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How to Clean Up Your Basement (or Die Trying)

by on Feb 9, 2012

There is a secret I’ve been hiding. It is large, and it is dirty, and might even be in violation of a few state and federal laws. But hiding it doesn’t make it any less real, so I’ve decided to just come out with it:

This is my basement.

And before you get any weird ideas; no, it’s not full of dead bodies (dead mice, maybe). When I said state and federal laws I meant city and county building codes. But just because your basement isn’t as bad as a murderer’s doesn’t mean it isn’t really, really bad. Anyway, if that’s the standard you’re holding yourself to, you have bigger problems to deal with.

Our basement has a sad history. When we bought the house it was empty and untended. Walls were starting to crack and flake in places. The floors (which had probably never been even) were cracking too, and certain spots sounded ‘hollow’ when you walked over them. Like any basement in Minnesota, it clearly had issues with water, but we didn’t know how much, or how recently.

A badly deteriorated basement with green paint chipping all over the place.

Then there were the weird things, like a jury-rigged shower so gross-looking it made you wonder, ‘what kind of person would actually take their clothes off down here’? Or the clothes-lines strung across the ceiling, presumably for drying clothes in your basement, which is a great idea if you want your clothes to smell like a basement and your basement to develop mold from the high moisture.

Clever ideas to transform your basement.

Before long, the basement became a dumping ground for things that had no other place in the world. If you never wanted to find something again, putting it on a shelf in the basement was a pretty reliable strategy. 

Sure, we did laundry down there, picking out a path to the washer and dryer like gazelles to a watering hole. But woe unto him that should let fall a sock from the laundry basket, for the scum piles devour all that is given them, and return nothing from their bellies! 


Point being, it’s easy to develop blind spots. You stop seeing the shoulder-high mountains of clutter. You forget that those little brown turds in the corner might, in fact, be little brown turds. You close yourself off from the horror of it, like cauterizing a wound. If it doesn’t touch me, I won’t touch it.

Well, this had to end. This winter I pledged to end it. And I’m very proud to say … we’ve made some progress.

The basement of a home which pairs as a laundry room as well.

Alicia and I started by sending Ayla to her grandparents for the weekend, getting a Bagster (TM) and filling it up with crap we should have just thrown out in the first place. I tore out that stupid shower with my bare hands. And we spent hours vacuuming up debris with our new DeWalt portable Wet/Dry vacuum that we got from

A yellow and black tool still in the cardboard box.

"Man Repairs and cleaning the Basement"

I added some new fluorescent light strips, and updated a few of the electrical boxes. After that, I dug out several patches of floor that were deteriorated beyond repair, and went to work filling them back in with concrete (first time using concrete for anything; I love it!).

Cement is drying in a crack in the flooring.




"A person cleans up his basement"

Next up, I need to scrape off all the loose piece of foundation wall that are threatening to crumble, and set them right using quick-setting cement. 

A splotched basement wall with missing paint.

As you can see, I’ve gotten started on that; I’ve fixed up a few spots that were really bad and applied an initial coat of water-proof sealer. But what you can’t see in the photo is how much more work I still have to do. Seriously; about 45% of the foundation walls need some amount of scraping/patching/water-proofing. 

So, since blogging is more fun but less effective than actual working, I’m going to leave you there. I wish I had a better ‘after’ to reveal, but this project has taken on a life of its own, and I have miles to go before I sleep. I’ll check back in next week with an update on my progress (and, hopefully, completion). 

Until then, watch out for those little brown things on your way to the laundry machine.


Disclosure: provided me with products for review in this post, but I wasn’t compensated for using them. All opinions are my own.

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  1. I wish mine looked as good as yours….mine is so much worse.  I started cleaning up mine and hope to be done soon.

  2. omg, this is soooo funny…and sadly, hits close to home.  My house also had a make-shift shower/bathroom in my basement…no walls, just concrete blocks as a half wall !!  We had that torn out asap.  We have water, need to deal with that, now that we’re getting house ready to sell.  Good to know others have / had an abyss in their basement too.  Thanks for the laughs 🙂

  3. I found this post by googling “disgusting basement”, because I’m trying to clean out mine.  This is giving me hope.  Everything in my basement is covered with a thick layer of renovation dust and cobwebs.  And the place smells like cat litter.  And my husband’s idea of “cleaning” is to shove everything into the corner.  It makes me want to cry. I know this comment comes long after this post but I just wanted to say that this gives me hope.

    And FYI, it’s jerry-rigged, not jury-rigged. 🙂

  4. Grammatically – look up the differences between “jury-rigged” and “jerry-built”, to get a better grasp of what we are talking about.

  5. Mine is gross covered in at least a years worth of dust and cobwebs. Not to mention the carcasses of big spiders killed by bug bombs. I want to get a dumpster but my husband wants to keep everything. I don’t want to cry, I actually do cry and threaten to live in a tent in the yard.