Recently, I spent most of one Sunday helping friends of mine clear out their garage. For over three years since moving into their house, they used it as a dumping ground for old supplies from previous jobs, packaging for new appliances, boxes of books, childhood keepsakes, household supplies, bags of old clothes, and countless forgotten/random items.
At the beginning of the day, I stood in front of their mountain of stuff. It was daunting, to say the least. They had their own Mt. Everest hidden inside their garage, but at the end of the day, that mountain had all but vanished.
Before I get ahead of myself, here are some tips to consider before you even attempt to conquer the pile in your garage:
- Choose a time of year and day that offers the ideal and most comfortable weather conditions for outside work. Cleaning out a garage is labor intensive. The last thing you need is to contend with blistering summer heat, rain, or bitter cold temperatures. Mid-to-late spring, early fall, and overcast days are ideal times. When the outdoor temperatures feel like cozy air conditioning, you don’t have a sweltering sun blazing a hole through your back.
- Plan to do all of the work in one day. Honestly, cleaning out a garage full of dusty stuff is not fun. It is a moldy debacle that can be overwhelming. By giving it one day, you force yourself to make quicker and more instinctual decisions about what to get rid of. You also do not extend and belabor the misery of this work for more than you have to.
- Gather people to help. Whether you find one person or five, the more people you have, the more quickly and easily the work will get done.
- Make space for the day in your driveway and front/back yard just outside of the garage door. This means parking all cars and moving any large objects far away so that there is space to maneuver all objects into and out of the garage.
- Have delicious food and water readily available for you and your helpers. This work is not easy, but yummy food and drinks tend to significantly lessen the blow.
- Have clear containers, milk crates, and plastic boxes of varying sizes available to store items. Being able to see the contents of each box saves you the work of digging through them to see what’s inside (as well as having to write-up or stick on a label). Cardboard boxes, despite their ease of use and availability, are not ideal for storing anything. You cannot see inside them. They tend to buckle or wilt over time (especially if they somehow get wet) and depending on their contents, are not easily stackable. Don’t use them.
- Make a plan with specific dates and times for when you will drop off donated and recyclable items and dispose of trash. It’s possible that with help this can be done on the same day as the garage clearing, but regardless of whenever it happens, the most important thing is that it actually does. This is the part that finishes the job.
- Determine two or three specific purposes for your garage. Whether you want to have organized general storage, a place to keep household or lawn appliances, a workspace for special projects, or merely a place to park your car. It is important to know what you want to use your garage for. This will help you determine what items you need to keep and how to organize your space.
- Plan to start the work day as early in the morning as possible. Make sure your helpers can be there at the appointed time and can stay as long as possible.
Now on to the actual clearing. Here is a sequence of actions, in this particular order, that I would recommend.
- Take everything out of the garage and spread it all out across the driveway and/or yard. (Be mindful not to branch out into your neighbor’s lot unless you know for sure that they are okay with it.) As you do this, start putting all similar items together such as boxes of books or kitchenware.
- Once everything is out of the garage, start building large categories of similar items by grouping them together. Childhood keepsakes and memorabilia could be gathered in one pile, for example, and you can keep adding to the stack of books that you may have already started. Make these groupings as clearly defined as possible and use as much space as you want. The beauty of this step is seeing the mountain of stuff broken down into smaller parts. Here are examples of different categories/groupings:
Automotive parts and/or tools
Cardboard, plastic bags, and other recyclable items
Empty plastic containers
Lawncare equipment and chemicals
Bags such as extra purses or old luggage
- Determine which categories have the most items that will not return to the garage. This can be several pieces of older furniture, back issues of magazines, or empty liquid product containers like Drano or motor oil. From each category, start creating the following piles:
Back in the garage.
Somewhere in the house
The goal during this step is to make the “Recycling” and “Donate” piles much larger than the other two categories. The more you can remove from your garage and home, the less stuff you’ll have to deal with overall.
- Among the items you have decided to keep, start putting them in stackable and clear plastic containers. (Coverless shoe boxes are a versatile option that you can use for small items that can go on shelving.)
- Before you put items back in your garage, sweep or vacuum the floor and remove as much dust from the walls as possible. Move and group any large, oddly-shaped, or bulky items that take up too much room toward any available corners (a push lawnmower with a long handle that sticks out or an old fridge comes to mind). They will generally take up less space and be more out of the way when arranged at or near a corner of the room.
- Make sure that you create a wide and open space in the middle of the garage. As you start to methodically move items back in, a good goal is to start stacking and storing along the walls. Leave the floor as wide open and clear as you can.
- Stack and store upwards. Also, screw in hooks or nails onto walls from which you can hang different items.
- At the end of the day, there should be a clear and open space in the middle of the garage. All items need to be accounted for whether they are staying in the building, being recycled, or donated to a Goodwill or a friend.
There you have it. This post is meant to be a quick guide to anyone who is fed up with having piles of stuff in their garage. I would recommend stretching this out over two days or an entire weekend if the mountain of stuff in your garage is MASSIVE in an ungodly way. Also, recruit a lot of help.
Thanks for reading and good luck.
May the force be with your garage and your sanity.