10 Biggest Organizing Mistakes People Make in the Basement, Garage, or Other Storage Space

Are you making these organizing mistakes?! Learn the 10 biggest mistakes people make when organizing the basement, garage, or other storage space so you can avoid them in your own home!

The 10 Biggest Organizing Mistakes You're Making in Your Storage Spaces

We lived in our house for years with a very messy garage and basement. And it was fine.

Messy Garage Before Photo
our very messy garage before we did any organizing

Other than when it became frigid and we couldn’t park the cars in the garage, I was pretty much okay with them being messy and didn’t feel like it affected my life all that much. They were just storage spaces, after all.

Messy Basement Before Photo
our very messy basement before we did any organizing

But then within the last year we really made an effort to get both our garage and our basement completely organized.

Organized Basement After Photo
our basement after we organized it

And not only do I love that we can now park both cars in the garage, but I’ve come to realize that having organized storage spaces is a total game changer!

Cars Parked in an Organized Garage
Both cars parked in our organized garage– woot!

I can easily find what I need when I need it. I can easily put things away when I’m done with them. Donnie is more excited about DIY projects because he has a neat and tidy workshop to do them in. Connor loves spending time shooting hockey pucks in the basement because it is clean and uncluttered. (And his shot has improved immensely because of it!)

I could go on and on. I had no idea what I was missing before!

Looking back, I can see several mistakes I was making (or mistakes I’ve observed in others’ storage spaces) when it comes to organizing a basement, garage, attic, etc.

I thought I’d jot them all down in a single post as a reminder of things to avoid when you’re going to organize your own storage space!

Top 10 Organizing Mistakes People Make in Storage Spaces (Basement, Garage, Attic, etc.)

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

1. They put off starting the project because they don’t have a full day/week/month to work on it.

I was completely guilty of this one! I knew my spaces needed work, but they felt so overwhelming! Before I got started, I thought that I needed a huge chunk of time to be able to make progress. But life is busy, and huge chunks of time rarely just appear.

I finally started just plugging away bit by bit. 15 minutes here. 30 minutes there. An hour or two on Saturday.

Basement Workshop Before and After Photo
Taking a few minutes to just clear the floor in Donnie’s basement workshop made a big difference and was really motivating!

The majority of the organizing in my basement and garage was completed in shorter stints rather than in day-long organizing marathons.

Just start! Even if it’s taking 20 minutes to clear out some trash, all of those little bits of time add up and can make a big difference.

2. They buy bins or other storage pieces first.

Let’s be honest: the most fun part of an organizing project is picking cute bins, right?! ?

It’s so tempting to start a project by heading to the store and buying all of the organizing tools, gadgets, containers, and more. But when I start with buying organizing pieces, I often end up with many pieces I don’t need. And I find myself running to the store again and again because inevitably I discover that there’s a piece I could use but don’t have.

I’ve learned that it is important for me to go through all of my items first, discarding anything we no longer use or need, and sorting the remaining items into categories.

Tools Organized by Type
organizing tools by type so we could determine the best containers for them

Once I see what I have to store in each category, then I can make a plan for shelving and containers and go out and buy them (or even better, use what I already own)!

3. They give up because they don’t have the perfect storage pieces.

Sometimes the organizing budget is small, and though we would love for our space to look like a picture in a magazine, we just don’t have the resources to make that happen.

The good news is that there’s no rule that says that we have to have the absolute perfect storage pieces in order to be organized!

When I first started organizing our garage, we weren’t ready to go out and buy all sorts of shelving and hooks and bins. What’s more, we didn’t even have any storage pieces available because the ones that we owned had stayed with our last house.

I wasn’t going to let that stop me, though. I did what I called a “phase 1” organization of the garage, decluttering everything I could and arranging it as neatly as possible using items I already owned.

Phase 1 of Garage Organization
“Phase 1” organization in garage– far from perfect, but a definite improvement!

It wasn’t a space that would go viral on Pinterest, but it was a vast improvement from where it started. I could also find what I needed more easily, and we could park one car in there, which was definitely a win!

Even though it wasn’t my “dream organization” scenario, it worked and was well worth the time and effort we put into it.

4. They keep too much stuff.

Of all of the organizing mistakes, this is probably the VERY BIGGEST one I’ve seen both myself and others make.

Storage spaces easily become a “catch all,” and therefore we tend to be more flippant about what we throw in there because the space is made to hold all of our extra stuff.

