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Vicki Norris
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Getting the Most Out of Your Vacation

Organizing Photo Albums

Manage Paper without Arson, Part I

Manage Paper without Arson, Part 2

Organizing Your Household Move

Hassle-Free Camping

How Did I get So Disorganized?

Reclaim Time for Your Priorities

The Organized Home Office

The Pruning Principle

Six Common Organizing Mistakes

Getting Organized

Reclaim Your Messy Garage

Vicki Norris
Restoring Order Spring is here and as the sun begins to shine through our windows, our itch to tidy up our homes returns. As you dig out your lawn mower and patio furniture, are you embarrassed to leave your garage door open very long? Have your cars long ago been booted from their rightful home to make room for more clutter? Are you taunted by the teetering stacks and piles crowding every inch of your garage?

As my organizing column gathers momentum, I thought I would spend some of these first articles giving you a new perspective on organizing and addressing some key household hot spots of disorder. Last week, I shared some foundational planning steps for establishing a successful home office. As a professional organizer I can tell you the office is the most requested space in the home. From my experience, however, it’s the good old garage that is the most contentious space in the home! Husbands and wives have spent untold hours bickering about this closed-in carport! Why? Because the garage acts as a household receptacle!

The Step and Toss™

So, how do our garages get so cluttered and neglected? The garage is the one place where we toss everything that doesn’t have a home! If you don’t know where you put it, you toss it in the garage! If you want to get it out of your way or out of your sight, you toss it in the garage. You simply step inside the door (afraid to go much further into the abyss) and toss whatever is in your hand.

When you find yourself using your garage as a receptacle, examine the root problem. Usually, items are being tossed in the garage for two reasons. First, it’s likely that you haven’t resolved all your organizing challenges within the home. If you had, for example, a designated space for overflow pantry items inside, you would not open the garage door and launch cereal boxes or paper towels into this vortex of miscellany. If you had a “home” for utility items inside in your laundry room, you wouldn’t shove light bulbs and batteries into any space they fit. If you haven’t taken the time to “purpose” your interior storage, you will likely turn to the only obvious storage locale in the home: the garage. Second, if the garage captures your cast-offs, it’s likely you’ve never given yourself a total garage overhaul.

In many garages, our organizers uncover “time capsules” which is the frightening outcome of your Step and Toss behavior. A time capsule could be a beach bag with magazines, a work project, and a half eaten apple from last month. It could be the “company is coming” cardboard box from last summer, filled with unopened mail, school work, and bills. Time capsules suck in important information and belongings, and they often mysteriously find their way to the garage.

Strategies to Help You Address Your Mess

1. Work on the garage last. It is much easier to tackle a garage after you have organized the rest of the house. The garage tends to be a dumping ground for all the “unknowns” throughout the house. If you know where everything goes within the home, when you organize your garage, many items can be re-located inside. When you come across luggage in your garage, and you’ve previously determined that all luggage will live in your basement, this luggage can be re-united with its counterparts in the basement. When you find boxes of archival paper and memorabilia stuck in the dark corners of your garage and you’ve already decided that the upstairs hall closet will store all memorabilia, you know just what to do with those boxes you’ve just uncovered. When the inside of your home makes sense, determining the appropriate contents of your garage will be much easier.

2. Set aside enough time to work on your project. I recommend dedicating back-to-back days (like an entire weekend) to work on your garage organization project so items that are being sorted do not have to sit out in piles for long.

3. Hire an expert or assemble a team of people to work on the project, or it may turn into an overwhelming task that will be abandoned part way through. Also, be sure to identify a project manager to provide direction for the crew.

4. Consider what categories of items you want to store in your garage. Does luggage really have to live there, or can it live in the attic, or an indoor closet? Should chemicals live in the garage, or can you relegate them to the garden shed? Some typical categories of items that are housed in the garage are:

  1. Recycling
  2. Overflow pantry and household supplies
  3. Sports and recreational equipment
  4. Camping gear
  5. Automotive supplies
  6. Seasonal décor
  7. Yard and garden supplies
  8. Utility items like tools and hardware

5. Once you know what categories of items should “live” in your garage, begin pulling everything out of your garage to begin your discovery process. As each item comes out of the garage, place it into a box and give the box a category name. Label the box with its category name. Arrange these category boxes in the driveway, or center of your garage. Obtain lots of boxes in a variety of sizes since items of all descriptions, from huge paint cans to nuts and bolts, will need to be sorted.

6. Reconsider, trash, or donate items. Once items have been consolidated by like type, you can then begin assessing what you use and what you don’t use. You will likely find items that have a better destination within the home. You will also find belongings that can be donated to your favorite charity, others that are broken, and still others that can wait till the end of your project for you to determine a proper place for it. Now is the time to purge any excess, broken, or unnecessary items.

7. Determine where you want each type of item to live by frequency of use and available space. Recycling should live near the entrance to the home for ease of use. Hardware should live near the workbench, and so on. Think about your most “valuable real estate” when you are considering available space. Parking space and those shelves at eye level or within reach are “valuable real estate.” Less valuable real estate would be very high or low shelves, and should be reserved for less frequently accessed items.

8. Install additional built-in cabinets or obtain modular storage if needed. Now and only now should you begin shopping for product (storage shelving and bins) since you are now aware of exactly what you want to store and how much needs to be stored together. Most people make the mistake of getting the plastic bins, shelving, or even an expensive built-in system before they’ve gone through the instructive process of sorting and categorizing. You can save money and stress if you hold off buying product until the right time in the process.

If you choose a built-in system, you’ll have to pause the re-loading process until your customized system is installed. Keep the labels on your category boxes, and arrange them in the middle of your garage so the install can take place around the perimeter.

9. Re-locate remaining items into their new sensible destination within the garage. This is the re-loading process. If you have held off buying product, you can now use the correct bins, boxes, and storage containers to store your belongings and establish systems that really work for your family. Involve everyone in the reloading process and they will feel more ownership about where things should go.

10. Commit to a regular schedule of maintenance for your newly organized garage. Promptly put things away after using them, and order will truly be restored! Get quarterly or bi-annual garage maintenance on your calendar. If it doesn’t make it onto your calendar, it is far less likely to happen.

This strategic plan for organizing garages works for me and my professional organizers as we tackle garages across America and it can work for you, too! If you dedicate the time and follow my process, you’ll no longer be embarrassed to leave your garage door open on a sunny day!

Some parts adapted from Restoring Order™ to Your Home a room-by-room household organizing guidecopyright ©2007 by Vicki Norris (available in bookstores and at  Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.

V icki Norris is an expert organizer, business owner, speaker, television personality, and author who inspires people to live out their priorities. Norris is a regular on HGTV’s nationally syndicated
Mission: Organization, and is a recurrent source and contributor to national lifestyle publications including Quick & Simple magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Real Simple magazine. Norris’ premiere book Restoring Order™ : Organizing Strategies to Reclaim Your Life™ (copyright 2006) is also published by Harvest House Publishers.

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