What’s on your summer to do list? Organizing your garage

Longer days during the summer are a wonderful feature of the season. It’s a great time to tackle tasks that require working outdoors. If you live in a house or townhome, summer is also the perfect time to organize your garage (if you have one).

Putting together a garage organizing list is not that much different than making any other type of task list. The same principles apply to organizing your garage as with cleaning out your closet, and your goal is to make a list that is clear and manageable. When you get back from your wonderfully restful summer vacation, you’ll be ready to take care of this warm-weather task. Remember to keep these six simple steps in mind instead of randomly jumping head first into the garage:

  1. Get it out of your head. Jot down the things you need to take care of in your garage. Your list doesn’t have to be massive, though there is nothing wrong if it is.
  2. Focus. Pick the one thing (or two things) you’re going to work on first, and break this big task into smaller, actionable steps. Work in short time blocks to maintain focus without feeling stress.
  3. Group like items. Put similar items together in categories — tools with tools, car repair items with car repair items.
  4. Hold yourself accountable. Select a deadline for completion and put it on your calendar. Be realistic about how much you will be able to accomplish based on how much time you have to work on your project, as well as how much help you’ll have.
  5. Get help. Partner with someone or several someones to help you get things done.
  6. Pick a reward. This is perhaps the best part of the plan, besides actually completing what you set out to do. It can be very motivating to have something to look forward to when the project is finished. Not everyone needs this, but it can be helpful.

With this plan in place, think about your main goal(s) for getting the garage more organized. Do you want to fit the car(s) inside? Do you need to find things more easily? Would having a place for storing bulk supplies be helpful? If you feel overwhelmed, referring to your main goal will keep you calm, focused, and ready to continue.

Next, have a look around your garage (i.e., pick one area to begin focusing on) and decide:

What you’ll keep

Do you really need everything that’s stored in your garage? How long have the widgets been sitting in the widget box? Substitute “widgets” with things that you’ve been holding on to because you might use them “someday.” And, speaking of “someday,” when was the last time you used them? Do you still remember why you’re keeping them? Does anything in the garage belong to someone not living in your home?

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to keep, gather these items together so they’ll all be in the same location. If you have similar items strewn about in various parts of the garage, it will be more difficult for you to find them when you need them.

What you’ll purge

Along with deciding what you’ll hold on to, you’ll have to figure out what needs to be thrown out (e.g., items with broken or missing parts), what you’ll recycle, and what you’ll donate to charity or give away to someone in need. Be sure to only give away things that still function and are not in disrepair. Ask yourself, “If I saw this in a store, would I buy it in the condition it’s in now?”

What your zones will be

What are the categories of things that need to be stored in the garage? Do you need stroller parking? What about:

  • Yard maintenance equipment and gardening supplies
  • Tools, ladder, workbenches
  • Car maintenance supplies
  • Painting supplies
  • Holiday storage
  • Sports equipment
  • Bulk products
  • Recycling

Once you come up with your zones, sketch the garage (with wall dimensions) to see where you will store items. For example, you may want to keep bulk paper products closer to the entry door to the garage. By doing this, you will avoid going into the heart of the garage for items that you will use inside your home.

What storage options you’ll use

A popular garage organizing option is to use shelving units (e.g. free-standing units or a track system, like Elfa Utility Garage or Rubbermaid Fast Track System). The benefit of using shelving is that you won’t have to stack containers on top of each other. Stacking means that you’ll have to remove one bin to get to another, a process that would likely stop you from reguarly putting things back where they belong.

Pegboards and slatwall systems allow you to use the walls to hang items that you use often (like brooms, rakes, hammers). Cabinets with or without doors may also meet your needs. Consider adding other components depending on your lifestyle (e.g. a vertical bike hook).

What containers you’ll use

Once you’ve selected your shelving, choose clear, sturdy containers (remember to add labels) to group your like items together. Be sure to get containers with covers to protect the contents from dust and crawling critters. You can choose lids of the same color to store certain categories together (like red lids for all painting supplies).

