5 Tips for Organizing a "Real Life" Garage | From Overwhelmed to Organized: 5 Tips for Organizing a "Real Life" Garage

Friday, November 7, 2014

5 Tips for Organizing a "Real Life" Garage

Is your garage cluttered and overwhelming?  Has it become a dumping ground for anything that doesn't have a home anywhere else?

Now, be honest, do you avoid organizing your garage because you can't afford those fancy garage organizers you see on Pinterest and in magazines?

There are some mighty beautiful garages out there.  I'm happy for those people who have them.  But most of us have plain ole' ordinary garages.  Sure, we can do some things to pretty them up, but they're still not going to be magazine worthy.  But they don't need to be beautiful.  We don't live in our garages.  We store things in them.  And hopefully have space to park a vehicle in them.  If we have limited funds for organizing, more often than not we'd rather spend those dollars inside our homes, where we spend more time.

Having a "real life" garage doesn't mean it has to be unorganized though!  I've got about as ugly a garage as you can get... you'll see in the pictures.  But I do my best to keep it organized.  And I just use basic stuff to do it.

Before Pictures

These are always fun aren't they?  I showed how I decluttered my garage and then how I organized my garage a couple of years ago, and I'm happy to say that, overall, we've kept it pretty organized.

But I didn't take time this spring or summer to maintain the organizing systems we'd put in place in the past.  It was getting a bit cluttered in there.

You can see, with our car in the garage there's not much extra space!  And when we park the van in there instead of the car, it's even more crowded.  You can also see, we have a really basic, unfinished garage.  Studs on one wall and concrete blocks on the other.

This picture shows how the clutter was creeping about as close as it could into the space for the car door to open.  Not good.

Once the car was moved out of the way we could really get to work on the clutter!

I love this big shelf at the back of our garage, but it was getting a little messy up there.

These shelves had become pretty unorganized as items were put back anywhere there was a spot over the spring and summer.

Great pictures aren't they?!  I told you I have a real-life garage! 

After Pictures

I knew I wanted to get this garage in tip-top shape before winter, so my hubby and I tackled it while he was off a few weeks ago.

We purged a bunch of stuff... bikes the kids had outgrown, a sliding mirrored closet door we didn't need, a broken lawn chair, 2 strollers (finally!), and a bunch of other stuff.  I'll show pictures of our purging efforts later this month in my 365 Items in 365 Days update.

So here it is now!

Isn't that much better?!  Look at all the floor space!  We can pull our car or our van in without bumping into anything!

It's still a real-life garage.  Did you notice I don't have any fancy store-bought organizing systems?  But it's organized.  Want the same thing in your real-life garage?   Here are 5 tips!

Real Life Garage Organizing Tips

1.  Use the studs to hang tools.  We just have a few nails or heavy-duty screws in several places in the studs along one wall of our garage or in one 2x4 that's attached to the studs.  It works great!  I changed out some of the gardening tools for shovels (ugh) so they're all ready when we need them (hopefully not any time soon!).

You can also use the space between the studs to contain tall, narrow items.  We have an old piece of paneling in front of some of the studs and it helps hold in things like umbrellas, ice scrapers, and our bike pump.  I've also seen people use bungie cords between studs to do the same thing.  This is also good for sports equipment like hockey sticks, baseball bats, etc.

2.  Use any kind of containers you can find to keep like items together.  On our shelves we have old fridge drawers, an old fruit basket, a pail from an old citronella candle, and some dollar store bins (you may remember them from my DIY Garage Organizers post).  Sure, they don't match.  But it's a garage!  My goal isn't to have it look beautiful.  I want to be able to find what I need quickly and for anyone in the family to be able to put things back easily.  Yes, I could buy matching bins, but I'd rather spend our limited organizing budget on areas inside our home.

3.  Maximize vertical space by hanging things from the rafters that you don't use very often.  Large S-hooks are great for this.  We've always hung lawn chairs and often a bike from our ceiling, and this year we added a hose as well.  It really helps keep the garage organized when there's less on the floor.  Especially in our tiny garage where we need floor space for parking a vehicle and having space to get in and out of that vehicle.

In the above picture, you can see we have a 2x4 hung from the rafters and then we use s-hooks to hang things from it.  But, we can also just hang items directly from the rafters too.  This year I hung our tomato cages from a rafter above the large shelf.  Now they're off the floor and not crowding the cars door space!

4.  Store off-season items out of the way.  This way you can maximize your space for the current season's items.  How you do that will depend on your space, but it's good to switch things around in your garage at least in the spring and fall.  We moved our golf clubs, camping gear, and summer "toys" to the shelves at the back of the garage and moved things like sleds and those previously mentioned snow shovels and ice scrapers to the front.

