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First do no Harm
When was the last time you saw someone’s garage that just had a car parked in it—or for that matter, had any car parked in it? In the case of more than 25 percent of American homes, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy, that might be never. Even two-car garages only have room for one car in 32 percent of homes. Garages have transformed from shelters for our autos to collectors of things forgotten.
Summertime is when that reality hits most of us. It feels like the right time to sweep the floors and organize our garages, even though organization experts advise doing it in the spring or fall months, when temperatures are cooler. Regardless of the season, the biggest question is the same—where to begin?
Vicki Winterton, owner of Organizing Mind over Matter, and Laurie Rackham, owner of Perfect Place Organizing Consultants, tackle such issues head on for hundreds of Utahns each year. They offer some helpful tips:
Categorize What’s There
Winterton has four steps in her organization template—she calls them the 4Ms—minimize, measure, maximize and maintain. One key to starting is taking inventory of what’s there.
“Measure to take stock of things you’ve decided to keep,” she says.
Rackham adds that organizing things by category is a great way to start. That might mean noting items such as things for the cars, yard and garden tools, household tools, sporting equipment and grilling items. It also means you’ll find some items that don’t belong in garages, like luggage or food storage items that could be adversely affected by heat.
“Until you really know what you have in that garage, it’s difficult to know where to put it or what to remove,” Rackham says.
Once you create an inventory, decide which items should stay, which should be moved into the home, and which should make their way to the landfill. Sentiment is one thing, but making garages into storage units or oversized hope chests is another.
“Simple is hard to do, but very liberating. And holding on to something just because it’s cheaper doesn’t make it more valuable. It just makes it clutter,” says Winterton.
Safety is Paramount
Regardless of what you might have in your garage, common safety sense should be upmost.
“For example, storing old paint is not a good option,” Winterton says. “Paint in Utah doesn’t do well with our heat and cold fluctuations.” And keeping such products as yard chemicals in a cluttered environment is particularly dangerous. “Those items should always be stored on high shelves so children can’t reach them,” says Rackham.
Don’t Make Garages Warehouses
“Let the stores be the places with inventory,” Rackham says. “People look for different types of items when the seasons change, and if they’re not easily visible, they go to the store and buy more. So we have a lot of duplicate things in our garages.” Among them are gardening supplies, motor and lawn mower oils and lubricants, and even tools in some cases.
The Santa’s Workshop Syndrome
“Many garages have broken toys and bikes that will never be fixed, despite our good intentions,” Rackham says. “In Utah, we have lots of stuff for children, so it’s not uncommon to see garages filled with toys, stuffed animals, old clothing, etc.”
And Winterton adds that “garages tend to be places where we throw things we don’t know what to do with. They fill quickly with clutter, and waste space.”
Both organizing experts believe in creating a plan, a layout of where certain items should go in a garage, almost by category.
“Tools should be with tools, gardening supplies together, even recreational toys,” Winterton suggests. “That may seem obvious, but in some of the homes I’ve worked in, it’s not.” Placing like items together also helps highlight duplicates or items that might better be discarded than fixed or kept.
“We don’t utilize the space we have,” Rackham says. “I recently worked in a home with a six-car garage, but only two cars could fit into it. Just thinking things through goes a long way in helping organize a garage, or anything else.”
Maintain, don’t Gain
“By doing what we’ve done in cleaning and organizing our garages, it does us no good if we don’t maintain that structure,” Winterton says. “We have to be willing to maintain at least a minimum amount of that organization.”
“I encourage people to downsize and stay downsized,” Rackham adds. “Let the excess go and don’t slowly, over time, start filling in those spaces with more excess. It’s easy to do, but should be avoided.”
What Belongs in a Garage First and Foremost?
“That’s easy—cars,” Rackman says, and Winterton completely agrees. “Most people buy homes with garages to protect their cars—probably the most valuable possessions they have other than the homes themselves. They can protect against theft, weather and vandalism, so why not let them?”