Armed with a plan, you can attack your garage organizing project in small chunks so that it’s manageable and not overwhelming. Your car and future self will thank you for it.

What aren’t you using this winter?

While the chilly winds blow (at least on those of us in the northern hemisphere), now is a great time to go through your home and see what winter-related items you haven’t used this year and donate the excess to charity. You’ll free up space in your home, and possibly help someone in need make it through the winter more comfortably.

Check out your:

  • Blankets. Are there heavy blankets lingering in your closet that you haven’t used this year or last year or the year before that?
  • Sweaters. If you haven’t worn the sweater by now, are you ever going to wear it again?
  • Hats, gloves, scarves. If you have children, do all the hats and gloves in your closet still fit someone in your home?
  • Coats. Similar to your sweaters, if any of your winter coats haven’t been worn this season, are you ever going to wear them?
  • Boots. If they’re in good condition, someone in need could really benefit from any boots you’re not wearing.
  • Outdoor recreation items. Sleds, toboggans, and skis won’t help someone in need, but if you’re no longer using them, they still shouldn’t be taking up space in your garage.
  • Outdoor care items. Snow shovels, snow blowers, and other outdoor care items should be replaced if they’re broken or unsafe to use. Don’t donate unusable items to charity, but recycle and/or trash pieces as appropriate.
  • Decorations. Any holiday or winter decorations you didn’t put out this year could easily be sold on eBay, Craigslist, or given away through Freecycle. Check with local doctors’ offices, day care centers, and schools to see if they have any interest in the items you didn’t use this year.

Those of you basking in the summer sun in the southern hemisphere, consider doing a similar sweep for unused warm-weather items. If you haven’t used something yet, it’s likely just taking up space in your home unnecessarily.

Popular road in Britain reworked to be clutter free

Today’s edition of Britain’s Daily Mail includes an article, photo gallery, and impressive infographic describing London’s newest clutter-free street, which officially opened earlier today. The piece “No kerbs, pavements or nanny-state signs: Britain’s longest clutter-free street is unveiled to make things SAFER” explains the initiative to improve safety on this stretch of road by removing visual distractions:

Britain’s longest ‘clutter-free’ street was opened today with the aim of making cars and people co-exist harmoniously — without the need for hectoring signs and protective steel barriers.

Indeed, the newly revamped Exhibition Road in the heart of London’s museum quarter in Kensington, visited by millions of people from around Britain and the world, doesn’t even have kerbs or pavements.

The idea underlining the project is that when nannying rules and orders — in the form of countless signs, traffic signals and barriers — are removed, motorists take more personal responsibility for their own actions and drive more attentively, making more eye contact with pedestrians.

In addition to taking on projects in London, two years ago national officials in Britain formally began encouraging city council leaders to decrease road signage to improve road safety. This specific decision to rework Exhibition Road came in 2003 and is based on popular urban design and engineering concepts from Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. Monderman’s engineering ideas are implemented in many areas of Europe and Asia and are referred to as “shared space” planning design.

More about the clutter-free road from the Daily Mail article:

Councillor Daniel Moylan, deputy chairman of Transport for London (TfL), said: “… The psychology of this scheme is fascinating. Experience seems to show that when you dedicate space to traffic and control it with signs and green traffic lights, motorists develop a claim on it. It becomes ‘my space.’ Drivers become annoyed if people move into it.

They get angry if a mother pushing a buggy moves across the crossing just as the lights are about to change.

This new scheme is more like the behaviour in a supermarket car park. Drivers know there are people around pushing shopping trolleys and so drive more cautiously. They are looking out.

They don’t feel that pedestrians are invading their space. They don’t therefore get annoyed.”

Image from Britain’s Daily Mail. Thanks to reader Samantha for bringing this post idea to our attention.

