Organizing Your Garage
Your ride, whether sporty or utilitarian, deserves shelter; this sleek system from California Closets features a custom workbench, open rack for tools and a wall of cabinets (color coordination is optional).
The garage can be the most underappreciated piece of real estate we own. It’s a workhorse for sure (storing tools and toys in equal measure—not to mention trash cans, mowers and colossal wholesale club finds). And it also acts as a holding area where we put things we’re not ready to throw out.
“I liken the garage to purgatory,” says Barry Izsak, a certified professional organizer in Austin, Texas, and author of the book Organize Your Garage in No Time (Que Publishing, 2005). “It’s really a holding place for things, the things we’ve decided we don’t want in the house anymore.”
If your garage has become home to broken appliances you’ve already replaced, parts for a vehicle you no longer own, and Little Tikes ride-on toys (even though your kids are in college), you’re in good company. In a 2011 survey conducted by the California Closets company, 59 percent of homeowners who responded said their garages were so full they could no longer fit their cars in them.
It’s time to take back your parking space—but how?
Garage organizing is a task best undertaken over time, says David Smith, owner of Are You Organized? in Brookfield. Smith has been outfitting Connecticut garages with custom cabinetry and storage systems since 1999. “When we consult with clients, we suggest they start out by getting rid of things they don’t need,” he says.
Izsak agrees it’s a multistep process. “It’s not realistic to think you can clean out years worth of clutter in a day,” he says. “If you think you can, you’re setting yourself up for defeat. The thing to do instead is break down the project into manageable pieces.”
Start by ditching the obvious junk, says Izsak: “Make the easy decisions first. Throw out the dusty, mildewed collection of National Geographic magazines, the broken VCR, the puppy-training crate you used for your 4-year-old German shepherd.”
Still can’t let go?
Izsak, who is a past president of the National Organization of Professional Organizers (NAPO), understands this can be a sensitive issue for many (which is why he and his colleagues say it can be helpful to bring in an objective party). He suggests you ask yourself the following questions:
• When was the last time you used it?
• Is it useful and relevant?
• Is it in good working condition, or can it realistically be fixed?
• Do you have a logical space in which to keep it?
• What’s the worst thing that would happen if you got rid of it?
You’ve done the deed, but the decisions are far from over. To determine where your discards go next, see “One Man’s Trash,” below.
Now it’s time to make a storage plan. A good strategy comes from Ginny Snook Scott, chief design officer at California Closets: Take everything out and group it by category: sports and recreation, garbage and recycling, lawn and garden, hardware and tools, etc. Survey the available space in your garage (it’s not a bad idea to pull your car in while the garage is empty and mark the floor to determine just how much room you really have).
Dedicate specific zones for each category and determine the best storage solutions for each zone—in cabinets or drawers, in containers, on shelves and racks or from hooks in the ceiling.
Here’s where the pros come in, but be forewarned: With so many storage systems at so many price points out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out what you really need.
Home-improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot sell a wide array of stock storage components that can be mixed and matched to suit your needs. Custom companies like California Closets offer systems that rival the finest cabinetry you’d find in high-end homes. Smith’s Are You Organized? systems fall somewhere in between.
What you buy will depend on your own preference—and your budget. Izsak is emphatic when he says you don’t need to spend a lot of money to organize your garage. “Clear plastic bins will do the trick, if you just want to see what you have and store it in an orderly fashion,” he says.
So what will it be? Open shelves? Closed cabinets? Doors? Drawers? Hooks? Is a multipurpose system best? Or is it better to customize?
Smith says it doesn’t take him long to figure out what a prospective customer needs. “I take a look at what’s in the garage, ask what their interests are and whether they change with the seasons,” he says. “We recently designed a system for avid boaters that made it easy to see and store equipment for water sports, all with easy access.”
A good system allows for flexibility. When the kids are small, you’ll want bikes and skateboards within easy reach, but it won’t matter so much when they’re older. In summer you may want the beach chairs front and center, but in winter, the coolers and umbrellas need to make way for the ski equipment.
Open shelving (not the fixed kind) will run you several hundred dollars, while custom built-ins, with sleek wood finishes and locking drawers and cabinets could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on your taste and the size of your garage.
One Man's Trash
“There really are only a few decisions to make when you’re getting rid of clutter,” says Barry Izsak, who wrote the book on garage organizing. “Toss it, donate it or sell it.”
His tips: Trash is trash, so throw it away; but be sure to dispose of everything responsibly. Donate anything in good working order that may be useful to someone else — give your castoffs to charity (you still get a tax write-off); post them on freecycle.com, or set them out on the curb (you’ll be surprised at how quickly they disappear).
If recouping cash is important, sell them. Online sales outlets like eBay and Craigslist may put your goods in front of a target audience, but don’t underestimate the value of a good, old-fashioned garage sale. There are ways to make this less painful than you think:
• Organize everything by category (merchandising appeals to buyers).
• Clean everything, and fix it if it’s broken.
• If something is broken beyond repair, say so.
• Price everything a bit higher than the price you’re willing to take.
• Negotiate; it’s part of the game.
• Don’t put out anything you’re emotionally attached to (lowball offers can break your heart).