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

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

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.