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Smart Storage Ideas to Improve Organization

Improve organization throughout the house with solutions that maximize safety, security, accessibility, and economy.

Finding places to store stuff is a challenge, especially in houses with limited storage areas. Getting rid of stuff can be a good option. If you have not used something in a year, it may be time to donate it, recycle it, or just throw it away. If you are not ready to get rid of something, here are some issues to consider when deciding where to store it.

Many of us stick stuff in the first place we find. This method can work when you are using existing storage space. There are, however, several issues to consider before using existing storage space, and especially before investing time and money to create a new storage space. These issues include safety, security, preservation, accessibility, structural stability, and regulations (such as building codes, zoning, and other local regulations).

Safe Storage is the First Priority

Storing stuff should not create an unsafe condition. Examples of unsafe conditions include the following.<br>Flammable materials should not be stored near ignition sources and heat sources. Flammable materials include gasoline and oil, mineral spirits and similar painting products, and products in aerosol dispensers. Flammable materials also include paper and cardboard. Ignition sources and heat sources include furnaces, heat pump air handlers, water heaters, clothes dryers, and mot Photo by Courtesy Made Smart/ DV International

Storing stuff should not create an unsafe condition. Examples of unsafe conditions include the following.

Flammable materials should not be stored near ignition sources and heat sources. Flammable materials include gasoline and oil, mineral spirits and similar painting products, and products in aerosol dispensers. Flammable materials also include paper and cardboard. Ignition sources and heat sources include furnaces, heat pump air handlers, water heaters, clothes dryers, and motor vehicle exhaust pipes. Remember that there are flammable materials in the fuel tanks of equipment such as lawn mowers.

Poisonous materials should not be stored within reach of children. Children include those who live at your house, and those who might visit. Poisonous materials can include flammable items like solvents and cleaning products.

Focus on Security When Storing Personal Records

Identity theft is a serious problem that should factor in certain storage decisions. Be careful where you store paper documents and digital media that contain details like social security numbers, passwords, tax returns, and medical records. Ideally, these items should be stored in a lockable file cabinet or in a secure place that’s out of sight. It’s also smart to shred paper records that can be discarded, and remove personal files from old computers that you want to trade in or donate. Photo by Dominique Vorillon

Identity theft is a serious problem that should factor in certain storage decisions. Be careful where you store paper documents and digital media that contain details like social security numbers, passwords, tax returns, and medical records.

Ideally, these items should be stored in a lockable file cabinet or in a secure place that’s out of sight. It’s also smart to shred paper records that can be discarded, and remove personal files from old computers that you want to trade in or donate to charity.

Store Wisely When Preservation is Important

Environmental conditions can be important when storing certain items. For example, storing paper records in a damp crawlspace or basement puts these items at risk of being damaged or destroyed by mold. Attics can get hot enough to damage some items. And a shed can become too cold or too damp for storage that must also preserve. Products like water-based finishes and wood glue need protection from freezing. Photo by Jonelle Weaver/Jupiter Images

Environmental conditions can be important when storing certain items. For example, storing paper records in a damp crawlspace or basement puts these items at risk of being damaged or destroyed by mold.

Attics can get hot enough to damage some items. And a shed can become too cold or too damp for storage that must also preserve. Products like water-based finishes and wood glue need protection from freezing. Rust-prone tools like chisels, saws, different machinery, should be stored in a space that stays dry to spare you of aggravating rust removal work.

Pay Attention to Accessibility and Structural Stability

It makes sense to consider how often you need an item when deciding where and how it should be stored. Storing your most frequently used items within easy reach will make life more convenient. It’s also a way to enhance safety, because accidents are more likely to occur if you need to climb on a ladder or stand on a chair to retrieve something. Photo by Diamond Cabinets

It makes sense to consider how often you need an item when deciding where and how it should be stored. Storing your most frequently used items within easy reach will make life more convenient. It’s also a way to enhance safety, because accidents are more likely to occur if you need to climb on a ladder or stand on a chair to retrieve something.

As you allocate items to different storage spots, consider how much the stuff weighs, and whether the storage area is designed to bear that weight. Attics built using dimensional lumber ceiling joists usually assume that the stuff stored in the attic does not weigh more than twenty pounds per square foot. This also applies to the weight of stuff stored on shelves that hang from the ceiling joists. Accessible attics that are framed with roof trusses may or may not be designed to store anything. If the truss bottom chord (the attic floor) is a 2 by 4, it may not be designed for storage.

