Your Home: How to clean out the garage and keep it organized

The garage: It’s the land of misfit toys, the ghosts of Christmas past, the final resting place for failed home improvement projects.

In my house, it’s also the storage unit for my Girl Scout troop and other volunteer commitments as well, as where high school yearbooks get stored — along with old newspaper tear sheets and nine years’ worth of science fair projects.

What it slowly isn’t, especially in Texas, where we don’t have conditioned attic space or basements, is a place to park our cars.

This month in our Your Home series, we tackle the garage. See my own DIY garage makeover at

Pick your poison

You could do a little bit at a time: One week organize the tools; the next week tackle the camping gear. Or, you could clear a weekend and get busy.

Try to fit your cleanup day around Bulk Pickup Day — aka Residential Bulk Collection. This is the day when you can put out big items by the curb and they will magically disappear — either picked up by people trolling your neighborhood around this time or by the city. In Austin, you can go to the Austin Resource Recovery site for the schedule and what you can and cannot get rid of on this day ( If you are not in Austin, check with your garbage and recycling company to find out what it offers.

Decide what your goal is

Do you live with the dream that one day you will park your car in the garage? Or do you just want to be able to find the stuff that is in your garage? Maybe you just want to get rid of the off-site storage unit and move everything back to your garage.

Once you figure out what your goal is, be realistic about the amount of stuff you can fit in the garage. Your plan should also include space for additional items that will be added a year from now.

Start organizing

Take everything off of shelves and out of bins. Create piles of similar options: tools, gardening, automotive, building materials, sports equipment, files, memorabilia, etc.

Take one pile at a time and decide whether to keep, trash or donate each item.

Marie Kondo says in her best-seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” that you should consider whether or not an item brings you joy. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. If it does, keep it.

That’s a great strategy for dealing with memorabilia and even clothing. In the garage, where most of us don’t get joy out of a screwdriver, also ask yourself: “Do I use this?” Have you used it in the last year? If the answer is no, you probably should get rid of it. Someone else needs to get joy/use out of it — or no one needs to use it, including you.

An exception could be floor tiles that you might need to keep if one inside the house gets damaged. You probably don’t need to keep paint. Once it’s in the heat of the garage, it will never be the same. It would be better to try to pair the paint you have with fresh paint that is color-matched.

The donate pile

If you have building materials that are in good shape, Habitat for Humanity’s Restore wants them. Drop them off between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 310 Comal St.

If you have other items, consider groups like Salvation Army, Easter Seals and Goodwill.

The trash pile

Austin Resource Recovery’s website has a feature where you can type what the item is and it will tell you what to do with it. I typed in “paint” and it reminded me not to put out the gallons of used paint I have during bulk collection, but to take it to the household hazardous waste site at 2514 Business Center Drive, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to noon on Saturday. There, I can take batteries, cellphones, cleaners, automotive fluids, paints and thinners, pesticides, aerosol cans, cooking oil, pool chemicals and fluorescent bulbs, among other items.

You’ll be surprised how much trash you have. If you have more trash than can fit in your bin, head to the local grocery store and get an extra trash sticker for $4 a piece. If you put out more trash without a sticker, they will still take it, but charge you $8.

If you have extra recycling, it won’t cost you more. Just place the extra stuff in a cardboard box by your recycling bin.

If you have sensitive documents that need to be shredded, there are many shredding companies including Shred-it, Iron Mountain and First-Shred. They each charge either by weight or box, and typically they like you to box up the stuff first — a good thing to know as you clean out the garage.

The keep pile

This pile takes more time. Further sort your big category piles into smaller categories. The tools get put into piles for screwdrivers, hammers, saws, etc. Know what you have before you decide how to store it.

Create zones

Garages typically become a random collection of things. Create some organization by deciding where like things are going to go. Plan for a tool area, a lawn and garden area, a camping and outdoors area, a sports equipment area, a memorabilia area and a decoration area, as well as other areas you need. Keep in mind that your garage is probably not heated or air-conditioned. Delicate items need to find a closet in the house instead.

Plan your zones based on how much you use an item. If you only go camping once in a blue moon, you can put those items in a crawl space or on top shelves. Tools should be highly visible and accessible because you might need them in an emergency. Sports equipment you use all the time or should be using all the time should be very accessible. Chemicals need to be stored out of reach of children and pets.

Hang or shelve?

We’d all love to have the designer garage with the new built-in cabinets and built-in shelves. If you can do it, great. There are many local companies like Garage Kings and Garage Monkeyz who want to help you. They’ll offer price quotes of about $3,000 for storage to $10,000 to $20,000 for a total makeover, including flooring.

If you are more about function than beauty, think about what you currently have or can get inexpensively. Are there bookcases you’re not using? Or old dressers?

If you are someone who puts things back exactly where you got them, a peg board with hooks would work great for tools. If you’re a realist and know that you’re more likely to just stash something in a general area, think about shelves with clear plastic bins for each type of item: one for hammers, one for screwdrivers, one for nails, one for screws. Organize your shelves by similar types of items. For tools, you also could add magnetic strips to a wall and store them that way.

For those long-handled items, such as paint rollers, shovels and rakes, buy hooks or a hook system to fit these items. Also consider bike hooks to maximize the use of wall space.

Don’t forget to plan for walkways and know how much space your cars take if you choose to use your garage the way the builder intended. Allow for a cushion around your cars. You don’t want to expect yourself to shoehorn your car into a tiny space, making it impossible for car doors to be opened without hitting something. Keep in mind the space in which you’re expected to put an SUV and a minivan might not be a realistic space for those vehicles.

Go up

The garage your house came with is an empty box of wasted space. You can further maximize that space by installing shelving units that go above your car. Don’t plan on storing things there that you’re going to use often; but it’s the perfect spot for the Christmas decorations or camping gear. Those storage racks installed start at about $400.

What about that floor?

The concrete garage floor gets nasty quickly and always will be a source of dust and dirt. If you can afford it, an epoxy floor eliminates that problem. A two-car garage is about $1,800; a three-car is about $3,400.

If you can’t go that route, keep a broom and dustpan handy and make sure to have a welcome mat at the door to wipe off the dust and grime before you head into the house.

Sources: Jane Taylor, owner of Garage Monkeyz; Justin Earl, owner of the Garage King; Dan Gregory,; and The Lehigh Group.

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