Where do I start when cleaning my garage?

How do we start work on a messy Garage? Start by taking everything out. I mean it, take out everything. A proper clean involves ceiling, floor and walls. The most important of Garage cleaning tips; remove all items stored in your garage and start organizing them into piles. It’s important to determine what you must keep and what should be thrown out or sold.

Garages may be for our cars, but they can all too easily become a home’s dumping ground for clothes the kids have grown out, empty paint cans, things that are broken or that you just don’t want to deal with. But it’s that time of year again, so as the temps begin to rise, blooms are sprouting, and we’re all coming out of our winter shells (hallelujah!). It’s finally time to hit the outdoors, that is if you can find your bike.

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A day (or two) dedicated to clearing out and organizing your garage will get you ready for all the warm-weather activities just around the corner. Doesn’t that sound nice? To help start this season on a clutter-free foot, we tapped a few experts to guide us through organizing this often-ignored space.

Have a Plan

A lot of things can happen in or to a garage over a long winter, so your first focus should be restoring order. Marty Basher, the home organization expert with ModularClosets.com, suggests starting with a goal in mind. Are you an avid gardener? Do you need easy access to your favourite sports gear? Or does it double as a Storage and a laundry room? Having a plan for the final functionality of the space is the key to achieving a successful spring cleaning. Make a list of things that need to get done or sketch out a rough plan of the final result. Then open those doors, let some air and light in, back out your car and begin. Putting on some inspiring tunes or an engaging podcast doesn’t hurt either.

Take a deep breath and go in. That’s step one. Don’t worry about sorting or removing anything yet; just have a good look around and note what you see. You might want to make a list, take some photographs or both; do whatever helps you feel more organized and in control. On this first trip into the Garage, take special note of any really big and bulky pieces: Are these items you might be interested in getting rid of? If so, take some time today to research where to take the items, or (if you intend to sell them) take photos and create an ad for Craigslist or another resource in your area.

Pick Your Process

Tackling a space like a garage may seem daunting, so it’s important first to figure out the best way to get the job done. Maeve Richmond, of Maeve’s Method, likes doing the easiest things first, like gathering up recyclables or tagging items you can donate or bring to the dump. Then, emptying the entire garage out and building it back up, piece-by-piece. It might take a day or two or even a few weekends, so do your best to restore order at the end of each session. If you can leave everything outside on the driveway or lawn, just cover them up with a tarp at night to fend off on-lookers and springtime rain. If that seems too intense we suggest picking a small section that’s bothering you most and beginning there. Try to detach from feeling guilty that you’ve let the garage get to this point and lead with the mindset of just getting started,” she says. “Once you’ve tackled a hard area, the rest will be cake. Set another block of time for the following week and keep going in those short spurts until it’s done.

Pick a day when the weather is on your side and pull everything out of your garage and into your driveway or yard. It can seem productive to tackle a corner at a time, but honestly? Just getting everything out will help you assess what you have, take note of the grime level, and stay motivated to keep too many things from returning to their old spots.

Gather a ready supply of towels, a bucket, a broom and cleaning spray. You may also want to keep a measuring tape handy and some big, strong garbage bags or bins for sorting items.

Start by wiping down or hosing off anything dirty or dusty.

Be Honest – Have You Used It?

A common rule when cleaning out your closet is if you haven’t worn it in over a year, it’s time to say goodbye – the same thing applies for your garage. If no one has touched those rollerblades since Obama’s first term, it’s okay to let them go. If your family didn’t take to Sunday croquet matches as you’d envisioned, don’t beat yourself up about it. Donate them, and they might end up getting some use instead of gathering dust. Be honest about your hobbies, activities, possessions and life. On the flip side, do you love skiing? Are you big into fixing things in your home? If so, the materials for these activities should be honoured and given prime real estate. If you’re having trouble letting things go, Basher suggests itemizing things into ‘use regularly’, ‘use annually’, ‘never use’ and ‘sentimental Storage‘ categories. Everything in never use can be tossed; check annual and regular use items for signs of wear and tear and replace or store; when it comes to purely sentimental things, focus on what you really want to keep and what you actually have room to store safely.

Find storage solutions that work for you

Depending on what you have in your garage and what you need to store, you may be facing some interesting storage dilemmas. It seems that nearly EVERYTHING in the garage is oddly shaped—it’s either very, very large and bulky (such as weed trimmers, chainsaws or sports equipment) or very, very small and easy to lose (like nails, screws, bits or gardening markers).

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While working with the Closet Maid, we were introduced to their heavy-duty garage storage system, which is awesome! The wire shelves allow for airflow (important in Florida!), they are easy to install, and the shelves are adjustable so you can reconfigure them any way you want.

For tools, we have found that a collection of bins works well; many other organization experts recommend using a pegboard over a workbench. Small, clearly marked jars work well for sorting various odds and ends that go along with your tools. Larger items like saws and electrical tools can be stored in shelving. Toolboxes should be kept off the floor and away from moisture.

