Orange and clear plastic storage container bins. (istockphoto)

Attics and basements are the obvious places to store seasonal, overflow and keepsake items. But before you shove a bunch of cardboard boxes into the dark attic or damp basement, consider to how and where to store your items so they’ll be in good condition and easy to find.

Excess and access

First, take a few minutes to determine whether the items you’re storing are things you definitely need and want. Don’t put off making a tough decision; you’ll regret it later. Next, figure out how frequently you’ll use the items. Reserve easy-access areas for those things you will need occasionally, not keepsakes that you can’t part with but rarely use.

Think vertically

If there’s room, use shelving to maximize and organize the space. Shelving in storage rooms does not need to be beautiful, but it does need to be sturdy. There are many good shelving options out there, but I recommend using something adjustable so you’re able to move things around as necessary without wasting space. The Container Store’s InterMetro shelving is a popular choice for basements. Neatly organized shelves will also make it easier to see things and group like items together.

Protection from the elements

Using shelves for basement storage is also a good idea because it keeps valuables off the floor, safeguarding them against possible water damage. Even the most secure basements are susceptible to water, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Attics are obviously less vulnerable to water damage, assuming your roof is in good shape, but things stored up there need to be resistant to extreme temperature changes. Artwork, photographs and records from the ’80s will be damaged if they get too hot.

Clear containers

Clear plastic containers with secure tops are ideal for storing Halloween costumes, paperwork and more. People frequently gravitate to very large bins, but beware the 32-gallon bin filled with collectibles; it will be very heavy. It is better to go with a manageable size that won’t break your back as you lug it up and down the stairs or ladder.

You shouldn’t need a flashlight

If you feel like you’re heading into a cave every time you go searching for your favorite holiday decorations or the hammer you’ll need to hang them, you’re not going to be happy. So make sure that your basement and attic storage spaces are well lighted. You don’t need pretty or expensive fixtures, but you do need adequate lighting to make the space feel at least a little welcoming and, more important, functional.

Labeling is crucial

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll remember where you put last year’s winter boots or your favorite holiday serving platter. Take a few minutes to list the contents of each bin on the outside with a piece of masking tape and a permanent marker. You can also go beyond that and create an electronic map or list of the contents of your attic and basement. It’s a good way to remind you and your family where things are kept, but it can also be important for insurance purposes.

Keep the cobwebs away

Take a look around your basement and attic once or twice a year to take inventory and clear out anything you haven’t used or no longer want. Continually adding items to your storage spaces without also purging or sorting regularly will make a manageable task much more overwhelming later.

Extra storage space in basements and attics is a necessity for many of us. When used wisely, it can create more space and efficiency in our main living areas, but if it becomes an excuse to buy more or never discard anything, it can eventually cause a lot of stress and work. Store things smartly now, so you can enjoy them later.

Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at