of all but my favorites. I also found it helpful to go through it with DH since baby clothing/toys is one of the only things he doesn't have an attachment too and he is VERY picky about what he likes our child(ren) to be wearing and playing with. We both said yes or no to something and if one said no it was gone.

Professional items/college items: I saved all my college work too but the military helped me purge a lot of that. I lived in the barracks and couldn't carry things around so I kept the books that I know I would use (for example Im excellent at math and ALWAYS tutoring people so I kept my two favorite math books that explained things well) and I got rid of all tests, notes, etc. Papers such as bills and all I think the rule is to save it for 4 years and all tax information for 10 and then shred it (I might be wrong about that one but Im close). Filing cabinets work well for organizing papers. Computer stuff seems to accumulate in our house too. We sat down and decided to limit it to what we will use. We have two computers, one for school work that doesn't connect to the internet (my husband gets distracted easy so he needs something that doesn't connect to keep him on track) and one that connects. We also have one laptop that my husband takes with him when he has to leave to different places. We also kept the floppy disk drive since we use it for geneology for our church. Other than that we got rid of everything else. It gets backdated so quickly anyway its useless to keep it. If hes not working on it then he needs to get rid of it.
Parents: Luckily Im not near any family so they can't give me anything. My MIL tired to give me a box of DH's old school papers and I was able to use the excuse that I had no room in my luggage to take them back with me. Other than that I have a policy that Im not a storage facility, anything you give me I have full control over and if Im not using it I will give it away or sell it. If it was theirs then I would give them a heads up so if they really want it then they can come and get it. You're not a storage shed for all their stuff and its not mean to tell them you can't take it or don't want it.
I can understand the hard part of a parents passing. My mother passed on when I was 14 and Im almost 25 now and I still have some items of hers that Im not using that its really hard for me to get rid of. Luckily they are little items (jewerly and the like) so they don't take up much room. Its very hard when its a parent you lost and trying to get rid of things that remind you of them, just think would he want you to have a cluttered house because of his things? I doubt it. He loved you and wanted you to be happy so Im sure if he was there he would be the first to tell you to let go. If it helps (and your DH is helpful) I found going through emotional items with my DH to be very helpful. DH never met my mother and knows only what Ive told him of her so hes able to be disconnected and help me get through it. Im very emotional when it comes to her as well so it was nice to have someones shoulder to cry into when I needed it.

Just take it a little at a time. Figure it took me almost a month to take care of a storage closet the size of most peoples bathrooms it will probably take you several to clean out the basement. Also, dont' be afraid to ask for help from others. I knwo it would have been practically impossible for me to clean out the closet without my husband to help me. You might want to one Saturday get a friend or hire a babysitter to watch the children and you and DH tackle the basement together that way the children are taken care of..

~Heather~ Mama to Miss E (1/07), Miss A (11/08), Mr.T (2/11) and Miss A (10/12) Expecting our newest blessing sometime late Sept/early Oct.. Wife to my Marine since 11/2005
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#3 of 10 Old 07-15-2008, 08:04 PM
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Do you have a friend or two that you could do an exchange with? They come help you one day & just get 'er done & then you do the same for them another day. With others around it makes for a lot of motivation.

For your mother's stuff I would say: I'm cleaning on X date, anything that is there is going - if you want it you need to come get it. If they don't & want it back later down the road you simply say "I warned you".

Doula mama to dd (Oct '11) & ds (Oct '08) and expecting (Apr '17)
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#4 of 10 Old 07-15-2008, 08:06 PM
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I did our basement, one bag at a time. A little here, a little there. I took one day a week and spent about an hour down there, sometimes taking the kids down with me and they played while I worked. Before I knew it, I went from a basement that had a clear path from the steps to the washer (and a little room to hang clothes on rack) to an almost bare (except for the shelves) basement. I have started to slip again (we just got a second freezer which takes a lot of space), but I know that the same thing,a little bit at a time, will get me back where I need to be.