Baseball bats, rackets, balls and bulky sports items store well in ball bins, large totes or even repurposed trash cans. If you sort carefully to pare down to just the necessary items, you can arrange everything clearly on a shallow shelf. (Deep shelves tend to create a magical abyss where things just disappear.)

Get bikes, kayaks and other large items off the floor, so they’re protected from damage. Hang them up on ceiling hooks tightly fastened to support beams in the Garage. Hanging large items such as ladders, shovels, rakes and other tools will also keep the ground free of clutter and provide each item with a safe place to rest. (We all want to prevent things from falling on kids or cars!)

Think about the storage options you’ll need and assess what you have on hand. Assemble all Storage containers and hooks and get them ready to house your remaining, now-clean garage equipment.

Sort, Eliminate, Donate, or Sell

Once everything is out of the garage, it’s time to start sorting everything into piles: keep, donate/sell and eliminate. Purge once, then go back through the keep pile and purge again.

Ask yourself if the item is something you’ll use again or something you’ve used in the last year—be realistic and honest. Holding onto those rollerblades because you think your kids might want to use them or that tennis racket that needs to be re-strung? These are the types of things that create clutter. Many sports stores will buy back equipment or sell it on consignment. You may even make a nice little profit that can be put towards something the whole family will like.

When it comes to tools, consider what you use frequently and what can be borrowed or rented. This is a difficult one because many of us (and many husbands) fancy ourselves to be “Bob the Builder” or “Rosie the Riveter” and tend to hoard tools. If your husband is indeed a handyman, and especially if it’s a hobby, then, by all means, let him keep a tool bench/workstation area, but keep it organized and useful.

Broken items or items rusted or past their prime can be tossed immediately. Give yourself permission to let go and stop keeping things in hopes that one day you’ll get around to repairing them.

If you’re a gardener, keep one, rust-free version of each tool you frequently use. Toss seeds over a year old (most will not grow past that time, and pests LOVE them), and be sure all pots and planting items (including tomato cages, hoses and gardening decorations) are clean and free of dirt and moisture before stored.

Car repair items and cleaning supplies should be assessed for usefulness and potency. Some car fluids do expire, so keeping them might create a fire hazard. Always get rid of any oil rags and don’t allow them to pile up, as they’re combustible. Chemicals, paint and other items that have outlived their usefulness should be disposed of using the proper channels. Contact your local recycling and waste management or municipality to find out how to dispose of chemicals in your area safely.

Throw away any obvious junk that is lying around that you never use. It doesn’t matter if its “good stuff.” If you are not using it, it doesn’t matter what it’s worth. Exceptions, of course, include photographs and other keepsakes. Adopt the rule that it if hasn’t been used for 12 months, it is probably not needed (except for very expensive equipment, or if you have been too ill or work-swamped to get to a hobby). Remove big items, such as work tables, totes, vacuums, etc. for more cleaning space. Pick up small things, such as tools and decorations and separate.

As you go through all of your stuff, you will want to organize it into major categories; for example, tools, Christmas ornaments, collectibles, pet supplies, etc. Be methodical, as the more things that you can place together in related groups, the easier it will be to see what you want to keep, what you have in duplicate, and what you no longer want or need. You will likely find something that you have been looking for!

Consider using eBay, Etsy or other online sales sites to sell anything that has commercial value. It is easy enough to post items, and you may have something in your Garage that is worth more than you might think. Lookup a similar item first to see what the potential value might be.

Take the donation stuff to donate to charity immediately. Don’t let anything just sit around. The objective of this project is to create space and organization, so things you don’t want or need shouldn’t be in your garage anymore, or anywhere else around your house for that matter.

Use shelving or tracking systems to make the most of the vertical space on walls. You can also add ceiling-mounted storage if necessary. Be strategic in what you choose to store there, making sure it’s manageable to retrieve. Ideally, the higher the Storage, the lighter/less breakable an item.

She adds, makes sure your garage is also well lit while you’re organizing but also in general for work. Adequate lighting is often neglected. It’s more inviting to work in a well-lit area.

Sort what’s left into “zones.” 

Once you have managed to sort through most of the items in your garage (and ideally have removed a lot of unneeded stuff), it’s time to assess what’s left and make a plan for what will go where. By keeping items in categories that make sense (for example, gardening, sports, holiday, tools) finding what you need will be much easier. Sort your remaining items into categories that make sense to you, and pile them neatly.

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Seal cracks and repair hazards

Garages bear the brunt of the harshest weather. Often they’re not heated or cooled, and temperature fluctuations and moisture tend to cause mildew, cracking leaks and other issues. Since most of us don’t spend ample amounts of time in the Garage, many of these issues can go unnoticed until they’re difficult to repair.

