Aging in Place, where you continue to modify your own space to make it still work for you as mobility and independence start to decrease, is something that needs to be revisited regularly; what worked 6 months ago just fine may not be as good any more. It’s a regular review, and requires frequent tweaking. So, for this year’s Father’s Day gift, we (Handy Boy and I) did a mini-makeover to my parents’ garage to help keep it as functional as they needed it to be.
You might look at my parents’ garage and think it’s a dream garage. There’s a lot in this space that works. There are some great cabinets, and we’d completely redone the workbench/tool area on a previous visit, making more out of the systems they purchased when they first settled in. There’s plenty of room to park 2 cars and still have storage, and there is decent wall height to work with to go vertically. The access to the attic is in this space, as is some utility items (the central vacuum system, the hot water tank, and their spare refrigerator). It even has a ceiling fan; garage clean-outs in Florida are a lot hotter than in Massachusetts, and I was happy for the fan to help take the edge off. Here are the “Before” pictures:
Sure, looks pretty great, right? But it wasn’t working for them as much as they needed it to any more, as they age and as mobility is more and more compromised with each passing year. And further, the only other long-term storage in the home, the attic (accessible only from the garage) was just no longer an option for them. They can’t get up and down these stairs any more. The attic was no longer a tool for them, and only a liability. So the garage now needed to work for all long-term storage in their home.
It was time for some really meaningful upgrades and rethinking about how they use their space, because the list of what wasn’t working grew every day:
- My parents just really can’t rely on the attic any more for storing items. It’s too hard for them to get up there, and as a result, things get neglected, and they can’t get what they want from it. The first goal was to get everything besides things they’ll never need again (like the pool fence, which will remain with the home when they sell it, or the extra tiles for the kitchen in case something goes wrong) all out of there and either IN the garage or donated.
- The garage has some decent storage cabinets and some good extra shelving, but in order to accommodate the attic items, there needed to be more storage in the garage, but could not impact their ability to continue to park 2 cars in there comfortably.
- Some things that they need a lot more often (like paper goods) were stored on a higher shelf near the ceiling. It’s just harder for them to access that shelf for everyday items, and they need to be more accessible.
- Some of the storage solutions they’d come up with in the past weren’t working all that well anymore. For instance, they had a curtain rod installed to help with some tools to hang, but because of the size of the tools, and the shallowness of the curtain rod, it caused items to stick out and block clearance needed to get to the car.
- With limited floor space, items were stacked in front of each other in layers, and it was getting harder and harder for them to access the bottom layer. Every time they needed something, it required excavating multiple layers of heavy items.
- Some aspects in the space just didn’t have a lot of flexibility, and there were limitations that impacted the rest of the garage. One example: The refrigerator really needed to stay where it was. Too far to the right, and the attic door can’t open. Too far to the left, and the car can’t comfortably park there. So, anything we set up needed to be built around that fixed item.
Their overall goals in this makeover:
- Make the attic a non-space. Get everything out of it and no longer rely on it for storage.
- Make every day items more accessible, with less reaching and bending required.
- Create less layers of buried items, making it easier to find and access their occasional-use items
- Do all this while preserving (if not improving) their ability to comfortably get in and out of their cars while they are still in the garage.
We’d been talking about the project for a few weeks, and it gave them plenty of lead time to start thinking about some of the decisions of “Keep vs. Discard?” and “Where to Keep?” They’d taken some steps on their own in the weeks leading up to our visit, including letting go of some home tools they don’t need any more (the power washer that was kept after the last review, for instance, hadn’t been used since, so they gave it to a friend whose had broken) and started having conversations with friends and organizations about who might make good use of some items if they let go of them.
As far as improving the space they now had to work with — the walls of the garage — they took some measurements in some key areas to see how they might increase vertical space, and we identified some shelving and specialty systems that would work in very particular spots, and acquired them in advance of our trip.
Once we arrived for our visit, we got to work!
As with any organizing project, we needed to outline our steps and our sequence:
- Gather everything we needed to deal with — emptying out the attic into the middle of the garage floor let us see everything that needed to be either assigned a home or discarded – here’s what we took out of the attic that needed a new home (and a couple of other things that wound up on the pile):
- Sort through and determine what will stay, what will go
- Assign new homes and zones for items to increase accessibility and make sure items are more easily found, especially those things that used to live in the attic
- Set up new systems — with the new systems pre-ordered and delivered, we just needed to assemble and install (more about that in my next post!)
- Put everything in their new homes
- And, as with all Age in Place solutions: Try things out. Reach for them. Bend for them. Pull out drawers. Do all the things you’d need to do in this new space without anyone around to help you. Sure, the layout might work for ME but does it work for YOU? Then, make adjustments as necessary.
Of course, it is also great to be able to get rid of the “go” items quickly, too. Handy Boy and my dad took one of their twice-a-year trips to a donation spot with a full SUV out, and handed over someone else’s soon-to-be-treasure.
Coming up in tomorrow’s post: I’m going to show off all the specifics of the work we did, including the two new storage systems we put in place — Monkey Bar Storage Bars and new Edsal shelves. You’re going to want to come back for this!