How to Declutter Your Garage No Matter How Full it Is

Is your garage brimming with so many things that something’s got to give?  Some belong there and others don’t.  Some you want and others you don’t.  In fact, you probably don’t even know what all is in there!  It’s time to dive in and get the garage clutter under control. 

As you’re wondering “How do I get rid of clutter in my garage?”,  believe me the clutter is more overwhelming than the solution.  Follow the basic step-by-step process I show you below.  The action steps are simple and take the mystery out of decluttering, no matter how full your garage is.

Following these action steps will help you prevent making a bigger mess when clearing garage clutter.  It can be a big job, and you probably won’t do it all at once.  Being organized will keep the disruption contained as you work.

1. Take 5 minutes.

These days garages are often more than just a place to park a car.  They play many different roles as owners are finding new and creative ways to use this valuable space.  

Your plans may be grand or simple, but having an idea of how you want your garage to function is fundamental.  Even for decluttering, before you ever begin to organize or even remodel.

How do you plan to use your garage space?

  • Cars
  • Storage
  • Work space
  • Living space
  • Exercise space
  • … or a combination

Keep your vision in mind as you go about decluttering.  When you’re tempted to keep too much “stuff”, ask yourself if it will help you reach your goal or get in the way.

2. Pick your target.

Ah, where to start?  There are so many options in a crowded, cluttered garage.  But it’s true that where you start isn’t as important as that you start.

Don’t let this simple question cause you to overthink.

  • Divide the garage into quadrants. 
  • Pick one. 
  • Then divide the quadrant up into smaller sections.
  • Work through each section until you finish the quadrant, then move on to the next quadrant.

If your garage is very full and crowded, you may want to just start with whatever is most accessible and go from there.

3. Gather your supplies.

This job calls for more than your typical decluttering supplies.  There will be more dirt involved and you’ll be working with bulkier objects.  There are particular safety precautions to take, and you should be prepared for some potential surprises.

Here’s a range of items you may need:

  • Heavy duty trash bags – I like to use these for a couple of reasons.  First, they’re extra large and hold a lot.  Secondly, they’re very thick so it’s safe to put all kinds of things in them that wouldn’t work in a regular garbage bag.
  • Broom and dustpan – A push broom is great if you have it.  Otherwise a regular one can work.  But it’s best *not* to use your regular house broom.  Get a separate one just for garage clean up.
  • Shop Vac – Please *don’t* use your household vacuum cleaner for this. It’s just not designed for the type of dirt and debris in most garages.
  • Work gloves –  You’ll probably be handling things that are dirty, sharp, rusty, and who knows what else.  So a sturdy pair of gloves is a must.
  • Cardboard boxes – For items that aren’t already in their own boxes, or smaller items that need to be contained, cardboard boxes are a good choice.
  • Post-It Notes and a Bold Marker – There will be all kinds of ways these come in handy.

And one tool that I’ve found extremely helpful.

  • Dumpster – If this is overkill for your situation, just diregard the idea.  But in the right circumstances it can be the best money you spend.

4. Empty and sort.

Empty the items from your target area one by one and inspect them. 

Be sure to open boxes, look into containers, and generally take care to not miss anything.

As you do this, sort each item into one of the following piles or groups:

  • Throw Away
  • Donate/Give
  • Sell
  • Keep

Separate the items to be thrown away by type, because they all have different requirements for proper disposal:  Trash, Garbage, Recycling, and Hazardous Materials.  

Have boxes and bags available so you can sort by destination.

Once you’ve completed the area you’ve targeted, or run out of working space, it’s time to clear out the items you’ve decluttered.

5. Replace, remove and relocate.

By now you will have one pile of things to keep and probably lots of items you’ve decided to get rid of.  

  • Replace the items you’re keeping neatly back into the garage.  But don’t mingle them with remaining clutter.  If you need to, rearrange some things to clear a temporary space specifically for your keep items.
  • Remove and Relocate all the decluttered items as soon as possible.  You may need to do this immediately in order to have enough space to keep working.  But if you will be leaving items in the garage temporarily, keep them grouped by destination and clearly separate from remaining clutter.

It’s even more important to remove decluttered items quickly when they’re basically still sitting in the same room that you’re working in.

Questions to Ask

Deciding what to do with each item is much simpler when you have a good list of questions to ask.  Your answers to these, along with you overall goals, will help make it clear.

Run through all the relevant questions for each item.  One positive or negative answer may not give you the full picture.

  • Is it in good condition?
  • Is it safe?
  • Is it almost empty?
  • Are all the parts or pieces intact?
  • Is it (or would it be) used regularly?
  • Is it expired?
  • How many do I have?
  • Should it be somewhere other than the garage?
  • Is it important enough to take up my limited space?
  • Would it be difficult or costly to replace?

Safety Concerns

Yes, most garages are home to items that are potentially very unsafe.  Decluttering these things should be done with care, from how you physically handle them to how and where you dispose of them.

Hazardous Materials

There’s a substantial list of items considered hazardous, and your garage may be home to any number of them.

There are federal, state, and local regulations about handling, storing and disposing of hazardous items.

For details about the laws surrounding home hazardous materials in your area, contact your local municipality.

Here’s a partial list of common items found in many homes. 

  • Antifreeze
  • Automotive batteries
  • Automotive body fillers
  • Brake fluid
  • Car polish and wax
  • Diesel fuel
  • Engine cleaners
  • Flares (marine, road)
  • Fluorescent light bulbs
  • Fungicides
  • Gasoline
  • Herbicides
  • Kerosene
  • Oil (automotive)
  • Paint (oil based)
  • Paint thinners
  • Pesticides
  • Weed killer
  • Windshield washer fluid

Animals

Garages are popular with small animals, and they often make their way in completely undetected.  Don’t be too surprised if you find evidence of this while you’re decluttering.

Read more about keeping wild animals out of your garage.

Sharp, Rusty or Broken Objects

Another safety concern as you’re clearing the clutter is items that can easily cause injury. 

Wearing proper protection like a pair of good work gloves and sturdy shoes helps to prevent this.   

Tips for Success

In addition to the action steps listed above, here are a few suggestions that will make the whole process easier.

  • Create a declutter staging area. Pick an area and declutter your garage floor to clear a space to use for sorting items.  It gives you room to work and focus without creating more confusion. 
  • Don’t spend too much time wondering where to start.  Use our suggestion of the quadrants, or simply start right where you’re standing!  The key is to be organized and work methodically as you move your way through the garage cleaning out clutter.
  • Have a plan garage clutter removal before you begin.  Make some decisions up front where you’ll be donating to, so you know how to pack things and when/where to deliver them.  Also, gather details about bulk garbage pickup, hazardous material disposal, electronics recycling, and other services you’ll want to take advantage of.
  • Consider donating to a charity that comes to you.  Some charities offer free donation pick up at your home, and accept a wide range of items, from books and electronics to furniture and even used cars.  If you have a lot of things to donate, or simply larger objects that are difficult to transport, this is a great option.
  • Remember the 1-in-1-out rule of thumb. Some things from the garage will find their way into your living space as you find items you forgot you had,  But sticking to this guideline will prevent clutter from migrating to your main house.
  • Declutter your garage more quickly by scheduling pickup services that give you a deadline.  If deadlines motivate you, this is an easy way to prevent the job from stretching out far longer than it has to.

Wrap Up

Garages can hold a lot of clutter but the solution doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  Follow the 5 basic steps of decluttering, work one small area at a time, and ask the right questions as you go.  Be prepared with supplies suitable for the job and aware of safety concerns.  And remember your goals.  What will your garage space be?

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