By guest writer Jason Bacos
Are you fed up with the mess and clutter in your garage? You are not the only one, most people have an enormous mess in their garage!
A 2019 survey by NAPO (National Association of Productivity & Organization) found that 43.7% of people found the garage to be the most disorganized area in the house. And that’s how I felt too: my garage was a horrendous mess. Somehow, we accumulated so much clutter in our garage that we could not even walk through it.
But we finally did it. We decluttered our garage. We knew that we needed to move to a new house in the next 2 to 3 years, and didn’t want to take this mess with us (I certainly don’t want to ask the movers to pack this up!).
Declutter Before & After Images:
It was not easy. Here is how our one-car garage looked like before:
And here is how it looked after. Granted, it is not perfect. We did not buy additional storage to make it perfect, or did not aim for a total HGTV make-over (Because of the pandemic in 2021, we also wanted to keep a lot of children educational and play activities, food and clothing). We just wanted to re-gain sanity and declutter before a big move. Mission accomplished!
After Several Failures to Declutter our Garage… We Finally Succeeded. Here is How.
At first, we did not have the right plan to tackle the mess in our garage. We just had so much stuff to discard and re-organize that we gave up the first two times we tried. A few months later, we finally got it right, and I’ll explain here what we did differently the third time that really, really worked well for us.
Before we tried again to declutter our garage, we read Christine White’s advice on decluttering on The (mostly) Simple Life, and I will share here the top tips from Christine that were life-savers for us.
The reason that we gave up the first two times was that we tried to do it all at once: we tried to discard items, get new storage boxes, re-organize existing items that we wanted to keep, etc. It just gets overwhelming, and we could not get visible results quickly. So we got discouraged.
So here is what we’ve learned after reading up on the best decluttering practices and spending about 12-15 hours cleaning up and decluttering our garage:
Our Top 5 Tips to Declutter Your Garage
1. Focus on Discarding First (All at Once, Intensively and Completely)
Decluttering expert Marie Kondo wrote: “Start by Discarding, All at Once, Intensively and Completely”. For us, this advice made a big difference because it helped us get visible results very quickly.
By focusing exclusively on discarding first, we were able to clear up significant space in our garage really quick. Once we discarded everything that we needed to get out of our garage, we switched our focus to storage & organization. But we focused on discarding first. It made a world of difference for us. If we found an item that needed to be moved somewhere else (and there were many!), we didn’t move it right away. We first place it it in the “Re-organize” box but didn’t do anything else. To start with, focus exclusively on discarding.
2. Speed Up the Decluttering Process with These 5 Boxes (Sell, Trash, Recycle, Donate, and Re-organize)
Getting these 5 boxes ready ahead of time helped us dramatically speed up the process of decluttering our garage. By getting these boxes ready ahead of time and labeling them, we were able to get significant results within the first two hours. And this gave us the energy and momentum to keep going. The boxes are for items to 1) sell, 2) trash, 3) recycle, 4) donate, and 5) re-organize.
You can see on the image below the 5 boxes/bins that we prepared before starting to declutter our garage. These are not pretty boxes (and they were a bit too small), but they helped us so much.
So my advice is for you to get these boxes ready before you start decluttering your garage. Pick boxes that are as large as possible. But if you only have medium size boxes, don’t sweat it. You can empty these boxes and re-use them pretty easily. The important part is to get these boxes ready before you start your big effort.
If you have a lot of clothes stored in your garage, I also recommend one more box: a “clothes to discard” box. The reason is that it’s relatively easy to find places that will accept clothes, shoes, and linens – even items that are stained or damaged, including clothes collection boxes, thrift stores/Goodwill, and other home pickup services.
When we found items that we wanted to keep but were out of place, we put them in the “reorganize” box. We did not take the time, at least in the first few hours, to find the right spot for each item. Because it would have been too time-consuming. Instead, we focused the first few hours on discarding (Sell, Trash, Donate, Recycle), and it paid off quickly: within a couple of hours, we could see significant results. So we kept going!
3. Plan Ahead to Find out How You Are Going to Get Items Out Of Your House.
I read this advice from Christine on this page before starting to declutter my garage, but made the mistake to ignore it, because I thought I could improvise. I thought – how hard can it be to get items out of the house?
