Do you ever look in your closets and wonder, “Where did all this stuff come from?” Luckily, most closets aren’t too big and you can clean one up in an hour if you put your mind to it. But what if looking at your garage has you wondering the same thing?
The garage, and the way we relate to it, is a peculiarly American institution, born of the great American Dream Era of the early 20th century that brought mass manufactured consumer goods to one and all. In short order, though, that two-car garage can turn into a dumping ground, and the longer it goes untended the harder it will be to clean it up. Here are some ways you can get rid of garage clutter once and for all.
The first thing you need to decide is what you want to use your garage for, and it certainly doesn’t have to be only for cars. If you do need to garage two cars in a two-car garage, because of the weather in your region or the newness of the autos, then you have to decide that very little else can go in there. If you have other places in the home to store odds and ends, you need to use them.
In fact, this is the first step for all garage cleaners – decide what the garage is for, then take out anything that doesn’t belong. If you have little room elsewhere, you must make some hard decisions about what to keep, what to sell and what to throw out entirely. It may not be easy, but it really is the only way. We will return to the “what your garage is for” step after a little cleaning.
The “three pile” method
As you decide what to keep, sell or throw away, start putting the similarly fated items together. It may make sense to leave the “to sell” items toward the front of the garage, even on the driveway (weather permitting) since you will have to hold a garage sale as one of the later steps in this process.
Do not get nostalgic over junk. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s an antique, or even that you need or want it. Make the hard decisions. Get rid of the spare tires for the car you sold years ago. Sell the sports equipment that is collecting dust. But those power tools lying in a heap? Show some respect and store them neatly.
Once you have divided your existing “stuff” into these piles or areas, take the next obvious steps: Hold a garage sale to get rid of the salable items, and take a trip to the dump (or call your waste management service for “large item pickup”). When you have gotten to this point, you are ready to plan for the future – you’ve handled the “Get Rid of Garage Clutter” part, and now it’s time for taking care of the “Once and For All,” and keeping the clutter from returning.
The manner in which you organize your garage is dependent on what you will use it for, as discussed above. Now that you can (hopefully) see around the space a bit and make some plans, you should slow down a bit and think things through.
Now, you can do this as a Do-It-Yourselfer all the way, or take advantage of any number of “organizer kits” available at the local builder supply or home supply store. These normally consist of some combination of the following:
• Work table or tables
• Pegboard sheets for the wall, for hanging tools
• Coordinated bins, baskets, containers, etc.
• Cabinets, chests of drawers, etc.
You should take a few minutes to at least explore the possibility of using one of these kits. If you find the cost prohibitive, you may be able to put together a similar system “à la carte,” saving a lot of money in the process. Even if you do not replicate “the leading garage organizer,” you can get some good ideas from looking at the relevant websites and checking out a few home supply stores.
Whether you are a “car guy” who wants to do some weekend wrenching, or a hobbyist who needs half the garage space for a single car and the other half for pottery, there will be multiple ways in which you can organize your space. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from neighbors who have the kind of garage you like. And don’t forget to leave some flexibility in case you want to do something different in the future.
Once the old junk is gone, the challenge is to keep from collecting more of it. Some of this goes to personality. The fact is, some people are just “pack rats” and “collectors,” while others go through life with very little material baggage. If you are not honest with yourself about your own pack-rat-ism, you will simply buy a little time with this whole exercise – your garage will be back to looking like Dumpsville in no time.
If staying neat and tidy is not your normal modus operandi, then you either need to get some ongoing help (spouse, family member, neighbor) or set some hard and fast rules for yourself. Before you buy a set of drills at the flea market, you have to ask yourself if you really need them. And if you really need them, it means they should have a specific place to go when you take them home. To make sure you don’t just start piling things up again, perhaps your helper (whoever it is) can enforce some sort of “time-delay throwaway” – if something sits out in the open for more than, say, two days, it gets tossed.
There may be other ways to enforce your new clean garage regime, but the “time-delay throwaway” at least shows that you are serious. Like most diets, most “emergency cleanup campaigns” don’t last, either. So if you really are serious, you need to change the old habits that led to the junky garage in the first place. After all, the garage does not clutter itself, right?
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