Archive for Sunday, September 24, 2006

Give car a space alongside clutter by tackling mess in the garage

September 24, 2006


— Fill in the blank: Garages were built for ...?

Most everyone knows the answer is cars (or whatever other vehicle you're driving). Yet across America, cars are relegated to the driveway.

As the National Association of Home Builders reported last year, 82 percent of homes have two-car garages or larger. Only 15 percent use them to park the car inside.

Blame it on clutter. As closets burst at the seams and families outgrow their homes, garages become a dumping ground for everything from the gardening tools and sports equipment to seasonal decorations and plain old junk. Before you know it, the garage has become a maze of mess.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The trick is decluttering, so that the car and the essential junk can both share the garage.

Before forming a plan of attack, you have to sell everyone in the household on the need for organization.

It's not as hard as it sounds. Professional organizer Bill West, who wrote "Your Garagenous Zone: Innovative Ideas for the Garage," suggests playing a game of scavenger hunt.

Put together a list of three to five things you know are somewhere in the garage. Give the list to your reluctant-to-organize significant other. Time how long it takes him or her to find the items. If more than 10 minutes pass, you're in business.

Now comes the more challenging part: planning and executing the "Great Garage Cleanup." A few professional organizers and other garage organization experts have shared their do-it-yourself tips. (And if that fails, you can always hire a pro to provide a helping hand.)

Getting started

All of our contributing experts agree that you should set a goal before you begin. Not everyone may have the same goal. Some may want to move the car back into the garage; others may want to just clear space on the floor so stored items are more accessible.

Meg Connell of the Organized One in Oakland, Calif., offers some sage before-you-start advice: "The basic rule of thumb when designing cabinets or shelving for your garage is to clean and organize the space FIRST."

Tip: "Set a time limit. Giving yourself a deadline such as four hours, or by 3 p.m., helps you stay focused and in action.

For donations, the Salvation Army offers a value guide online at to help determine your tax deduction. For good-condition items, you also can post to Lawrence Freecycle (sign up at


Tip: "Label four distinct areas: Toss, Donate, Sell and Keep. To prevent the Toss, Donate and Sell items from becoming an unruly mess, organizer Beth Levin advises using heavy-duty garbage bags to corral the contents as you sort." -

Game plan: You may not need separate piles for donate and sell unless you plan to hold a garage sale or auction items online. As a rule of thumb, if something is broken and can't be repaired, put it in the Toss pile. If something is in good condition but has gone unused for more than a year, consider selling or donating it.

For your keep items, as you sort, divide them into subgroups based on how you plan to store them. Groups can include tools, gardening supplies, sports equipment, seasonal decorations, camping, paints, car accessories, etc.


Tip: Once you can see the floor again ... "A fast way to sweep out all the dust, dirt and leaves: Use your leaf blower to 'clear' your garage quick. Make sure to close all nearby windows and doors so you don't blow the dust and dirt back into the house." - Meg Connell, the Organized One, Oakland.

Game plan: If you don't have a leaf blower, a good old-fashioned broom will work, too. Reorganizing the garage should start with a clean space.


Tip 1: "If you wish to park your car in the garage, avoid using large portions of the floor for storage and use vertical storage (shelves and cabinets) instead." - Mary Lynne Murray, It's About Time Organizing Consultants, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Tip 2: "Sometimes open shelving is preferred to closed cabinets and pantries. Open shelving provides storage flexibility for objects of various sizes and shapes." - West in "Your Garagenous Zone."

Game plan: Connell suggest starting with makeshift cabinets or shelves you may already have: an old dresser, changing table or file cabinet.

For state-of-the-art products, check out the phone book under Closets & Closet Accessories. Some businesses specialize in garage cabinetry and shelves.

If you're more of a do-it-yourself task-master, you can find many easy-to-assemble systems at retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe's. gives you a little of both with high-end cabinets you can assemble yourself.

To add more organization to your workbench, try installing a pegboard to hold your tools. offers innovative products designed specifically for pegboard storage.

Also consider adding storage space to your workbench. Maximize underneath shelf space by using small stackable storage bins and glass jars. For the latter, hang glass jars - in which you can store nails, screws, bolts and other small objects - by affixing the jar's lid to the underside of the workbench.

For high-ceiling garages, consider adding lofts.

Tip 3: "Think of your storage in terms of A, B and C zones, where A is items you need access to frequently, B is less often, and C is once or twice a year. Overhead storage would be a C zone." - Murray.

Game plan: Place seasonal items and camping equipment on the highest shelves. To help reduce chance of injury, also consider storing lightweight items on higher shelves. Finally, invest in a sturdy collapsible step stool or small ladder so you can reach high-shelf items without difficulty.


Tip 1: "Use clear bins for storage to see what's in them fast. Also, don't be afraid to label them for quick perusing." - Connell.

Game plan: Place the label on the side of the bin so you can read it, even when placed on a high shelf.

To save money, use containers you may already have - especially those taking up space in the garage. You can store items in everything from packing boxes to shoe boxes and Tupperware.

Another suggestion: If storing items for children, make sure they are accessible on low shelves, while dangerous household products and tools are stored high.


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