Garages have a way of going from deep storage to cluttered chaos. Clearing out the flotsam and organizing what remains can be daunting or downright overwhelming.
But with careful planning and a specific game plan, most garages can be organized in a day or a weekend, experts say. And if the job's simply too much, consider hiring a professional organizer.
"I don't think you can just wake up one morning and say, 'I'm going to organize the garage,' and be successful at it," says Regina Lark of the Los Angeles-based company A Clear Path: Professional Organizing and Productivity. "You need planning. You need muscle power. You need people around you for support. And you will need some basic information and possibly supplies before you begin."
PLAN, ENLIST AND PREPARE
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The first step, says Lark, is to look at your calendar and set aside a full day for the job. Choose a starting and ending time, and make sure someone will be there to support you.
"It's got to be the only thing on the calendar that day, for everyone involved. It's usually a very uncomfortable task, so get help. Bring in friends. Offer pizza at lunch, wine at the end of the day, and reciprocate," she says.
Lark suggests that you and your support team set aside three or four hours to take things out, sort them into piles and make quick decisions about what to keep. Then set aside another three or four hours to put everything back in an organized way, and make a quick trip to the donation center.
Before you start, she says, consider: "Do you have enough trash bags or do you need a small Dumpster? Do you have spare boxes where you can put things to be donated? What time does the donation center close? Is your driveway clear so that you can take everything out of your garage and sort it there? Will you need shelving or storage bins or peg boards? It's better to have too many supplies and return a few things later than to have progress halted because you don't have what you need."
Understand and embrace the decision-making process.
"It's helpful to stand in your garage before you start and really connect with the reality of what is there," Lark says. "The speed and success of the task really boils down to how quickly you can make decisions about things. Look around and ask yourself what you really need in your life in order to thrive."
She says many unnecessary items are stored because they evoke memories or because they might be useful someday.
"Ask yourself how many artifacts you need to remember a single event? And if you can't name a specific date and scenario when you'll make use of something, you really should consider discarding it," she says. "Try to have these decisions made beforehand so you can make the best use of your time on the big day."
REMOVE, SORT, DISCARD
Betsy Goldberg, home director at Real Simple magazine, recommends starting the big day by laying an old sheet or two onto the garage floor or driveway, and then taking everything out of the garage, sorting it into piles by category.
"That makes it easier to quickly see that you have five different baseball gloves and duplicates of garden tools, and that some things can be donated," she says.
It's best if you can put discarded items straight into the car so they can be donated the same day, Goldberg says. If things sit around, they have a way of ending up back in the garage.
Have the right shelves, bins and peg boards ready, Goldberg says. She recommends sturdy metal shelving with wheels, and clear bins — each to contain just one type of item — with labels. She also recommends a peg board for easy access to frequently used items like bike helmets or garden clippers.
When the job is done, everything should be off the floor and have a designated spot.
If you find yourself overwhelmed, Lark suggests hiring a pro. The National Association of Professional Organizers (www.napo.net) is searchable by zip code and area of specialty.