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How to Organize Your Garage In Six Easy Steps

Garage Organizing Systems & Garage Organization Ideas

If you're like most of us, your garage tends to become a collecting spot for all miscellaneous household goods, sports gear and yard maintenance items. Often, the clutter takes over to the point that many garages don't have any room left to park a car — a large investment that when left outdoors, can suffer damage from UV exposure, bird droppings, and tree sap. (Also, climbing into a scalding-hot vehicle in summertime is no fun). A well designed garage organization system where everything has its assigned space can increase storage capacity, keeping things neater, cleaner, easier to find, and could even help prolong the life of your vehicle.

Plentiful storage cabinets, garage wall systems and work benches that provide a place for everything are the hallmark of the well appointed garage.

You can work on organizing your garage at any time, however, most Chicagoans prefer to work on this task during our warmer weather. It's more comfortable to work in an unheated space when the weather is nice, and you'll gain a lot of light by keeping the overhead doors up while you're working. End of spring/early summer (i.e. now) is the perfect time to get started on your garage organization project.

How to Organize Your Garage:

  1. STEP 1: Clean Out
    The first thing you want to do is to pair down. It is usually possible to find a place for everything you have and/or want to have in your garage. You just need the right organization. Depending on how messy your garage is to start with, cleaning it up may seem a bit overwhelming at first. Larger families may find that there has been more than one person piling their stuff in the garage, multiplying the clutter. Garage organization is often a family affair — at least the first stage where you need to clean out and pair down. Get your spouse involved and recruit any other willing friends and family with this task. Go through absolutely everything. There are bound to be toys that have been outgrown, appliances you no longer want, boxes that were never unpacked from the time you moved in. You will need to decide what you want to keep and either donate the rest or have a garage sale.
    messy garage before Closet Works organization
    Typical messy garage before garage organizing systems are in place.
  2. STEP 2: Sort Everything By Type for Storage
    The next thing you want to do is categorize what is left. Organizing your tools, sporting goods, holiday decorations and other materials so that like goes with like will allow you to see how much storage space needs to be allocated for each type of item. This step is critical in your ability to develop a plan. Use the yard or driveway to spread out and separate your garage contents into distinct groups of items.
    step 2 in how to organize your garage - sort
    Sort and organize items by type.
  3. STEP 3: Draw Up a Plan
    In order to maintain organization in your garage, each item you intend to keep there will need a designated place where it will be kept. This is the secret to all organization and will make maintenance easier in the long run. If you think you will be aquiring a lot of new possessions, space for these also needs to be included in the plan, keeping in mind that many older possessions will be eliminated as new ones come in to replace them. (For example, your child's bicycle and sporting goods can probably use the same storage space that was previously allocated to the Big Wheel and other baby toys).
    detailed plan on how to organize your garage
    Plan your garage organization out on paper first, to ensure you will have a place for everything.
  4. STEP 4: Include a Variety of Different Types of Storage Elements
    • Shelves: Shelving is a must in every garage organization project. After all, a major reason to organize your garage in the first place is to get everything up off the floor. Pull-outs can also be lumped in with shelving. They function in a similar manner to a regular shelf, but keep things from rolling off. Typical pull-outs used in the garage include include pull-out shelves and pull-out wire baskets. Keep in mind that different types of shelves are rated by the amount of weight they can hold. Refer to the plan you made in the previous step to determine just how heavy duty your shelves need to be. We recommend that garage shelves receive some sort of support every 30 inches to prevent bowing, as contents can be quite heavy.
      garage organization cabinets and shelves
      Garage organization cabinets and shelves.
    • Cabinets: The best plans will also include cabinets as part of the garage organizing system. You will be thankful in the long run if you have storage with doors. They present a neater appearance than open shelves and can easily have a lock added to secure chemicals and fertilizers away from children. Garage cabinets should usually be raised on "legs" off the garage floor. This will preent damage to the cabinet from moisture. Adjustable legs will also serve to keep the cabinet level on the inherently uneven garage floor.
