How to Declutter & Clean Out Your Garage the Easy Way

Depending on the survey, somewhere between 15%-25% of Americans can’t park their car inside their garage.

In other words, there’s so much stuff in American garages they can’t fit the one thing that’s supposed to be there:

Your car.

So if you’re one of those frustrated that you can’t park inside, then you’ll love this.

How to declutter your messy garage

You’re not going to spend all weekend “rage cleaning.”

Today, we’re going to declutter your garage, but we’ll do things a bit differently.

The goal is to set up a process you can do over time and (most importantly) keep up with, so your garage will never be a disaster again.


My Garage Decluttering Process: Lessons Learned from Video Games

Most people don’t clean out their garage because they make it one BIG project instead of several smaller ones.

What does your garage decluttering project have to do with video games?

No matter what type of game you play (sports games, shooters, or RPGs), video games are designed to give you little bits of satisfaction often.

That’s why they’re so addictive.

We’ll treat cleaning out your garage like a video game and give yourself those little wins often.

The “video game method” is a decluttering process for your entire garage that focuses on two things:

  • Breaking one colossal task down into smaller chunks (shorter quests)
  • Setting time limits to keep you motivated

I recommend setting a time limit of no more than one hour or one small task. After that, if you’re still feeling good and motivated, keep going. But be OK with stopping too.

We want to make this a lifestyle change so you’ll keep your garage clutter free.

Let’s start with the first level to get you used to the game.


Level 1: Eliminate The Easy Clutter to Open Up Floor Space

Games usually have a boss early on that seems challenging at the time, but you’ll look back on it later and think how easy it was.

Let’s get an easy win. We’ll start to declutter your garage by cleaning out some of the big items first. This will make a huge difference and clear out a little space to work with.

If you have any of these items, throw them out right now.

Old mattresses

If it’s not in a sealed bag…Ewww.

Matresses stacked in a garage

Rodents and spiders can live in your garage, and they’ve probably made that mattress their home. If the mattress isn’t stored correctly, there’s potential for disease, mold, or parasites.

Get rid of it now.

Old computers

Are you still holding on to that beige desktop from 2003?

Pull out the hard drive, so your personal data stays private, and trash the rest. The FTC has a great guide on properly disposing of old computers.

Recycling

Your recycling can pile up if you live in an area where it doesn’t get picked up weekly. I like to put the recycling bag directly in my trunk, so it forces me to go to the drop-off regularly on my way home from work.

Old paint

This was a big one for me. Paint can only last about two years once it’s been opened before it breaks down. If you store paint cans in your garage, you can probably safely dispose of it.

Boxes

I get a lot of products through Amazon Prime, so I’m guilty of this. Stop saving those empty cardboard boxes.

Unless you run an eBay business on the side, you’ll never use that many empty boxes. They belong in the recycling bin.

Newspapers and magazines

I used to have a stack of fitness magazines I’d save because they had a “great workout that I had to try.”

Spoiler…I never did.

If you’re holding on to stacks of magazines or newspapers with the hope of someday reading those articles, it’s time to let it go. You’ll always something more pressing or important to do than read a magazine several months (or years) out of date.


Level 2: Sort Your Entire Garage (Without Making a Bigger Mess)

Now that you’ve got some open floor space in your garage to work let’s plan the next area to tackle.

You can think of this as your first side-quest on the way to your final goal.

My first step was to organize items into piles of similar products. Put all of your tools in one place. Put all of your garden items in another. Car products in a third. Keep the toys someplace else.

We’re not making any non-obvious decisions on what to keep or throw out in this step. However, if something is hopelessly broken, then toss it.

It’s essential to keep some empty space between the piles, so there’s a distinction between them. Psychologically, you’ll see that as two smaller projects instead of one large project.

I’m not a fan of the “open your garage doors, take everything out, and pile it up in your driveway” method because it makes you feel overwhelmed and miserable.

In my case, I had piles of tools, garden supplies, sports equipment, old paint, spare flooring tiles, Christmas lights and decorations, and lots of miscellaneous tubs around the sides of our garage.

We could still park two cars in there…but only barely.

Depending on how long this takes (remember you set a time limit!), this may be the end of today’s garage decluttering session.

If so, congratulations!

You brought some order to your chaos.

That’s a big win!

Boxes and tools stacked in garage

Level 3: Putting Items In Their Place

Now comes the first real challenge. Pick one of the piles you made in Level 2, and we’ll make it go away.

I’m not trying to be obvious, but decluttering is all about getting rid of the stuff you don’t need. As Marie Kondo would say, get rid of it if it doesn’t bring you joy.

That’s right. I still found a way to work Marie Kondo into a “declutter garage” article with a video game theme.

Boom.

At any rate, you’ll probably see where this is going…

Separate all the clutter into three piles:

  • Stuff to throw out
  • Stuff to donate or sell
  • Stuff to keep

Start with the first pile, go through each item, and decide if it still has a place in your life.

Don’t jump between piles. Finish one before starting the next.

If it does, great. If it doesn’t, throw it out or put it off to the side to donate or sell.