June resolution wrap up and introduction to July’s goals

My resolution for June was to get our garage in gear. This ended up being an extremely relevant task seeing as our old car died and we got a new one. We had two hail storms in June, and it was wonderful to be able to pull the new car into the garage to keep it safe.

I started by clearing the clutter out of the garage the first weekend of the month. Rather, I started by clearing our clutter out of the garage. I had forgotten that our landlord had some of his stuff in the garage when we moved in (a couple dining chairs, etc.), so I wasn’t able to clear out his things. Mostly, though, only our garage-appropriate stuff remains in the garage (lawn mower, rake, trash cans, tools, bikes).

The second task was to organize what remained in the space and I sort of did this. See what I mean by “sort of”:

We have shelves now in place and space to organize, but I haven’t yet completed the project. Most of our tools and garage items still remain in their moving boxes. Since my mantra was garages are for cars, not clutter, I didn’t push myself too hard to get all of the organizing work finished. I can get the car in the garage and find things, so I’ll just keep unpacking boxes and putting items away over the next few weekends. I met my parking goal, so the rest is simply icing on the proverbial cake. As far as I’m concerned, the resolution was met, even if not perfectly.

My goal for July is to review and reset a number of our family’s routines and to do the same with some personal and professional goals. Now that my son is in preschool, we have a different structure to our day and different demands on our time. Not only does our family need to figure out how we want to structure our schedule, but I need to figure out which of my goals are best for me to achieve right now.

This may seem like a light resolution, and it is in terms of physical labor. However, it’s something that has to get done to retain our family’s sanity and for me to feel like I have better direction personally and professionally.

I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to tackle this goal, but as I do I will give a few updates over the course of the month to help anyone who may be doing something similar. Creating new routines can be challenging if the first attempt isn’t one that can last over many months. And, identifying what I want to accomplish personally and professionally is going to take some introspection, and I need to set aside the time to do this properly.

What are your resolutions and/or goals for July? How did you do with any resolutions or goals you made for June? If you have annual resolutions instead of monthly resolutions, how are these advancing? The first of July was the half-way point in the year — are you on track to accomplish what you are hoping to by the year’s end? Share your experiences in the comments.

Erin’s 2011 monthly resolutions: January, February, March, April, May, and June.

May resolution wrap up and an introduction to June’s resolution

It’s difficult for me to believe that today is the last day of May. While I’m certain my calendar isn’t lying to me, I’m still confused as to how the time passed so quickly. Where did you go, May?

My resolution for May was to cut back on my media intake. I only watched two shows in real time and unsubscribed from three magazines. The battery on my cell phone stopped holding a consistent charge, so I was forced to cut back on my phone and application usage regardless of if it was my intention. Also, I was pretty consistent about using a timer to keep me from wasting time on the computer. Overall, I think it was a resolution that was kept well and will be easily continued throughout the remainder of the year.

My goal for June is to get our garage in gear. Our new house has a double car garage and it is incredibly tempting to abandon stuff in there. I tried diligently to not let it become a place where “I don’t want to deal with it right now” items were set during the move, but, alas, some of those things slipped through the doors.

My first goal is to get rid of all the clutter. Anything we don’t need will find its appropriate home on Craigslist, be taken to charity, be recycled, or be thrown away. All the clutter will be gone by Friday, June 10.

My second goal is to organize the remaining items so I can find things immediately when I need them. The items also must be organized so two cars can fit in the garage, even though we only have one car. We have friends and family who come to visit and their cars should be able to join ours. This goal should be met by the end of the month of June.

My mantra: Garages are for cars, not clutter.

If you have a garage, can you fit your car inside of it? Would getting your garage in gear be a good resolution for you for the month of June? I know I’m eager to get rid of the clutter and have a garage that really fits my family’s needs.

Erin’s 2011 monthly resolutions: January, February, March, April, and May.

Getting your garage and sporting equipment ready for summer

Although the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has me wanting to spend time indoors, the sunny skies and 70 degree temperatures are tempting me to head outside. As a compromise, I’ve been doing work in our new garage where I can hear the team analysis on one of the 200 ESPN stations and still feel like I’m outside with the garage door open.

