One of the ironies of the garage is that it is designed to hold a car (or two or more) yet in many homes the garage holds everything but the car. Unfortunately the items stored in the garage are typically worth far less than the cars they are replacing. It’s time to take back the garage and make it an organized place to protect the expensive cars and equipment -- and maybe even enjoy.
Step one: create a plan and prepare. First consider what you want to do with the garage. Store the car? Store lawn and garden equipment? Store sports equipment? Then ask yourself: is the garage the best place for the items I want to store there? Garages are more susceptible to the environment than the rest of the house– not good for anything that is sensitive to humidity. Also consider when you want to complete this project. Setting a deadline can help provide motivation.
Prepare by planning how you will dispose of the unwanted items and where you will put things as you are sorting and decluttering. Minimally you will need some large boxes for items to trash, donate, recycle, and relocate items somewhere else in the house. Garages often contain dangerous household chemicals so it might be a good idea to have a box to bring items to the hazardous waste facility. If you feel there might be a lot of trash, you can rent a dumpster or arrange for a hauler. Arrange for a charity pickup in advance to help create a sense of urgency in completing the project.
Spring is a great time to tackle the garage because the doors can be left open and its contents sorted on the driveway. Tarps are very handy items to use when decluttering the garage. Place tarps on the ground and you can mark out different areas that can be used to hold your sorted items. Have a few extra tarps to cover items in case the weather turns bad.
Use temporary signs while you are decluttering so you can easily distinguish among the different piles. The signs will help keep you efficient and focused. Those momentary pauses to think about where something goes add up quickly, and they will unnecessarily lengthen the project.
Don’t forget about safety and creature comforts. Work gloves protect your hands from dirt and spiders. Drink water to keep hydrated. A radio and a fan are two other items that go a long way toward making the job more pleasant.
Step two: sort and declutter. One of the easiest models for how to sort items is to think about where you would find them in a hardware store. Put items that belong in the same section in the hardware store together. As you pull items out of the garage you will probably find things that you can easily get rid of. The serious decluttering however, begins after you finish sorting. To pare your collection down to the items that you actually use think about the following questions:
· Do you have multiples of an item? Unless they are all used at the same time, pick the best and let the rest go.
· When was the last time you used an item? If it’s been a couple of years since you’ve used an item it’s a good item to let go.
· Is the item in safe working order? If you haven’t gotten something fixed, assess if you really want to get it fixed and is it worth getting fixed.
· Is the item still relevant in your life? If you’ve turned lawn care over to a company, do you really need lawn care equipment?
· What is the worst thing that will happen if you let go of an item? If you can live with the answer to that question, then let go of the item.
Of course, sometimes our best intentions to declutter get sabotaged by some faulty thinking.
· “I might use it someday.” Is the slim chance that it might be used worth the space it’s taking up? Every item that is kept because it might be used is stealing space from items that are used.
· “It cost a lot of money.” Unfortunately, the money is already spent, and holding on to an item will not return your money.
· “I can use it for backup parts.” Keeping track of the parts requires effort and organization. Are you willing to invest the needed time and effort? By the way, “just remembering” where items are is not a good plan. The proof is in how many items you forgot you had.
· “It was a gift / I inherited it.” Separate the sentiment from the item. Keep the sentiment and let go of the item. Keeping an item solely because it was given to you gives the power of determining what belongs in your home to another person.
Step three: zone and design. Zoning means putting items where they are used. Items that are used frequently need to be very accessible; however, items that that are used infrequently can be stored in less accessible spots – such as the top of a shelving unit.
Think about safety too. Heavy items should be placed low rather than high where they could fall and hurt someone. Household chemicals need to be stored in a way that children and pets can’t access them.
There are many options available these days for designing a garage storage system. Depending on your budget and aesthetics you can have a company create customized storage solutions for you, buy a do-it-yourself system at the hardware store or set up some individual basic pieces. Among all of the systems there are some basic elements to look for.
· Shelves: The huge plus of shelving is vertical storage, which increases the amount that can be stored. Items that need quick access are ideal for open storage on shelves. Shelves are also good for storing lidded bins because the bins can be accessed individually.
· Cabinets: Like shelving, vertical storage is a huge benefit of cabinets. Additionally, locking doors provide safety with regard to storing potentially dangerous items. Doors also provide a nice clean appearance; although, they increase the price.
· Hooks: Use hooks to hang tools and maybe some bins too. Hooks get things off the floor and put them in plain view. Individual hooks and hook racks for holding tools are familiar to most people. There are specialty hooks for different types of equipment too, such as bikes and golf bags. One of my favorite ways to hang hooks is with pegboard, which not only holds your items, but also beautifies the wall economically.
· Bins and baskets: Bins store individual categories of items and protects the contents from moisture and dirt if you use plastic. Holiday decorations are great to store in bins. Archived papers are another item to consider storing in bins.
· Baskets contain a category of items that need quick access such as rags and sports balls.
· Labels: Label everything! It is so much easier to return items to their homes when labels are used.
Step four: set up the storage system and place items in it. The great thing about taking everything out of the garage to sort and declutter is the empty space can be thoroughly cleaned before returning items. It also provides you with an opportunity to paint the walls and the floor. If you want a more upscale garage floor consider an epoxy finish or special garage tiles. The former is relatively inexpensive but takes time to apply. The latter is relatively fast to install but is expensive.
There are a couple of rules to remember when placing items. Items that are used frequently need to be very accessible; however, items that that are used infrequently can be stored in less accessible spots – such as the top of a shelving unit. Consider safety too. Heavy items need to be stored low and dangerous chemicals might need to be locked up away from children. Once everything is in its home it’s time to label.
Step five: maintain the order. While returning items to where they belong will go a long way to maintaining the garage, there are a couple of additional strategies you can use.
· Declare that the garage is no longer the land of indecision. Do not dump items in the garage that you are not sure about keeping. Make up your mind and dispose of them immediately. If you are really stuck on whether or not to keep an item, then box it up and put an “expiration date” on the box. If you have not wanted or needed the item by the expiration date, then donate the box – without opening it! Opening it is a little like Pandora’s box. Seeing the item again will tug at heartstrings and you will once again be faced with indecision.
· One in, one out. If you get something new, let go of the old immediately. Keeping old items as backups make it difficult to find the useful items. Plus if the old item was good, why get a new one?
· Don’t buy a new item until you know where it will be stored. If you don’t have a place to store it, then you can consider living without or letting go of something else that’s used infrequently to make room for the new item. By the way, many hardware stores rent equipment and that may save you from purchasing a new item.
All of these strategies will prevent items from taking over the garage and stealing parking space from the car and expensive equipment. After cleaning and organizing your garage, you may be so proud of your space that you have a neighborhood party in it! At least you won’t cringe every time you open the garage door.