Although you likely spend less time in the garage than in any other place in your home, it may well offer the most potential for positive change.
"I’ve worked with many clients whose homes are tidy and clutter-free, but whose garages tend to become a catch-all for items they aren’t sure where else to store," says Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big House series. "The objects are often bulky, such as a dog crate, or seasonal, such as a canoe or mountain bike. It’s easy to forget that seldom-used items like these are consuming valuable garage space."
With careful planning and a few targeted purchases, you can implement systems in your garage that will help you maximize its multiple functions―now, and as your storage needs evolve.
Step one: Take stock
First, evaluate the contents of your garage, Susanka says. Start with your cars: Ensure there’s enough clearance to park and get in and out. Then remove items you probably should have purged years ago. "If you haven’t used your camp stove in three years, that’s a good indication you can get rid of it," says Barry Izsak, author of Organize Your Garage in No Time and past president of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Donate items in good condition―organizations such as Goodwill can often arrange to pick up your donations curbside―or plan a garage sale to turn them into cash.
Next, plan a thorough cleaning. "It makes your garage more approachable and less overwhelming. You’ll unearth items you love but had forgotten you had, and those it’s clearly time to discard," Susanka says. Consider hiring a cleaning service, or enlist family to help.
Walk through other rooms in your house to see if they contain any underutilized furniture that can be repurposed in the garage. "An old entertainment center might be turned into a work area," Izsak says. "If you’re replacing your kitchen cabinets, the old ones can be refitted in the garage."
Step two: Sketch your plans
After you’ve identified the items you want to keep and cleared away the ones you don’t, determine where your things will go. "Think of the garage in terms of zones," Izsak says. "Consider a zone for sporting goods, another for making repairs or painting, another for camping gear or lawn and garden supplies."
Take the opportunity to reclaim little-used areas. "The most often overlooked storage space in a garage is the ceiling," says Rick Peters, author of Garage Makeovers. "Hooks screwed into ceiling joists offer storage opportunities." For seasonal clothing storage, for example, consider using a pair of J-shaped hooks to hold a dowel from which you can suspend garment bags on hangers. Two caveats: Check the number of pounds for which different sized hooks are rated before you buy, and use an electronic stud finder to ensure you are driving the hook into a stud or joist capable of safely supporting the weight of the items you intend to suspend.
Step three: Customize for your needs
Homeowners often rely on whatever storage components―panels of pegboard or metal shelves, for example―previous owners left, Izsak says. While these may help you corral a few items, there are well-priced products that will help solve your storage needs based on your pastimes and hobbies.
"Easy access is key to a garage that meets your family’s needs," says Jennifer Usselman, interior designer for the 2008 Cooking Light FitHouse in Portland, Oregon. Choose components like ball caddies or shoe racks that can be hung at different heights as children grow―making it easier for them to retrieve toys or put away boots unassisted. As your family’s activities change, storage accessories can be designated for new uses. Function and practicality win out over aesthetics, but the storage systems you pick can make the space significantly more visually appealing than if everything were stored out in the open, Susanka says.
And orderly systems make it easier for people to develop orderly habits. "When you start out organized, you tend to stay organized," Usselman says.