Before and After: Major Garage Clean-out!

I hadn’t posted a “Before and After” in a while, so I thought I’d break up our month of smaller tasks by showing off a BIG one that I just tackled.

I recently worked on a large garage organizing project with my friend, Rebecca Stapler.  She and her husband and their son are currently renting a town home with a sizable garage, but they hadn’t really been using it in the best way.  They had a lot of stuff they really hadn’t gone through since moving in 2 years ago, and the space really needed to serve multiple purposes, but wasn’t doing a great job at any of them. First of all, getting a car in there had been a challenge, and that needed to change. Second, it needed to accommodate Rebecca’s stash of the items she’s purchased so well and wisely through aggressive couponing.  She’s good about buying things she’ll use, not just things that are on sale, so the storage space really needed to accommodate her full store of supplies.  It also needed to be a place where her husband could work out, with the large piece of fitness equipment he had in there.   And, since Rebecca is so smart about making sure she stretches every penny she can, there are a lot of items that needed to be saved for reuse or resale in the future.


But, most importantly, this needed to be a space that didn’t give Rebecca, as she says it, “hives” whenever she is in it.  She has to walk through the garage to get to the laundry room, and has to spend time in there for some reason or another most days, and it always made her feel guilty, feel badly about herself that she hadn’t tackled and conquered this space yet.  She doesn’t work out down there, because of the set up, so that also means that she’s not spending that kind of time with her husband (like she used to when they were in a different space). She can’t let her son, almost 4, anywhere near the place because of the danger of the clutter and getting hurt. All in all, a space that had so much potential, and needed to be so much for the family, was only a source of aggravation and failure. It was time to change all that!!

We’d done a good plan in advance, and determined the needs she may have for new/additional shelving, so she was able to purchase and assemble some of that for when we worked together.  We were going to double the shelving capacity for the space, so we were really able to make great use of it when we began our attack!

We knew we had some clear “must haves” in our work:

1) Needs to be able to park her car in the garage, and get in and out of the car when it is parked there.

2) Husband’s workout machine (a Power Tower, very heavy, must stay in one place) needs to be in a place where he can access it and fully use it (so, height is an issue, and the ceiling has varying heights).

3) All her coupon and smart-shopping stockpile must be organized and accessible.

4) Need a dedicated place for items that will be consigned or sold in a future (scheduled) yard sale.

5) Easily store items for a future potential second child, but outgrown by their son.

6) A place for their son’s smaller “ride on” toys and larger items, like a sandbox, a playhouse, and a little car.

Then we had some other “nice to haves” as we worked through it, or goals to keep in mind, if they were achievable.

1) Space and surface to wrap presents

2) Minimal space taken by cardboard boxes, saved for a future move

3) minimal cardboard directly on the cement floor

4) organized stash of free paper from Staples, of course!

So, what did we do?

First, we really went through just about everything in the space. There had been some boxes she’d already gone through on her own and purged out what she no longer needed, so several of the shelves were already in order.   But everything else was free game!

Our first priority was to clean out one area that had just become a piling ground of sorts.  We knew this corner was going to be a destination for one of the new shelving units, and that we also wanted to use the space for some “standing” storage, like the parts of the crib her son had outgrown, being saved for a player to be named later. And there were boxes specifically for packing artwork that needed to be preserved, and potentially stored in that space.

We took everything out, and, assigned to “Keep”, “Sell” or “Toss”.  A LOT went into “Toss”, actually! First, there were lots of empty boxes from appliances and products saved, “because it was a good box” or “because we can use it when we move”.  It just didn’t make sense to keep all of these.  When she needs to move, she’ll find boxes on Freecycle or something, rather than sacrificing much-needed storage space for the “someday” needs.  And the boxes we *did* keep, we folded flat and consolidated into one large box that we could file with the other standing storage.  The yard sale or consign pile grew effortlessly, and we knew we would dedicate a shelf (or two, if necessary) on the new unit just to safely store those items.   Another thing we were able to toss was an old shredder, one that hadn’t worked in a while, and had already been replaced.  Rebecca hoped she could fix it, but more importantly, she didn’t want to just throw it away and add it to the landfill. I took it with me to drop off at Best Buy, one of many places that takes electronics for zero-landfill recycling.