Be Sure About a Shed

Sheds are great for storage. Depending on size, a shed can provide valuable, secure storage space for lawn and landscape equipment, seasonal furniture, tools, lumber, or camping equipment, just for starters. Shed kits are available from big box stores and other suppliers. Some of these consist of primarily metal parts, while others may contain precut and/or prefab wood parts.

Sheds are great for storage. Depending on size, a shed can provide valuable, secure storage space for lawn and landscape equipment, seasonal furniture, tools, lumber, or camping equipment, just for starters. Shed kits are available from big box stores and other suppliers. Some of these consist of primarily metal parts, while others may contain precut and/or prefab wood parts. Many DIYers opt for a site-built shed –either to save money or to put up an outbuilding with features that can’t be found on factory-made versions.

It’s important to make sure this new outbuilding will comply with local regulations. Check with your building department to see if a building permit will be required for your shed. Your building department will also let you know about any setback requirements that apply; these regulations are in place to avoid construction too close to property lines. In some communities, there may also be regulations that limit shed size or determine what materials and design details can be used.

No matter what kind of shed you build, it will need some kind of foundation. For a smaller shed, many homeowners erect piers (made from pressure-treated posts or concrete blocks) to support the shed. For larger sheds–especially those that might house a lawn tractor or other heavy items—a poured concrete slab will provide better service.

Assembling a kit requires at least two people, one whom should have basic carpentry experience if the kit uses wood as the structural components. Assembling a kit can be a good, but difficult, do-it-yourself project. Many suppliers can either arrange for, or can provide referrals for, assembly by experienced people.

Prefabricated storage sheds either come assembled, or have a few large sections that are assembled on site. These sheds are usually made from plastic or metal. Smaller versions may be delivered, or picked up, using a pickup truck. Larger versions may be delivered by a larger truck, and some type of crane or tag-along loader. These sheds are often placed directly on the ground, or may be placed on a temporary foundation, depending on manufacturer’s instructions. Delivery and assembly of a prefabricated storage shed depends on the type and size of the shed.

Under-Deck Storage

If the distance between the ground and your deck is more than about five feet, it may be possible to convert this area into a storage area. What is practical depends on the condition of your deck, and on the conditions under your deck. Photo by Mark Lohman

If the distance between the ground and your deck is more than about five feet, it may be possible to convert this area into a storage area. What is practical depends on the condition of your deck, and on the conditions under your deck.

If the ground under the deck is reasonably level, and if the distance between the deck and the ground is several feet, it might be possible to convert this area into a storage shed by making a floor from crushed stone, enclosing the area with siding, building a roof under the deck to divert water that falls on the deck, and adding an access door. Less elaborate conversions might include enclosing the area with lattice and installing some corrugated plastic or metal to divert some of the water that falls on the deck.

Attic Storage

Your attic can be a good place to store stuff that will not be damaged by temperature extremes and humidity. The best attic storage area is the area above the garage, if any. Storing stuff in the attic area above conditioned space is likely to reduce the R value of the attic insulation, and result in higher heating and cooling costs.<br>People like to install pull-down stairs to make their attic more accessible. These stairs are often improperly installed and maintained. Photo by Alex Hayden

Your attic can be a good place to store stuff that will not be damaged by temperature extremes and humidity. The best attic storage area is the area above the garage, if any. Storing stuff in the attic area above conditioned space is likely to reduce the R value of the attic insulation, and result in higher heating and cooling costs.

People like to install pull-down stairs to make their attic more accessible. These stairs are often improperly installed and maintained. Here are some tips for avoiding problems with pull-down stairs.

Consult a qualified contractor before cutting ceiling joists to install the stairs. Consult an engineer before cutting trusses.

Install pull-down stairs in an attached garage that are listed and labeled to maintain the required fire-separation barrier between the garage and the attic. Most attic stairs are not listed to maintain this barrier.

Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions about securing the stairs to the framing, and about cutting the stairs to the proper length. Manufacturers often recommend using 16d common nails to secure the stairs to the framing.

Inspect your stairs at least annually to be sure that all nuts and bolts are tight, and that the stairs appear in good condition.

Nobody wants to get rid of something only to purchase a replacement six months down the road. Many of us, therefore, have a lot of stuff to store. There are a lot of things to consider when storing stuff, and especially when adding new storage areas. A little planning can go a long way toward making sure your stored stuff is safe, and that your storage areas are legal.