House & Home

Shape Up Your Garage

Posted January 18, 2014
Updated January 22, 2014

Don King works out of his garage studio in Raleigh.

How long has it been since you've been able to park your car in your garage? Or, uh, find something you needed in the garage? Is your garage a terrifying danger zone of toppling boxes, jumbled tools, buckling shelving, and random junk? Well, my friend, it's a new year, and it's time to get your garage ship-shape and Bristol fashion in honor of the fact that it's 2014.

We've got tips on cleaning your garage and keeping it organized so it doesn't descend into chaos again, and we recommend you take up garage organization as your weekend project for the next few months. It's dark, cold, and wet (for some of you, anyway), which means it's a great time to work indoors! And, let's face it, you aren't going to want to work on the garage when spring breezes start calling in a few months.

So here's the lowdown: the garage is a fantastic place for storage, as you probably already know. The easy accessibility makes it simple to grab things when you need them (and put them away -- more on that in a minute), and garages tend to have more stable temperatures than attics do (although you should talk to your roofer about insulation options if your attic temperatures are swinging wildly). Since the garage is often connected to the house, the temperature typically remains cool (because it's close to the ground and not heated) and not intensely hot (because unlike your attic, it's not at the top of the house!).

The problem is that the a fantastic place for storage. So it's easy to toss things in there and forget about them, which is how you end up with a bunch of random stuff you don't need. To organize your garage, you need to start by sifting through the items in your garage to see what you're actually using, and how you're using it. Start pulling down and sorting through boxes to generate piles of materials, tools, and supplies, divided by ultimate destination. You should end up with a large "donate or sell" pile, and smaller piles of things like sports equipment, gardening supplies, shop tools, seasonal garments and supplies, holiday decor, and so forth.

Don't be afraid to spread out during this stage, because you need a clear picture of what you have before you start putting it all away.

The folks at Houzz recommend getting a professional to set up your garage storage, which is certainly an option, but we prefer to empower people with DIY approaches. Yes, you could hire a Minneapolis carpenter to set up a storage system for you, can also do it on your own. Start by determining what you need to store and how much of it there is.

You need flexible storage in the garage, because needs shift over time and by season. We recommend open racks, because you can clearly see what you have and the open design prevents accumulations of gunk. Some storage lockers or cabinets can be helpful for some things, but only if you think you can be committed to keeping them clean (racks force you to stay tidy because you're looking at them all the time). Pegboards are an absolute must for people with tools.

Measure your garage so you know the dimensions, and create a detailed list of what you need. You may find it helpful to browse a hardware supplier's website before you pull out your wallet, so you know which options are available, how much they'll cost, and where you can find them.

Hit up the local hardware store to get the supplies you need. Look for sturdy shelving and cabinets with a high weight rating, because you'll be storing a lot. If you need to use containers for things (like winter coats and Christmas ornaments), get clear containers that will allow you to see inside (and yes, you should label your containers too).

Be aware that lids can sometimes create a psychological barrier for adults and kids alike. You may swear that you're going to put something away...but never get around so it. Bins, baskets, and racks are a better choice, because you don't have to exert even minimal effort to put something back where it goes. Save things with lids for long-term storage, and open bins for things you access frequently.

Once your storage system is set up and everything is put away, you can set about cleaning that garage floor -- you probably haven't seen it in a while, and it might be pretty gross. Then, enjoy your newly organized storage area, workspace, and, oh, parking spot. Don't have a car? There are lots of other things you can use your garage for.

Katie Marks writes for

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