Garages may be for our cars, but they can all too easily become a home’s dumping ground for clothes the kids have grown out, empty paint cans, things that are broken or that you just don’t want to deal with. But it’s that time of year again, so as the temps begin to rise, blooms are sprouting and we’re all coming out of our winter shells (hallelujah!). It’s finally time to hit the outdoors, that is if you can find your bike.
A day (or two) dedicated to clearing out and organizing your garage will get you ready for all the warm-weather activities just around the corner. Doesn’t that sound nice? To help start out this season on a clutter-free foot, we tapped a few experts to guide us through organizing this often ignored space.
Ahead, 10 steps to getting your garage in good form.
Have a Plan
A lot of things can happen in or to a garage over a long winter, so your first focus should be restoring order. Marty Basher, the home organization expert with ModularClosets.com, suggests starting with a goal in mind. Are you an avid gardener? Do you need easy access to your favorite sports gear? Or does it double as a storage and a laundry room? “Having a plan for the final functionality of the space is key to achieving a successful spring cleaning,” say Basher. Make a list of things that need to get done or sketch out a rough plan of the final result. Then open those doors, let some air and light in, back out your car and begin. Putting on some inspiring tunes or an engaging podcast doesn’t hurt either.
Pick Your Process
Tackling a space like the garage may seem daunting, so it’s important to first figure out the best way to get the job done. Maeve Richmond, of Maeve’s Method, likes doing the easiest things first, like gathering up recyclables or tagging items you can donate or bring to the dump. Then, emptying the entire garage out and building it back up, piece-by-piece. It might take a day or two or even a few weekends, so do your best to restore order at the end of each session. “If you can leave everything outside on the driveway or lawn, just cover them up with a tarp at night to fend off on-lookers and springtime rain,” she says. If that seems too intense, Jeni Aron, the Clutter Cowgirl, suggests picking a small section that’s bothering you most and beginning there. “Try to detach from feeling guilty that you've let the garage get to this point and lead with the mindset of just getting started,” she says. “Once you've tackled a hard area the rest will be cake. Set another block of time for the following week and keep going in those short spurts until it's done.”
Be Honest – Have You Used It?
A common rule when cleaning out your closet is if you haven’t worn it in over a year, it’s time to say goodbye — the same thing applies for your garage. If no one has touched those rollerblades since Obama’s first term, it’s okay to let them go. If your family didn’t take to Sunday croquet matches like you’d envisioned, don’t beat yourself up about it. Donate them and they might end up getting some use instead of gathering dust. “Be honest about your hobbies, activities, possessions and life,” says Aron. “On the flip side, do you love skiing? Are you big into fixing things in your home? If so, the materials for these activities should be honored and given prime real estate.” If you’re having trouble letting things go, Basher suggest itemizing things into ‘use regularly’, ‘use annually’, ‘never use’ and ‘sentimental storage’ categories. Everything in never use can be tossed; check annual and regular use items for signs of wear and tear and replace or store; when it comes to things that are purely sentimental, focus on what you really want to keep and what you actually have room to store safely.
If you don’t have a proper organizational system already, now’s your chance to get things in order. Richmond says the best type of storage is anything that that goes up. If your shelving is wall or ceiling mounted, even better. “A garage with a parked car or two is tight, so use your walls, even ceilings, as best you can to maximize space,” she says. The ideal options are open metal or wire shelving systems, with tubs and bins for things like holiday decorations. “Don’t forget lids for the top layer of bins,” says Basher. “The dead space above your equipment storage system can function nicely as a place to store extra paper towels or water coolers in the off season.”
If square footage is an issue, use a peg board with hooks for vertical wall hanging. Most gardening tools have handles, so try to hang shovels and trowels on the wall to save space and keep items off the floor. You can also hang golf bags, tennis rackets and most definitely bikes if you’re not using them on a daily basis (a floor parking rack is great if you’re an avid biker). “Nothing makes for a more nerve-wracking parking experience than a bike leaning precariously against a garage wall,” says Richmond. Another solution: Use a stud finder and screw an S hook into the ceiling, then hang your bike by the tire. They’re easier to take down like this and will be out of the way. It’s also helpful to store balls and sports equipment in mesh bags hung at eye level so you can see what you’re looking for — mesh storage bins work well, too.
Wheel it In
If you aren’t blessed with a gardening shed, your garage is the next best thing. You can store soil, pots and planters on a potting shelf, but another option is keeping your tools in a wheeled bucket or wheelbarrow so you can easily pull it out whenever you need to get to work on those weeds. If your gardening equipment is just taking up too much space, Basher says another option is a lean-to shed attached to the exterior wall of your garage. “These small sheds can be built to suit your needs and can double as a gardening shed complete with potting table.”
Find Alternative Storage
It’s so easy for the garage to become a catch-all place, but we’re not looking for a life-size junk drawer — and some things are just not suited for garage living. If you’re using something on the regular, it should be kept in the house. A coat rack in the garage may seem like a good idea, but your clothes could be exposed to whatever critters are crawling around in there and the damp, cold or humid conditions can lead to mold. That goes for furniture, soft toys and photo albums as well. And speaking of critters, avoid shelving dry goods or other food items in the garage. “If you store birdseed or other types of animal feed, a metal bin away from moisture is best,” says Basher. He also says to use caution when storing fuels and flammable liquids, they should be kept separate in an area where they can’t be knocked or spilled.
A garage should operate similar to storage inside your home, so be thoughtful of placement and make sure the items you use more often are in more accessible areas. “All of the tips in the world won’t help if the job goes against your natural routine,” says Basher. “Build an organizational system that accentuates your patterns. If you always kick off your shoes by the garage door, put a shoe basket there. If you need the hose everyday on the patio, get hose storage out there to avoid hauling it back and forth or just leaving it in the grass.”
Give Every Item A Home
A good way to get everybody in the family on board (and impressed) with your new organizational system, is to label everything from the hooks and pegboards stations to your storage bins. This will also ensure that items will be put back in their proper place. It may seem anal, but they’ll appreciate how easy it makes finding their soccer cleats in a rush to practice. “It will go a long way towards keeping your garage from cluttering up, and doorways and floors clean and clear year-round,” says Richmond. Another way Aron suggests getting your household involved is to give everyone a section in the garage to take care of. “Spring cleaning is not a one and done type of activity,” she says. “Like going to the gym, you have to maintain the workout. Make sure everyone has a spot or at least that they know where their favorite items live. When a kid (or a partner) is given responsibility and structure for their possessions, they’ll take pride in maintaining the upkeep.”