Four Ways to Organize, Declutter Your Garage

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There's a big difference between driving a car into a garage filled with a jumbled mess and one that is tidy and well kept. But not everyone can afford to -- or wants to -- hire a garage organization company to do the work.
And that's fine, said Donna Smallin, author of "The One-Minute Organizer," because with some extra time and hard work homeowners can get some order on their own. It's retaining


There's a big difference between driving a car into a garage filled with a jumbled mess and one that is tidy and well kept. But not everyone can afford to -- or wants to -- hire a garage organization company to do the work.

And that's fine, said Donna Smallin, author of "The One-Minute Organizer," because with some extra time and hard work homeowners can get some order on their own. It's retaining the clean garage that is the real challenge.

"Organizing is not a one-time project, it's a process," she said. That's especially true for the garage, where items not needed in the main part of the house often get hidden away.

Below are some tips on how to clean up your act and maintain a neat garage:

1. Take inventory

Before buying a single organization product, know what's in the garage to begin with. And start removing items that aren't needed.

"We get (items) out of the house because we don't want them anymore... but we leave them in the garage. Go in and pick out things that you really don't need anymore," Smallin said.

Make the easy decisions first, said Barry Izsak, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers and author of "Organize Your Garage in No Time."

"Start with the things that are unemotional and you can easily pitch right away," he said. It's easier to pitch a broken VCR or the "10-year accumulation of National Geographics molding away in the corner" than items that have more sentimental value.

Keep things that are still useful and relevant -- and are able to be stored. For the tough decisions, ask "what's the worst thing that can happen if you get rid of it?" he said.

Those planning on unloading unwanted items at a garage sale should try to start collecting things in one place, perhaps parking the cars in the driveway and using the center of the garage for a few days, she said. Or donate the items to charity, getting receipts for tax deductions. Those who just want to get rid of the stuff might check out Freecycle.org, a Web site that helps people in communities throughout the country to hand items off to neighbors.

2. Think in zones

To find the best place to store objects, separate them by use, Smallin said. For instance, sporting equipment should have its own space, as should outdoor lawn-care items and car-washing supplies.

"People are more likely to put things where they belong if it's obvious where they belong," she said. "If there's no organization, things get put wherever because it doesn't seem to matter." Items used most frequently should be the easiest to access.

3. Shop for supplies

After creating a plan of where items will be placed, start thinking about what organization supplies might be best to hold them.

"I'm a big believer in hanging things in the garage because we're limited with floor space if we want to park the cars in there," Izsak said.

Those on a tight budget might consider peg boards to help organize, he said. Another common way to keep costs down is by reusing old shelving items from the house, including old kitchen cabinets and bookshelves.

The upside to purchasing cabinets specifically made for the garage is that they're often longer, Smallin said, allowing the homeowner to store more behind closed doors.

She also advocates thinking vertically. Bicycle hoists keep bikes elevated off the ground and can be purchased for about $35, she said. Smallin also likes shelving units that are mounted on the ceiling, such as ones from the manufacturer HyLoft.

Thinking of redoing the flooring? Start with that job first. If it's painted with epoxy, for example, it will take about three to four days for it to dry, Smallin said.

4. Keep it clean

Go out to the garage and clean up every three months or so once the job is complete, Smallin said. Those who want a reminder might choose to subscribe to Homefree.com, an online service that keeps track of a home's maintenance schedule, she said. Smallin works as an organization expert for the firm, which charges an annual fee to send e-mail reminders about jobs ranging from inspecting the water heater to flipping the mattresses.

The most important element of an organization project is the follow-through, Izsak said.

"The biggest reason for clutter and disorganization...it's not a bad system, it's because the person didn't maintain the system," he said.

Amy Hoak is a MarketWatch reporter based in Chicago.

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