THE WASHINGTON POST – Many people have a junk drawer. We have a junk garage – an attached two-car sinkhole of cardboard boxes, languishing outdoor gear and piles of stuff earmarked for donation. No matter how pristine our main living quarters are, every day we are reminded of this stress-inducing eyesore when we enter our house. Occasionally we attempt to get it together, but a few days later, it’s back to bedlam.
“The garage is intended to park your vehicle, and for a lot of people, it has become a storage unit,” said Stephanie Sikora of Sikora Solutions, an organising firm in Denver. “The basement you can kind of avoid, but the garage is front and centre every day… it just becomes a dumping ground.”
Interior designer Dennese Guadeloupe Rojas in Silver Spring and the founder of Interiors by Design, has neighbours whose cars are parked outside because their garages are so filled with junk. “I can never wrap my brain around that,” she said. “I grew up in St Thomas, and we don’t have garages in the islands. So for me, I don’t understand how people park outside when you have a garage!”
I spoke with several professional organisers and interior designers for advice on how to get – and keep – a garage organised. Here are their suggestions.
SCHEDULE REGULAR CLEAN-OUTS
Organising your garage is an ongoing process. “Knowing that it is a space where a lot of things just get dumped, try to address it at least twice a year with a clean out,” Sikora said.
“Ask yourself: What’s here that doesn’t need to be here? What needs to go away? It’s purging and editing.”
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by this chore and procrastinate. To hold yourself accountable, put it on your calendar so it’s as unmissable as your twice-yearly dental cleanings.
ASSESS CLUTTER AND PAIN POINTS
Some items make sense to store in the garage (bikes and outdoor gear).
Leave them there, then bring the rest inside for evaluation. “Like, do old photo albums really need to live in the garage, or is there somewhere else they could go for long term storage that’s not picking up that prime real estate?” Sikora said.
Donate, recycle or toss anything the previous owner left behind – such as paint and unfinished home repair projects, said professional organiser Carrie Kauffman in suburban Philadelphia. “Their trash shouldn’t be your trash,” she said.
You’ll also need to get realistic about your operational flaws. If your 65-gallon garbage can or recycling bin is overflowing each week after you try to stuff 95 gallons of stuff into it, that’s a fixable problem: “It’s time to upgrade to larger trash and recycle bins to hold everything,” Kauffman said.
And if cardboard shipping boxes tend to pile up, make a point of breaking them down as soon as you’ve emptied them. Kauffman suggests keeping a box cutter or scissors in a designated spot in the garage so they’re always there when you need them.
MAXIMISE YOUR SPACE
“A lot of times you don’t have a lot of floor space, so you have to go up,” Sikora said.
“Leverage the walls and every vertical square inch so you can go up as high as you can.” Simple hooks on walls will help, but she also recommends hanging customisable track systems that allow you to easily move and swap sections, hooks and shelves around as you’re rotating your gear for easier access to what you’ll need each season.
Guadeloupe Rojas is planning to purchase ceiling racks – essentially deep, wide shelves that attach to the ceiling and can hold up to 600 pounds – to create easily accessible overhead storage in her space.
And for tool storage, Kauffman is a fan of pegboards. “Label where each specific tool belongs on the pegboard,” she said. “After you use it, it goes right back where it belongs.”
She also suggests hanging bikes on wall hooks to save precious floor space.
Just as kitchens can benefit from clear work zones, garages need to have coherent sections, too. Guadeloupe Rojas advised having a specific place for car gear, gardening items and beach chairs.
“When you have an organised garage and you live in a seasonal state, you’re able to go and find exactly what you’re looking for,” she said.
To that end, New York designer Susan Petrie recommends an organisational system.
“Yes they are a bit more expensive than a DIY or piecemeal install, but they specifically cater to individual needs of each client as everyone has different items they like to store in their garage,” she said.
There are plenty of more affordable options out there.
CHOOSE – AND LABEL – STORAGE WISELY
Kauffman prefers using sturdy, long-wearing plastic bins rather than cardboard storage boxes that fall apart over time.
“I would take it a step further and get clear bins for everything,” she said. But for rec gear you use frequently – the Wiffle ball set, tennis rackets, etc – she suggests investing in an actual sports storage rack, so your balls and bats are easy to spot and grab. Make sure everything has a specific home so you “know where your camping gear is, and your baseball gear is”, Sikora said.
And use labels on all sides of bins. “Having bins that are clearly labelled helps you find those things and also know where to put them away,” Sikora said.
“When you’re on a ladder, the last thing you want to do is hunt through bins!”
REMEMBER THE PAYOFF
Giving your garage even a humble makeover is an onerous task, but staying focussed on the end result can help you keep going.
Particularly if it’s how you enter and exit your home, the state of your garage can leave a lasting impression on your mood, Sikora said.
“What I hear a lot from clients is the stress they feel the moment the garage door opens.”
When you clean up your act, she said, it can create a mental transformation for the better.
“It really sets your tone and your mood.”