But even though it’s a storage space, if we want it to be organized, we still need to go through and consciously choose to keep the items we use and love and discard the rest.

I know it’s hard. Believe me, I’ve spent hours sifting through bins and bins of sports gear, mementos, tools and DIY supplies, seasonal decorations, and more.

Decluttered Mementos Bin Before and After
Donnie initially had an entire shelving unit of mementos bins. He was able to narrow them down to one bin of only his most special items!

It may not be the quickest job, but it is the best feeling when your space is holding only items that you actually use and enjoy, rather than being cluttered with items you might find a use for “someday.”

Related: How to Declutter when You Have Trouble Letting Go of Things

5. They don’t get rid of “discard” items quickly.

Even after I decide which items I am going to donate or sell, it can sometimes be a big job to actually get rid of them! I dragged my feet on finishing our basement for months, simply because I wasn’t sure of the best way to go about getting rid of items.

Items to Get Rid of
Most of the items in this photo were part of our “donate” pile, but it took me way too long to actually get rid of them!

Unless I have a really high priced item, I almost always give away the items I’ll no longer need. It’s much quicker than selling, with less back and forth and the hassle of people backing out. It’s also usually a blessing to the recipient, which is fun as the giver too.

I usually check with friends and family first, then with Facebook friends, and if I still don’t have any takers, I look for a charity that could use the item.

My friend Jessica of The Organized Mama has a fantastic post that lists tons and tons of charities that accept donations if you’re looking for a place to take your stuff.

6. They stack bins rather than using shelves.

Now, I included this one because it was an “aha” moment for me, but #3 trumps this rule if need be. If you don’t own shelving and it’s not in the budget at the moment, by all means, stack the bins.

But if shelving is an option, it can really be a game changer for organizing your storage space.

I used to dread going into our basement to look for a specific item because it was inevitably buried in the bottom bin, and I would have to unstack and move around a bunch of things to get to it.

Messy Storage Nook in an Unorganized Basement
bins stacked in our basement before we organized it

It was a bit of an investment up front, but we purchased metal Gladiator shelves to hold all of our bins of mementos of seasonal decor, and it really has made life so much easier!

Holiday Decor Organized in a Basement Storage Nook
Bins organized on storage shelves– so much better!

When I need something now, I just grab the correct bin from the shelf, get what I need, and put it neatly back in its spot. No tedious unstacking and re-stacking necessary!

7. They store items randomly rather than in zones.

In both my messy garage and my messy basement, part of the reason that it was so hard to find anything was that everything was thrown together haphazardly. There was no rhyme or reason to it, so I would end up having to sift through a ton of stuff to find what I needed.

After I decluttered and sorted the items in my storage spaces, the next thing I would do would be to map out zones for each category of items. By keeping like items together, it makes them much easier to find.

Storage Zones in an Organized Basement
organized zones plan for the basement

Establishing zones also gives me some limits. If I know I only have a certain amount of space to store my holiday decor, for example, once that space runs out, I know I’ll have to get rid of some things if I want to add to my collection, so it really makes me think twice about new purchases.

8. They ignore vertical space.

Again, rule #3 trumps this rule. If buying shelving or hooks or track systems to hang items isn’t in the budget, then storing them on the floor works. But if you can swing it, it is much easier to maintain organizing systems if items are up off the floor and everything has a designated spot.

In our garage, for example, storing everything on the floor was fine for a time…

Basic Garage Organization
basic garage organization before we had storage pieces

…but it was still not ideal and the space got cluttered again fairly easily.

When we were able to really maximize our vertical space by using the IKEA ALGOT system (now called BOAXEL), the Gladiator track system, and various wall hooks, every item had a set “home” and it has been SO much easier to keep our garage neat and tidy.

Organized Garage Using IKEA ALGOT Shelving
Using alllllllll of the vertical space!

Related: Complete Guide to Garage Organization

9. They make frequently used items difficult to put away.

I contend that if you have a choice between making something easy to take out and making it easy to put away, make it easy to put away.

The easiest way to re-clutter a space is to not put things back where they go. And if it’s difficult to return things to their designated spot, we have a tendency to get lazy and just throw the item anywhere, thinking we’ll put it back correctly later. (Which rarely happens!)