We were planning another child and still got rid of everything. I have a double stroller that I am planning on selling, cloth diapers (since they were so hard to find), a few precious clothes and that's it. We were absolutely going to have another child and I decided to give it all away (things have since changed, unfortunately). However even if they weren't, there are lots of hand me downs in my family, we don't need 99% most baby gear. After DS we saved everything and much didn't store well or were unsuitable or for some other reason we didn't need or use. The only thing we were glad we kept were the diapers.

Personal items were a little harder. I took time to enoy them, kept a few very personal, precious items and let the rest go. Many had molded anyway and things get musty locked away in a pile of junk in the basement. Keep what you love and let the rest go. It can take time, but it feels great. Take pictures of things if you really want momentos of some things.

I can't think of all the things I wanted to write but I feel your pain. We live in a small apartment and while we are blessed to have some basement space, its' hard to keep it in order (as is the rest of the place, but that's another story, lol!)
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#5 of 10 Old 07-15-2008, 08:06 PM
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I'd start with the computer stuff - if you're not currently using it, you're not going to.

Is there a Camp Invention being held near you?

Camp Invention
If so, take the items there and let the kids use them to learn and create during the "take apart" section.

Professional stuff would be next. Any information you are holding onto is most likely outdated or more easily found. If you need it in the future, you'll get the newer, easier to use version then. Toss it!

Send your mom and MIL a list (or digital photos) of the items you have and let them know that in September you are donating them all to Goodwill or some other charity so that they can be used NOW by people who need them. Your clutter could be bringing someone else comfort or happiness today, instead of collecting dust in your basement. If they want it, they need to let you know and you'll return it. Otherwise, it's gone.

You don't love these items. If you did, you'd be using them.
You don't need them. If you did, you'd be using them.
Free them up to be used or loved by someone who will use them.

Over all, you have two main options to decluttering you basement.
1) Divide it into sections or categories and tackle one area per whatever (weekend/month/season)
2) Get someone to watch your LO for a weekend, haul it all out, divide into keep/give away/trash piles and only put back what you really need. Do a big overhaul in one fell swoop. Spend some money on storage bins, a label maker, and lots of trash bags!

Good luck!

Mom to John (age 11), James (age 9) & Katherine (age 5)
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#6 of 10 Old 07-15-2008, 08:38 PM
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First of all when it comes to your parents stuff...they have their own houses. Don't let them take over yours. Tell them..."we are cleaning out our basement. anything you want needs to be out by x date. otherwise it goes to goodwill". my sil has crap in her basement of her mil's that has been there for 6 yrs. she won't stand up to her mil and make her deal with it. nor will she deal with it. thus her basement is full of spiders and mice.

i understand the part about parents who have passed away and keeping things of theirs. I would limit it to one rubbermaid tub. I always keep in mind someday my kids will go thru it if I don't and they won't think hardly any of it is special.

baby/kids stuff. you can pick up so many clothes for 25cents to a dollar at garage sales etc. I wouldn't keep more than my very favorites. think how much another mom will enjoy getting those things you don't really need.

I am not very sentimental though so...
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#7 of 10 Old 07-16-2008, 03:30 AM
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Originally Posted by kananaskismama View Post
Part of me wants to hire a junk removal service and get rid of everything but this really plays on my environmental conscience -a need to find a place to recycle some usable belongings instead of trashing them.
1-800-GOT-JUNK either recycles or donates what they can. Therefore your conscience can be assuaged!

"Our task is not to see the future, but to enable it."
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#8 of 10 Old 07-16-2008, 10:46 AM
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X posted in decluttering as a PSA -

The “Can’t Go Into the Basement” thread prompted me to share my story about old financial and tax records. Consider it a public service announcement. It deals with local school occupation taxes, which some readers may not have in their area but are common in the northeast.

Recently a collection agency contacted my employer to inform them that they would be sending a wage attachment for back taxes from 1997. The taxes and collection fees exceeded $1,000.

When I called the agency, the representative handling my case had the attitude of “too bad, there is no statue of limitations on local taxes, prove you paid the taxes or we have a legal right to attach your wages.”

