The Ultimate Spring Cleaning Guide: Garage Organization Overhaul

This guide to spring cleaning your garage will help take you step-by-step from disorganized to organized. Keeping your garage clean and organized will cut down on frustration and time wasted looking for things.

If your garage has been a sore spot for years, getting it clean and organized right now, this year, can have an enormous positive effect on your life and your outlook.

No matter how bad it is, getting your garage clean and organized is a simple, straightforward process that you can complete in a single weekend. You will learn how to start at the beginning and go step-by-step until your garage is clean and organized.

A simple system and a few tricks will also help you keep your garage clean and organized throughout the year without much effort.

Before Spring Cleaning Your Garage, Decide On Its Purpose

So, what exactly is the purpose of your garage? While that may seem obvious at first, your garage may or may not be where you want to park the car. Maybe you have limited space and would rather use your garage for a workshop or a home gym. Maybe you do want to be able to park your car in the garage but can’t currently manage it because there’s too much stuff in the way.

Most people have a multipurpose approach to their garages out of necessity. Most of us face issues of limited space, and some more than others. Cars, storage, trashcans, hobbies, exercise equipment, lawn mowers, laundry and various appliances is a lot to squeeze into a typically limited space.

This Garage Spring Cleaning Guide can help you get your garage cleaned out and set up to maximize storage and work space and improve efficiency.

Spring Cleaning Your Garage Begins With Some Goal Setting

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not likely to get there. Here are the main goals you’ll be working toward:

1. Resolve any ongoing frustrations and problem areas
2. Remove everything that doesn’t belong in your garage
3. Create a place for everything, and put everything in its place
4. Set up a simple system that will help you keep your garage clean and organized year-round

Problem Areas Checklist

Make a list of the problem areas in your garage. Problem areas are those constant aggravations you encounter in your garage that have nothing to do with being organized. Does the door knob stick? Is the garage door hard to open? Is there enough light, or are you constantly frustrated as you root around trying to find things in the dark? Problem areas. Identify them because later, at the end of the spring cleaning, you’re going to resolve them and make your life a whole lot nicer.

What You’ll Need
Trash can(s) and trash bags
Permanent marker
Labels (masking tape won’t work as it’s designed to not stick to things)
A piece of paper and a pen to make your lists
Cleaning stuff (broom, rags or paper towels, spray cleaner, maybe a mop and bucket)
Gloves (if getting your hands dirty bothers you)

Shelves are useful but you don’t need to have shelves for everything. You can simply stack bins one on top of another. Shelves are really useful for storing things that may give off fumes or tend to spill and leak like bottles of cleaner and car polish and windshield washer fluid.

Safety Tip: If you have a gas (including propane) water heater or furnace in your garage, you’ll want to find another location to store things with flammable fumes like gasoline cans and equipment that runs on gasoline like weed eaters and lawn mowers.

Buying Shelves

Buying Shelves

If you don’t have any shelves in your garage, plan on buying or making at least one shelving unit. If you’re just storing stuff like extra paper towels, you can get away with some light-duty shelves. If you’ve got tools and paint cans and other heavy items, you’ll need to get some shelves that can handle some weight. You can buy fairly inexpensive vinyl utility shelves at most of the big hardware stores or you can splurge and buy some serious heavy-duty shelving.

Some of the best heavy-duty shelves are Muscle Rack shelves which come in a couple of sizes and are available at Lowe’s for less than $100. Home Depot sells a similar type of shelf, but it doesn’t hold as much weight and, once assembled, it leaves dangerous protruding metal corners on the top.

An Easy Work Bench And Counter Space

The Muscle Rack can be assembled vertically or split in half to make a two low shelves that can also double as a workbench. If you have room for the side-by-side layout, the Muscle Rack also gives you more counter space. These shelves are very heavy and you’ll likely need help getting them in and out of the car. If you’re going to use them as a workbench, you may want to consider covering all or part of it with a 3/4 inch plywood or even with a counter top that you can have made at Lowe’s or Home Depot.
Bins and Containers — Your Starter Kit
Chances are you’ll be making more than one trip to buy bins. You just need a handful to get started sorting stuff. Laundry baskets work too for sorting, but be sure to check with the laundry master of the household before putting a bunch of grungy car parts in them.