Getting rid of all these items in my garage was definitely more challenging than I thought, and I wish I had plan for all these options straight from the beginning.
We had all kinds of items in our garage and ended up using several options including 1) selling in online marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon and Offer Up, 2) putting items in the trash (weekly track pickup or specialized trash pickup services), and 3) donating valuable, but unusable items (to friends and family or to Goodwill).
Here are a few questions to help you declutter your garage faster: 1) are you going to sell some of the items online? If so, install apps or create accounts on eBay, Amazon, Craiglist and/or Offer Up ahead of time. Once you find items to sell, you will be ready to go. You can even have a “sell online” box, 2) do you have a lot of bulky but valuable items that you could donate? if you do, instead of using a “donation” box, you can setup a “donation area” in your garage for items to be dropped off at Goodwill or picked up by online buyers or family and friends. We did not plan to use Goodwill initially but ended up making 2 trips to donate several bulky items. It would have been helpful to have a dedicated area for this.
To learn more about the different ways you can use to get items out of your garage and out of your house, read this article from Christine: 10 Ways to Get Rid of Stuff Once You’ve Decluttered
4. Are you Done Discarding? You Are Now Ready for Garage Organization.
Do not make the mistake to start with this step to de-clutter your garage. You do not want to buy storage boxes or shelves to organize items that you should discard. Your first step is to discard (see tip number 1). Once you have discarded as many items as possible (Intensively and Completely),you can think about buying specialized garage storage solutions. These solutions will make a huge difference to get your garage organized.
You should come up with a logical storage system to group similar products together. For example, your garage should have different areas to store products for:
- Car & bike maintenance
- Home cleaning
- Sporting goods
- Clothes and shoes
As mentioned earlier, our goal was to declutter most of our garage and re-gain control of the space. We didn’t aim for an HGTV-like garage makeover with fancy (and expensive) garage storage. However, did we have solid shelves and storage boxes that made the process a lot easier. Here are a few of our favorite options for garage storage solutions:
Specialized Garage Storage.
Expensive (About $1,200 to $2,000), but high quality and aestatically pleasing for a garage.
Storage Shelves: Great for a Garage. We already had 3 of these. These shelves are super solid and helped us store children’s play and learning activities (including arts and crafts), holiday decor, and a lot of food & drinks. These shelvs are very sturdy, provide plenty of storage room, and are not as expensive as specialized garage storage (they cost only about $60 to $120 per unit). Check out this garage storage unit on Amazon for a great budget solution.
Stackable Transparent Storage Boxes.: This is the cheapest solution and will work great for stuff you don’t need to access very often. Simply stack the boxes on top of each other. This is a great budget solution to declutter and organize your garage. We used about 10-12 of these boxes.
Regardless of your storage solutions, you should think about labeling them clearly to make sure that the right products going to the right storage areas, and communicating with your spouse or parnter to make sure everyone is aware of the new organization system.
Related Video on Garage Storage System
Our effort to declutter our garage was simply to clear up space. If you want to go all-in and build a new storage organization system, you should watch this TV episode where garage organizer Adam helps a couple sort out a messy garage with innovative storage solutions.
Typical Garage Items to Dispose of:
In most garages, you will find old paint buckets, batteries and other toxic materials. You will want to dispose of these products appropriately. Here are a few links that will be helpful for you to identify the next steps and find the right drop-off locations for recycling:
5. Make Decluttering Your Garage a Little… FUN
Decluttering your garage is probably going to be a long projet. You will be tempted to give up, and it is very important to keep the momentum going. Take before and after pictures (Who doesn’t love a good before and after transformation?). Taking before and after pictures of the garage you are decluttering will: (1) Make it more fun and exciting to see the make-over. (2) Keep you motivated!
You should also work on this project with someone else to make it more fun. Work with your spouse to make this a joint process. Or enlist the help of a friend. Socializing while you declutter your garage instantly makes it … a little more fun. And you will need some fun to get this done!
Learn more: 8 Ways to Make Decluttering Fun.
Learn More About Decluttering
Visit our guide to declutter your home.