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Garage Showdown

Facing down a jam-packed garage? If you’re feeling defeated before you’ve even begun, this guide is for you. By breaking a mountain of a task into bite-size pieces, you can bring your out-of-control-messy garage into focus. We offer baby steps to getting started, smart storage tips and more. Before you know it, you will have transformed a chaotic free-for-all space into a functional, organized storage area.

Be realistic. If you stop thinking about cleaning out the garage as a big task that must be completed in one go, it takes a lot of the pressure off. Each step you take to clean out your garage makes it measurably better than where you started, which is why I advise tossing perfection as a goal out the window — if it’s better than before, that’s a win. 

Do some reconnaissance. Take a deep breath, and go in. That’s step one. Don’t worry about sorting or removing anything yet, just have a good look around and note what you see. You might want to make a list, take some photographs or both; do whatever helps you feel more organized and in control. On this first trip into the garage, take special note of any really big and bulky pieces: Are these items you might be interested in getting rid of? If so, take some time today to research where to take the items, or (if you intend to sell them) take photos and create an ad for Craigslist or another resource in your area.

Compile a local resource list. Look over the notes or photos you made during your reconnaissance trip, and make a list of the types of items you plan to get rid of. Once you know what you have, you can begin to figure out where it will all go. Perhaps you need to rent a refuse container to collect trash, find a consignment store to drop off clothes or schedule a pickup of donations for a local charitable organization. Having these details charted out in advance will make the rest of the process feel more straightforward.

Schedule a weekend to start sorting and purging. If your garage is extremely full, you will probably need to schedule multiple weekends to get through everything — but for now, just worry about the first one. During that first weekend of work, you will be amazed at the dent you make in the clutter. While you are putting the great garage cleanup on your calendar, be sure to also schedule any pickups or bin rentals if you need it. Having other people counting on you to get the work done will help ensure you don’t procrastinate. Repeat this step as needed, until you have reduced the clutter.

Sort what’s left into “zones.” Once you have managed to sort through most of the items in your garage (and ideally have removed a lot of unneeded stuff), it’s time to assess what’s left and make a plan for what will go where. By keeping items in categories that make sense (for example, gardening, sports, holiday, tools) finding what you need will be much easier. Sort your remaining items into categories that make sense to you, and pile them neatly. 

Dispose of hazardous items safely. If you have items such as pesticides or old motor oil, you will need to make a special trip to a hazardous waste facility. Collect these items in a central spot in the garage, and pencil in time to get that done. Paint, motor oil, fertilizers and pool chemicals should never be dumped down the drain or tossed in the regular trash.

Invest in a proper storage setup. If you can, invest in some storage cabinets as well as wall-mounted units — it will make a huge difference in how accessible your stored items are and may even help protect them over time. It’s also a good idea to begin transferring your stored items from old cardboard boxes into sturdier containers meant for long-term storage. Plastic bins work well for hard items (like children’s toys and holiday lights), but textiles and papers are best kept in archival containers designed for this purpose.

Move frequently used gear near the entrance. If you ride bikes and play ball every weekend, it doesn’t make sense to have to trek to the back of the garage to retrieve your gear each time you need it. Keep these items along a wall close to the entrance instead, and outfit it with storage that fits the purpose: bike hooks for bikes, wire mesh baskets for balls, shelves for gardening supplies and so on.

Keep it going. The key to keeping your garage organized and clutter-free long-term is to view it as an important, useful space, not a dumping ground for random items that you don’t know what else to do with. Clutter tends to breed more clutter, so remember that the next time you are tempted to stash away a few more “good” cardboard boxes, that Christmas present you hate (but are afraid to get rid of) or the broken blender you might one day fix.