Bins aren’t cheap. They seem cheap, but they can add up quickly if you’re organizing your garage for the first time. You can find bins anywhere, but your best bet any day of the week is Walmart or Target. Expect to pay twice as much for bins anywhere else you go. Walmart and Target also have frequent sales on bins and usually have the best variety.

Take a look around your garage. What kind of stuff do you have and how much? What size bins will be most useful for you. To achieve a less cluttered look, try to minimize the number of different size bins you use. You’ll need a handful of sizes from small, shoe box size bins to large bins around 18 gallons or even larger depending on what kind of stuff you need to organize.

If you have lots of little parts and pieces, you might want to get a little bin organizer or two or three. It’s basically a box with a bunch of little drawers in it. You can sit these on your work bench, stack them or hang them on the wall. You can also use plastic mayonnaise jars, peanut butter jars or margarine tubs or whatever suits you.

Whew! Now It’s Time To Actually Start Cleaning Out Your Garage

Give yourself enough time to get the job done. If you’ve never organized your garage before and there are no discernible walking paths through the debris, plan to give yourself a full weekend. No matter how cluttered and overwhelming your garage is, you can get it cleaned up in a single weekend.

If you’re able to actually park your car in your garage, you’ll need to begin by moving the car out. If your car doesn’t currently fit in your garage because of the piles and stacks and heaps, you get to skip this step.


Where To Begin
Okay, you’ve been standing in the middle of your garage for ten minutes open-mouthed and dazed, staring at the sea of stuff piled and crammed into your garage. Where do you begin?

First, open the doors and windows and let in some light and fresh air. Music is often helpful. Pick something with some energy and attitude, something that makes you feel good.

Begin where you entered the garage. The entry is one of the most important spaces in your garage. It’s also typically the cleanest. Your goal is to create a single clean oasis and then spread out from there. Save the biggest disaster for last. You’ll need your trash can by your side.

How To Begin
Start where you are. Trash can parked at your side. Pick something up. Anything at all. Look at it. Now proceed through the following series of questions and actions. Continue, item by item, until you’re done.

Is This Trash?

If your answer is yes, throw it away and pick up another item. If it’s not trash, go on to the next question.


Do I Want This?

If your answer is no, you can either throw it in the trash can or set up a “get rid of it” bin. You can donate it to charity or have a yard sale.

If you don’t know what it is, but think you might need it, set up a “miscellaneous” bin. The only things that go in your miscellaneous bin are (a) things you can’t identify and (b) things that look like an important piece of something.

If you do want to keep the item you’re holding, move on to the next question.

Does This Belong In The Garage?
If you know it belongs somewhere else, start a bin or pile for stuff that goes somewhere else. You might need a few of these for different locations. If the item does belong in the garage, move on to the next question.

Is There A Better Place For This Than Where I Found It?
Remember, the space around the entry door is sacred. Save this space for the stuff you use all the time. If the item isn’t something you need often, it doesn’t belong by the door. If you’ve previously organized your garage, march the item over to the general vicinity where it belongs.

If you’ve never organized your garage before or your current system isn’t working, you’re going to need to take a little detour before you can go any further.


Divide Your Garage Into Zones

Everyone’s garage and stuff is different. Some people are DIY junkies and have tools galore while others are into gardening or hobbies or cars. You need to decide what kind of stuff you have and break it down into zones. Some typical zones might include different areas in the garage for:

trash cans, trash bags and recycling bins
handled tools like brooms and rakes and snow shovels
shelves and cabinets and the all the stuff that goes in or on them
gardening stuff
auto stuff
tools and hardware
laundry and cleaning items including washers and dryers
toys in use and toys in storage
hobby stuff like crafts and model airplanes
freezer and pantry items liked canned foods, extra soda and water
lawn mower, weed whacker, and edger
holiday stuff
family heirlooms you never use
exercise gear
leisure stuff you rarely use including bicycles, tents and sleeping bags, fishing poles, golf clubs, etc.
leisure stuff you do use often including bicycles, tents, golf clubs, fishing poles, etc.

