How To Organize a Garage in 5 Steps

organized tools in a garage

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Garage organization presents some unique challenges: How do you pull together cars with toys, tools, sporting equipment, beach chairs, and cleaning supplies all in one space?

Luckily, three professional organizers—Mary Hoff of Lotus Organizing & Design, Donna Jumper of JumpStart Organizing, and The Time Butler Professional Organizers' Lisa Mark—share their tips on organizing a garage using a five-step process.

Every household stores things in their garage they shouldn't. Usually, according to Jumper, garages are full of too much of everything and they become the household's "dumping ground." So if you've accumulated massive amounts of clutter, you are not alone. And take heart, chances are your garage has nothing on what these pros have seen while organizing clients' garages: dead and live animals, spoiled food, photographs ruined by moisture, termite-infested furniture that never made it to the dump—the list goes on and on.

Before you dive into the organization process, you've got to have the right tools in place. Gather the following supplies:

  • Heavy-duty trash bags
  • A broom or a strong vacuum like a shop vac
  • A catch-all basket for odds and ends

Organize Garage Clutter

Do a basic cleaning and give the floor a good once over with a broom or shop vac. Also, look out for:

  • Nails and other small items on the floor
  • Oil or chemical stains
  • Cobwebs
  • Any evidence of furry or winged creatures that may have taken up residence in your home

As you are cleaning, begin the decluttering process by tossing anything you know right off the bat (and yes, our organizers have found both live and dead bats in garages) in the trash. This way you don't have to deal with it during the decluttering/decision-making phase of what to toss and keep. As with any organizing project, you need to declutter before you can organize, and that means dividing items into familiar categories:

  • Toss
  • Keep
  • Donate
  • Trash

The experts advise clients to pull everything out of the space and sort into zones. This will help you actually see what you have, including what's broken, what you've outgrown, and what isn't being used. A driveway is a great place for this. If there isn't enough room, divide and conquer by working on the garage in zones. Choose a corner of the garage to start with, or choose a type of item (beach, sports, small tools, etc.) and declutter slowly.

Not sure whether to keep, toss, trash or donate an item? Ask yourself when was the last time you actually used this.

Organize the Garage Into Zones

Because so many different types of items are stored in a garage, all three pros recommend organizing in zones. Begin by grouping like items with like items.

Organize your belongings into the following zones:

  • Car supplies (windshield wiper fluid, anti-freeze, etc)
  • Sports equipment
  • Tools
  • Recycle center


Think of zones like departments in a store, such as the garden area, the tools section, and so on. That way you know where each item "lives." With this zone concept, you can think as small (three basic zones) or as big as you need to.

Start with the basic four zones above and then work outward from there. Once you have everything sorted, begin assessing how much space each zone is going to take up, and then plan accordingly. For instance, if you need a "beach gear zone," you can easily create one once you have gathered your beach items together and have a sense of how much room it will require.

Plan Garage Storage

Assess your garage storage space and begin storing items in their proper homes. Here are some easy (and free) ways to create more storage space in your garage

  • Utilize vertical space
  • Use what you have, or purchase the right products
  • Make sure dangerous items (chemicals, tools) are stored in a locked cabinet if children are in the house

When planning your garage storage, don't buy an organizing system and then install it and see if it fits all of your stuff. Instead, take a conservative approach to storage planning. Start with some basic garage organizers, like shelving and a good step stool. Work with the basics and then expand out as you see fit.

Maintain Garage Organization

The last step is to keep this organizing scheme going by doing a quick sweep as often as you need to, whether that is seasonally, monthly, or even weekly. A good basic schedule is to re-organize your garage twice a year. 

Garages are high-traffic areas so the more often you organize this space, the less time it will take. As the experts point out, once an area is organized, it doesn't take as long to clean it.