Organization is a virtue, right? Every day, headlines talk about letting go of stuff to improve your health and better your life. We’re supposed to get rid of old stuff and keep only new things that we love and use. Find a home for everything. Tidying up is life-changing – magic even, if you believe all those articles online. 

As summer ramps up, it is an inviting time to create order in the garage. It seems natural to return shovels to shelves or hooks, to sweep the salt and crushed leaves from the floor, and take out bikes and lawn chairs from storage. "It’s amazing what just sweeping the garage can do," says Kate Buckmeier, owner of Declutter and Redesign in Northfield, who works as a professional organizer to help clients create order in their spaces. "You can feel so much lighter."

‘Tis the season

Simply tidying up the garage at the start of each season can make a major difference, Buckmeier says.  

This is a chance to weed out what you don’t use, want, or need. People may be getting out their lawnmowers and garden tools while stowing away the snow blower, shovels, and holiday décor.

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In Minnesota, chemicals should come inside in the fall to prevent freezing, which can cause changes to chemical properties. And when storing seasonal décor or other items, Buckmeier recommends clear bins as well as easy-to-read tape labels so you can find everything easily when you need it.

Think big

"It’s always good to think big to small," says Sara Lohse, professional organizer and owner of the Rescued Room since 2014.  

If there’s a mattress or other large items that can be removed easily from your garage, take them out right away. Beyond size, identify other zones or areas that can be worked through fairly quickly. Lohse recommends moving through systematically. Some simple categories might be top to bottom, sorting duplicates, or combining automotive items, tools, hardware, project/building materials, or hobby supplies. Having categories helps you to identify if something in your garage does not have a home. Also, it allows you to honor one of the cardinal rules of organizing – placing like with like.

Whatever you do, stay focused on the zone you are working on. It’s too easy to walk away and get distracted, leaving your zone half-finished and more cluttered then when you began.  

Pick a purpose

Buckmeier says garages are often spaces of transition.  "The things that are there are usually in wait for another step," she says.

Most spaces in a home have a defined purpose, so it is clear what items get stored there. "You wouldn’t put a spatula in your bathroom drawer," Lohse says. "The garage needs to have boundaries, too."  

Once you’ve identified what does and does not belong in the garage, you can begin the process of moving out pieces that don’t belong in the garage and organizing the ones that do.  

Give away or sell

Once you’ve found things you can do without, sell or donate them. Hold a garage sale or list items in the classifieds to earn some extra cash.

We have a great culture of leaving things on the curb and marking them free, Buckmeier says. But there are also dozens of organizations locally and even internationally that will take everything from your old planters to half-used sidewalk chalk.

Creating systems

As with any organizational strategy, there is no "best way" to organize a garage. But Lohse says one way NOT to organize it is to think, "where could I put this?" Instead, you’ll want to mark out spaces before you need them.

Buckmeier suggests creating zones according to how you might use things (for instance, put all the road trip stuff in one area and all the sports stuff together in another). When you are putting things back, think about where you will look for it later, Lohse says. By basing storage on how you will look for things, you can effectively plan for your needs.  

Rent vs. buy

Before you buy something, imagine where it might live in your garage. Before buying, try to see if you can rent or borrow it. When it comes to tools and household items, you may find you can cut back on garage clutter by never buying stuff in the first place.  

Home Depot and Menards often rent tools. Or ask about borrowing items on social media or neighborhood networks. "You don’t always have to buy those big items," Buckmeier says.