Weekend DIY: Organize your garage

North Americans are funny: we pack our garages full of worthless stuff–half-empty paint cans, broken rakes, old bikes–while our pricy cars sit open on the driveway, vulnerable to theft and weather. Save for crawlspaces, the garage is the first room to fall prey to packrat mentality. And yet it can offer so much.

Springtime is a great time to clean the garage. For one, the warm weather makes a day outside not so bad; second, it’s yard-sale season, and if your garage is packed to the gills, chances are there’s a few items you could get rid of. But before you empty out the space and ram things back in, consider ways of using your garage.

If you’ve ever worked in a professional kitchen or even just watched shows on the Food Network, you’re likely familiar with the French term “mise en place,” which, loosely, translates to “put in place” or “prepared and ready to use.” This term is useful when planning a garage: will you merely make room for a car or do you want to create space to use on a regular basis, such as a workshop for woodworking or gardening, cold storage, or a place to stow sports equipment?

Here are four tips to help you on your road to garage organization.

1. Make a list

So, where to begin? Writing down your ideas–what you want to keep and get rid of; how you want to use the newly freed space–turns this project from a rainy-day someday into a project you will actually tackle. Then when it comes to the job, it won’t seem so overwhelming because you will have a plan.

2. Don’t let anything touch the floor

Speaking of plans, the cardinal goals here are the same for almost all homeowners: Getting things up off the floor (solves both space and moisture-related issues) and grouping similar items (so you can find things–remember, mise en place!).

3. Use every available inch of space

Getting things off the floor means using every square inch of wall space, plus ceiling space wherever possible, such as storage space by installing overhead storage, shelving and cabinets to put stuff away. Like the ever-toppling Tupperware cupboard in my kitchen that empties onto the floor whenever I open the door, my garage is overflowing with falling rakes and shovels that I always seem to stumble over. Solution: install a peg board and hang these items on the wall or place them in a narrow barrel if you’ve got ample floor space.

4. Categorize your stuff

Don’t just fill drawers or you’ll slowly cram all the cabinets with junk again. You need to categorize based on type, season, frequency of use, and so on.

One simple solution is to label bins or cabinets so that you can easily grab, for example, electrical tape when you need to fix the lawnmower. Specify storage for particular jobs–electrical, plumbing, moving (ropes, bungee cords), painting to reduce redundancies and keep things at-the-ready. For general-use items–WD40, duct tape, wrenches and pliers, rags–don’t stow them away; rather, keep them together in a quick-to-grab spot.

Now that you’re mentally prepared, stop waiting for a rainy day–or worse, a scorcher in July when you should be relaxing–and turn your garage into a room with a view, or, at least a room you can walk around in.

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