Let’s face it. For most of us, the garage serves as a dumping ground for old paint, broken toys, and boxes of clothes awaiting a ride to the local thrift store. No wonder our vehicles feel the squeeze—provided they can fit inside the garage at all.
If the thought of organizing your garage fills you with dread, take courage. Here’s how to break the task into three steps, so you can curb the chaos once and for all:
1. CLEAR THE CLUTTER
Begin with a serious cleaning, if possible hauling everything onto the driveway. Group items you’re eliminating into four piles: toss, recycle, donate or sell. “Be brutal when you are sorting,” advises Erin Gentry, Associate Public Relations and Consumer Engagement Manager at Rubbermaid. “Get rid of anything you haven’t used in the past year.” If parting with perfectly good items proves paralyzing, find motivation in a moneymaking garage sale or gain satisfaction from helping a favorite charity.
Here are additional sources to get you started:
• 1-800-GOT-JUNK: This national franchise will remove everything from appliances to tires to trash, donating and recycling whatever is possible. (Ask the hauler to obtain a tax receipt if you are donating to a charity.)
• earth911.org: Check here to find local recycling centers where you can safely dispose of paint and chemicals.
• donationtown.org: Use this site to match your items with a local charity and arrange pickup.
2. MAKE A PLAN
Now that the garage is empty, avoid the common mistake of hastily rushing out to buy organizational products. First consider whether the space could benefit from a fresh coat of paint. Then begin grouping items by task or interest. “Your pots, fertilizer, and garden hose should be grouped together for a gardening zone,” says Tim Keaton, Head of Brand and Product Marketing for Gladiator/GarageWorks. “And your golf clubs, soccer balls, and baseball bats should be kept together for a sporting zone.” Other logical zone groupings include holiday decorations, kids stuff, and a workshop area with space for a sturdy bench, plus pegboard or cabinets.
Once you’ve determined what zones you’ll need, work logically to fit them in where they’ll be easiest to access. For instance, it makes sense to keep garden equipment and the lawn mower by the door leading to the yard. Plan to store frequently used items close at hand. Stash seasonal items like holiday lights in higher, harder-to-reach spaces.
In fact, thinking vertical is key. “Look up and you’ll find a ton of wasted space,” says Keaton. “Using vertical space leads to creating more useable space. In addition to hanging rakes and tools, consider hanging up your bikes and wheelbarrow.” Hoists and overhead racks maximize space near the ceiling.
3. CHOOSE TAILORED SOLUTIONS
Now that you have a plan, put it into action with smart organizational products that require minimal effort to use. The good news is there are plenty of options, from inexpensive DIY hooks and chrome racks to customized, professionally installed systems priced in the thousands. Here are key categories worth considering:
Wall systems, such as those from GarageTek, Rubbermaid, Schulte and Gladiator/GarageWorks, wrap any or all sides of your garage with panels that can be outfitted with your choice of accessories, including ball holders, bins, cabinets and hooks. Though some systems can be priced in the thousands, they do offer excellent flexibility and get everything organized and off the floor. Models that use tracks or rails are easiest to install.
Slideshow: 10 “Neat” Garage Storage Solutions
Storage cabinets range from freestanding units to modular wall-hung models. Locked cabinets are ideal for storing toxic items, while tall cabinets make great use of vertical space. Look for the versatility of adjustable shelves to ensure you can store everything from camping gear to automotive parts.
Workbenches provide an ideal spot for home improvement projects, repairs, and woodworking. Models may be wood or steel and might include cabinets, lighting, or pegboard backs.
Racks help get all kinds of items off the floor. Specialty racks include space-saving corner models and overhead platforms that attach to the ceiling. The latter is ideal for holding memorabilia or off-season sports equipment.
Shelves are among the most common and versatile storage solutions, providing “see, grab, and go” functionality that keeps frequently used items at the ready. Choose from metal, plastic, wire and wood models in freestanding or wall-mounted options. Invest in deep shelves for larger items like snow tires.
Hooks are easy to use and inexpensive, and in different sizes they are tremendously versatile. Small hooks can hang keys, twine, and hand tools, while larger hooks can get bikes, cords, and equipment off the ground.
Bins and tubs stash toys, holiday decorations, craft supplies and more. Choose stackable ones with lids to eliminate dust, and be sure to label each clearly to avoid having to dig around.
Perforated hardboard offers an easy DIY solution for hanging tools. Pre-drilled holes accept pegs or hooks. Look for options in wood fiber, wood, or metal.
Don’t miss our roundup of organizing products—10 “Neat” Garage Storage Solutions—for even more on achieving a clutter-free garage.