Spring is here, and after a long, messy winter, your garage could probably use a good cleaning and reorganization.
“Having a cluttered garage can be mentally taxing -- wondering what is in there and if we’ll need it, and thinking about when we’ll have the time to address it,” says Liz Jenkins, a Certified Professional Organizer and owner of A Fresh Space in Franklin, Tennessee.
A cluttered garage has many drawbacks beyond the merely emotional. They include:
It can be a fire hazard. Old oil, gasoline, wood, rags, aerosol cans, paint, newspaper or boxes are all flammable.
It can attract pests. Storing pet food and dry goods in a garage brings in mice, rats, raccoons, squirrels and bats.
It is costly. People with cluttered garages may have trouble finding things when they need them, or discover those items have been damaged. That can lead to having to buy such products a second time.
It can eat up valuable space. A cluttered garage may prevent you from parking and protecting your car within it. Or, all that junk may hide potentially valuable space that could be used for an extended laundry area, hobby area or dedicated teen space.
“The garage becomes a ‘go to’ for all storage, especially during the colder months,” says Tim James, owner of T James Organizing Solutions in Orange County, California. “The clutter makes it a dumping ground.”
Too often, people keep items with a vague notion that they might use them someday. For example, some folks pile up boxes in a corner of the garage in case they move someday in the distant future.
In other cases, family members may ask you to store furniture or other items in the garage for long periods.
Cleaning up a cluttered garage
The first step to organizing your garage is to develop the right frame of mind, says Lisa Mark, a Certified Professional Organizer and owner of The Time Butler in Los Altos, California.
“Be ruthless about what you keep that deserves a place in your home,” she says. “Immediately take any items away for donation or trash to clear the space.”
Mark suggests choosing a date to declutter and sticking to it. When you begin the cleanup, set a timer for 30 to 60 minutes.
“During that time, focus on one area of the garage: a corner, a shelf, a small cabinet,” she says. “Sort items like with like, and decide which items you don’t want.”
Mark suggests placing unwanted items in an “away” pile, and later subdividing that pile into “donate,” “trash,” “recycle” or “shred” piles.
Jenkins suggests installing shelving, cabinetry or wall tracks that are sturdy enough to hold boxes and maximize vertical space.
“Garages typically don’t have a ton of usable space if you want to park vehicles in there,” she says.
Installing shelving on the walls can increase your space. Jenkins adds that overhead shelving racks are great for infrequently used items, such as holiday or camping stuff.
Finally, Jenkins suggests creating designated sections for specific categories – such as tools, automotive, garden and utility. “This makes it easier to find things, as well as put them back,” she says.
Keeping it clean and staying the course
Cleaning a garage can be challenging. “Garages are often overwhelming because of their sheer size,” Mark says.
For that reason, she recommends the KISS system – Keep It Simple, Sweetie.
“Any project, no matter how big, is much more manageable when breaking things down into smaller pieces,” she says.
Asking family and friends to contribute to the cleanup also can make the job easier. “Enlist help,” Jenkins says. “Garages tend to be kind of dense.”
Professional help also is available through the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO). James, Jenkins and Mark are all members of the organization. You can find your own professional organizer at the NAPO website.
Once your garage is tidy and orderly, remember to keep it that way going forward.
“Dedicate a spring and fall day to maintain the garage and purge what you no longer need or want,” James says. “If you don’t know what’s in the box or if you haven’t opened it in a year, you probably don’t need it.”