By Marni Jameson
Put it in the garage. That’s the default answer at my house — and I’m betting yours – whenever something I’m not ready to relinquish doesn’t have a place in the house.
And so the flotsam and jetsam of life accumulate. Old tables and televisions move in alongside garden tools and garbage cans, old suitcases and hockey sticks, resident spiders and mice. The stuff creeps in, but doesn’t creep out.
Eventually, the garage becomes a purgatory, a way station for items straddling a useful life and the dump. Wishful thinking keeps them hostage: I see that ThighMaster there behind your potter’s wheel.
Pretty soon, this stream of delayed decisions, pushes you and your car to the curb.
I’m serious, raise your hand if you have a two-car garage that you can’t park two cars in. Yes, I thought so. Now keep your hand up if you can only fit in one car. And if you can’t park any car inside? Congratulations, you have joined the ranks of one in four Americans, according to Gladiator Garageworks. It’s high time to crack down.
Every so often you need to bust the joint and clear it out like a police raid on a crack house.
Last week, three events conspired to motivate me to do just that.
First, I discovered our neighbors had tricked out their garage and turned it into part parking structure, part slick gym, complete with air conditioning. I was jealous.
Second, my handyman, who takes more vacations than any five people I know, finally got around to my to-do list, which included hanging pegboard and rails in the garage for storage. To be honest, I didn’t really mind his MIA status, because the longer he blew me off, the longer I could blow off organizing my garage.
Third, I received an e-newsletter from a professional organizer featuring her garage makeover. She’d recruited a team of friends to make light work of a heavy project. I took it as a sign.
Out of excuses and fueled by professional envy, I did what more of us need to do.
“Garages need to be addressed at least once a year,” says Susan Gardner, owner of Clearing the Way Home, in Nashville, and author of the motivating newsletter.
Garage organizing follows the same principles as organizing your closet or any room in your house. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting the garage you want:
- Get ready. Have a good ladder, a sturdy broom, some lively tunes, lots of large trash bags, a rainless day, and no excuses.
- Invite friends. “Some organizing jobs are best done alone, but garage organizing is a prime example of work that is enough to keep several people busy,” said Gardner. Plus, afterward, you can return the favor at their place. (My friends were nowhere to be found, so that left DC, me, and the dogs.)
- Move it out. Take everything out of your garage and arrange it on the driveway by category: gardening supplies, tools, sports gear, holiday décor, paints and combustibles, garbage and recycling bins, and so on.
- Take stock. As you categorize, separate out items to donate and toss. Be ruthless.
- Clean. Garages get filthy. While it’s empty, sweep, wipe, dust.
- Plan. Now that you can size up what you want to keep, think through and sketch out a storage plan. Give everything a home, starting with your car or cars. Consider frequency of access. For instance, holiday decorations can go in overhead space, while garbage bins should be close to the door.
- Outfit. For very little cost, you can get systems that make garage storage practical, accessible, and neat. Because you want to maximize floor space for parking, think up, up and away. Pegboard, hanging rails, magnetic strips, shelves that attach to either walls or ceiling joists, cabinets and plastic bins (avoid cardboard) can help you make the most of every inch of wall and ceiling. Last week, my handyman installed pegboard ($25) on one garage wall. I spent another $18 on a variety of pegboard hook systems on which I hung everything from long-handled garden tools and pruning shears to saws, brooms, and bungie cords. On another wall, he mounted a track to hang our bikes ($40). And on the back wall, we put metal shelves ($40), where we store ice chests, outdoor seat cushions, the picnic basket, and cleaning supplies. When everything was off the ground and on the wall, I did a little happy dance.
- Take it away. Last step, dump and donate. For potentially toxic items that you can’t simply discard like oil-based paint, toxic chemicals, and old computers, call your local waste management center to find out where you can take them, said Gardener. For large items you plan to donate, like furniture or construction materials, call the donation center for a pick up. Load smaller items in your car and drive to your favorite sharing, reuse, or homeless support center. Then come home and park with pride.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.