If you’re considering doing work in your garage this weekend or in the coming weeks, be sure to check out Unclutterer posts we’ve already written on organizing your garage and related topics:



Sporting Equipment

Easily identify metric and SAE tools with red electrical tape

Red Electrical TapeI was in a friend’s garage recently helping him with a home-improvement project when I noticed that many of the wrenches and sockets in his tool cabinet were wrapped in red electrical tape. On closer inspection, I noticed that the colored tape was only wrapped around his metric-sized tools.

By having an easy way to differentiate his metric tools from their SAE counterparts, he found he was more likely to put both types back in their correct places when he was done using them.

Do you have any tricks for labeling things to keep them grouped with similar items? Please share them in the comments.

Three places clutter might be hiding in your life

After having to scrape frost off the car windows yesterday morning, I’m finally willing to accept that fall has arrived. As I have been pulling out all the cold-weather supplies (coats, hats, boots, shovels, grill covers, etc.), I’ve stumbled upon some unexpected clutter in these storage spaces. If you haven’t already pulled out these supplies in your own home (or done the same with warmer-weather supplies if you live in the southern hemisphere), be sure to check out these locations for hidden clutter:

  • Linen storage. I found a couple blankets and flannel sheets that I stored over the winter that should have been donated to our local animal shelter back in April. The elastic is shot in one set of sheets and two of the blankets have worn thin in places. Inspect your cooler weather linens to see if they’re ready for six months of use. (And give your warmer weather items a serious inspection before putting them into storage.)
  • Exterior storage boxes/sheds. If you store items outdoors during the winter, but in protective storage, be sure to give these areas a good review before putting tools away for the season. Small rodents and other critters may have been using these locations for living quarters during the summer months.
  • Car trunk. While loading a blanket and some freeze-dried snacks into the trunk of our car, I noticed a number of summer items hadn’t made it out of the trunk yet. Pull everything out of the trunk of your car and evaluate if it should live the winter in this space. If you don’t have a car, inspect the basket on your bike or thoroughly go through your backpack.

Have you found hidden clutter in your home while getting things ready for winter? If so, tell us where so we can all give these spaces a good review before the cool temperatures have us nesting indoors.

Eye candy: Wood organizing products

Knife and Saw is selling a beautiful bike shelf that is perfect for city dwellers in small spaces:

It’s not inexpensive ($270 for Ash or $300 for Walnut), but it is beautiful. And, the top of the bike rack can be used to hold stuff, which makes it a nice multi-tasker:

Speaking of beautiful wood things, have you seen Combine Collective’s Black Walnut Keyboard Trays?

Ranging from $69 to $79, they hold up to three Mac wireless devices in sustainable wood to use on your lap or desk.

It’s nice to see organizing products that are visually stunning and incredibly functional. So many organizing products are designed with utility as the only focus, completely ignoring aesthetics. I’m always on the lookout for items that manage to have high-quality function and form, and both of these certainly meet those standards.

(Bike shelf via Cool Hunting.)

Finish up the last of your summer to-do items

For those in the northern hemisphere, just 28 days of summer linger on the calendar. Before the cool days of fall and winter set in, now is the time to finish up warm-weather uncluttering projects that remain on your to-do list.

  • Your garage. If you haven’t already cleared the clutter from your garage this season, now is a great time to take advantage of the access you have to your driveway. Pull everything out of your garage and sort it into piles: Keep, Purge, Other. Clean your garage (starting at the top of the room and working your way down), make any necessary repairs and/or add organizing systems, and then return only the “Keep” pile items to the space. Donate, recycle, and/or trash the items from the “Purge” pile, and return the items in the “Other” pile to their owners or the places they belong in your home.
  • Your car. Similar to the process used on your garage, do the same with your car. Don’t forget small areas like the glovebox and the console.
  • Trash cans and litter boxes. Now is the perfect time to haul your trash cans and litter boxes to your local self-service car wash and give all of them a deep cleaning. Set them in the bright sun for a few minutes to dry before hauling them back to your place, stink free.
  • Your chimney. Before the rush of callers pour in to your local chimney sweep, give him a call and schedule an appointment now. This way, you won’t have to wait to start up your fireplace on the first cool night of the season.

