We're all friends here, yes? I hope so because a) yay, friends! and b) I'm about to pull back the curtains big time and give you guys a peek into the hot mess that was our garage up until a few weekends ago.
UGH. In hindsight, it probably wasn't that bad, but it was definitely driving this Type A, #cleanallthethings, Professional Organizer bonkers.
We moved into our house at the end of July last year, then promptly ditched all of the unpacked boxes to go on vacation (as you do), returning just in time for the back to school rush, which turned into the holiday rush, which turned into a "Hey! I think I'll quit my job and launch a business!" rush and so on. The boxes eventually got unpacked, but our poor, neglected garage continued to be used as a bit of a dumping ground, even with a quick cleanup in the fall that allowed us to (barely) fit both of our cars inside. Whipping this space into shape was priority one on my to-do list once warmer weather finally arrived here in Columbus.
1 in 4 Americans can't even fit one car in their garage because of the amount of stuff that's being stored there and I think the Before picture above is proof positive that even the most organized of us can easily end up using the space as a go-to for random junk. No matter how overwhelming your garage may seem, this is a project that can be tackled over the course of a weekend and on the cheap - here's how!
Prep and plan.
Gather your supplies: industrial trash bags, a few empty boxes for donation items or any chemicals or hazardous materials that need to be discarded, and a few basic cleaning supplies (a broom and dustpan, Shop-Vac, all-purpose spray, etc.). I also took a few minutes to jot down what I thought would be the major categories of our garage storage - outdoor toys and sports equipment, tools and woodworking equipment, lawn and garden - so that we'd have a starting point for the sorting process. Good background music never hurts either, so cue up your favorite Spotify playlist (in our case, the Amazon Prime Yacht Rock station - take a listen, you'll thank me later) and get to work!
Take it all out.
The first step that I recommend with any organizing project is to get everything out of the space. This provides a fresh perspective and a blank slate to move forward from. Start in one corner of the garage and work your way around, grouping items into the categories you'd previously outlined. You'll want to designate a few additional areas for trash (I didn't get a picture of the "trash porch" that we ended up accumulating, probably for the best...), recycling, donations, and relocations (items to be moved back to another part of the house).
Once everything is out of the space, do a quick sweep and surface wipe down. You'd be surprised at what a difference just this step alone can make!
Once everything is out of the space, do a quick walk-through to map out zones based on your major categories. In our case, items we use most frequently (outdoor toys, sports gear, our dog's blanket and food, reusable grocery bags) are in the most accessible spot right by our entry door. Tools and woodworking equipment take the back wall, and then lawn and garden equipment rounds out the other side. Labels all around mean that everyone knows exactly where to return things. Items that we access less frequently, like our tent and seasonal wreaths, are stored up and away. Which brings me to my next tip...
Take advantage of vertical space.
I'm pretty sure that I "YAY"-ed out loud when I first saw the pegboard walls that came with our new house. Maximizing vertical space is super important, especially in the garage, and pegboard is a great way to get that done. We finally took full advantage of all of our available hanging space and got tools, our beach and camp chairs, and almost all of our bulky lawn and garden equipment up onto the walls.
If pegboard isn't your style, there are lots of great options out there for built-in systems (like the amazing Elfa system from The Container Store), hang racks (Rubbermaid makes a great version), or even DIY wooden platforms that can be custom built over the garage door. Simple, inexpensive shelving units like the metal one from Target that we ended up using are a great way to group like items into baskets or totes and get them up off of the floor.
The key to maintaining any organizational system is to make sure that it works for your real life, everyday needs. My husband really wants to spend some time getting back into his woodworking hobby this summer, so we made sure that the zone where all of his tools and equipment live is accessible and as clutter free as possible. I regularly declutter our closets and drawers (shocker), so we have a pretty constant rotation of items to be donated or consigned. I knew that I wanted to create a drop zone for those, so we now have a Donate box right outside of our entry door. No more piles or random bags junking up other storage areas in the house and when I notice that the clear container is filling up, I can snap a picture (to inventory donated items for tax purposes) and make a quick trip to our local Goodwill.
One last Pro Tip: make sure to deal with any items that aren't coming back into the house, pronto! It's all too easy to let things re-accumulate otherwise. Load up your trunk for a same-day landfill run and donation drop off or mark off a section for garage sale items and then promptly actually schedule a garage sale or post to a neighborhood swap group online to keep things moving. Quickly getting rid of items that you know you no longer need or want is so important to keeping the space feeling fresh, which is a great motivator to maintain.
I'm so relieved to have this project checked off of our to-do list before summer kicks into high gear. We gained precious inches so that I'm not sweating every time I'm the one pulling the second car in, my kiddos know exactly where to find their sidewalk chalk and sandbox toys, and we can all spend more time easily moving in and out on our way to do other fun things together as a family.