Introduction: Finishing & Furnishing a Basement Using Spare Change Part 1: Closet Space

Picture of Finishing & Furnishing a Basement Using Spare Change Part 1: Closet Space

A basement is probably not many people's top choice when it comes to a place to live; they tend to be dank, spider infested, fungus farms. With a little work and ingenuity though, they can be made into relatively nice little abodes. Okay, nice could be a stretch, but mine is livable if not practical, and no longer moldy nor critter inhabited. Even if you own your home and can easily afford a finished basement, you may still get some edification from this humble approach. Building something useful from virtually nothing is a very rewarding experience I've found.

I don't own my basement, but I am lucky enough to let from a couple that happily allows me to modify their (almost) unused basement. Easy DIY repairs around the house such as installing a new dishwasher, garbage disposal, and general maintenance like gutter cleaning and fence/gate repair helped gain their trust. Cheap labor for them, tinkering freedom for me. Win/win.

My goal was (and still is) to transform the dusty storage space where old junk goes to be forgotten into a fully furnished and functional apartment independent from the rest of the house. Sounds simple, yes? The caveat; I want to do this on an extremely tight budget. By tight I mean using funds from nothing but my spare change bucket. This bucket catches the daily pocket coins (never bills) that accumulate from normal day to day spending. This has been difficult to say the least, especially since cash is no longer king, so to speak.

Even though my landlords said I could build in closets and such, I explained to them my much less expensive approach, which they thought impossible on my budget. However, they ended up agreeing just to see how it transpired.

So enough chatter, here's part one of what I hope to be at least a trilogy of my low-budget journey. The focus here will be my solution for the lack of a closet, which is also a current contest running. Please give me a vote if you enjoy or otherwise get anything from this article, I'll greatly appreciate you for it.

Step 1: Don't Be Afraid to Work a Little, and Be Thrifty.

Picture of Don't Be Afraid to Work a Little, and Be Thrifty.

I get materials and such as cheap as possible (never retail prices) or for free, the only trick is figuring out where and how.

I'm not ashamed, give me your junk. That's my motto lately. I am the go-to guy among friends when they need to get rid of stuff. Cleaning out your attic or garage? As long as there's something there I can use, I'll haul off a truck load. Need help moving? I make a good mule so long as I get stuff worth keeping or at least scrapping. I've found a lot of people jump at the chance to have help with their heavy lifting, or just to have a good excuse to let something go that they couldn't stand to throw away...I've walked away with refrigerators and other appliances, golf clubs, audio equipment, you name it.

On a more regular basis I frequent thrift stores. Yes, some are trashy and most smell kind of funky, but you can also score some really good stuff for a fraction of its actual value. The key to successful thrift shopping is not going in looking for a particular item you need for a specific task. Sounds almost pointless, right? Truth be told, a lot of times it is. Be patient, most larger or chain thrift stores (like Goodwill) stock on a daily basis. If there's one (or more) close enough to your normal daily route, drop in a couple of times a week and just walk through with an open mind.

Take for example the following recipe:

  • A 2 drawer filing cabinet
  • The base of a homemade roadie case (basically just plywood with reinforced sides)
  • The wheels from a couple of old rusty shopping carts
  • Wiring and outlets removed from a home remodeling job
  • The side of a water damaged entertainment center
  • A pair of saw horses (2x4s with brackets)
  • A piece of pegboard with crayon graffiti

These ingredients make my workbench. And it's awesome. It's a very functional work area that has storage space for tools, can be either mobile or stationary, has on-board power outlets & lighting, and is as sturdy as a work bench needs to be, more so even. It can support my bench vise, drill press, and miter saw all at once with work space to spare; yet all of those things are modular making it ideal for laying out entire sheets of plywood or other large things I may be repairing or dismantling. Instructable pending.

The point of that digression is this: never in a million years would anyone ever draw up plans for a workbench using that hodgepodge materials list. But it works, very well. Look at things in a different light, or look not at what they are, but what they could be.

My materials list will unfold throughout the following steps, but I will go ahead and divulge my out of pocket cost:

<$15. Total.

Step 2: Closet Essentials: Hanging

Picture of Closet Essentials: Hanging

To function as a normal closet should, first and foremost we need a place to hang our threads. My closet rod is a 15lb iron pipe I saved from the scrap yard one weekend while helping a contractor friend demo an old house. I love it when he does side jobs, I get some of my best loot from him for the low price of a few hours of my time and a little labor.