    • Wall Storage Systems: Garage wall systems offer a way to keep your tools organized and in plain sight at the same time. A garage wall system can be as simple as old fashioned peg board, or you can purchase one of the more expensive track systems that utilize custom accessories to hang and organize different types of tools along strips of long, horizontal rails or wall tracks. Wall track systems are commonly used to hang big tools like spades and rakes along a garage wall, but are also installed above workbenches to organize small hand tools.
      garage organization ideas include wall track for organizing tools
      The Omni Track garage wall system for tools.
    • Workbench: If you store tools in your garage, plan on including a workbench so that you can use them easily. This might be a potting bench for a gardener, a traditional tool bench where you sit and make repairs, or some sort of woodworking spot for those who like to build things. Some garages may even need two benches to accommodate different interests.
      garage organization ideas
      Garage organization system with items sorted by type plus a tool benches for making household repairs or potting plants. Wall track is installed above the tool benches for hanging small hand tools like wrenches, screwdrivers and even paper towels.
    • Overhead Storage: Making use of all available storage space means some things should be suspended from the ceiling. It is a bit more difficult to access than your typical wall storage, but will allow for more things to be kept in the garage. For this reason, overhead storage is recommended for seasonal items or for things that are used infrequently.
      garage organization ideas include putting seasonal items in overhead storage bins
      Garage organization ideas include putting seasonal items in overhead storage bins.
    • Specialty Storage: Some garages also function as the home's mud room. Lockers for jackets and benches where you can take off your boots can be added near the garage door to help families stay organized while keeping the mud, sand, slush and melted snow out of the house.
      garage organization ideas include integrated mud room storage
      This garage is also used as a mud room. Garage organization ideas to meet this need include a bench for shoes and lockers/cabinets for coats.
  5. STEP 5: Exclude Storage Items That Can't Take Humidy or Freezing Temperatures
    Keep in mind that some things are better not stored in the garage at all. Unless your garage is heated, most liquids will freeze over a Chicago winter if stored in the garage. Paint is one of these things. Never keep your paint or similar types of liquids in the garage over the winter. Liquid chemicals will state on the container whether they can be allowed to freeze. Usually the answer is no. Papers and photos are another no no. Excessive humidty can cause paper products to curl and mold. Furthermore, bugs and rodents are often attracted to paper as a nesting material. Papers are best filed indoors.
  6. STEP 6: Don't Forget the Floor
    The finishing touch to your newly organized/remodeled garage should be the floor. Ordinary concrete gets stained easily and is difficult to keep clean. What's more, unprotected concrete will eventually pit from winter road salt drippings that inevitably end up all over your floor. There are numerous garage floor systems available, but the best and most durable is professionally installed epoxy coatings for your garage floor. Don't confuse a professional grade epoxy floor with the do-it-yourself kits available at most home improvement stores. The DIY kits have a notorious reputation for chipping, peeling and ear through after just a couple of Chicago's notorious winters. Professional grade epoxy floors that are formulated for Chicago's weather, on the other hand, are long-lasting due to the concrete being professionally prepped by highly skilled and certified craftsmen before installing the epoxy system. Many color options are available to coordinate with your garage storage cabinets. The epoxy flooring provides a seamless finish that is extremely durable, dust-free, easy-to-clean and requires minimal maintenance. They resist stains from household cleaners, road salt, oils, gasoline, lubricants, etc. and look great all year long.
    epoxy coated garage floor
    Epoxy coated concrete floors are the finishing touch to the well appointed garage and will keep your garage looking clean, while protecting the concrete surface from salt, pitting and spills.

A well organized garage will be more than just a place to put things. It can function as another room for your home. Whether you need a practice room for your home rock band, a place to start your own new business, space for the kids, or just enough room to park the car, a good garage organization system can provide all of this. Follow the steps outlined above and you'll be well on your way to lasting garage organization. If you'd like to see examples of what other Chicago area homeowners have been doing with their garages, check out our gallery of garage organizing systems for ideas to use on your own project.