Organizing | Building basement storage shelves

I live in a 100-year-old house that definitely has its charms: chunky wood moldings, pocket doors, high ceilings, big bedrooms and hardwood floors, to name a few.

Not quite so charming is our old stone basement, which has proven on a few occasions to be less than watertight. As a precaution, everything we store down there gets stacked on pallets. (Or at least everything starts out getting stacked on pallets…)

Eventually most of the pallets end up looking like the ones above, with stuff spilling off the edges and the remnants of any organization system buried too deep to be discernible to the naked eye.

I finally reached my breaking point a couple weeks ago and decided it was time to excavate the ruins and clean up the mess.

Among the artifacts unearthed whilst cleaning: a Styrofoam coffin lid (left over from a haunted house we set up down there for a Halloween party our son hosted, circa 2004).

The Styrofoam coffin lid went into the garbage, along with a few other worthless oddities of indeterminate origin that we’d been storing for years. Everything else got moved or donated to our local St. Vincent de Paul store. Once I had the space cleared, I wanted to buy some shelves to set along the empty wall. The husband scoffed at the idea of store-bought shelves. He wanted to build his own.

I am not one to argue. (At least not when the husband is volunteering to build something for me.)

We took a few measurements of the space, and two days later, Jim assembled the Shelving Unit of My Dreams: three rows of shelves almost 8 feet wide and 24 inches deep, with about 18 inches of clearance from the bottom of one row to the top of the next. He did most of the construction in the garage (where he had more space and easier access to his tools), and when he was done, we carried the unit into the basement…

… where we attached it to the rafters above. That way, if we get water in the basement in the future, nothing is touching the floor. (The husband’s idea. Ingenious, right?)

I painted the shelves white before filling them up.

Aren’t they pretty? (I sometimes walk down to the basement just to look at them.)

Let me tell you, it was easier to organize the shelves than it was to photograph them: There are no windows in that portion of the basement, and the only light source is this:

There are also very few electrical outlets in our basement (another of the “charms” of the 100-year-old home), so I had to snake a really, really long extension cord from the opposite end of the house in order to plug in a couple of lamps to provide (barely) enough light to take photos in.

basement storage
Anyhoo, I am absolutely thrilled with how the shelves turned out. It is so nice to have a designated place to store things, instead of just piling everything up on pallets.

brown pitchers
I have a lot of antiques and collectibles that I decorate with seasonally, but I need somewhere to put in the off-season. Like the brown pitchers above which I usually set out in the fall…

… and my miniature greenhouse, which I sometimes start seeds in in the spring (and over the winter, I used it as a display case for a log cabin scene I blogged about here.)

wooden model

Jim built this wooden boat when he was a kid. (His workmanship has improved a bit since then, but considering he designed it and built it all from scraps, I’d say he was pretty ingenious back then, too.) It’s in need of a few repairs now, but, for sentimental reasons, we have to keep it.


I have a few of my own childhood treasures that I can’t part with stored in an old bushel basket.

The egg crate above belonged to my Grandma and Grandpa Harmsen, who raised chickens on their farm for many years.

I’ve used the canning jars for tomatoes and pears a few times, but lately they mostly get used for storage or decorating projects.

I pared down my glassware collection significantly while reorganizing; but I kept my favorite pieces.

I also seem to have acquired a lot of lamps that I don’t want to part with. Some, like the silver kerosene lantern in the back, are family heirlooms. Others I’ve picked up at garage sales and thrift stores over the years. They tend to rotate into and out of circulation above stairs.

This old crate is full of Halloween decorations.

And this item is a total pain in my butt, but he’s a keeper nonetheless.

A few of the boxes need labels yet. And I’m sure more items will get added to the shelves as I continue cleaning and organizing.

But I feel like I have a whole new basement, considering this is what it looked like before:

And this is what it looks like now:

 (I swear I hear a little chorus of angels in my head every time I look at this photo.)


8 Replies to “Organizing | Building basement storage shelves”

  1. Isn't it nice when things are organized and you can find what you are looking for!

    I have a basket full of the balls from my childhood croquet set sitting on our coffee table.

  2. If you ever watched the Christopher Lowell decorating show, you heard him say “Everyone should have a tschotcke closet”. Well, I've been known to have a tschotcke basement. And mine looks soooo similar to yours – 114 year old house in Wisconsin – stone walls, exposed rafters, minimal outlets, bare bulb fixtures (although mine don't have the fancy bulb like yours does), occasional water issues. So yes, pallets and shelves have been necessary. I really admire your husband's idea to suspend the unit from the rafters. Cleaning the basement is difficult, because I'd rather have a root canal than clean down there. But every once in a while I make myself do it.

    Great job!

  3. My basement looks like yours – the before pics. And not just one wall or section like that either. All over. Our house is 28 years old so while it's not stone in the basement, it's still rather dungeon-like with the cement floors and walls and just a couple of window wells for light. Like Cheryl ^, I have a ton of tchotckes down there…all my household decor that I like to rotate, and then holiday decorations. Plus a lot of miscellaneous stuff…extra lamps, furniture, paint and paint supplies, craft supplies, bins of out of season clothing, bins of extra blankets. We've had two major floods, too. Your husband's idea of building those long shelves and putting them off the ground is ingenious. I showed this to my husband and he just grunted. In other words, he isn't going to do this. *sigh* He is so not a do-it-yourself-er!

  4. Ahhh, shelves! You can never have enough! Your husband did an amazing job, and offered none-the- less!
    I don't blame you one bit for going down just to look at them and I'm super impressed that you painted them!
    Thanks so much for always sharing with Something to Talk About!

  5. I had a basement in my last house just like that. I wish I would have seen a post like this back then, because it would have been a dream to have it that organized. It's so pretty, I don't blame you for looking it at it all the time 🙂

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