Garage Organization Ideas; Plan and Execute
A lot of family activities involve equipment that is stored in the garage. Trying to find the vacation camping equipment, bikes, sporting toys and tools can be a nightmare, though, if your garage is full of clutter. And forget finding those tools that are buried under everything else, right? Here are some garage organization ideas that can make cleaning your garage fun (a little? at least less terrible?) for the whole family – and quiet that voice you hear whispering “hoarder?” in your mind every so often.
First, assess the damage. Are we talking about needing to go through a few things that have accumulated, or is it nearly floor-to-ceiling junk and boxes (or more likely somewhere in between)? Be brutally honest with yourself. You’ve probably tried to wade through some of this before and know how slow it went. Don’t sugar-coat your assessment of just how much stuff there is. Once you’ve been honest with yourself – double it. You think you’ve got maybe 10-12 boxes to go through? Think more like 20; there will be things lurking inside/under other things. Consider what the makeup of the stuff is, roughly. Are we talking about stuff you know you should get rid of but haven’t done it, or things more like boxes of old family photos that need to be organized or scanned (and thus are a whole project unto themselves), or something in between like tools that just need a proper place (as soon as you clear out enough for them) with a little organizing?. Think of it this way – Easy, hard or medium boxes (bags, tubs, whatever). If your stuff isn’t even in containers, but is just piles and piles, we’re entering hoarder territory and you need to hire someone to haul it all off while you aren’t there. I’m serious. Typically you’ll have a mix of easy to hard boxes of stuff. If you have mostly easy, great, if you have mostly hard, there is another psychological step. For a real rough guess, figure a medium-sized box of easy stuff will take you 20-30 minutes to sort, organize and dispose. For a medium-hard box, figure more like 45-60 minutes (first you have to clear out something else to make room for this, more than likely). Hard boxes we’ll wait on for now. A few big items (that old bean bag chair you haven’t used in years) won’t take but a few minutes once you’ve made the decision they must go. If at all possible, put your “easy” containers together. To avoid getting discouraged, that’s where we’ll start.
Next, if it’s possible, get the family involved. Discuss the date or weekend in which the cleaning will be done. Mark it on the calendar so everyone is prepared to work that day or weekend (whether you will be working by yourself or with family, it must be a firm commitment on the calendar). Of course, no one will be excited, but explain these points:
- It will be for a fixed time; if we decide on three hours of work time, no one has to work past that (unless they get inspired and want to – which does happen).
- We’re not going to expect to get it all done at once (unless the project is truly small – see brutally honest above).
- There will be a reward; pizza or going to the movies is a small price to pay for family labor and participation. If possible, plan the reward for right after the work. If you’re going to work by yourself, still think of a small reward for afterwards.
- If a member of the family seriously does not want to participate, then you will be making decisions on what to keep, what to throw out and what to donate. They lose the right to complain about the decisions if they don’t participate (you could allow them to specify one or two items they definitely want to keep if necessary to keep the peace).
You can also try to decide ahead what large items everyone wants to keep in the garage (bikes? mower?), and perhaps choose a planned space somewhere for each category of items (car accessories like anti-freeze, wax, wiper fluid, oil, etc. in one location for example). Visualize each area of the garage for what items you want to place in that area. Consider hanging the bikes on large hooks on the walls or ceiling to keep them up and out of the way when not in use. A work area in the back of the garage should be set aside for getting the tools needed for repair jobs. Your vehicle is a big investment. Decide if you want to keep the car in the garage or out in the driveway. If the vehicle is to be put in the garage every night, then you will only have the sides and back area for storage. Once you know what amount of space you have to work with on big items, you can determine what you want in each area. If you aren’t able to do this ahead of time, then allow time for this to be your first task on the appointed day.
The question of selling items on Ebay or in a garage sale may need to be answered. Realistically, though, who in the family is going to take the time? There are likely a few Ebay-worthy items in your garage if someone is willing to handle setting up the auctions, packing and shipping, etc., but you really don’t want to fool with a lot of $5.00 auctions on Ebay. A few valuable items, yes, the rest probably not. My personal opinion is that in the vast majority of cases garage sales are just not worth it. There are at a minimum several hours of work setting it up, plus you are there all day while people offer you fifty cents for your blender. If your time is worth anything, it’s probably better spent donating those items and finding something else to do.
Cleaning out the garage completely should be a joint effort by the whole family if possible (unless there is a hoarder in the family, who just can’t stand to see anything put out; in that case you need to leave them out), so make it as appealing as possible for them. Set up some music to listen to while you work, have heaters if the weather is cool, fans if it is hot. Have drinks and snacks available – anything reasonable to make it less of a chore.
Use some blankets or tarps, or better yet big boxes or tubs on the ground to place all the items. As you are removing items from the garage, place them with like items together. Sporting supplies, tools, camping equipment and toys should all be in separate piles/tubs on the lawn or driveway as much as possible. This way it will be easier to see what you want to keep, what will be donated, thrown out or sold as you separate them. This will help you identify duplicates quickly, as well.
