Home & Design January 13, 2009

Well-Groomed Garages

Creating order from chaos

Your garage. Turn your back, and it will stealthily begin overflowing with bikes, skis, skateboards, fly fishing gear, shoes, holiday ornaments, gardening and power tools, paint cans, and other odds and ends. To the untrained eye, the situation may appear hopelessly beyond organization.

Order in your garage isn’t unattainable, however: many practical solutions are available that will go a long way towards making your daily tasks easier. To help you get started, Patricia Bolding, owner of The Organizers in Ketchum, provides some practical tips for recovering order from chaos.

Prepare for battle

First, says Bolding, ask yourself how you want to use the physical space. How you use the space will dictate the design plan.

Is it a storage area for sports equipment and children’s toys? Is there a shop space in it? Or is it a place where, someday, you’d prefer to store the family car—especially during the winter months?

Once you have identified your priorities, make a wish list of features your ideal streamlined garage would have. For instance, would there be a mudroom area? A wall of tools? A bin for shoes? Great light? Write each idea down, giving yourself a few days to add to the list and re-prioritize. Most likely, you can manage many of the details yourself, using store-bought components; for larger projects and built-in features, you may need to hire a professional.

Take inventory

The next step is to get a handle on what has currently laid claim to the space in your garage. Start by emptying it out and taking inventory. Take a day (or two) to sort everything into three distinct piles: a keeper pile, a donation pile, and a throwaway pile.

This may sound relatively easy, but it can be one of the hardest parts of the process. To help get over this hurdle, Bolding recommends asking yourself these questions: “Do I use this item? Do I need this item? Am I emotionally attached to this item?” If you answer yes to any of these questions, the item stays. Determine if it stays in the garage—if not, then it exits the garage to go where it is used. If your answer is no, can it be recycled to another person to use? Put it in a donation pile for your favorite charity. If not, toss it out of your life. Your ruthlessness will be rewarded with a significantly smaller amount of stuff to contend with as you start dropping things into place.

Storage systems

Chances are, you already have some kind of system for storing gardening tools, keeping track of ski boots and poles, arranging your fly fishing gear, and stowing old paint cans and brushes. It’s just that, collectively, the systems are failures. Rethink the way you store the items in your garage by relying on one of the most efficient organizational principles: Sort items by activity or use and keep them stationed in appropriate, accessible locations: lawn maintenance tools, sporting equipment, power tools.

In winter, for instance, place snow shovels, snow blowers, and ice scrapers close to a door leading outside. Along the same lines, group skis and poles, sleds, and other snow toys together and store them in a tall storage cabinet or hang them on a wall rack where there is enough room to pass by without bumping into them. Keep goggles, gloves, and boots on sturdy shelves or in storage containers nearby. The key is to store items you use on a regular basis where they can be accessed easily.

Personal preference

Now that you have dreamed and planned, separated and sorted, it’s time to begin putting things in their place. Many items will need to be kept in some sort of container.

Adjustable shelves, cubbies, cabinets, and bins are all useful for creating various storage areas around the garage. Wood or metal shelving units can keep paper towels, bottled water, cleaning supplies, and bulk items accessible. Shelves are also excellent choices for holding sporting equipment that won’t be needed for a particular season, such as skateboards, fishing gear, or snow boots.

Before and After


Waterproof plastic utility crates, steel storage trunks, or clear plastic containers can be used to hold sports equipment or other seasonal items, tools, hardware, and even cans of paint. Remember, however, that having the contents of your garage in neat containers won’t do you a bit of good if you can’t tell what’s in them. Bolding recommends labeling boxes or other storage containers so that you’ll be able to find what you’re after with one glance.

Cubbies near exterior doors can be filled with items used outdoors, such as umbrellas or ice scrapers. An open basket or plastic bin will hold your child’s collection of balls, bats and badminton racquets, and make it easy for kids to put away their own toys. If your family has multiple bikes, buy large, sturdy hooks at your local hardware store and hang them from the wall or, better yet, the ceiling.

Thinking vertically is one of the best ways to squeeze more storage out of your garage (or any space, for that matter). Installing a wall system will allow you to keep everything from gardening tools to rakes and shovels up off the floor. Hang a large shelf to store seasonal or infrequently used items. Install cabinets over the washer and dryer, and use them to hold laundry detergent, fabric softener, pet shampoo, and even things such as light bulbs. Garden hoses and chairs could be hung from joists in the ceiling. (Don’t forget to store a sturdy stepstool nearby to help you reach them.) Avoid hanging items from pipes—they could be damaged by the resulting stress.

If you use your garage as a work area or a place to store tools, a pegboard may be a handy option. With a few hooks or added shelves, it can be used to hang hammers, tape measures, and extension cords. Mark each tool’s resting place with the tool’s name or an outline of its shape, to enable anyone who uses the tools to return them to their proper place. A rolling tool chest is also a neat way to store your tools, and has the advantage of mobility.

Remember, whichever storage format you choose, your goal should be to make every item in your garage easy to find and retrieve.

A final thought

“Organizing any physical space is like skiing down a mountain,” Bolding says. “In skiing, it takes several turns to get to the bottom. Getting to the goal of organizing your garage will happen in stages, so give yourself time. Recognize that likely it will look worse before it looks better (you may begin with a bigger mess than what you started with). After all, it took several steps to accumulate all this stuff … and it will take a few steps to organize it efficiently.”


When this Ketchum health educator isn’t writing, she is training teachers, teaching adolescents about health, and teaching abroad. After writing this article, she’ll have to make room for a springtime garage clean-up. When she can, Kerry George also enjoys the Ketchum outdoors with her husband Mark and her two dogs, Maxinne and Newman.



This article appears in the Spring 2006 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.