A garage can be a very useful addition to your house—it keeps your cars out of the elements and stores many of your belongings. But if your garage is cluttered and overflowing with junk, you’re wasting valuable storage space, not to mention creating an eyesore. If your garage is an unorganized dumping ground, it’s time to take back your space and make it a useable part of your home again. The idea of a garage cleanout can be overwhelming, so here are three main aspects to focus on:

1. Develop a game plan.

You should strategize before your cleanout. This is a big undertaking, and it’s good to be prepared so that the process goes as smoothly as possible.

You’ll want to think about your vision for your space. Do you just want to organize your items? Or do you also want to create a workspace (for example, an area with a desk for projects)? Consider what organization materials—like containers, bins, cabinets, shelves, pegboards, and hooks—you will need to buy. You might want to sketch a diagram of where to place or store groups of items.

You’ll also need a plan for unwanted items and trash. Think about where you could donate or dispose of large items such as old bicycles, furniture, or tools. You’ll also need to research what to do with hazardous materials—products with toxic or corrosive ingredients, like paint or pesticides—because it’s likely that your municipality’s trash collection services will not accept them.

Once you’ve mapped out what needs to be done, it’s important to consider the time frame for the cleanout. Realistically think about how long the process will take you. One route is to plan the cleanout for a period of days and work in one section at a time, perhaps starting in the area of the garage that bothers you the most. Be wary of emptying the contents of the entire garage and doing it all in one day, unless you’re sure it’ll get finished. Doing it all at once risks your running out of steam and creating an additional mess in your driveway or yard.

2. Organize your belongings.

First, decide what to keep or not to keep. Throw out or donate anything that has been outgrown, ignored, or otherwise not used for over a year. Once you know what you'd like to keep, arrange like with like. For example, seasonal items, sports equipment, and cleaning supplies should all be stored with other things in the same category. Use bins and containers to keep similar items together, and use labels to clearly identify the contents of the boxes to avoid having to search through each box later. To save space, make use of large items to corral smaller items—things like picnic coolers for pool toys, large baskets for sports equipment, and large buckets for car wash items.

Paint, varnish, and other chemicals should be sealed well and stored in well-ventilated, childproof cabinets. Remember that these items are hazardous waste and must be properly disposed of.

Keep as much as possible off the floor to eliminate clutter and crowding out of cars. Items that are used frequently should be easy to access; items only occasionally used can be put in hard-to-reach places, like high shelves. A shelving unit can be used for items often used but easily misplaced, like duct tape, string, and sandpaper. If you have loft storage, such as a high wooden shelf, larger items like the lawn mower can be stored underneath the shelves. Clear plastic tubs keep extension cords and spare hoses untangled and easy to find, and small items like nails, nuts, and bolts can be stored in small jars whose lids have been mounted to a piece of wood.

Mounting pegboard on the wall makes good use of vertical space, and S hooks can be placed in the pegboard for things like garden tools and brooms. With appropriate hooks, even ladders can be hung to free up floor space. Additionally, bicycles can be hung from the garage ceiling, especially if used infrequently, or mounted on poles.

3. Clean everything.

While you are reorganizing your items and moving things around, be sure to thoroughly wipe down any shelves, racks, or cabinets, since they may be empty for the first time in a while. Wipe off any dusty items before putting them away again. You might also want to scrub and wash the floor, especially if large sections of the garage are empty. You can even get rid of oil stains with special cleaning products.

If the garage is completely empty, you might consider power washing the floor and patching cracks. This would also be the ideal time to apply a garage floor coating to better protect the floor and enhance the entire look of your garage.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider hiring a closet and garage organizer to make sense of all your clutter. Some garage organizers can apply a garage floor coating as well as install storage solutions for you. To see how an organizer company may be able to help you out, check out this blog post to get an overview of what they can do. Don’t let your garage be a joke anymore; clean out your garage once and for all and turn it into the envy of the neighborhood.

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Sources: EPA; Good Housekeeping; HGTV; Ohio EPA; The Family Handyman; The Plain Dealer.

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