Remember, the stuff you use all the time goes close to the door, and the stuff you never ever use goes all the way in the back and as high up as you can get it.

In addition to the area by the door, all areas within easy arm’s reach are prime real estate in your garage. Nothing you can live without goes in this space. It goes up high or way behind or underneath other stuff.

Decide On Your Zones
Remember, the goal is to create a place for everything so that you can put everything in its place. The first step is to get everything into the right zone. Decide where stuff is going to go. Then begin moving everything into the right zone. Once you’ve got stuff generally where it goes, you’ll be able to easily fine tune your organizing setup.


How To Make Room For Stuff When Your Zones Are Already Full
Simply clear a small area in each zone where you can pile all the stuff that actually belongs there. Keep moving stuff in and pushing aside everything that doesn’t belong there.

If you run out of space in a zone, just move some of the stuff that doesn’t belong there over to the disaster corner. Never clutter up the newly cleaned spaces behind you with stuff that doesn’t belong there. Just keep heaping everything into the disaster corner as necessary.

By the time you actually get to the disaster corner, the rest of your garage will be organized, and you’ll find that the disaster corner is actually relatively easy and fast to sort through and move to the proper zones.

Stick To The Plan
You’ll be doing a lot of walking back and forth. That’s just part of the process. Start by the door and move each item you’re keeping to the correct zone. Set it down and go straight back to where you were and pick up another item. Don’t get distracted and decide to clean up a different area instead.

Especially don’t decide to clean up the disaster corner. Save that for last. Getting distracted is a really good way to start to feel overwhelmed by the task and give up before you’re done. One item at a time will get you where you want to go.


Sorting Your Piles
Once you’ve got everything into the proper zone, you’ll need to sort it further into smaller piles. These small piles will then go into bins that you will label. You can sort stuff straight into bins or into piles first. Sorting things into piles can be helpful in deciding what size bins you’ll need and whether or not you need to make any changes to where you’ve decided to keep things.

Proceed item by item, grouping things by similarity whether by activity or project or type. Most of these piles will end up in bins with labels on them. Common bins might include pet items, sport accessories, gardening, holiday decorations sorted by holiday, paint brushes and rollers, etc.

Once You’ve Got Everything Sorted Into Zones And Piles

From here, it’s just a matter of putting things into bins or onto shelves. If you have a tool box, use it to store only your most frequently used tools. If you have a peg board, the only tools hanging on it should be things you use regularly.

Items that go on your shelves should be grouped by similarity as well. Stack all the paint together. Put all of the car polishes and sprays together. Remember to reserve the shelves at eye level for frequently used items. The exception to this is any toxic items like bug sprays and cleansers. You’ll want to keep those items up off the floor if you have children or pets.

Labeling Is A Must

Labeling your bins will help you find things more quickly and will help you put things away more quickly. You want to include items on the labels that will help you know generally what’s in the bin without having to open it. You don’t want to include all of the contents because that will only slow you down when you’re trying to find things. Limit your labels to at most about a half a dozen descriptions.

Once you’ve got everything into bins, you can put the bins on the shelves if you have room or just stack them up along the wall. Remember to keep the more frequently used bins within easy reach. Stuff you never use goes on the bottom of the stack.

How To Keep Your Garage Clean And Organized Year-Round
After spring cleaning your garage, you need an easy system to keep it cleaned and organized all year. You need two bins. A large one and a small one the size of a shoe box. You may be familiar with the concept of an “in box.” These two bins will serve as your in boxes for your garage. Call them in your “in bins.”

Place your in boxes as close to the entry door as possible. Ideally, if you have an entry door that opens from inside the house out into the garage, you should be able to lean out of the garage door and toss stuff into your in boxes without even entering the garage.

Ideally, you would simply take a few moments any time you used something in the garage to put it back where you got it. Spending just a few minutes each time would keep your garage clean and organized throughout the year. But, let’s be realistic. The beauty of the in boxes is that you don’t have to actually put stuff away as you use it. You can just pile it up for a while.


Using Your In Bins To Keep Your Garage Organized

Here’s how it works. If you’re inside the house and you’ve got something that needs to go to the garage, you just open the door and wing it into the bin. If it’s big, it goes in the big bin. If it’s some little gadget, it goes in the small bin.

