Home & Garden

How to organize your garage

Tired of the mess in your garage? Fall's a perfect time to get organized.

If a survey by the Lehigh Group is any indication, many of us need to.

The Pennsylvania company, which makes the Crawford brand of storage devices, found that nearly 40 percent of respondents had tripped over clutter in their garage, 22 percent had accidentally hit something while parking a car and 27 percent had hit an object with a car door.

Organizing a garage involves more than cleaning it out and putting things back in neater piles. It requires culling your possessions and devising a plan for handling what's left, and it takes time and work.

But if you do it right, you'll be better able to keep things under control. And that means you won't have to do it again.

That's what Angie and Mickey Remen are hoping, anyway. Garage Closets Inc. finished installing storage cupboards in the couple's Richfield Township, Ohio, garage recently.

The garage had become a typical catchall space - shoes, bikes and gardening equipment scattered on the floor, tools crammed haphazardly on shelves and little room left for vehicles.

Now the garage is lined with clean, white cabinets, and Angie Remen is trying to decide what to hang on the pegboard above her new potting bench.

"It's unbelievable," Mickey Remen said of the change. "I don't know how it's even possible."

The Remens were lucky enough to have professional help, but it's not essential to hire a contractor or invest in built-in cabinetry to have an organized garage. What is necessary, experts say, is forethought.


Figure on garage organization being a big job - possibly more than a day, if you have a lot of stuff.

If the job is overwhelming, start with just the floor, suggested Joanna M. Quandt, a professional organizer who runs JMQ Professional Organizing Services in Copley Township, Ohio.

Decide before you start where you'll put everything during the organizing process. The Remens were able to use their trailer for temporary storage, but you might need to use your yard or perhaps a covered area such as a patio. Work on a nice day, so you can keep your stuff outside without worrying about it getting wet, Quandt said.

Designate different areas of your yard or temporary storage area for general categories of items - sporting equipment, tools, toys and so on. Then, as you remove things from the garage, you can sort them at the same time.

Take the opportunity to rid yourself of the things you don't need, so you'll have less to organize. Letting go of a possession can be hard, but "have a good reason for keeping it," advised Jim McCourtie, president of Garage Closets and the man who helped the Remens create a plan for their garage. Don't keep anything that's broken or anything you acquired "just in case," he said.


Once everything's culled and sorted, you can start thinking about how to store it.

Knowing what you have to store will help you choose the right options. Home centers, hardware stores and specialty retailers carry a huge array of devices, including hangers for everything from hand tools to wheelbarrows. You'll find cupboards, shelves, magnetic strips for holding small tools, bins and racks for toys and sporting equipment, peg boards and even hinged hooks that swing out of the way when they're not in use.

Or use what you already have, Quandt said - old bookshelves, chests of drawers or a simple board attached horizontally to the wall, with nails and hooks for hanging things.

"It doesn't have to be fancy," she said. "It just has to be useful."


Make sure shelves, cupboards and hooks can hold the weight of your stuff.

Garage Closets' cabinet system, for example, uses a special hanging rail that allows its cabinets to hold 400 to 500 pounds each, McCourtie said.

Most hooks and other hardware are labeled with a safe working load, said Jamie Ibrahim, product manager for the Lehigh Group.

Consider materials, too. Particleboard cabinets are fine if they won't be exposed to a lot of moisture, such as washing the car in the garage. But in a wetter environment, go with something water-resistant, McCourtie said. Metal shelves can rust if they're exposed to dampness.

McCourtie prefers the uncluttered look of enclosing everything behind doors, but that's largely a matter of preference. Keep in mind, however, that garages tend to be dirty. Food, clothing and anything else you want to keep clean should be enclosed, he said.

Plan to store like items together, Quandt said, and strive for one goal: Easy in, easy out. The easier it is to get to things and put them away, the more likely you'll be to keep the garage organized.