When I called the local taxing authority, they were helpful, to a point. They explained to me that every year, the school district turns over (basically sells) uncollected taxes to the recovery service. The recovery service can take as long as they want to collect the outstanding taxes.

The lady told me how the recovery agency will go back as far as 30 years. All this seemed unbelievable but when I asked around, I discovered it is true.

Fortunately, I had both the cancelled check as well as the stamped receipt, proving I had paid the taxes. Had I de-cluttered 10+ year old tax information, I would have had a real fight on my hands with the collection agency.

I am all for de-cluttering but I will always keep financial information relating to taxes.

Mom to DS, born fall 05 after ,,, wife/best friend to DH We have
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#9 of 10 Old 07-16-2008, 06:17 PM
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This is what I would do, which is of course not necessarily what you should do. It's roughly how I got started on clearing the full-of-junk back bedroom. It doesn't actually solve the questions about specific items - there are a lot of good answers from others for that. I'm posting more about the mechanics of how to cut the overwhelming task down to manageable bite-sized chunks.

- I would get a zillion identical boxes, the kind that stack flat until you actually need them. U-Haul book boxes, file boxes from the office store, whatever, but all the same. And tape to build the boxes with, if they're the kind that need tape. This is because identical boxes are easy to stack and pack in tight.
- I would grab a table - maybe the old kitchen table that you mention - to work on, and put it near the stairs. I would clear the table and the space around it, even if that means making bigger piles elsewhere.
- I would stack my zillion boxes near the table. I would also have a box of Ziplocs, a box of trash bags, and a box of packing newsprint (the kind you can get from U-Haul) there. Also a radio or CD player so that you can have some really good music.
- I would declare a "stack the boxes" corner. I would clear that corner, dumping the stuff in it somewhere else, even if that means, again, making bigger piles.
- I would declare a "stuff too big for boxes" corner and clear it, as above.
- Using the table as a work surface, I would pack almost every single thing that fits in the boxes, in the boxes. I wouldn't bother with sorting, with decluttering, with _anything_ but stuffing miscellaneous junk in boxes. Start with the heap nearest the table, and just nibble your way along. If stuff is already in mismatched boxes, either dump the stuff into your new boxes or stuff the boxes into your new boxes.
- As you box, stack the boxes in your "stack the boxes" corner. Slowly expand out from the corner to build a WallOBoxes. Put items too big for boxes in the "stuff too big for boxes" corner.

I pause to emphasize again: No sorting, no decluttering, no organizing at this point. No labeling of the boxes. You're just encapsulating the stuff into neatly stackable units. This is the "boxing" phase, and it's just preparation for decluttering, it's not decluttering. If you mix it up with decluttering, it will take much, much longer. A space full of junk can be boxed in a few hours; it could take a few months to fully sort and declutter it. The hours of boxing are an investment in greater comfort and efficiency for the months of sorting.

Some special cases while boxing

-- Things that are too big to fit in the box: Put these in the corner that you prepared for this purpose.
-- Things that are dirty, like muddy boots: Put them in the trash bags and then stuff them in the box.
-- Things that are flammable or otherwise dangerous: Put them aside somewhere safe.
-- Things that are both fragile and valuable to you: You could wrap these in the newsprint and put them in the tops of boxes where they're less likely to get crushed, or you could put them aside and, when you have several, create a "fragile" box. Things that are merely fragile, like coffee mugs that you aren't overfond of, can just get stuffed into the box and take their chances.
-- Things that are exposed food or wet or leaking: Trash them or put them aside. I say "exposed" food to distinguish them from things like canned soup, which I would probably just box.
-- Bunches of tiny things, like hardware or coins: Put them in the Ziplocs and put the Ziplocs in the box.
-- Things that you really, truly, genuinely, absolutely, know that you will need very soon. For example, if you're boxing in December, this includes the Christmas decorations. If you're doing this in May, it doesn't. These things, you can actually put into boxes designated just for this purpose, and label them, and stack them elsewhere. But I would make this category as small as humanly possible.

