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Clearing More Space: Organizing a Messy Garage

Written by Seana Turner, PO.

Few spaces collect clutter like a garage. We dump items here which don’t fit elsewhere, and it is often our “go to” place for the dirty, the large and the wet. Once a year it is a good idea to empty it out and give it an overhaul.

If you’ve never organized your garage, you may want to spend a little time actually planning your garage, and maybe even invest in an a shelving or storage system. There are multiple options on the market to maximize the storage and accessibility of your space.

What You Need:

  • A plan (make a drawing of how you will use the space. Remember to consider your walls and vertical space).
  • A budget. Decide in advance how much you have to spend. This will help as you consider garage storage systems.
  • Time. Garages are LARGE. You will need at least one weekend, maybe more.
  • Cleaning tools (broom, handheld vacuum, dust broom, rags, bucket of water, Swiffer).
  • A staging area. This is the place you will put all of the garage’s contents for review, and a place that can hold them until you are ready to return them. If you have nice weather, a driveway or section of a yard will work perfectly.
  • Labels.
  • Rubber Gloves.
  • Dust Mask.
  • Shelving/pegboard/hooks (varies depending on your space and plan).What You Do:

Step 1: Empty the garage. Yes, take it all out and move it to your staging area. If you are able, it is efficient to sort as you empty. You will be sorting items into the following categories:

R: Return (items you want to put back into the garage)

E: Elsewhere (items that you want to keep, but not in the garage, such as the kitchen scissors or paperwork)

D: Donate (good condition items that you no longer want)

D: Dispose (separate into what you can trash vs. what needs special handling, such as old paint, paint thinner, oil, etc...never dump these down the drain! Check with your town for hazardous disposal options)

S: Store (items you want to keep but don’t need regular access to, such as a sentimental catcher’s mitt)

Step 2: While the garage is empty, sweep or vacuum it. Wipe down the surfaces with the rag.

Step 3: Take the needed time to move “elsewhere” items to their proper location, to trash the “garbage”, to box/bag items for “donation” and put them into your car, to identify when you will recycle anything requiring “special disposal” and to move “store” items to an attic or high closet shelf.

Step 4: Sort the “return” category into like items (sporting equipment, tools, toys, etc)

Now you need to decide if you want to reload the room, or perhaps store your sorted items until you can install a storage system (such as pegboard or wall-mounted storage, shelving, etc.) If you want to store items, load your “Returns” into large boxes or plastic bins and label them. Large tools and bicycles can also be stored by category. Put them in a holding area until you are ready to reload.

Step 5: Reload the items into the room according to your drawing.

Hints for Garage Organizing:

Clear the Floors: Garage floors get dirty quickly, especially if you park your car in your garage. Anything on the floor will get dirty quickly. Instead, always look up! Walls and ceilings can offer great options for storing almost anything. There are systems available for hanging bicycles, balls, sporting equipment, etc.

Use the perimeters: The back of the garage is typically the place where you will have the most storage space. Sturdy shelving in these areas is important. Whether you buy new, recycle old or build your own, make sure it is secure. Depending on your space, you may also have room for cabinetry. Many families repurpose old kitchen cabinetry for this purpose, but stock cabinetry is also an affordable option.

Utilize clear plastic storage bins: Plastic bins helps keep the dust off of your possessions, and offer you the ability to see what is inside. This can be great for garages where we often store items we use only periodically. ALWAYS LABEL EVERY CONTAINER (e.g. “bicycle repair tools,” “gardening box,” ). Not only does this help YOU remember what’s inside, but it helps the other members of the household stick with the system. Also, fit the size of the container to the item you are storing... no hammers in a giant plastic bin!

Be Safe: Garages often have rusty items, old nails and sharp objects lying around. Be alert when cleaning. Also, flammable items such as that extra jug of gasoline should be stored off the ground and in a safe designated area in the garage.

Create Zones: Garages house items for a variety of functions. When designing your space, plan to create areas for like purposes. For example, designate one area as a “workshop”. Perhaps you hang pegboard or wall-mounted containers for tools, nails, screws, and drill bits. Plan this area for a space where you have electrical supply. Keep a bucket /toolbox here to house the items you use most frequently use for repairs and label it “Fix”. Similar portable containers can be assembled for common tasks (“Car Wash”, “Picture Hanging”, “Electrical Repair”, etc.) Other zones will include trash/recycling containers, recreation, gardening, etc.

Enlist Help: Garages are often full of stuff, much of which is heavy. It is helpful to have some extra arms to help unload and move objects around. Offer an incentive (monetary or otherwise) to any who are willing to help!

Think New: Give every item a careful assessment. Just because you’ve kept an item in the garage in the past doesn’t mean this is the best place for it. Many objects end up in the garage by accident, so be diligent in considering alternatives.The easiest-to-maintain garage is an empty one!

Seana Turner, PO
Seana Turner, PO

Seana Turner is the founder & President of The Seana Method in Darien, CT. The Seana Method is a structured approach to organizing the three aspects of daily life: space, time, and responsibilities. Developed to erase the slate of self recrimination, The Seana Method designs life strategies that result in predictability, flexibility and joy. Vi.. Read more

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Comments (1)

  • Guest (Marcia @ Menopausal Mother)


    We used to have a very messy garage---it was the dumping ground for everything. It never did get cleaned up until it underwent construction and became our new bedroom! :)

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