Organizing: Another Real Reason to Get Organized - Health

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By Ed

If you've been reading our blog for awhile, you know that Robin is using a strategy to organize our house.  She's pretending we're moving.  Apparently, I am also in on the act.  (She tells me I am helping with our basement cupboard because,  "it's a closet packed full of old technology and nerdy junk and she won't know what goes in the "Donation Station" or the garbage."  Notice, no mention of keeping any of my tech treasures.)

Our post on organizing our bathroom discussed real reasons to organize: to reach goals that involve great things like people, plans and dreams.  This project taught us another real reason: Health.  Our basement closet had the potential to make our family very sick. We learned some lessons and DIY'd our way to an organized room that wouldn't cause us respiratory distress.

The original project: 
Deep Shelves are Less Functional than Narrow.

So as you likely could see from the "before" picture, this storage space stored a lot of stuff.  I had built some 2' DEEP shelves (yes, Two. Feet. Deep.).  If you have had shelves this deep before you know how awful they are to use.  It seemed like twice the depth of shelf should give twice the storage, but it just has the tendency to bury everything and accumulate more stuff.  It's like double parking your stuff on top of your stuff.  It seemed like a good idea at the time in my foolish youth and we had been living with them.   

 Here's another before shot:


Our goal was simple and should have taken a morning: 

  1. empty the cupboard
  2. rebuild the shelves to be more functional (i.e. half as deep; twice as many)
  3. put what is worth keeping back in

In the process of Step 1 Robin moved some stuff and found drywall with that characteristic black haze along the floor and creeping nearly halfway up the wall.


Suddenly our priorities came into sharp focus and our simple morning job with 3 steps became a full day (plus dry time) with about 17 more steps. 

The mold did not get photographed.  We didn't really plan the mold as a blog post - this was going to be about organizing - and at the time we just wanted it gone.  Looking at the picture above, it would have been on the lower, left hand side.  

Some background:  

The basement had some minor flooding last fall.  Another surprise project that we dealt with by adding a sump pump, chucking a lot of floor and redoing the laminate with what we had saved/salvaged.  This closet was not torn up at the time because a) look at how packed full of junk it is.. would you want to empty it out after tearing up a whole other room?  and b) we didn't see any water damage like the other room had.

So now we reaped the price of not checking things fully the first time.  The water had sneaked under the laminate floor and wicked up the drywall on the inside of the closet (aided by how crammed full the closet was, so we couldn't see its evil at work).

Here's why it wasn't all bad news.

The kids were staying at Grandpa and Nan's for a few days - this meant both that they were not around the mold while we worked and that we could have focused work time.  This was also the reason we thought we were going to get in a few cool projects and some kid-free fun.  After the initial depression from realizing those things weren't happening, we threw ourselves into this task.

Why Surprise projects aren't all bad:
  • They tend to be huge priorities.  Your life will not be able to continue normally if you don't look after them.  As a result, they have a liberating effect.  You have permission to ignore everything else until they are done.
  • Provided it isn't a leaky roof or a broken furnace, they sometimes give you a chance to D.I.Y. on the cheap.  We love doing projects and having one tossed into our lap (even one we didn't plan on or relish) held the promise of frugal fun.  This leads to the next point...
  • If you are not a D.I.Y.-er but want to learn, a "must do" project can provide the jump start to force your hand.  Like an untrained civilian who lands an airplane in an emergency, we are capable of great things under pressure.  And unlike the airplane metaphor, if you make a mistake on this, there is always a redo chance. 
  • You can sometimes fix something you did a lesser job on the first time - this is the case in this project.

Our Steps:
 1.  We pulled everything that had even the faintest hint of mold.  Luckily, the studs and floor plate looked OK.  Here is what it looked like after a gutting: 

2.  We washed them with soap and water just to be safe.

3.  Next, (possibly overkill) after allowing the studs to dry from the washing, we gave them a thick coat of Primer/mold killer (We've had success with "Bulls Eye 1-2-3" water based products).  I figured why risk a mold comeback when you had the chance to seal and destroy.  Given that everything would soon be covered again, I also wanted peace of mind for the unseen stuff.

4.  We then re-sheeted with mold-proof treated drywall, mudded and then painted the whole room.

5.  Lastly, the shelves were reconstructed.  I was able to salvage the existing shelves and rip them in half, making four reasonably sized shelves where two ridiculous deep ones once lived.

Twice as many narrow shelves = infinitely more functional.

6.  While I was doing this, Robin was sorting, tossing and organizing all the items that came off the shelves in the first place.  Some was recycled.  Anything with a hint of mold was dumped.  The rest were piled into groupings based on function.

7.  We added some scratch-built hooks to hang folding chairs and maximize the vertical space.

Materials purchased: 

  • 1 sheet of fresh drywall (only 1/2 used),
  • drywall compound (less than 1/2 tub used),
  • 1 can of hardcore primer/killer (only a tiny bit used) and 
  • some fresh screws to hang shelves with.  
Everything else was reused, recycled or scrounged.  Total cost (approximately) = $50.

And the end result:

A closet that won't kill us (either from mold or a junk-landslide)!


Has anyone else had run-ins with mold?  How did you attack it?




  1. I love what you did. I am a horder ,I did a tv show ,I thought I was going to get a lot of help ,I have ended up doing myself. I am not really sure what happend ,I had a lot of stuff ,but it was neat and in order ,some where I fell apart. I am trying to get back to being neat and tidy and clean ,like I was before. I have a hard time staying on task. I like the 15min plan. I am even thinking of seting a clock for 15min. I know in the pass ,I have been working a lot of jobs at the same time and I am beat. I am trying to get a better life and I want to do this 15min plan everyday. Thank you,

    1. I'm glad our little project is a bit of inspiration for you! I find breaking things down into 15 minute chunks makes a big job feel more manageable. Best of luck to you!


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