A Tough Challenge: Keeping Garages Tidy

A Tough Challenge: Keeping Garages Tidy


Almost every day I take my Golden Retriever, Alton, for a walk, and inevitably I pass by at least one house that has their garage door open. And more often that not, I can’t help but look inside. I’m not really proud to admit this, but it is true. Now, I don’t go up driveways or invade peoples’ privacy (they left their door open after all). Rather, I just scan the contents quickly while Alton and I pass by.

As a person who strives to live an organized life and who flirts with minimalism, I can’t help but be curious about how people are filling (or not filling) the roughly 700 square feet of space that is a part of their home. Most garages, I would say at least half, are used purely as storage spaces. Here in California the climate is such that parking your car in the garage isn’t a necessity. Drew and I don’t park our cars in our garage.

So that leaves two categories of garage use remaining:. Non-car garages that are well organized. And non-car garages that are just piles and piles of unorganized “hot” mess. Tidy garages utilize storage shelving, wall to wall cabinets, tool organizers and vertical storage solutions like bike racks, etc. The hot messes are just a mass of stuff in what seems to be very random chaos, stacked high, sometimes in unmarked boxes, with barely a square inch of floor to be seen, to say anything of a discernible walking path.

To be completely honest when I see garages like this I almost get a physical stress reaction. It’s kind a mix of wonder and sadness. Wonder because I am curious about how people do live with such a mess. And sadness because I think about how their poor stuff is being neglected and how all of it might be overwhelming and a source of contention for the home owner. But I really try not to judge. Everyone has their own journey and I don’t know anything about these people other than the state of their garage.

I also don’t judge because I have empathy for how challenging it is to keep a garage organized. As someone who prides herself on being neat and orderly with my things, the number of times my garage has turned into one huge dumping ground, is wayyy more than I care to admit. After every major clean up and reorg I would promise myself “never again!” would I let it get that bad. But then after a few months, it would be like I had never organized at all.

The repeat pattern forced me to stop and think about what really were the issues that were preventing me from getting some permanent organizing bliss in my garage. You know what they say: you can’t solve a problem you can’t identify. A couple of weekends ago I felt ready to go and clean up my garage yet once more.

The following are a list of reflections and solutions that I have found most effective in my garage organizing process

Too much stuff: It was true for me, and I am sure it is case for many overflowing garages in my neighborhood. Just like the laws of gravity pull objects towards the earth, the laws of organization state that if you have more stuff than you have room to fit it, the odds of it being able to remain organized and easily accessible are slim to none. What does this mean? Well, you have to get rid of some stuff, or you have to find somewhere else for some of it to be stored.

Use as much vertical space as possible: There is one great part of garages that most spaces of a home don’t have, and that is an open rafter space. You can put some plywood planks along the beams and use the rafters to house boxes, odd shaped items, tools, recreation equipment, etc. Just be sure it is safe and secure, and not too heavy, so you can safely get it down when you need too. You can also hang things from the rafters like bikes, other tools, lawn hoses, etc.

Vertical space of course also includes the walls that can be lined with shelving, cabinets and peg board. There isn’t a much better set up for a convenient grab-and-go system for hand tools than a well thought-out peg board tool wall. Some people even go the extra step of tracing their tools so they know exactly where it belongs when they are done using it.

No dumping! I have to admit, this tip has been one of the most challenging for me. I have had a terrible habit of just dumping things in the garage when I didn’t have the time or energy to put it away where it belongs. Everything from cardboard boxes that should have just gone into the recycle immediately, to old clothes destined for Goodwill, to random tools that just never got put away. And lastly, because I do work hard to keep the inside of my house organized, and we don’t have a lot of storage space, whenever I wouldn’t have anywhere to put something, guess where it would go? You guessed it! The garage!!

Keep it clean: This suggestion even caught me off guard for how helpful it has been. So I’ll share in hopes it might help others as well. Try to keep the garage a clean space. When I did my most recent garage clean up I did the additional work of vacuuming the floor and wiping down the washer and dryer. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still a garage— I wouldn’t eat off the floor— but, having all excess dust, dirt, leaves and dog hair off the floor and out of the nooks and cranny’s really made a difference in how I continue to feel about the space now.

Which leads me to my last and final point: organizing is just as much a mental and emotional experience as it is a physical one. I feel so much better when I go in my garage now. And those good feelings are helping to keep me motivated to keep it organized and tidy. I am so proud to report that since I cleaned up the garage, I have kept up at keeping it that way. I helped set myself up for success by getting rid of things that were just cluttering up the space; utilized some of the storage solutions I listed above; and most of all have been hyper-vigilant in my discipline of no dumping random stuff and always things stored in the garage back in their proper place.

Based on my track record I’ll fully admit that I’d be arrogant and foolish to say that I won’t ever struggle with a disorganized garage again. But I feel more confident today than I ever have before, so, bring it on holidays! My garage isn’t home to your cardboard shipping boxes anymore!