I remember as a young married couple with four youngsters our garage was stuffed. We lived in what we thought would be our starter home with more children than we had planned. Not only was our home too small, we saved too many things. Can you relate? I know that in our case, something had to be done. If you, too, want to know how to organize the garage, let’s look at how it got that way in the first place.
Why is my garage so full?
Before tackling the problem of an overstuffed garage, think about how it got that way in the first place. If yours is so full of things that you have only a narrow path to navigate to reach the washer and dryer in the back, it could be from one or a combination of the following:
Your home is too small
You have too many things
You are disorganized
Deciding what caused the problem in the first place takes some soul searching on your part and some conversations with family members. Home size, holding onto possessions, and organizational skills can be emotional topics to discuss. Everyone has their own opinions and points of view, so you may have to tread lightly here.
Your home is too small
When shopping for a new home, my husband and I were shocked to hear an elderly homeowner say that he raised seven children in the small, two-bedroom house we were looking at. On the other hand, we knew a family with 8 children that built a 10-bedroom home so each child could have his own space and dad could have a home office. Deciding how much space is right for your family is a personal decision. Just keep in mind that with every family member you add comes more belongings.
You have too many things
You don’t have to embrace a minimalist lifestyle to realize you have too many possessions. If your home is overrun with things, ask yourself a few questions:
Are these old, outdated, or broken things?
Do I have duplicates?
Do my possessions bring me joy?
Are these things that i use?
Is this something I need?
A flashlight that never works right or cassette tapes with nothing to play them on. A broken iron on the shelf over the washer. A 30-cup coffee pot covered in dust. Three pairs of gardening sneakers or 12 pie plates. A treadmill buried under boxes. These are all examples of things that are outdated, broken, duplicates, unused or not needed. Having them doesn’t make us hoarders. It just means we haven’t taken the time to take stock of what we have and organize your garage.
You are disorganized
If you’ve decided your home is the perfect size and you really don’t have excess possessions, then it’s time to organize your stuff. Most folks think they can’t effectively organize things because they were born messies. But according to Nealey Stapleton, a professional organizer from northern Virginia and owner of The Organizing Boutique, “Organization is a skill everyone can learn.”
The trouble with a garage is that they are out-of-sight, out-of-mind for some folk, making them the perfect place to dump. “No one can see it,” said Jeremy Blachman, a New York writer. “So, it’s low on the list of priorities.” But if you want to park your car in there, or use the space for another big project, the clutter’s got to go.
How to declutter your garage
Have you heard the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is one bite at a time. The same is true with any project that overwhelms. The FlyLady, Marla Cilley, professional organizer and decluttering expert says, “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” In her program, she teaches her “flybabies” to tackle large projects in 15-minute intervals. Keep that in mind as we go through the following eight steps to a clutter-free garage.
8 Steps to a Clutter-Free Garage
The first step to a clutter-free garage is to plan what you want to do with your space. Do you really want to park your car in there? Great! That’s what it was designed for. But maybe you want the space to create a gym with treadmill and weight bench. Or, like the McLoughlins of Missouri, to build a canoe.
“My boys got a boat kit over the winter as it was their dream to build a canoe for our pond,” said Kerrie McLoughlin, homeschooling mom of five. McLoughlin and her husband gladly exchange garage space for their vehicles to provide this learning opportunity for their sons.
Maybe, like Janice Cline of New York, you need the space for your lawn equipment and snow blower.
“We have a mower, weed eater, snow blower, leaf blower, and power washer out there,” said Cline. “Having an outdoor storage building to put all that in would be delightful, but in the meantime, it’s got to go in the garage.” Whatever your reasons for getting the garage cleaned out, it helps to start with a plan.
While the FlyLady may recommend tackling large projects a little at a time, maybe you don’t have the time. If you need the space to fit your brand new convertible by the time it’s delivered, you may need to make decluttering your garage a weekend project. By all means, if that’s the case, check the weather for clear skies, mark your calendar, recruit help, and get to it. And if that isn’t realistic, rent an outdoor storage building to stash everything in while you sort through it.
Make an assessment.
Before the work begins, make an assessment of what must stay in the garage and what must go. If you are creating that workout space, of course the treadmill stays and the lawnmower goes. Perhaps, you want to keep a workbench on the wall with some hand tools and the extra refrigerator and deep freeze. Make these decisions beforehand and create lists of what goes where.
Divide and conquer.
This is where the physical work begins. With each object you handle, you need to make a few decisions: keep, give away, throw away. Of course, the items to be thrown away can go right into the trash cans outside the door. Have a few cardboard boxes lined up for your giveaway items. Divide the items you want to keep according to where they are supposed to go. When you’re done working for the day, take those items to their proper home. If that home is the garage, leave that pile for the next step.
A properly organized space often requires shelves, containers, racks or hooks. Now is the time to invest in those items. To free up floor space, hang bicycles on the walls. The same goes for garden tools. And the canoe? Nealey recommends a pulley system that hangs it from the ceiling.
Take out the trash.
When you finish for the day, take the trash to the curb. If you have hazardous waste, remember to dispose of it properly. Also, put the donations in the trunk of your car for the next trip to the thrift store.
Brighten it up.
Once you organize the garage, the time is right to make any repairs you’ve put off like the sticking door, broken lock, or crack in the floor. Also, if you paint the floors and walls, hang curtains at the windows, or even hang decorations on the wall, it will brighten up the space and discourage future cluttering.
“Remember,” said Stapleton, “organizing is not a one-time thing. It’s a regular practice.”