I know… It’s not rocket science, but it works.

Danger ahead: “What if I need this someday?”

Let me be serious for a minute:

If you save stuff because you think you’ll need it someday…

You probably won’t.

Keeping junk that you don’t need because of “someday” is how your garage became a cluster**** in the first place.

If something doesn’t have a place in your life consistently, it needs to go. Remember, the goal in this level is to purge unnecessary junk!

Let me give you a couple of examples of what to look for:

  • If you’ve moved anytime in the past ten years, you’ve probably got storage boxes of clutter from your old home that you haven’t unpacked yet (guilty).
  • You bought something on sale because it was cheap, but you never really found a use for it once you got it home.
  • Items that seem cute, but are just wasting space because you’re not using them anymore.
  • Something that used to hold a sentimental value but…not so much anymore.
  • Broken items that you swear you’ll get around to fixing…someday.

If you haven’t used something in the 6-12 months, then you don’t need it in your life.

This excludes seasonal things like holiday decorations, seasonal toys or sporting goods, or anything else stored in your garage but gets regular use at specific times of the year.

When in doubt, get rid of it.

Remember, the more items you keep, the more things you’ll have to find a home for later.

Trash, Sell, or Donate?

You only have a set number of inventory slots in most games. That means you’re constantly choosing what stuff to drop on your travels (Trash) or sell to a local trader (Donate or Sell) to make room for the things you want to keep.

When I have an item in my home that I know I want to get rid of, but I don’t know whether to sell it, donate it or trash it, I just check eBay.

Seriously.

Go to eBay, search for the item and find recently completed listings. If you see a few that have sold for a price you think is fair (and worth your time), then either sell the item or donate it.

Be sure to check several listings to get an idea of shipping charges. I’ve sold things on eBay that have cost more to ship than I made from selling it. I’ve also had my profits disappear once I got hit with Seller’s Fees at the end of the month.

Two tough lessons learned.

If the item is small and valuable, I’ll usually list it on eBay.

Personally, I avoid selling it locally through Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or a garage sale because I don’t want the hassle. It may be for you, but it’s just not my thing.

If the item is big and bulky (i.e., it will cost a lot to ship through UPS), I’ll donate it. This also helps for tax purposes at the end of the year.

To be honest, most things are either donated or end up in a trash can. Very little is worth my time selling.

Before moving on

It’s easy to start feeling like you’ve spent forever just moving a mess around and maybe throwing out some clutter here and there.

Once you’ve completed a couple of piles (that means thrown out or taken to Goodwill to donate), you could take a stab at Level 4 and then come back to finish off this level later.

In my case, I worked on one complete side of my garage first. That included all my garden tools and tool cases, but not any spare tiles or other house items.

I cleaned and organized it before jumping back to work on the other side.

The danger of this is that you could see the progress of half of your garage cleaned out and fall back into the trap of hoarding clutter and junk everywhere.

But, if done right, it could give you even more motivation to finish decluttering your garage quickly.

It’s up to you how you want to play this level. Think of it like an “open world garage cleaning.”

Messy garage before its transformation

Level 4: Storage Solutions to Keep Your Garage Clutter Free

Whether you’re completely finished with your Level 3 purge or dipping your toes into this level to see some quick results and keep your motivation up, it doesn’t matter.

It’s time to set up a logical storage system and get organized.

You could fill a book about how to organize your garage. Trust me, many people have done just that.

You must change the way you look at (and live with) your garage if you want to make a lasting change.

At this level, we’ll plan ahead to ensure that the biggest challenge areas will stay clean and organized.

Here are a couple of tips to get you started.

Tip #1: Keep everything off the floor

The easiest way to clutter up your garage again is to start making piles on the floor. Part of keeping your garage clutter free is to keep everything off the floor.

I took this to an extreme in my garage. I mounted my garage cabinets on the walls to sweep or hose the floor underneath them.

Tip #2: Look up

What should you do with all those piles on the floor? Just look up.

Most modern garages are at least ten feet high. That leaves plenty of room for a wire-frame shelf system mounted to the ceiling, a DIY rack for plastic tubs, or even just a shelf above the garage door.

Tip #3: One of everything and everything in its place

You could also call this tip “how not to be a hoarder.”

My goal is to have one of everything. No more. No less.

I want a screwdriver set. One hammer. One tape measure. One socket set. Etc.

Why? Because I can only use one at a time. Obviously, if two people in the house use tools regularly, have some select duplicates.

The exception is if you work at job sites and have a travel set of tools and a home set. In that case, go ahead and have two sets of tools, but keep them organized.

In my case, I had three tape measures, two socket sets, three stud finders, and four sets of small screwdrivers. I could happily eliminate the duplicates to streamline my toolbox and free up wasted space.


How to Declutter Your Garage: Final thoughts

Remember, the goal is to declutter your garage as quickly and painlessly as possible.

  • Break it down into small chunks and work on only those areas.
  • Take breaks often to keep yourself motivated
  • Simplify where you can
  • Look for smart storage solutions to keep your garage clutter free and easy to maintain in the future.