Garage organization presents some unique challenges: how to pull together cars with toys, tools, sporting equipment, beach chairs and cleaning supplies? In one space?
Luckily, 3 professional organizers Mary Hoff (Lotus Organizing & Design), Donna Jumper (JumpStart Organizing) and Lisa Mark (The Time Butler Professional Organizers) are on board to help guide us through the 5 steps of the organization process.
Every household stores things in their garage they shouldn't. "Usually there is just too much of everything and it becomes a dumping ground for all kinds of things," says Jumper. 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 client's 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
- Strong vacuum like a shop vac or a broom
- 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
- Any evidence of furry or winged creatures that may have taken up residence in your home
As you are cleaning, you can 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:
Ideally, Jumper advises clients to pull everything out of the space. “Putting everything out on the driveway and sorting into zones helps homeowners actually see how many of one item they may have. How many items are broken, outgrown or not used,” she says, “people generally are amazed how many items were actually stuffed into the garage.”
Sometimes there is not enough space to pull everything out onto the driveway, and in these cases, Lisa Mark works with clients to divide and conquer: “We often divide the garage into multiple organizing zones and organize each zone completely before moving on to the next.”
“You can organize a garage a bit at a time or even a wall at a time," says Hoff.
In other words: 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? Jumper asks her clients the old stand-by question: “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 3 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
- Recycle Center
Hoff says, “I like to create zones just like you would see in any department store: Garden, Tools, Automotive, Paint/Home Projects, etc. That way, people know where each item ‘lives.’”
With this zone concept, you can think as small (3 basic zones) or as big as you need to.
Says Mark, “My favorite garage project was for a client who wanted her small garage divided into 7 zones: an exercise area, a holiday storage system, a spot for off-season clothing storage, a laundry zone, an area for general storage for items that would not fit into her downsized space, a workbench for her husband, and a home office."
Start with the basic 4 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
Asses 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 and dangerous items (chemicals, tools) are stored in a locked cabinet if children are in the house
Here's what NOT to do when planning your garage storage: Buy an organizing system and then install it and see if fits all of your stuff. I recommend you 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
Once you’re organized your zones, you will feel a well-earned sense of accomplishment. Step 5 is to keep this organizing scheme going by doing a quick sweep as often as you need to: Seasonally, monthly or even weekly. Garages are a high traffic area so the more often you organize this space, the less time it will take. Says Hoff, "Just like any other room in your house, once it’s organized, it doesn’t take long to clean."
I recommend re-organizing your garage twice a year, in October/September and June.