Most garages are fairly small, especially once you fit the cars in. So instead of putting a lot of things on the floor, make use of vertical spaces, said Tom Russo, brand manager for the Lehigh Group.

Getting things off the ground has benefits beyond maximizing square footage. Concrete garage floors are often damp, so elevating storage keeps items out of contact with moisture. It also makes it easier to put dangerous items out of children's reach, Russo said.

McCourtie typically hangs cupboards at least 10 inches above the floor, so a broom will fit underneath.

If space is tight, hang cabinets at least 51 inches from the floor so you can pull a car underneath, he said. Consider 12-inch-deep cabinets on side walls, which protrude less than standard cabinets.

And don't forget the rafters, Ibrahim said. If they're open, you can use them for overhead storage, particularly for things you don't use often. You can buy hangers and other devices designed for rafter storage.


Providing enough clearance around your cars ensures you can get in and out easily, without bumping into anything.

Allow enough space for vehicle doors to open and for a person to walk around the car, Russo said. Plan for enough space so you can walk comfortably while carrying groceries, without having to walk sideways or squeeze through any space.

Measure the spaces where cabinets will go to make sure there's enough room to open cabinet doors when the cars are in the garage, McCourtie said.


One more bit of advice: Plan for expansion.

You're almost certain to buy more stuff, McCourtie said, so make room for it. He recommended planning for 25 percent to 30 percent more storage than what you need right now.

But don't use that as an excuse to accumulate without bounds. Otherwise, you'll be doing this again before long.

Getting organized

In any organizing job, professional organizer Joanna M. Quandt likes to use the SPACE system, an acronym for sort, purge, assign, containerize and equalize.

It's a system devised by another organizer, Julie Morgenstern.

Here's how Quandt would apply it to a garage:

- Sort: As you're removing things from the garage, group like items together - sports equipment in one spot, for example, tools in another, cleaning supplies in still another. Put small items on a table or some other waist-high surface so you don't tire your back from repeatedly bending over.

It might help to label each area with a piece of paper, especially if someone else is helping, Quandt said.

Work from left to right around the garage and from top to bottom. The direction you move isn't as important as having a consistent approach, so you don't miss anything, she said.

- Purge: After everything's out of the garage, decide what you'll keep and what can be given way, thrown away or sold. Have trash bags or boxes handy and consider loading the giveaways right into your car so you'll be more likely to deliver them to a charity promptly.

Quandt said purging is often a hard step, because guilt gets mixed up in the process - especially when we're contemplating getting rid of something that was given to us. Let it go, she advised: "That person is not going to be hurt."

Unless you have unlimited storage space, keep things only if you have a good reason to do so. Good reasons do not include "I might use it someday," "I'll fix it when I get around to it," "I got it really cheap" or "What if ...?"

- Assign: Once you've culled your possessions, you can more easily take stock of what's left and visualize how much space you'll need to store it.

But don't jump ahead and start buying hooks and containers just yet. Instead, snoop around your house for things that might work for garage storage - for instance, shelves, chests of drawers, rolling carts or desks. Even clean garbage cans can corral sporting goods or long-handled tools such as rakes and brooms, and shoe boxes or checkbook boxes can hold small items.

- Containerize: This is the point where you start putting things away. Decide what will hang on the walls, what will be stored on shelves, what will be enclosed in cabinets and what can be left on the floor.

Once you've used the storage items you have, you can research other options. But don't just go on a buying spree unprepared, Quandt said. Measure the items you need to store and the space where you plan to store them so you can choose containers and other items that fit.

- Equalize: This is the maintenance phase, or keeping the space equal to what it was when you first organized it.

That's a challenge, particularly if you have a spouse or children who will be sharing the space. Make sure everyone knows where to put away the things they'll be using, Quandt said, and maybe make a game of practicing with smaller children.

Get into the habit of building time into a project for putting things away. Do that even if the job isn't finished, because you may not get back to it as quickly as you think.

And be flexible, she counseled. If part of your organizing plan isn't working, change it.