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7 Steps to Help Organize Your Garage

This picture is a "don't." Rubbermaid containers with lids and labels are great, but cardboard boxes are a no no.

by Wendy Helfenbaum, AARP, August 31, 2020

Save time, space and money with tricks to corral the chaos before winter blows in.

Even a homeowner who takes great pride in their property may harbor this dirty little secret: A garage that has become a dumping ground.

Whether it's lack of time, financial or physical constraints, or simply being too overwhelmed to deal with the mess, many homeowners find it easier to just close the door and walk away – before the neighbors see it. In addition to being an eyesore, a disorganized garage can add stress and wasted time to your day, as Long Island, New York, homeowner Brianne Marks knows well.

"It's been a constant battle for more than 20 years to keep it organized, and we're always looking for smaller tools, the bike pump, lawn sprinklers and yard gear,” says Marks, 50, whose 1913 home has an unheated, detached garage. “Several times a year, we have to move the snow blower, lawn mower, bikes and beach chairs to access seasonal items.”

Between her husband's physical limitations and not being able to afford a professional to overhaul their garage, Marks says the couple may have to wait until retirement before they can organize it properly. In the meantime, they have purchased duplicate items several times when they couldn't find what they needed. “We have three leaf blowers and five lawn sprinklers, because we didn't think we had them when it turned out they were pushed into the back corner of the garage,” she admits.

This is the perfect time to organize your garage for fall and winter, especially as many people are staying close to home during the coronavirus pandemic. Having everything close at hand means less time spent looking for traction aids, deicers and snow brushes during the season's first blizzard, with lawn seeders and weed-eaters in the way, says Danny Lipford, the nationally syndicated radio and television host of Today's Homeowner. Here are his best tips for transitioning your garage through the seasons.

1. Get rid of what you no longer need

"If you haven't used it in a couple of years, throw it out,” says Lipford, 63, of Mobile, Alabama.

That's exactly what Amanda Loudin, 54, a writer from Ellicott City, Maryland, has done while wrestling her two-car garage into shape over the past year since her divorce. It's been her mission to organize the messy territory.

"Nothing had its place, and I never had the energy to tackle it” before splitting with her husband, she says.

Between paint cans, her children's old sports gear and fishing equipment, 17 years’ worth of clutter had accumulated. By devoting an hour every weekend, Loudin is making progress. “I went through all the extension cords and only kept what was worth keeping. A storage bin that had held random paint brushes became the new home for the extension cords,” she says. “Neatness makes me feel calmer."

2. Give floors a clean sweep

Remove everything — yes, everything! — from the garage and lay it out on the driveway, sorting seasonal items as you go. Then, create piles for trash, donations and what needs to go back in the garage.

Sweep away dirt and use a garden hose or power washer to attack grime, salt and oil stains, making sure to cover any electrical outlets first. Consider rolling on a fresh coat of concrete paint or sealer for extra protection. Because icy or wet garage floors can be a slipping hazard, lay down durable rubberized floor mats in high-traffic areas.

3. Prepare summer equipment for winter storage

Forget shoving items to the back of your garage without first cleaning them and getting them ready to spend the winter in storage, says Lipford.

"Do not succumb to the laziness of saying, ‘I'll take care of it next spring',” warns Lipford. “If you really want to be a proactive homeowner, then you should completely drain the gas out of every combustible engine you have, and dispose of it properly, or put a fuel stabilizer in."

Over the winter, the condensation inside a gas tank can damage gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, he adds. And before storing that hardworking mower, flip it upside down to take a look.

"Make sure that blade is good and sharp, so it's ready for you in the spring,” he says. “Many times, you'll have an accumulation of grass clippings under the deck of a lawn mower, and that'll lead to a lot of rust.”

Extend the life of garden tools, wheelbarrows and patio furniture by hosing them down. Sharpen and lubricate hedge trimers and pruners, and drain your pressure-washer reservoir and hoses so they don't freeze and crack during winter. Then, clean and sharpen your snow shovels and take the snow blower in for a professional tune-up.

4. Rotate seasonal items

Store gardening tools and summer sports equipment toward the back of the garage, and bring shovels, snow brushes and skis toward the front. “If you do a little bit of zoning, it's much easier to manage and see what you have so you're not buying duplicates,” Lipford says.

And if that first snowstorm always takes you by surprise, Lipford has a simple solution: A five-gallon bucket with a lid. “Put everything in there — deicer, rock salt, sand — so it's at your fingertips when you need it,” he says.

5. Reclaim floor space by looking up

Imagine everything lying in the driveway up on the wall, suggests Lipford. Hanging pegboards or slat wall panels with hooks, bins and baskets makes it easier to store (and find) everything that tends to get lost in the jumble. “Use any type of shelving to get things up off the floor, and any type of rack – whether it's homemade or purchased at the home center – to hang rakes, shovels and weed eaters,” he says.

Don't overlook the ceiling: Overhead racks are ideal for heavy-duty storage like tires and other bulky or seldom-used items like holiday decorations and coolers.

6. Add affordable DIY organizing solutions

You don't need fancy systems to keep your garage neat.

"Many garages don't have finished walls, so it's very easy to nail a short piece of wood onto a stud to create a little bracket for a shelf,” he says. “Even if you have finished walls, you can nail or screw something to put inexpensive hooks or larger nails on for hanging shovels or rakes.”

You can also repurpose household items: A hanging shoe bag can store spray paint cans and lubricants, while standard coat hooks can corral rolls of tape.

"Plastic gallon coffee cans have very large openings and they're stackable, so you can put anything from nails and screws to light bulbs in them,” adds Lipford, who also suggests installing a space-saving fold-down workbench. “Attach it with brackets that fold down out of your way, and when you're ready to do a project, you simply pull it up and it locks into place.”

7. Give your garage door some love, too

Most people neglect their garage door, says Lipford, who suggests applying lithium grease to all moving parts, and then opening and closing it a few times so the grease can penetrate.

Check weather stripping around the door's perimeter for wear. Lipford advises gluing down a vinyl threshold directly under the garage door with construction adhesive.

"You can drive your car in and out on it, and it seals everything up,” says Lipford, who further insulated his garage door by gluing two-inch foam sheets to the inside sections.

8 Things Not to Store in Your Unheated Garage Through Winter

  • Paint, stain, chemicals and cleaning products: Icy temperatures can affect their effectiveness and color.

  • Electronics: Humidity causes condensation, which damages solder joints and rusts circuit boards.

  • Clothing, linens and paper: Unless they're in vacuum-sealed storage bags, rodents will nest here.

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