And then, we also found a few things in that big pile we knew we could put to work in the garage, like an over-the-door hook rack.  We used it to hang their backpacks on the back of the laundry door, rather than be shoved in a tote somewhere, buried under something.  We also found some hooks that worked on the wire shelving, and we used them to hang her bike helmet, rather than having to find it when she needs it.

Left Corner Collage

We continued to the area that would house the ride-on toys, and the items she’d already stored in her Staples bankers boxes, which she gets for free whenever they run a special.  The height of the shelves was designed specifically to accommodate those boxes, with taller heights for the toys.   Now, her son could easily go and pick out what he wants, and can help put it away when he’s done playing with it!

ride on collage

The last large area we really focused on was the stockpile she’d built.  First, we swapped out older shelves she had (wire, and shallower, which we used for the Staples Box and ride-on toy garage) for deeper shelves with flat bottoms. This helped not only to accommodate more items, but to make sure things sat well on the shelves, and didn’t fall through the grates.   We also had a nook which had been a bit of a catch-all, and turned it much more purposefully into storage for office supplies and free paper that she gets from Staples.  There was also a 3 tiered milk-crate storage that wasn’t the sturdiest any more and toy-storage set up (the kind with multiple bins), that we really thought her son could use, so we needed to be able to make sure we no longer needed these, by storing these items elsewhere. Finally,  there was a table with things piled high, and lots of boxes underneath.  My goal for her was to get that area cleared as much as possible, so that this table top could be her gift wrap or other project area.

stash corner

One final spot: a 4 tiered shelving unit that had been a bit of a catchall for a number of things (mainly tools and hardware items) got a complete work over.  We went through the 2 shoeboxes full of random screws, hooks, nails, small hardware pieces and sorted through ALL of it, and put what was left in nice, organized containers.  And the best of all: we got Rebecca a bonus that she is probably the MOST thrilled about.   The top 3 shelves of that unit have now transitioned to “Outgoing” space:  Beer bottles for recycling, dry cleaning hangers to return to the cleaners, a box for books to go back to the library, etc.  It is a great staging area to get things out of the house, and into a designated spot for the next time errands are run!

outgoing shelves

So what else (besides this “Outgoing” shelves) was she happy about?

  • All her top goals, and most of her “nice to haves” were met!

  • Found the grill brush that her husband had thought was lost forever.

  • Really added aggressively to the “consign” and “yard sale” piles, with a commitment that they wouldn’t come back into the space if they weren’t sold

  • Cleaning out the shoeboxes of random hardware items uncovered pegs for her bookshelf in her office — she still had an extra shelf, but had thought these pegs had been thrown away long ago!  She put them to use, right away!

  • Now that there was a lot more room in the space, she could envision working out in the space with her husband, and the wide open space REALLY worked much better for him to do his workout.

  • All the unsafe items that she wouldn’t want her son touching (lighter fluid, tools, antifreeze, etc.) were all taken up off the floor or lower shelves, and placed on a higher one, making this a place she can feel better about him being in or near.

  • She was able to let go of some sentimental items that she’d held onto for a long time (like her ski pants from her racing days) but also reclaim her son’s dinosaur costume, that had become dirty, to clean and then consign, rather than hold onto a dusty and dirty costume just for emotional reasons. (it *was* super cute…)

  • She *loves* the space we created for her coupon stash!  She can see everything she has and has room to grow!  This is an important investment for their family, and having it well-organized is part of keeping it valuable.

  • And, of course, her car now fits, with plenty of room all around it!

All in all, this was a full day of work, and we were able to keep momentum up as we looked around and saw such obvious progress along the way!  And she can now park her car in the garage and do cartwheels around it if she feels like it!  This space has gone from a place that gave her “guilt hives” to a place she LOVES!  They may only be in this home another year or two, but it has become just the space they needed to help make their family more comfortable while they are there.

How about one look at the whole thing?

side by side wide

Here are just a few more “Afters”:

After Collection


Oh, and don’t forget all the trash and recycling!!

trash pile






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