What if you’re in the garage and you’ve finished a project and can’t quite bring yourself to put anything away? Just pick up the stuff and drop it into the bins on your way out of the garage.

The Secret To Making Your New System Work

All you have to do is decide (yes, right now) that you will set up your in boxes and that you will empty your in boxes when they’re full. Yes, you can stack stuff. That’s all there is to it. It seems silly, but making the decision right now will actually help you go ahead and do it when the time comes.

Think of it like the kitchen trashcan. There’s a limit to how high you can stack stuff in the trash can before you have to just give in and empty the trash bag. Same thing with your garage in boxes. Decide right now that you’re going to empty them when they get full. Reinforce your decision by reminding yourself every time you put something in the in boxes that you’ll empty them when they get full. A little note can help remind you.

Using in boxes will help keep the garage disorganization from getting completely out of hand. Using your in boxes also helps reduce the time you spend looking for stuff. If you use your in bins faithfully, then every time you’re looking for something and it’s not where it belongs, you’ll know exactly where to look.

Another Way To Keep Your System Going

Put a reminder on your calendar every month to go through the in boxes and put everything away. Use the same process you used to get the garage clean. If you can manage to process the bins every month, it may take as little as 15 minutes to get everything back where it belongs.

You can also use the in boxes to keep yourself organized in stages. What if, instead of putting things “away” into your in boxes, you just left it lying all over the place? It happens. You don’t actually have to put it all away right off the bat. You can pre-clean your garage instead.

Pre-Cleaning Is Almost Like Cleaning
If you’ve managed not to put anything into your in boxes, pre-cleaning is a simple way to break down cleaning your garage into manageable chunks. Just go into the garage, grab your big in bin and drag it around the garage behind you. Put everything that isn’t where it belongs into the bin. Then drag the bin back by the door. You’re done. You’ve just pre-cleaned your garage. You can either continue and empty the bin now or leave it until later.

Emptying Your In Boxes

The next step is to process the contents of your big in bin. This will sound familiar. Take out the first item. Ask yourself, “Is this trash?” Keep going. If you can’t bring yourself to put everything away, try breaking it down into smaller tasks by only putting away the big stuff. Anything small can go in the small in bin which you can put off until another time.

What If You Still Can’t Keep Your Garage Clean?

If you find yourself ignoring your monthly reminder to clean up the garage or find it otherwise impossible to keep the garage organized, try setting up a “trigger” to help you remember. The trick is to tie “clean out the in bins” with some other garage task that you are already doing.

You need to pick a task in your garage that you already do on a fairly regular basis like mowing the lawn. Decide that every time you go to the garage to get the lawn mower, you will first put everything in your in bins back where it belongsbefore you do the other task.

If you’re mowing the lawn every week, cleaning out your in bin probably won’t take more than a couple of minutes. For a little extra reminder, try putting a note on the lawn mower or whatever trigger you’re using.

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You’re Almost Done
Keeping your garage clean and organized is an ongoing process. Sometimes it’ll be clean and organized and other times, well, much less so. Deciding where things go and using in boxes along with regular attempts at putting things back where they belong will go a long way toward making your garage a less stressful environment.

Your Problem List
Small annoyances can add up to be frustrations and can turn your garage into a place you avoid at all costs. If you haven’t made your list yet, do so now. Just start at the entry door and try to recall all of the things that aggravate you about your garage.

If you can never find the trash bags or digging them out is annoying, move them next to the trash cans. If the door sticks, fix it or find someone else to fix it. If the broom is always falling over and annoying you, pick up a cheap wall hook.

If it’s too dark to find anything, you’ll avoid the garage. Instead, pick up an inexpensive shop light or two. You can buy a two-bulb fluorescent fixture for about $10 at Lowe’s and Home Depot. You just hang them up on screw-in hooks and plug them in to any wall outlet. You can use an extension cord if necessary.

Taking care of the problem areas in your garage will help reduce frustration and make your garage a more usable space. If you’re feeling inspired, try to get as much done on your list as possible during your spring cleaning frenzy. Otherwise, try to set aside time each weekend to work on the problem areas. There are often easy, inexpensive solutions to many of the problems you might face.