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6 Garage-Organizing Tips That Really Work

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By cleaning out her garage in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Mikki Lesowitz-Soliday made room for craft tables, a sewing station and plenty of art supplies. (Houzz)

Garages tend to become dumps for just about everything. Because they’re such big open spaces, they're easy targets for that suitcase that won't fit in the closet, the rollerblades your daughter doesn't want to give away yet, and anything else that doesn't have a set place.

But Saturday is National Clean Out Your Garage Day, the perfect reason to roll up your sleeves and dive head first into the clutter. Sound impossible? Not if you break it down into steps. Here are 6 tips to help you clean your way to a neat and organized garage — where you may even have room to park the car.

Photos: Get inspired by 6 well-organized garages

1. Use as much vertical and ceiling space as possible. This rule is particularly important if you're planning to keep your car here. Make sure you'll have room to pull the car in without running into — or over — anything. 

For Janet Henry in Illinois, getting everything up and off of the floor was a priority, so removing as much junk as possible was a must. "The biggest challenge was just getting started," she says. After a yard sale, it took her three days to paint the walls, scour the floor, and paint the cabinetry to get the garage spic and span. "I make it a point to sweep it out and wipe things up every week,” she says. “I want it to stay nice for a long time."

Janet’s goal was to create a space that was clean, organized, and presentable when the garage door was open. Luckily, she has a shed and a basement where extra-large equipment can go. This is a great solution for anyone who has a smaller garage; small storage sheds can be built and installed relatively inexpensively. "Just driving into a nice, clean space is great," Janet says.

Getting stuff off the floor was also a priority for Sarah of the blog, Thrifty Decor Chick. Her garage had become like so many others: a place to store every possible bit of clutter. She picked up some holders from the hardware store for brooms, rakes and mops — anything with a handle. Heavy-duty hooks took care of the rest.

Originally, Sarah had simple open-wire shelving for the back of her garage, but the open shelves ended up discouraging organization. Everyone would shove things onto the shelves until they became a mishmash. Later she invested in a few simple closed-storage pieces from Target. The cabinet doors made all the difference.

2. Before reorganizing, try taking everything out of your garage. Looking at the space you have as a blank canvas can give you a better idea of what you're working with. Ivan Prefer of Hillsdale, New Jersey has a vertical storage setup similar to the previous two garages, but has also incorporated a neat and tidy workshop area towards the back. Working with a clean slate can help you decide which areas are best to designate for certain activities.

3. Decide what to keep, what to donate, and what to throw away. When you find yourself questioning a particular item, ask yourself: 

-Do I love it?

-Do I need it?

-When was the last time I used this?

-If I donated it, could it be safely used by another person?

Clearing out clutter is incredibly satisfying, and odds are you won't really miss that fifth spare tennis racket. When in doubt, donate or toss it. Recycle and donate as much as possible, and dispose of paint and other hazardous waste safely.

4. Group like items together so they're easy to find. For Chris Carey from the blog Just a Girl, the garage was a tricky space because it's also the way most people enter the home. She decided that even though it was a garage, it didn't necessarily have to look like one. 

A few coats of paint, metal shelving and some cute decals for the door transformed the space without requiring a lot of money. Chris put frequently-used items — drinks, paper towel, toilet paper, cleaning materials — on a handy shelf.

Like Chris, Erin of Sunny Side Up tends to use her garage door as the main entrance for her home — so it often becomes a gathering place for shoes and coats. 

A neat and tidy shoe and coat rack encourages her children to place their own clothes in the right place and makes it easy when searching for that much-loved pair of pink Velcro sneakers.

5. Decide which area of the garage is going to be used for what purpose. Think carefully about what you want your garage to be used for, and the best possible way this space can be divided.

For Mikki Lesowitz-Soliday of Sherman Oaks Calif., the priority was to clean out her garage and transform it into a studio where her craft group and classes could meet. However, space still had to be allotted for storage and workout equipment. By dividing up the room into zones, she set up a space that made sense and was still neat and organized.

Mikki’s biggest challenge was trying to figure out what to do with extra-large things such as four bicycles, lawn equipment and lots of luggage. Instead of attempting to cram everything in the garage, they built a long, narrow shed outside for those items. That left room inside for two large tables, a sewing station and plenty of art and craft supplies. 

"I have loads of storage, which I recognize is a real luxury," she says. "But I'm always purging everything from art supplies to my kids' clothes. It’s the key to staying organized."

6. Label absolutely everything. If you’re tired of drawers and bins full of a hodgepodge of nails, screws, and bolts, take the time to sort each piece by type and label your storage containers and shelves accordingly. Tedious? Yes. Worth it? Yes.

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