For many families, the end of summer means it’s time to put away the inflatable kiddie pools, camping equipment and gardening tools for the season.
If you plan to shove this gear into arbitrary piles around the edge of the garage, you’re not alone: Many Americans say the garage is the most disorganized room in their home, according to the International Association of Business Organizing.
But a messy garage is not just unsightly, it can cost you money.
People with cluttered garages tend to waste time searching for misplaced items and end up buying things they already own, says Erica Ecker, a professional organizer in New York City.
They also risk injury. Garages often hold hedge trimmers, table saws, toxic chemicals and other dangerous items alongside scooters and bikes.
An overstuffed garage puts your vehicles at risk, too. When the car door can’t swing open without hitting a wheelbarrow or workbench, it gets dented and dinged. Monica Ricci, a professional organizer who makes appearances on the HGTV show Mission: Organization, says that in many homes, garages are so filled with clutter they stop serving their main purpose.
When your garage is too full to park a car in, that expensive piece of machinery sits out in the elements every day and night while your clutter stays cozy and dry inside, Ricci says.
What kind of sense does that make?
Whether your garage is slightly disheveled or looks more like an overstuffed storage unit, the arrival of fall is an ideal time to give it a tune-up using these steps from organizational experts:
Prepare. Tackling a junk-filled garage is physically demanding. Ecker advises pacing yourself and setting a schedule in advance.
Enlist help. If you can’t afford a professional organizer, recruit relatives or offer to swap labor with a friend who is planning a similar household project. An assistant can help you move heavy objects, keep you motivated and ask objective questions (Do you really use that?), says Ellen Kutner, who runs Simply Organized in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Empty and sort. Empty the contents of the garage out into the driveway and begin sorting it into piles, grouping like things together. Categories will vary by household, but you may start with sporting equipment, tools, hardware, car care, lawn care, seasonal, toys and household goods.
Purge. The next step – paring down your stuff – is the most important. First, toss anything broken or expired. Return borrowed items to their owners. If you own multiples of something, donate the duplicates or sell them. Analyze how often things get used. Find ways to downsize bulky items.
Spruce up the space. While the garage is bare, give it a thorough cleaning.
Build upward. Look at what’s left and figure out where it will live in the garage, placing the most frequently used stuff in the most accessible locations. Install shelving to add vertical storage and get things off the floor. Clear bins are best so you can see what’s inside.
Use hooks to hang ladders, bikes, shovels and rakes. Mount pegboard on the wall to keep tools out of kids’ reach, and put dangerous substances like pesticides on high shelves. The garage ceiling is underutilized, Ricci says.
Maintain. An organizing project is only as good as its upkeep, Kutner says.