Blog by Beebe Cline

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Small Changes to Simplify Your Long-Term Storage

With the holidays and colder weather approaching, now is the time to trek into attics, basements and storage sheds to retrieve boxes that haven't seen the light of day since last year. Unfortunately, these spaces have a way of accumulating endless layers of stuff until it's nearly impossible to find anything: long-forgotten memorabilia, old furniture, broken toys, home repair project cast-offs, nearly empty paint cans and oh, yes, those ornaments you were looking for. Just looking into an attic or a basement can feel overwhelming; forget doing anything about the mess. That's why I think it's best to admit right from the start that this problem won't be fixed in a single day (or maybe even a single season) — but by committing to making small changes throughout the year, you can remake your space, step by step.

The Clean-As-You-Go Plan

Revamping a storage area is a large project, and unless you have boundless energy or a crew of workers, it's probably best tackled in segments. The clean-as-you-go plan works like this: Each time you need to access something in your storage area, whether it's Christmas lights or fall sweaters, you take a bit of time to sort, clean and assess that area. When the items go back, commit to putting them back neatly, in appropriate and clearly labeled containers.

Keep reading for tips on how to pare down, organize and protect your belongings in long-term storage.
Sort cold-weather clothes. When you go down to the basement to grab your winter coats or skiing gear, instead of picking out the few things you want and leaving the rest, bring it all back with you.

Clutter collects because we ignore it, so the first step is taking a good look at what you actually have. Are there wool socks missing mates? Moth-eaten sweaters? Old coats you know you will never wear again? Instead of shoveling everything back into the bin, donate the items in good shape and toss the rest.

If there are a few good pieces you want to save but not wear right now, have them cleaned before storing them again.
Properly store sweaters. Moths are attracted to natural fibers, like wool and cashmere, so it's best to keep sweaters protected in sealed plastic containers when you need to store them long term. Mothballs contain chemicals that are harmful to children and pets, and can cause respiratory problems, so I recommend using a moth trap or cedar balls to deter clothes moths instead — cleaning clothes before storing can also help, because moths are attracted to dirty clothes and blankets.
Keep only the kids' stuff you really need. Between nursery furniture, baby gear, clothing and toys, it's amazing how quickly the basement can begin to look more like an archeological site than a storage area. If you know you've been saving too much stuff but are not sure what to let go of, here are a few points to consider:
  • Are you thinking of having another child in the future? If so, ask yourself honestly if you would use the item again. Quality furniture can hold up well (and be costly to replace), but bear in mind that safety standards do change frequently for car seats and cribs.
  • Special occasions when your child will be receiving gifts are a perfect time to purge old toys, since they will be less missed when there are new things to take their place. Older children can get involved by selecting some of their own toys to give to a children's charity.
  • Pick your battles: If your child insists a toy is a favorite, just keep it.
Pare down kids' art. Your child's artwork can be a treasured keepsake, but don't feel like you have to keep every single thing. Choose a protective container (art portfolios and document boxes work well) and fill it with your favorite pieces. Taking digital photos of the surplus art and compiling them in a photo book is a great way to preserve memories while saving space. You can also upcycle your child's art into cards, gift wrap or laminated placemats.
Store extra supplies. From bulk household goods to supplies from home improvement projects, we all have those odds and ends that can be hard to organize. Make it easier on yourself by installing a shelving system that fits your space. Beside being easier to access, this will keep everything off the floor where moisture can cause damage.

The next time you venture down the basement steps with an armful of stuff, take a couple of extra minutes to put like with like (paper products can go in one area, paint and rollers in another) and toss anything that is obviously damaged.
Protect photos and heirlooms. For irreplaceable old family photographs and other memorabilia, consider supplementing with digital backups stored online or somewhere offsite. Of course they can never truly replace the originals, but in case of fire or water damage, it can be reassuring to know you will still have some record of these bits and pieces of your family's history.

A good time to organize these items might be around the holidays, when relatives are visiting, so you can reminisce together. When it's time to put everything away, use acid-free photo or document boxes for photographs, drawings and other works on paper, and keep linens sealed in plastic or other mothproof containers.
Stow holiday dishes and fancy silver. There is no reason you can't use a beautiful, classic set of china or silver for everyday meals and casual gatherings, so I will first implore you to keep these things alongside your regular dishes instead of buried in the attic. Regular use actually prevents real silver from tarnishing, and it's just more fun to use the good stuff!

That being said, it makes sense to keep your Thanksgiving plates and other themed dishware tucked away until it's needed, and pricey crystal goblets may not mix well with small children. There may even be items you never use, even on holidays, either because they are too precious or just not your style. If this is the case, consider passing them along to another family member who you know would love to have them.
Protect fragile items. Once you've figured out what you want to keep, be sure to clean and pack it carefully before returning it to storage. Silver should be wrapped in silver cloth or placed in a specially designed box that prevents tarnish, dishes can be layered with felt pads to prevent chipping, and glasses can be placed in glassware boxes or wrapped in thick layers of newsprint. Make sure your most fragile items are in clearly labeled boxes and placed where nothing else can be stacked on top of them.
Sift through seasonal decor. Before you get started decorating for the holidays this year, pull out all your boxes and give everything a good once-over. Test the twinkle lights, inspect the ornaments for broken pieces and toss spent candles.

Give yourself permission to give away anything that no longer suits your style, but not before checking with your kids or close relatives to see if they want it — lots of emotion gets wrapped up in holiday traditions, and you never know how others feel about something unless you ask. Those little angel candles you think are so tacky? They could be the thing that most reminds your son of Grandma.
Pack up postholidays. When it's time to put everything away, taking a little extra time will make life much easier the next year. But there is no need to spend money on specialty containers — egg cartons make great ornament holders, twinkle lights wrapped around cardboard will stay tangle free and rolls of wrapping paper can be easily stored in a bucket or an umbrella stand.