Whatever tasks remain on your summer to-do list, schedule and take on those tasks now before the weather keeps you from doing them.

Bringing clutter into the light

Is there clutter hiding in your basement, attic, or garage? Is it at the back of a closet, under the kitchen sink, or in your medicine chest? What is the situation under your bed, in the linen closet, and in the drawers of your entertainment center? How are things in your filing cabinet or your car’s glovebox? Are you harboring clutter in an off-site storage facility?

When you can close a door or drawer to hide whatever lurks inside, it’s easy to use that space as a place to put clutter and forget about it. Even though this area might not be distracting you from living the life you want to lead right now, it does create stress and anxiety each time you access the area and whenever your thoughts drift to these spaces. Plus, you are spending money to maintain these objects and areas, and you’re keeping something you might value more — something that actually matters to you — from being stored in its place.

Unlike clutter that “hides” in plain sight, clutter that is tucked away can lead to bug and/or rodent infestations, increase the levels of dust and dander in your home, and keep you from discovering leaks, cracks, or other major structural issues. Not being able to see into your home’s closed spaces can really cost you over the longterm — financially and emotionally.

To bring this hidden clutter into the light of day, find a clear, flat surface you can use as a place to set all of your stored things. A dining room table works well for small spaces, and your driveway can work for large areas. Pull out all of your items and group them by type (make piles of like things). Once you can see all of the items, go through each group to determine if anything can be thrown away, recycled, or donated to charity. Once you’ve determined what should stay and what should go, only return items into storage that should be in storage.

Try not to store anything in cardboard because it is a tasty treat for bugs and rodents and it won’t protect your things if water leaks into the space. Also, label any containers you can’t easily see inside so you won’t waste time when you go looking for something — holiday decorations, camping and hiking gear, 2008 contracts.

Also, while your stuff is out of storage and on display, don’t forget to give your storage spaces a good review and cleaning. Repair any damages and clean out the cobwebs so you return your items to the best space possible. Install battery-operated lights, too, so that you can easily check on your stored objects in the future.

I’m of the opinion that the less stuff you have in storage, the better. Good luck to you as you shed light on your home’s hidden clutter.

Assorted items for July 14, 2010

Some interesting things to share:

  • I’m recording an interview about uncluttering for Renew You that should be available this Friday through next Tuesday. Renew You 2010 was a conference that occurred earlier this summer, and every few weeks the organizer of the conference sends out links to new interviews to conference attendees and people who register for the mailing list. The interviews are targeted toward women, but the information I’ll be giving is applicable for anyone. The e-mail list is free, but there are pay-to-listen areas of the site that have some cost associated with them. You shouldn’t have to pay anything to hear my piece on uncluttering. The interview should be about an hour long, so sign up if you’re interested in hearing my talk.
  • TV business kisses HDMI goodbye” on the THINQ site leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m glad multiple manufacturers are coming together and establishing a standard cable, but it means we will all have to buy new cables. Not sure it’s simplifying anything.
  • Author Harlan Ellison decided to purge and auction off the majority of his book collection, including a signed birthday present from Neil Gaiman. The following link includes a profane word or two, but is still an interesting read about uncluttering your bookshelves: “The Great Ellison Book Purge” on the AV Club.
  • Have many errands to run at once? Lorie Marrero recommends the “optimal route planner” Route4me to determine the shortest route to take.
  • The website FreelanceSwitch offers terrific project management advice in its post “The Swiss Cheese Method of Project Scheduling.” The article is geared toward freelance programmers, but is applicable to anyone budgeting her time.