Photo Credit: momof6.com
If you're lucky enough to live in a home that has a garage, you know it should be a place where you're able to park your car. But too often the garage becomes one giant storage locker -- holding all of the kids’ bikes, sports equipment, outdoor toys, your gardening tools, the lawnmower, and a bunch of other stuff you aren’t sure whether to keep or toss. So why not set a goal to get rid of all the stuff you don't need and finally get your garage organized!
Step 1: Create a “Plan of Attack”
The first thing you need to ask yourself is what do you want your garage space to do for you? Do you want to be able to park your car(s) in it? Hold your kids outdoor gear? Be a workshop space where you can tackle home repairs or “build things?” Once you have an idea of what you want your garage to do for you, it’s time to walk through your garage and make some plans -- sketch it out on a piece of paper if it helps, but decide on “zones” for your garage. Where should the lawn and gardening supplies go? The kids’ bikes? What needs to be removed from your garage permanently to create the space you need?
My “Real-Life” Example
When we bought our house 10+ years ago, my husband decided to create additional storage space in our garage by nailing plywood flooring to the rafters and building a wooden staircase to lead to the upstairs area. Over the course of the next decade we filled this space quite “nicely” with all sorts of outgrown toys, gardening equipment and hoses that no longer worked as well as a mish-mash of other mostly unused items. On the “main floor” of the garage we stored 6 kids' worth of toys, sports equipment, and lawn care tools. It was cluttered, unorganized, and couldn't fit a single car.
We created a game plan to define the left side of the garage as a work area- the place to keep all of the gardening tools, car washing supplies, snow removal stuff -- and we wanted to be able to park my husband’s car on this side too. My husband also wanted to have a garage workbench. Of course I readily agreed because I knew that would be his motivation to assist me in my garage organization project. The right side of the garage would be dedicated to all things kids and the upstairs would be cleaned out and organized to house off-season items.
We also decided that we would need to clean out and organize a separate shed that we owned to hold the lawnmower and other lawn supplies including the gasoline and oil used to power this equipment. I like to keep that away from where the kids play!
Step 2: Making the Time and the Space
Admittedly, tackling the garage is a huge project and one that can be very overwhelming (which is why so many of us put it off for so long!). The best way to approach a project like this is to do it in bite-sized chunks of time. Pick one month where you can set an alarm for 6 a.m. (okay, maybe 7 a.m.) on Saturdays and Sundays and work for 2 hours before the kids are up. You get done what you can in that two-hour block of time, and then you walk away.
You also need to create some working space in the garage so you have room to sort items into piles. And the best way to do that is to gather together as much of the “junk” that you know you need to give away or trash and take care of that first. In our case, we knew we had an old desk that had to go, as well as the kids' outgrown riding toys, car seats, an old bookcase, and some wall shelving that was inefficient. We took 2 hours, gathered that into one pile and arranged for a special trash pick up for that afternoon. Now we had room to begin!
Step 3: Remove Items From One Section at a Time, Purge and Sort
Pick the first section of the garage you are going to organize -- in my case it was the upstairs storage area -- and get started. Begin in one corner of the space and just work from left to right, picking up every single item you find and asking yourself the golden rule of how to decide what to keep: Do I either love it, use it, need it, or want it... and do I have room for it? If the answer is “yes” then the item must go into a keep pile -- one that is organized by type of item (all gardening tools together, all camping equipment together, etc). If the answer is “no” find an enormous garbage can for trash, and create a staging area for items to donate, moving items to these locations immediately. The key here is to make a decision about each item, sort it, and then move on to the next one.
Cap your time working on sorting items to about an hour or two at the max. Any longer and you’ll find yourself starting to make bad decisions about what to keep and what to purge. If done right, this purging and sorting should take a few weekends of your time, and when you are finished, you should be left with a lot less stuff to organize!
Step 4: Find the right storage containers to maximize your space.
Once your garage is purged of what you no longer need, and sorted into piles based on the type of item, it's time to figure out the right way to store everything. Garages can offer a great deal of wall space for storage, but if you're storing kids items, you want them to be accessible so the kids can reach things themselves and (more importantly) put toys away when they're done! In our case, we created one row of large bins on the floor to hold sports equipment and water toys, and then we installed a shelf to hold stackable storage bins to hold smaller items like sidewalk chalk, bubble supplies, and stomp rockets. We purchased these hanging ball bins that allow the kids to easily reach through the side wall to pull out a ball when they want to play.
We created a great way to park all 8 of the bikes in the garage using these awesome bike racks so the kids can actually get to them easily, and then return them to their parking spaces when they are done. My husband built scooter parking for the 6 scooters (on the wall!) and created storage for baseball bats, lacrosse sticks, tennis rackets, and a kids golf bag too just by adding strips of wood between the wall studs.
Step 5: Enjoying the Results!
Six months later I am happy to say that we’ve been able to maintain an organized and clutter-free garage. The kids seem pretty agreeable to return toys to their properly labeled bins, and I no longer think of the garage as a storage unit!
Sharon Rowley is a busy mom of 6 kids ages 7-12! People often ask her “How do you do it?” and so she created Momof6 -- a place where she shares ideas for Moms on getting your household organized, using a family calendar, hosting at-home birthday parties, and creating meals that kids will eat! You can also find her on Facebook (SharonMomof6), Twitter (@sharonmomof6), and Pinterest (SharonMomof6).