While this rule certainly rings true with adults, it is especially true for children! When I was creating the zones for our garage, I was sure to keep the kids’ items on lower shelves so they could access them easily. I also don’t use lids on most of their items because that was just one extra step to deter them from putting things back where they go.

Storage Bins in an Organized Garage
the boys’ outdoor toys in our garage

I tried to make it as easy as possible for them to put their things away. And while we still don’t have a 100% success rate, it is much higher than it would be if it was more difficult for them to return things to their correct spots.

10. They don’t leave room for additional items.

The final mistake that I’ve seen people make (and that I’ve made myself) is that they take the time to organize their space, but it is so packed with stuff that if they acquire anything new, there is nowhere to put it.

As nice as it would be to be able to freeze time once we’ve gotten organized, life goes on. Our phases of life change and our needs change, and inevitably, we end up getting more stuff.

In both our basement and our garage, I purposely left empty bins and extra storage space, knowing that we would most likely utilize it later.

Organized Garage
In this photo, the aqua bin on the right is empty, as are a few of the gray bins.

It’s still a good idea to go through items from time to time and get rid of anything you’re no longer using, but having a bit of buffer space will keep your newly organized area from getting re-cluttered quickly, ruining all of your hard work!

Learn from My Organizing Mistakes!

Though I’m sure those aren’t the only organizing mistakes I’ve made in my basement, garage, and other storage spaces, they are definitely the biggest ones!

If you’re struggling to figure out why your organizing systems aren’t working in your own storage space, it could be because one of these mistakes is happening in your house as well.

Fortunately, most of them are a pretty easy fix, and we can have them straightened out and back to organized without much trouble!

For more information on our garage and basement organizing projects, see these posts:

Garage

Organized Garage Tour

A Step by Step Guide to Planning a Garage Organization Project

25 Brilliant Garage Storage Ideas

Basement

Organized Basement Tour

Best Tool Storage Systems for an Organized Workshop

Organizing Sentimental Items

Organizing Paint Supplies

[Psssttt… You can find ideas for organizing every single room of the house in this post!]

And if you’ll be organizing your own storage space in the near future and these ideas were helpful, be sure to pin the image below so you can reference them later!

Top 10 Organizing Mistakes You're Making in Your Storage Spaces

Thank you for following along! Have a wonderful day!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

14 Comments

  1. at home with Ashley says:

    This is soo impressive! You’re an organizational queen. Getting rid of stuff can be hard, but it’s just stuff! When I moved and got rid of literally half of what I owned, I felt so much lighter. It’s definitely a mental shift to only keeping what you use.

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      You are the sweetest, Ashley! Thank you so much for your kind words! Hope you’re having a wonderful week!

  2. Sim @ Sim's Life says:

    Some fantastic tips that I need to taken on board! The before image of your garage reminds me of my spare roon in its current state! I am such a hoarder, I really need to start streamlining and getting some order in my house! Sim x

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Storage spaces can be tricky for sure! Best of luck with your spare room project! Have a great day!

  3. Kristyn Meyer says:

    Yes yes yes! I absolutely love this. People make fun of my organization love!

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Lol! They are just jealous that you are so organized! 😉 Hope you’re having a great week, Kristyn!

  4. Currently tackling our storage room bit by bit. It’s been a big project but I finally finished all the college books and sentimental items which was HUGE! Now onto tools, so my husband can finally find what he’s looking for! Thanks for sharing these helpful tips!

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Woohoo! Sounds like you’re on a roll! I find that I can wrangle my husband into projects more easily when his tools are organized and easy to find, so hopefully that will be the case for you too! 😉 Have a wonderful week, Ashley!

  5. This is great encouragement! Very nice! Also, I’m sure it’s been asked before somewhere else, but what fo you use to label the bins with such big font? I just got the Dymo you recommend, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what was used here?

  6. Judy Gasnier says:

    This was an awesome article!

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Thanks for reading, Judy! Have a great weekend!

      ~Abby =)

  7. Zoe Campos says:

    Thank you for telling me that organizing our basement doesn’t really require the necessary organizers and that we can just organize them in the way that we want. We’re thinking of decluttering most of our stuff and storing what will be left behind in the attic so we can turn our basement into a more functional area. After we’re done with the organizing and decluttering part, I’ll be sure to contact local contractors and see how much it would cost to turn our basement into a home theater.

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Oh wow! Such a fun project… enjoy!

      Have a great week!

      ~Abby =)

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