As a child, the garage was always the “We don’t have room in the house, but can’t bear to get rid of it” storage space. I remember at least three distinct times in my life when my parents tried clean it out – naturally dragging all of us kids into it. After a whole weekend of work, the garage would be useable again and we’d all feel good about our efforts. Then, two months later, the mess would return, worse than before. Possibly, it was annoyed that we tried to get rid of it and enlarged itself out of spite.
Cleaning the garage is frustrating. There’s always so much to do. You never know where to begin, or what you’re going to do with everything. You know you’re going to have to get rid of some things, but you also know that you don’t want to. What do you do? Clean Freak recommends an annual cleaning and has a few recommendations on how to approach it.
Despite your best efforts, you are going to accumulate junk and you will need to get rid of it. Best start with this first. It may seem like the hardest part, but it clears up space and makes the mess seem more manageable.
Start with the things you know you can get rid of. Somewhere in the garage, you’ll find things that expire. Car fluids, cleaning chemicals, and other substances that can go bad over time should be disposed of properly. Check with your local city waste management for the regulations. Check any paint cans you’ve stored in the garage to see if they’re still good. High cold and hot temperatures can ruin paint, so if it’s still good, find a temperature controlled place to store it. If it’s no good, get rid of it. Propane should also be moved somewhere else. Propane is a highly flammable gas. A single spark is all it takes to start a fire, so store the propane some place safe and cool.
Some people store paper plates and other paper goods in their garage. Do not do this. Paper is a magnet for roaches, mice, and other pests, especially if stored in a place not regularly checked. Get rid of any that are no good and store the one that are still usable in your pantry. The same goes for food, whether for pets or people. Pests are very good at getting into food storage, so don’t store it in your garage.
Once you’ve cleared out the things that mustgo, it’s time to work on the things that shouldgo. This is the hard part, since you have to decide what to keep and what to lose. Set yourself a goal before starting this; say, promise to get rid of half of the contents of your garage before you quit cleaning it. Stand by that goal, too. Having that goal in mind makes it easier to start throwing things out and once you start, you’ll find it gets easy to keep doing it.
No one can tell you what to keep, but a good rule of thumb is this: if you haven’t used it in a year, you’re most likely never going to use it again. Maybe you’ve got some old printers, or computer monitors you put away for the future. If you haven’t used them in a while, there’s a good chance they won’t even be compatible with modern machines, so donate them to charity. Got some broken objects you meant to fix up? Accept the fact that you’re never going to get around to it and throw them out. Got some antiques from your great-grandma that you just don’t have room for? See what Ebay wants for them; your great-grandma is dead and probably won’t mind. Probably.
Once you’ve made a start of getting rid of things, you can move onto cleaning. But just because you’ve started cleaning, that’s no reason to stop throwing junk out. As you find more things you don’t want or need, get rid of them, too. Don’t hesitate; if stop to think about it, you’ll end up talking yourself into keeping it.
Classify things you’re storing in three categories: long-term storage, seasonal storage, and regular use items.
Long-term storage will be things that you’re keeping that you won’t be using right away. These are things like documents and records, old clothing, or keepsakes. Ideally, you want this category to have the smallest number of items. Items organized into this category should be stored away from everything else. Since you don’t use them regularly, you don’t want them taking up space that is convenient and easy to reach. Store them in the back of the garage on high shelves.
Seasonal storage are items are things that you will use a few times a year, and store the rest of the time: holiday decorations, lawn care equipment, beach toys, sports gear, etc. While organizing these items, keep in mind that you can probably get rid of some of them. You don’t need more beach toys than your kids can play with, or more holiday decorations than you can possibly put up. Decide how much you can use and get rid of the rest. Store what you keep in places less out of the way than your long-term storage, but with easy paths to get to them when you need them.
Regular use items are things you will use once a month, or that need to be continually replaced. Things like tools, car fluids and back-up parts, batteries, should go into this category. Store them within easy reach. Put them on shelves that are chest-level so you don’t have to stretch to reach them and have them close to where you will enter the garage when you get them. Make it as convenient to get to them as you can.
Where to Store, How To Organize
Once you’ve got everything categorized, you need to decide where and to store. As previously stated, you want to consider how regularly you are going to use items in storage as the main factor of where in your garage to put them. That’s not the only thing to consider, though. You also should think about how easy the location is to get to.
The first thing to remember is this: never store things on the floor. Not only is this inviting pests to get into it, but it clutters the walking area. You don’t want to do an acrobatics performance every time you go out to get a hammer. Shelves are the way to go for the most part.
Keep storage away from the middle of the garage. If you want to use your garage to keep your cars out of the weather, you need that middle space clear. Put your shelves along the walls. Be sure to give yourself enough space to get them without having to squeeze around your vehicles. Buy stackable containers so maximize space. These can easily be found at Walmart, or any place that sells similar goods.
Make smart use of your ceiling space. You can hang quite a few things from your ceiling to save shelf-space, so get some hooks from your local Home Depot . The best things to hang from the ceiling are large, flat objects, like ladders, and things that don’t see regular use, like seasonal sports gear. Be sure that what you hang from the ceiling doesn’t block off your garage doors.
If you have a lot of tools, set aside a space for a workbench. Your workbench should be convenient to reach, preferably near a secondary entrance. Once you set up a workbench, hang your regular use tools above it and place the uncommon use tools inside the drawers.
Don’t forget to label things. Labels will save you lots of time searching through your storage to find the things you need. An extra step you might consider taking is to make a record of everything you’ve placed in storage. Fill out an Excel worksheet so you can refer back to it when you want to know if you have something in your garage. Update the worksheet whenever you use something that needs to be replaced so you always know what you’ve got on hand.
Clean up Your Garage
Once you’ve got the organization planned out, it’s time to clean-up. Get the cleaning chemicals, the brooms, and mops and go to town. Dust and allergens to accumulates quickly in a garage and you don’t want to cough your lungs out every time you go out there. Clean everything out as best you can. Once you get it clean, keep it clean. You may not need to clean it up every week, but don’t let it go more than a month without a cleaning. Companies like Clean Freak are more than willing to help if that part of the job seems to big for you.
Remember, it’s a lot easier to keep it clean than to get it clean. Once you’ve got everything organized and cleaned, stick to the plan. Don’t put things on the floor because you’re in a rush. Don’t misshelve things. Don’t ignore regular cleanings. You might tell yourself that you’ll fix it later, but the truth is, you won’t. Once you start sliding the rules, it becomes habit. Don’t let the habit start. An extra ten seconds putting something where it belongs will save you a whole weekend a few months down the road. Get it clean, keep it clean.
Get To It!
I know you’re thinking it’s an impossible job, but it’s really not. The journey of a thousand miles starts with deciding not to whine about the journey of a thousand miles. No matter how cluttered your garage is, you’ll find the job goes quickly once you get started. If you follow the advice above, you’ll have that place cleaned up in no time. Well, maybe not “no time,” you’ll probably need to set aside a whole weekend the first time you clean it up, but it won’t take forever. Just make a point of getting rid of things you don’t need, and organizing the things you keep and it’ll be finished before you know it.