Q&A / 

How to Organize a Garage

Quick Column Summary:

  • How to organize garage for storage
  • Put everything on shelves or hang on the walls
  • Consider a loft over back wall of garage
  • Start project with a clean and purge

DEAR TIM: It happens every year. At some point I can park my car in the garage, but then stuff gets in the way. Within a month or two, my car is stuck outdoors in all kinds of weather. What's the secret to a clutter-free garage? How do people do it? What tips can you offer us poor souls who force our nice cars to suffer the disgrace of punishing sun, violent rainstorms, ice, snow and pestilence by staying outdoors all the time? Help me organize my garage! Miriam S., Hartford, CT

DEAR MIRIAM: You and I are in the same boat along with tens of thousands of others. I can tell you my friends Lou, Loren and a few others are on dry land enjoying their neat and tidy garages where you can eat off the floor. Their garages are perfectly clean, nothing but the car tires are on the floor and everything else in the garage is on a shelf or hanging on the wall.

Books have been written on this topic, so I'm going to do my best in this limited space. First and foremost, you're exhibiting the symptoms of packratitis and inarushitis. I openly admit I have these two diseases. The packratitis is in the genetic code from my mom's side of the family. She had it really bad. Some of the things she saved, I really value, but you'd not believe some other stuff I discovered when I cleaned out her house.

Inarushitis happens when you get something out and use it, but don't put it away. Even though it's usually only ten extra steps and fifteen seconds of time to put the thing away, the person inflicted with the disease doesn't possess the mental fortitude to do it.

This disease has secondary symptoms of anger and frustration when you then need that thing a month later and can't find it because it's hidden under something in the garage. That just happened to me a week ago. I couldn't find a paint roller pan I knew I had. I walked past it ten times fuming about where it was before leaving to go buy a new pan that I didn't need. Two days later, I stumbled across the used pan in my garage.

This garage has been overtaken by things that are not cars. It's time to organize the space. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

This garage has been overtaken by things that are not cars. It's time to organize the space. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

The first thing I would do to reclaim the garage for your car is to do a thorough cleaning. By this I mean recycle, sell, donate or throw away things you simply don't need or haven't used in years. Recently, I visited my in-laws house and saw thirty-year-old aerosol cans on shelves. I saw drums of chemicals that had not been touched or used for the past forty-five years. Get rid of things so things you do use and need have a place other than your garage floor.

Many garages don't have enough shelves on the walls or places on the wall where you can hang things neatly. A few years back, I saw the most unique metal pegboard and nifty hangers at a trade show. I got some for my garage and it has really helped me keep my tools organized. Thank goodness for that!

The shelves on walls don't have to be deep. You'd be shocked how much stuff you can put on a shelf that's only 12-inches deep. You can purchase very handy open stackable plastic bins for any type of hardware. I've used these bins for years to keep my screws, nails nuts and bolts in perfect order. In fact, I built a special section of shelving that's only 8-inches deep to accommodate these affordable plastic bins. These narrow shelves help conserve floor space in the garage.

If you pull straight into your garage, I'll bet you can build a 6-foot deep partial loft that hangs out over the hood of your car. If your garage is 9-feet tall, you can get about 3 feet of open space on top of the loft and still be able to walk under it. You have to think about using as much of the space in your garage that's between your head and the top of the ceiling.

I happen to have two different lofts in my garage. I'm very lucky because my garage ceiling is nearly 11 feet tall. I have plenty of space to walk under my lofts. Building a loft is no different than building a free-standing deck.

You can support the loft with wooden posts or you may be able to put the vertical supports on the side walls of your garage to ensure positive bearing. Don't lag bolt the loft to the side walls of the garage. Your lag bolts may not hit the center of the wall studs and the loft could collapse on you or your car.

If you have an extreme case of packratitis, it may be time for you to build a sizable shed near your garage. Realize if you don't cure yourself of your packratitis, this shed will soon become a horrible mess and you'll just allow things to accumulate in this separate shelter.

Once your garage is clean and you can pull your car into its cozy lair, you can keep it that way with minimal effort. If you're tempted to put anything on the floor of the garage STOP. Whatever it is must have a home hanging on a wall, sitting on a shelf or stored up in the loft. It's not allowed to live on the floor.

If there is no room in any of these locations, something must give up its space for the new item. Period. Develop a zero-tolerance policy for adding new items to your collection of stuff. Get help for your diseases. You can do it. I'm thinking of starting PIA meetings here in my town to help me. PIA = Packratitis Inarushitis Anonymous. :->

Column 1013


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