When you're done, you have a HugeWallOBoxes, and a HugeCornerOBigJunk, and hopefully more clear floor and wall space elsewhere in the basement. If the HugeCornerOBigJunk makes you crazy, I'd try to throw a tarp over it or put a screen in front of it.

At this point, you have the power to go through the stuff one box at a time. You could even take one box at a time upstairs, thus freeing yourself from the need to work in the basement.

There are many options for how to handle the stuff.

One thing that I did early was:
- Got a box of stuff.
- Got two empty boxes, designating one Trash and one Not Trash. You could perhaps have three - Trash, Recyclable Trash, and Not Trash.
- As fast as possible, I went through the box of junk object by object. For each object, if it was trash, I put it in Trash, otherwise I put it in Not Trash.
- Got another box of junk and continued. As the Trash box filled up, I dumped it in a trash bag. As the Not Trash box filled up, I put it in a new WallOBoxes, a foot or two from the old WallOBoxes, so I wouldn't get confused as to which boxes had been through the "trash run". As I emptied boxes, since I was putting stuff in Trash and therefore the total box count was going down, I flattened and stacked them.
- Repeat for each box until each box has been through this phase.

So far, it may seem like a tremendous waste of time. You've boxed everything once, and then you've boxed everything you're keeping, _twice_, and the keepers are not one whit more organized than they were one you started. But the advantages, to me, are: (1) there's very little thought involved; the stuff can be boxed ReallyReallyFast, (2) the boxes are neat tidy modest-sized units of junk, and I can focus on one box at a time, (3) identical stacked boxes take up less space than miscellaneous stuff, (4) the trash-and-not-trash step makes me focus heavily on what I'm just plain getting rid of, without distracting myself with other issues, so the sheer trash gets out of the house pretty early. Another advantage for you is, (5) the boxes can be hauled upstairs, so that you don't have to work in the basement and (6) a clean wall of identical boxes should, I think, be much less overwhelming.

At this point, you can do a bunch of things. If a big percentage of the stuff is from your parents and you want to warn them to take it or lose it, you could do a run through the boxes extracting your parents' stuff. The same is true for any other category that forms a large percentage of the stuff.

Or, rather than doing whole rounds through the boxes, you could just focus on one box at a time, dispositioning each item in it before you move on to the next box. Or you could try a variety of approaches.

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#10 of 10 Old 07-16-2008, 10:25 PM - Thread Starter
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Hi everyone. Thank you so much for all of your posts. They all contain excellent advice and I am encouraged and motivated to get started.

I don't know how to quote multiple messages yet - but I wanted to say that I really find all of your advice helpful.

Crayfish - I like this approach very much! Right now there is so much junk and debris that it makes sense to clean it up and contain it and then I can focus. I am one of those people who cleaned up my desk/bedroom area before I could study properly. I need boxes to put things in and then donate or recycle or give back to the original owner. This will leave the larger items in a big pile and then maybe (since some of it is unusable) I will have a better idea of what I can do with it.

A&A thank you for the 1-800--got-junk number. I didn't realize that they will recycle/donate if possible. This helps alleviate any enviro-concerns for me.

As for storing my MIL and Mom's castoffs I really do need to stand up to them and say no to new junk and get rid of what is already there. mommaof3boz - that rings a little too close to home about the spiders. Luckily we have cats who are good mousers - they won't eat spiders though!

Teensy - thank you for the information about Camp Invention. I will see if there is one nearby.

I appreciate all of your personal stories and how you were able to clean up areas - get rid of techie materials and reference and college materials.
Okimom - thank you for sharing your story about your mom. I'm sorry that you lost her so soon in life. My dad passed on too soon and I do miss him terribly. I loved what you said about how he wouldn't want me to be unhappy about my surroundings because of all of his belongings. Even though he was a packrat!

I will tell DH to hang on to his old tax portfolios just in case. Thank you Caneel.

If I get the nerve I will take some before and after photos and repost later on.

And - yes I agree, I need a babysitter so that DH and I can tackle it all at once!
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