5.  If you don't have shelves (or enough shelves) get some sturdy, buy a set of cheap stacking shelves.  You can find these at thrift stores or on Craigslist, Kijiji, or Freecycle if you're lucky.  Or they go on sale at department stores or home improvement stores regularly.  I was lucky to get a set from my parents when they downsized a few months ago. 

Once we decluttered the garage more, I was able to fit these shelves at the back of the garage under the big shelf.  And now I can store all my professional organizer supplies in plastic bins on these shelves.  On the right I have some packing supplies for when I work with clients who are moving.  On the left side I have my workbag on the top and extra supplies on the bottom shelves.  I've been wanting a place to do this for a year and I'm so happy to finally have this set up.  No more dragging stuff all round town in my trunk or lugging things in and out of the house!  I can just load up my trunk with whatever supplies I'll need for a specific job.

What's Going On With Your Floor?

You may have noticed we added a black mat to our garage.  Our garage floor is concrete, but it's deteriorating.  You can see some of it at the bottom of this picture.

Because we live in a condo, we don't technically own our garage floor and the condo corporation is not planning to replace garage floors in the next few years.  So we're stuck with it for now.  It's nearly impossible to sweep our garage because it just creates a huge dust cloud.  So our garage is always dirty.  And dusty.  And when we park our car or van in there in the winter covered with snow/slush, it melts on the floor and wears away even more of the concrete.

We could spend our own money to have the floor coated with something until it is eventually replaced, and we seriously thought about doing that.  But luckily, when my parents sold their home this spring my dad gave us this big black vinyl mat that he had in his garage the last few years. 

We filled in some of the lower areas of the garage floor with sand to make it smoother.

And then unrolled the mat.

I love it!  Now I can at least sweep that mat and during the winter we can even sweep out water and slush that accumulate on it.  Hopefully it helps our garage floor last a few more years :)

Just another example of thinking outside the box to find a cost-effective solution for a real life garage.  We would have purchased a similar mat if my parents didn't give us theirs, but it was nice that we didn't have to.

If you'd like other tips for organizing your garage check out my Garage / Attic / Basement  Organizing board.

Do you have a "real life" garage?  How do you organize it?  I hope these tips will help you get your garage organized!

Happy organizing!

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  1. It's so nice to clear everything off the floor isn't it? Great job!

    1. Thanks Anne! Yes, getting things off the floor makes a HUGE difference!

  2. I just re-organized mine because I could not park my car for the winter. Everything in on shelves and not on the floor anymore.

    1. That's great Helene! Fall is a good time to organize the garage when you're motivated to park a car in it for the winter!

  3. You should see our garage...it's awful! Thank you for the inspiration! We need it! haha

    1. Glad to help Ashleigh! Good luck with your garage!

  4. Lots of great ideas! I especially like the tip for taking advantage of space high up (like the ceiling or rafters) to store things you don't often use. Less things on the ground means more space for everyone!

    1. That's one of the things I like about our garage Elaina... the rafters are accessible. Glad you like the tips!

  5. Thank you SO much for a useful posts on garages. I usually see these fancy garage systems or overly decorated garages. Yours is functional and you have excellent tips.

  6. You did such a great job! And I know how good it feels to conquer the clutter!

    1. Thanks Sharon! Yes, it feels amazing to get rid of the clutter :)

  7. Excellent job. It always amazes me when people park their very expensive cars outdoors in all kinds of weather because the garage is full of stuff, most of which they probably never use.

    1. Thanks Janet. Yes, I'm always surprised at that too. Vehicles are probably the most expensive thing many people own, aside from their home. We only have 1 driveway parking spot and 2 vehicles, so we HAVE to keep our garage clutter-free to make room for one of them. It's probably a good thing :)

  8. This is "garage season" for sure! Great tips, and what a wonderful result! Another tip is to hook bungee cords across the gaps between the studs. A few nails and cords will hold those tall items in place. I actually like a garage that hasn't been sheet rocked!

  9. I love the point you make that most people don't have the "magazine" perfect garages. The idea of working with the space, budget and things that you already have (while letting go of what you don't need) makes a lot of sense. I have to admit that I do fantasize about having one of "those" garages, but it's unlikely that it will happen. Having a house with no basement or attic makes the garage a real storage spot for us. Very soon we'll be replacing our oil tank. It will be installed in the garage. The good news is that this will be a forced garage clean out. I'm excited about what it will become....and seeing your before and afters was inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Great tips, Hilda. I installed a anti-fatigue square mats that interlock from wall to wall in our garage last year and it really keeps the room comfortable on the feet in the winter and not too hot in the summer. I find that tools in the garage don't really work for us so we store them elsewhere. We instead store all the shoes in IKEA wallmount organizers. It works well and keeps the floors cleaner longer.


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