Separating into piles when removing items from the garage will also help in putting things back into the garage in their designated areas when finished. Sweep out the garage and perhaps hose it down while it’s empty so you have a nice clean area. This would be a great time to give it a quick coat of paint, if needed and you have the time (just remember not to bite off more than you can chew).
Start with the “easy” things (above), so you can make some quick, visible progress. Return items that you have borrowed and throw out any broken items (if they have not been repaired by now, they most likely will not be repaired – you must remain brutally honest). Get rid of duplicate toys, tools, rakes or shovels that can be donated so someone else can have them for their use. Donating will make you feel better about yourself and the work you are doing to clean up . This is where you need to take a hard look at a 6-month or at least 12-month rule. Anything you haven’t used in the last 12 months is probably something you should get rid of. You (or a family member) might rationalize to yourself that you hadn’t used that bass-o-matic (or whatever) in the last 12-months because it had been buried in the garage and you couldn’t find it. That’s fine, we’re not cruel; but, you’re going to mark it some way (a sticker, perhaps) so you’ll know that you looked at it and decided to keep it for now. However, there will be a follow-up cleaning in, say, six months, and when you see that sticker and realize that wonder-gizmo still hasn’t been used, you’ll know it must go.
Once you have cleaned out the garage and established a zone for each group of items, you can better plan on what organizational products you need to purchase. Some garage organization ideas for products to purchase could be some plywood boards for up on the rafters to store seasonal or items not used to often. Large trashcans can store the shovels, brooms and rakes upright for easy use. Pegboards are great for hanging all the tools in one place. Clear containers can hold all the little nails, screws, bolts and small items and they will be easily identified. Metal shelves can help keep heavy equipment off the floor area and organized. A steel sports bin can hold many basketballs, golf bags, tennis rackets or any sporting equipment that the family uses. The bin can be placed near the garage door so all the equipment is easy to get to and put away after use. Buy some large hooks so electrical cords can be rolled up and hung on the wall studs or ceiling of the garage.
Great garage organization ideas should also include a steel cabinet that can be locked for storing hazardous materials. All the paints, chemicals for the lawn, and cleaning supplies can be kept out of the reach of children and handy for the adults to use. Purchase a label maker if you do not have one and label everything you can. It will make it easier to find what you want, when you want a certain item.
Once you’ve gone through the “easy” material, assess your time remaining (you’re going to need some time to haul garbage, put things back up, etc. – even if just still in now organized piles/boxes) before moving on to the “medium” challenges. If that’s realistically all the time you have, it’s OK. Don’t push on unless everyone is in agreement and has the time. The important thing is to make the first wave of cleaning a successful one. Whatever you accomplished, declare it a success, pack it back up and go reward yourselves. Trash items should be set out immediately, and items to donate should be taken as soon as possible (if you are rewarding yourselves by going out, stop by the charity store with your donations on the way). Otherwise, emphasize what was accomplished, and schedule the next clean-up day. Remember the joke about how to eat an elephant. Don’t try to do everything in the garage cleanup at once if that isn’t practical.
The Bigger Picture
In the bigger picture, examine where the stuff in the garage is coming from; we know the garage is the place we put things we want out of the way. Whenever something no longer “fits” in the house, it tends to be shunted to the garage. If that’s part of a regular pruning of stuff in the house – it’s really OK. For some time now we have been going through our house – every closet – and being brutally honest about what we needed and didn’t. Putting stuff from these cleanings in the garage temporarily makes it easier to do (physically and emotionally). However, once something has sat in the garage for a few months and we have realized we lived without it just fine, it makes putting it out at the next garage cleaning easier. So, our garage is often in a state of quickly getting closer to needing another clean-out due to stuff coming into it from our house cleanings. That’s OK. However, if stuff is going into the garage because shopping sprees are filling up the house and things are moved into the garage just to make room for the constant flow of new stuff – then taking a hard look at the shopping sprees (or whatever the source) is necessary. No amount of garage cleaning and organizing will help if there is a never-ending, overwhelming stream of stuff getting shoved into it.
Also, on those “hard” boxes – things that are really projects all their own – you need to one at a time bring those back into the house (or prominently in the work space in the garage if they must be worked on there) and make them in fact a project of their own. The family pictures will never get organized/scanned as long as they are in the garage. Put them on your desk next to the scanner/scrapbook and schedule a time to work on that. Every time you see them sitting there should serve as a reminder to do something about them (in the garage they are out of site, out of mind). Making these side-projects part of a garage organizing project likely means neither gets done. Make them their own projects.
Finally, garage organization ideas are great but understand that as long as there is a flow of stuff in and out of your dwelling (which is always), there is a need to regularly revisit the garage for follow-ups. It will not be a one and done. It doesn’t have to be that often; once you get on top of things, once or twice a year may be all that is needed.
photo credit: Geraint Rowland via Compfight