Attics, garages and basements often become cluttered with things that are out of sight and out of mind, and as a result these places can pose many risks. Rodents, mould and mildew love dank, dark, messy places. Safety issues mount when papers and storage boxes in attics create fire hazards. Old paint cans in the basement or garage seldom are used again. Yard and cleaning chemicals stored and forgotten in deteriorating packaging often have the same fate. So what’s the best way to get started clearing and organizing?

Start with the stairs, doorways and entryways. Take time to clear up this clutter and you’ll have a safer path to remove the items you’ll be discarding. Next, improve the lighting. Chances are the light in your storage area has always been insufficient. Get some bright lighting into the space so you can see better and work safely.

Now comes the hard work — what to keep and what to toss. Set a time constraint and a value determination for items as you make your decisions. Time constraint: has it been more than a year or two since this item was last needed? Value determination: will this item grow in value to me or for later sale? When the answer is yes for the time constraint and no for its appreciation in value, it’s time to toss it. ‘Keep or discard’ decisions are far easier when you apply this technique.

Once you’ve gotten your stored items down to a manageable level, take steps to get better organized. You will always increase your usable storage space by using shelving. Floor space is usually more limited than vertical space; take advantage of this fact. When possible, place stored items on wheeled platforms so you can more easily shift them around to get to items behind them. Rolling racks under stairways, for example, provide easy access. Another super solution is hooks – lots of them. So many items can be stored and easily retrieved when they are simply hung from hooks on pegboards or just secured to walls.

Taking time now to declutter is an inexpensive and good long-term investment.