My Story: A Basement Storage System

contributed by Anna


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If you have a basement, the wall space going down the stairs is a great space to build shelving to store cans. Not only is this wasted space, but also most basement stairs are accessed close to the kitchen.

Build 4" wide shelves on a wall above where the first floor wall (usually 4" wide) meets the foundation (usually 8" wide). You'll never miss the 4" because the entire stair well narrows when it hits the foundation anyway, and you can line up your 3.5" cans two to three high very nicely. My pantry shelves are made of ordinary 2x4s cut 12" high that are spaced every 2' and 1x5 1/2" boards, painted white. Our two highest shelves are a bit wider (8") and spaced higher (18") so we can fit things like Tupperware and extra boxes of cereal (which are light and won't give you a concussion when you pull them down). Because they're higher than 6', the increased shelf width doesn't interfere with using the stairwell (although one of those reachers/grabbers that senior citizens use is handy to reach less-used goods stored on the most distant shelves so you're not stretching precariously over an 8-foot stairwell). The shelves are actually rather attractive if you paint them to match your décor.

If the stair well doesn't have interior wallboard, you can simply insert 2x4 cross-shelves every 12 inches high between the existing studs and then stack your cans. Painting is optional.

There is usually enough headroom to install a couple of 6-8" wide shelves across the end of the stairwell for stuff such as pasta. Just be mindful of the width of this shelf so you don't whack your head when you use the stairs. Our old house fit three lovely 12" shelves, but we didn't install a cross-stair shelf at the end of the well in our new house because the stairs are so steep and narrow. My tall husband would have been whacking his head on them. Use your judgement.

Lastly, since most doorjambs jut out 4" or more from the wall, build another 4" wide (or wider if you have the room) set of shelves behind the basement door in the stair well. We were able to fit 5" wide shelves where boxes of macaroni fit very nicely.

To prevent cans from inadvertently getting knocked off the shelves when you use the stairs, buy 1/4" wide elastic from the sewing notions section of your local department store. Staple or tack strips of this between the vertical supports of your shelves (or studs) on those shelves you'd be most likely to bump. Then, if you're a klutz like me, you won't knock down your beautiful display of alphabetized canned goods when you carry an overloaded basket of laundry up and down the stairs.

I always write the sell-by date in big letters on all my dry goods in dark magic marker so things don't expire. I also continuously push older items to the left and put newer items to the right (assembly-line style) as I buy them so that I'm always using the oldest items up first. Lastly, I store "like" items together on certain labeled shelves. Thanks to my "stair pantry," I always know exactly what I have, what I paid for it, and whether or not it's time to take advantage of that loss leader sale to stock up on enough of a specific item to last until the next sale.

Not only do stair-shelves free up valuable kitchen cabinets for other items (like your slow cooker), but also since most of your staples are highly visible, you'll know exactly what you have and avoid buying duplicates.


"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by mailto:MyStory@stretcher.com

Take the Next Step:

  • If you have a basement, the wall space going down the stairs is a great space to build shelving to store cans. If you utilize this wasted space, you'll free up valuable kitchen cabinets, and because your goods will be highly visible, you'll know exactly what you have at all times. Now is a great time to get to work on your basement pantry.

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