With everything out of the garage, really survey any areas that might need to be fixed or touched up. Seal any cracks with spray-in foam or sealant and consider spraying on a protective coat of LeakSeal or another flexible coating.

This is also the time to check out the wires around your garage and make sure nothing looks chewed on or presents a fire hazard. Look at anything that might be exposed and call a professional if needed.

Clean the gutters around your garage and be sure to look for signs of water damage. This is also a good time to check lighting, locks and seals around your windows. You want to ensure not only weather protection but protection from intruders.

Hang Things

If square footage is an issue, use a pegboard with hooks for vertical wall hanging. Most gardening tools have handles, so try to hang shovels and trowels on the wall to save space and keep items off the floor. You can also hang golf bags, tennis rackets and most definitely bikes if you’re not using them on a daily basis (a floor parking rack is great if you’re an avid biker). Nothing makes for a more nerve-wracking parking experience than a bike leaning precariously against a garage wall.

Another solution: Use a stud finder and screw an S hook into the ceiling, then hang your bike by the tire. They’re easier to take down like this and will be out of the way. It’s also helpful to store balls, and sports equipment in mesh bags hung at eye level so you can see what you’re looking for – mesh storage bins work well, too.

Wheel it In

If you aren’t blessed with gardening shed, your garage is the next best thing. You can store soil, pots and planters on a potting shelf, but another option is keeping your tools in a wheeled bucket or wheelbarrow so you can easily pull it out whenever you need to get to work on those weeds. If your gardening equipment is just taking up too much space, another option is a lean-to shed attached to the exterior wall of your garage. These small sheds can be built to suit your needs and can double as a gardening shed complete with potting table.

Find Alternative Storage

It’s so easy for the garage to become a catch-all place, but we’re not looking for a life-size junk drawer – and some things are just not suited for Garage living. If you’re using something on the regular, it should be kept in the house. A coat rack in the garage may seem like a good idea, but your clothes could be exposed to whatever critters are crawling around in there, and the damp, cold or humid conditions can lead to mould. That goes for furniture, soft toys and photo albums as well. And speaking of critters, avoid shelving dry goods or other food items in the garage. If you store birdseed or other types of animal feed, a metal bin away from moisture is best. He also says to use caution when storing fuels and flammable liquids, and they should be kept separate in an area where they can’t be knocked or spilled.

Consider Placement

A garage should operate similar to Storage inside your home, so be thoughtful of placement and make sure the items you use more often are in more accessible areas. All of the tips in the world won’t help if the job goes against your natural routine Build an organizational system that accentuates your patterns. If you always kick off your shoes by the garage door, put a shoe basket there. If you need the hose every day on the patio, get hose storage out there to avoid hauling it back and forth or just leaving it in the grass.

Dust, Wash, Clean and Paint

Put that broom to use! Put on a mask. (Garages can house mouse droppings, bugs, chemicals, and all sorts of things you don’t want to breathe in.) Thoroughly clean out all of the corners, wash down the walls, and make sure everything is dust-free. This will prevent all of that dirt from tracking into your house later.

Not all of us are ready to put in epoxy floor coating in the Garage, but if you’re able, it’s an investment that will really help make things feel more “finished.” If you have oil spills on the floor, kitty litter works wonders for soaking it up and keeping the floor looking its best. Consider putting down an inexpensive garage floor protector or even a piece of indoor/outdoor carpeting or rug to protect from future damage.

A simple coat of latex paint in white will keep things fresh and help prevent mildew as well. Caulk around the windows and caulk any cracked or leaking seals. You don’t have to sew curtains or put up wall decals, but if you feel inclined to add a simple decorative touch, it may help you feel more of that “extension of your home” mentality and keep things clean in the future.

Give Every Item A Home

A good way to get everybody in the family on board (and impressed) with your new organizational system, is to label everything from the hooks and pegboards stations to your Storage bins. This will also ensure that items will be put back in their proper place. It may seem anal, but they’ll appreciate how easy it makes finding their soccer cleats in a rush to practice. It will go a long way towards keeping your garage from cluttering up, and doorways and floors clean and clear year-round. Another way of getting your household involved is to give everyone a section in the garage to take care of. Spring cleaning is not a one and done type of activity. Like going to the gym, you have to maintain the workout. Make sure everyone has a spot or at least that they know where their favourite items live. When a kid (or a partner) is given responsibility and structure for their possessions, they’ll take pride in maintaining the upkeep.

Once your Garage is cleaned and organized, it’s important to keep up those habits. Put things away promptly and be conscientious when shopping. Create a home for new items right away.

In the end, while the task may seem daunting, the rewards are well worth the effort. Not only will you save money and keep your house cleaner, but you’ll also protect your investment in your car, bikes and other items because they’re stored in a clean, dry environment, and finally be able to work on new projects that you never had space for before.

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