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Have you made your New Year's resolutions yet? Here's one to add to the list: Get organized.

This is the perfect time of year to tackle those projects you've been putting off -- such as cleaning your closets and basement. It's well worth devoting a weekend or two to clearing out the clutter. Just think how good you'll feel once it's done.

Getting started

The first step in organizing a closet or basement is the most difficult: deciding what to get rid of.

Be realistic, even ruthless. If in doubt, ask yourself: Will I ever really wear this skirt again? Or fix that chair? Or use that old tennis racket? If the answer is no, the item should go to charity (or into the garbage or recycling bin). Items to be given away should go to an official charity (which will provide you with a receipt for tax purposes) as soon as possible.

Divide everything you plan to keep into three piles: things you use often; things to which you don't need regular access (your prom dress, the baby's first shoes), and things that need to be repaired.

The items in the last group should be repaired as soon as possible. Everything else goes back into storage -- and here are some ideas for making that space practical and attractive.


With everything out of the closet, give it a fresh coat of white paint (or another light color), which will make it cleaner and more inviting. Don't let any space go to waste. Build shelves above the highest rods; put hooks on the walls; hang a shoe-storage system from the door.

Use pretty boxes, baskets, zippered canvas bags and freestanding drawers (housewares stores sell all of these in a variety of styles) to create customized cubbies. These allow you to make a place for everything -- from socks to sweaters to the summer bedspread -- which is the most important aspect of organizing a closet.

Whenever possible, shelves should be adjustable so the closet can adapt as its contents change.

Items you use most often should be kept at eye level. Stash seasonal clothes, linens and luggage on top or bottom shelves.

Make room for keepsakes in a closet you use regularly. Photos, clothes with sentimental value and holiday ornaments will age more quickly in a damp basement or hot attic. Anything breakable should be on a low shelf.


It's a good idea to draw a floor plan of your basement, including the furnace, water heater, circuit box and other permanent fixtures. Then pencil in "zones" for different kinds of storage; in addition to the permanent fixtures, a typical basement would have a zone for laundry, long-term storage, short-term storage, everyday storage and a workshop.

The laundry area should include a table for folding clothes and a sink, which should be connected to the washing machine. Items for long-term storage include old tax records and furniture. Sports equipment, screens and storm windows qualify for short-term storage.

Everyday storage space should be created near the stairs; it's the place for extra paper towels, cleaning supplies, bottles of water -- and a flashlight.

Finally, the workshop can be extensive or basic, according to your interests. At the very least, you need a place for tools, cans of paint and a modest work surface.

Once you know where you'll put everything, decide what to put it on. You'll find the supplies at home supply stores -- or you may already have them in the basement. An old table, for example, makes a perfect surface for folding laundry. Prefabricated pine shelving units and adjustable metal shelving are great for general storage.

Use waterproof plastic bins on the lowest shelves, which may be just a few inches from the floor (and therefore susceptible to floods). To keep furniture and other large items off the ground, set them on a frame made by laying 2-by-6 boards on a few concrete blocks.

Peg-Board can be attached to the wall or to the back of the pine shelving, providing a place for hanging tools, storage baskets or the ironing board. Instead of hanging things from pipes (which could eventually damage them), screw hooks into the joints in the ceiling.

Fireproof cabinets should be used for flammable items; if you have children in the house, get one that locks and keep poisonous items in it as well.

Clean, well-organized storage space is quite luxurious. So the next time you're tempted to toss something into the basement because you don't know what else to do with it, think again. If you don't have a place or a purpose for it, you probably don't need it.

Questions should be addressed to Martha Stewart, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions may also be sent to Stewart by electronic mail: Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.