If you need to get your whole house organized, organize the garage first. This may seem completely counter-priority. You are probably more aware of the clutter in your more immediate living areas. You see the clutter in your kitchen, bedroom, and home office every day. If you are downsizing, you are probably most concerned with moving out the excess furniture. If you are preparing a home for sale, you know that potential buyers want to see the kitchen. Surely the garage takes a back seat.

“25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them and 32% only have room for one vehicle.”

-U.S. Department of Energy

Nevertheless, there are three good reasons to start the organizing process with your garage:

1. Quick Wins

There tends to be a lot of quick wins in the garage. That is, it’s easier to decide on definitely keeping or letting go. The garage is a great collector for what professional organizing pioneer Barbara Hemphill calls postponed decisions:

  • “I’ll repair that when I get a chance.”
  • “I just have to transfer data from that old computer before I donate it.”
  • “Let’s just stick it in the garage for now.”

Organizing your house usually comes from a major life transition. Consequently push has come to shove.  For example, you’ll think critically and realize that that old computer is out-dated and no-one wants it now.  You don’t need to transfer the old data, that you already have anyway. You just need to destroy the hard drive discard the computer with e-waste

2. Motivation

When you can make fast decisions, you builds your confidence. When you clear the garage, you will be more motivated to take on the rest of the house. That leads me to the next reason to start with the garage

3. A Destination for the Excess

When a client pushes to organize a basement first, I always ask the same question. Where is it all the excess going to go? A clear garage is the perfect place to collect discard and donate items from the rest of the house. That’s why you have to clear it first. Create a clearly defined donate zone on one wall and maybe a discard zone on another wall. Perhaps you get a dumpster for the discards, but everything goes through the garage. When you start with a clear discarding plan like this, the decluttering process is smoother.

Whether you are working with your family, friends, or just a spouse a clear strategy will reduce conflict. So what are the actually steps to make garage organizing easier? Follow these five steps:

1. Hauling Plan

The garage is the first answer to “where will the excess go?” but not the last. You also need a plan for where the excess goes from the garage. As I mentioned, maybe you will have a dumpster for the discards. Maybe you will remove the donations on multiple donation runs. These days there is only one organization that still does donation pick ups. That’s Vietnam Vets of America. (No one is taking furniture donations.) If you are waiting for the Vets, you need to factor in a two week wait time. There’s also a 25 item limit. If you want a convenient one-stop-shop for discards and donates, I recommend The Junkluggers. They come whenever you want.

2. Establish Exit Zones

To clarify your process, I recommend hanging exit zone signs. You can download these from my Best Organizing Zone Signs post.

3. Sort Before Review

When processing clutter, there is a temptation to just start grabbing whatever you can discard. Your focus should not be on discarding but on prioritizing. Prioritizing will get you further and make you feel better about your decisions. To make prioritizing easier, sort first. Sort all like items into the same general categories, then review one category at a time. You will make faster progress because context drives decisions.

4. Keep a Close Circle

Once you have grouped items into categories, keep the review close. Give your full focus to completing the review, by making it easy to stay close. Set up a review table and establish a temporary keep zone on the floor. This is for items you have reviewed and decided to keep. Don’t worry about distributing these items to their final homes yet. Keep a big trash bag by your table. Don’t take each piece of trash to the dumpster yet. Keep a box marked “elsewhere” for items that don’t belong in the garage. Don’t relocate them yet. When you keep these actions and distributions close to your table, you will move faster. Keep close to keep momentum.

5. Quantity Dictates Systems

If you are decluttering to stay, don’t start putting keepers on shelves before you complete reviewing. It is important to fully see the quantities in each category before committing them to systems. That way you can always allot the appropriate space and location to each category. Also, you can learn the right number and sizes of containers once you know the quantities. One of the biggest organizing mistakes is purchasing containers before you have prioritized your stuff. Full prioritization is the key ingredient to establishing sustainable systems.

The next room to take on is similarly low priority: the basement. Why the basement? Because it also answers the question, where is the excess going to go? You may want to sell some items. If you want to sell items of value, a damp garage might not be the best place. However a basement tends to be dryer, yet is out of view. If you are organizing and staying put, you will want to open up storage space. Much of what we find in living spaces does not need to be so accessible. You are better off storing it (easily find-able) in the basement.

And where does the excess in the basement go? Out through the garage of course!

If organizing your garage feels overwhelming, that’s what we are here for. This month we are celebrating Garage Month at Matt Baier organizing with The Garage Massage Special, for new clients. Find out how you can get organized and save.