I suspended this 7 foot hunk of mineral from one side by a horizontally mounted 2x4, the other hangs from a vertically mounted 2x4 that I've attached to the floor joist using 2 1/2" decking screws. Both of the boards were bored with a 1" Forstner bit all the way through for maximum support. This thing will hold all the clothes you could possibly hang from it, wet even, if you felt so inclined. At +-210 pounds, I can do pull-ups from the center of the pipe and it doesn't shift, bend or even creak in the slightest.

This is where I spent $4 of my pocket change as well; on the hangers. All the crap I've accumulated for nothing and I had to buy stinking hangers. Oh well.

Step 3: Closet Essentials: Stacking and Storing

Picture of Closet Essentials: Stacking and Storing

No closet in the history of closets could call itself a functional closet without the shelf that crowns the closet rod. I think that sentence may have run on. Regardless, most of us have clothes that don't need to be hung, or have seasonal type things that need to be stored out of the way half the year. For this we need the shelf above the hangers, and the storage below.

My shelves are (obviously) used wire numbers that came from a garage cleaning. They're a little worse for wear but functional still. Having only two supports I had to improvise to make these able to bear any weight. My solution: some light chain reclaimed from the same garage. I attached it to the shelves with S hooks and simply screwed the other ends to the floor joists. The wall-edge of the shelves is supported by what I'll call crown mold, though it's main purpose isn't aesthetic. It holds the wall boards on, therefore it's more structurally sound than normal trim, and perfect for supporting the backside of my wire shelves. I boxed the wire in every couple of feet with one screw above the wire and into a stud, and one perpendicular into the trim. Nice and tight.

As far as their weight capacity I point you to the pictures. All the crap you see stuffed up there has been there for a couple of months now and the shelves haven't sagged. I guess that means something.

For seasonal clothing I used the rest of my change on vacuum seal bags. Incredible how much fits into those things, when decompressed the contents pictured here will over-fill the foot locker below. Harbor Freight carries them and they go on sale once or twice a year for around $5US per 3 bags.

Speaking of the foot locker, it's an heirloom built by my grandfather out of cedar, Circa 1950. It contains all my clothes not on hangers. I made dividers from a badly water damaged entertainment center (same one used for my workbench) by cutting out a couple of unharmed pieces with my trusty Japanese pull saw. I then wrapped them with vinyl kindly donated by a friend. What a gal.

Step 4: Closet Essentials: Stashing

Picture of Closet Essentials: Stashing

Who doesn't have a hidey-hole where they like to stash their valuables? How many use the closet for said hidey-hole? No one and most would respectively be my best guesses.

The voids between the floor joists and behind the miscellany on the shelves is perfect for that sort of thing. Drive screws in for hanging small items, seal things in bags to stuff into the insulation (I recommend using gloves). I have lots of options here.

I also needed options to store the rest of my wardrobe, shoes, hats, formal wear, etc. For everything but the latter I hung an over-the-door shoe organizer from the corner closet rod brace. Incidentally, it works great for storing my shoes, toboggans, gloves, etc.

The cupboard like white thing was reclaimed from a remodel job my contractor friend hired me to help with. I meant for it to contain formal wear (a task it's the perfect size for), but my suits fit 170 lb me, not the bulkier 200+ me (don't judge, they actually did still fit in the waist). So I traded them to another buddy for an Xbox 360 plus games/accessories that I never play, probably because it's in the cupboard keeping my old PS2, NES and Genesis company.

Step 5: Final Thoughts

That pretty much sums up the closet corner. The entire living area is being or has already been done using the same mindset: make it as much for as little as possible. It's going well I think, there's a cozy sitting area that's surrounded by awesome audio and offers almost 100" of movie watching or game playing splendor; the same area becomes the bedroom where my options are a sofa-bed or a hammock.

I hope to give them and more things their own Instructable as they unfold, and depending on feedback from this one. I hope you've enjoyed reading and even more I hope you may have gained something, whether it be inspiration for your own projects or possibly just a laugh at my pleonastic dribble. The first is better, but I'm okay with the last as well.

Please don't forget to vote for me in the Living Without Closets contest!

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