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Organizing the garage

When I was a kid, there was a garage in the neighborhood that blew my tidy little mind. There was nothing in it except a car and a water heater and both were reflected in the painted and polished surface of the floor. I used to ride my bike past the house just to ogle the garage. I’ve yet to come across another garage as freakishly clean and empty.

Garages are used for many things, but rarely do they simply shelter cars. They tend to be stuffed full of things, cold in the winter, hot in the summer, dirty, bug and rodent-ridden and just plain nasty. Many of us can’t even fit a car between the boxes of college textbooks, old stereo equipment and Uncle Eddie’s sofa. Where do you start?

As with any organizing project, start in one area at a time. Although I insist on emptying an entire closet when I work with clients, the garage is a different animal; bigger, dirtier and sometimes, it bites. Don’t worry about purchasing containers and shelving in advance; start by purging and sorting.

Create zones for your stuff: painting supplies, cleaning supplies, car supplies, household items, wine cellar, chest freezer, out-of-season clothes, gardening supplies, camping gear, gun safe — whatever you store needs it’s own zone. As you sort, put like with like in the zone you’ve designated for those items.

Do you have a paint can collection dating to the ’60s? Find out where you can either recycle your paint or dispose of it properly. If you have new or nearly full cans of paint in colors that you still may need, put them all together. Your painting supplies should be stored near the paint. If your brushes and rollers were not cleaned properly after last use, you will have to toss them. Make a note of what you have and what you need for your next painting project and keep it as a memo in your PDA, computer or in a household maintenance file.

Tools are a common item to find in a garage, and if you have more than a small portable box’s worth of tools I strongly encourage the purchase of a heavy duty tool box with several shallow drawers and on casters. Group like with like: wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers, etc. Keep extension cords rolled up and off the floor — hanging on pegs is my favorite solution for organizing cords, chain and ropes.

Gardening tools may also be stored in the garage. Again, keep them together, and up off of the floor if possible; I like the Rubbermaid racks  (www.rubbermaid.com) for rakes, hoes, brooms and such. If you’re not handy with a level and a drill, you’ll need some help to get these racks put up straight and strong.

Car care items, such as Armor All, wax, towels for drying, chamois, etc. should be stored in a plastic bin or two — don’t store things in super large bins that become too heavy and unmanageable. For women, 30 pounds is about maximum for comfortable lifting.

When you get sections of floor cleared and exposed, take the opportunity to sweep or vacuum. If you see signs of rodents, now’s the time to set a few traps along the perimeter of the space.

Last, is your garage storage for Christmas decorations, Halloween costumes, keepsakes and out-of-season clothing? These things need to be especially well packed because they can be ruined so easily by pests, water or mildew. Be sure to use plastic bins with tightly fitting lids, and try to keep to all the same brand, style and color of bins. I’ve been to too many client’s homes where they had a dozen bins and a dozen lids but none of them were a match. Make it easy on yourself and stick to one brand. Sterilite and Rubbermaid (both at Target) are my favorites. But watch out — within each brand are many styles, each with their own particular lids.

Does your car fit yet? We’ll look at more ideas for organizing your garage in upcoming columns. Who knows, maybe you’ll make room for the little convertible you’ve been dreaming about.