Depending on what survey you read, somewhere between 15%-25% of American’s can’t park their cars in their garage.
There’s too much clutter in American garages to fit the one thing that’s supposed to be in there:
So if you’re one of those people that’s frustrated that you can’t park inside, then you’re going to love this.
You’re not going to spend all weekend “rage cleaning.”
Today, we’re going to start to declutter your garage, but we’re going to do things a bit differently.
The goal is to set up a process that you can do over time and (most importantly) keep up with, so your garage will never be a disaster again.
How to declutter your garage like a video game
I think the reason most people don’t clean out their garage is because they make it one HUGE job instead of several smaller ones.
What does cleaning your garage have to do with video games?
No matter what type of game you play (sports games, shooters or RPG’s), video games are designed to give you little bits of satisfaction often.
That’s why they’re so addictive.
We’re going to treat cleaning out your garage like a video game and give yourself those little wins often.
The “video game method” of cleaning out your garage focuses on two things:
- Breaking one huge 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 up with it in the future.
Let’s start with the first level and get you used to the game.
Level 1: Get rid of the easy stuff (Your first boss level)
Games usually have a boss really early on that seems really tough at the time, but you’ll look back on it later and think how easy it was.
Let’s get an easy win. We’re going to clean out some of the big items first and clear out a little space to work with.
If you have any of these items, throw them out right now.
If it’s not in a sealed bag…ewww.
Rodents and spiders can live in your garage and they’ve probably made that mattress their home. There’s too much potential for disease, mold, or parasites if the mattress isn’t stored properly.
Get rid of it now.
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 how to properly dispose of old computers here.
I get a lot of stuff through Amazon Prime, so I’m guilty of this. Stop saving those boxes.
Unless you run an eBay business on the side, you’re never going to use them. They belong in the recycling bin.
Speaking of recycling, if you live in an area where your recycling doesn’t get picked up every week, it can pile up. What I like to do is 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.
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’ve got extra paint in your garage older than that, toss it.
Newspapers and magazines
I used to have a stack of fitness magazines that 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’r always going to find something more pressing or important to do than read a magazine that’s now several months or years out of date.
Level 2: Break it up into smaller chunks (side-quests)
Now that you’ve got a little working space in your garage, it’s time to plan out 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 the piles into like products. Put all of your tools in one place. Put all of your garden stuff in another. Car products in a third. Keep the toys someplace else.
We’re not making any decisions on what to keep or throw out in this step unless they’re really obvious. If something is hopelessly broken, then toss it.
It’s important to try to keep some empty space in between the piles so there’s a distinction between them. Psychologically, you’ll see that as two smaller problems instead of one big problem.
I’m not a fan of the “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, old paint, spare flooring tiles, Christmas 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 could be it for today.
If so, congratulations. You brought some order to your chaos and that’s a big win!
Level 3: Clean out your inventory
Now comes the first real challenge. Pick one of the piles you made in Level 2 and we’re going to 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, if it doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it.
That’s right. I still found a way to work Marie Kondo into a decluttering article with a video game theme. Boom.
Anyway, if you’ve read anything at all on cleaning out your garage or house (even your closet), you’ll recognize this next advice.
Separate your junk into three piles:
- Stuff to throw out
- Stuff to donate or sell
- Stuff to keep
Go through each item in the pile (and only that pile) and decide if it still has a place in your life.
If it does, great. If it doesn’t, then either throw it out right now 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 you don’t need because of “someday” is how your garage got to be a cluster**** in the first place.
If something doesn’t have a place in your life on a consistent basis, it needs to go. Remember, the goal in this level of the game is to purge unnecessary junk!
Let me give you a couple of examples what to look for:
- If you’ve moved anytime in the past ten years, you’ve probably got boxes of stuff 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 once you got it home.
- Stuff that seems cute, but it’s really just a waste of space because you’re not using it anymore.
- Something that used to hold a sentimental value but…not so much anymore.
If you haven’t used something in the 6-12 months, then you don’t need it in your life.
Obviously, this excludes seasonal things like Christmas or other holiday decorations, seasonal toys or sporting goods or anything else that is stored in your garage but gets regular use at specific times of the year.
When in doubt, get rid of it.
Remember, the more stuff you keep, the more stuff you’ll have to find a home for later.
Trash, Sell or Donate?
Inventory slots in games are normally fixed so you’re constantly choosing what stuff to drop on your travels (Trash) or sell to a local trader (Donate or Sell) in order to make room for the stuff you want to keep.
If I have an item in my home that I know I want to get rid of but I’m not sure if I should sell it, donate it or trash it, I just check eBay.
Just go to eBay, search for the item and find recent 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.
That’s two tough lessons learned.
If the item is small enough and valuable enough, I’ll usually list it on eBay. Personally, I avoid selling it locally through Craigslist through 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. will cost a lot to ship through UPS) then I’ll donate it. This also helps for tax purposes at the end of the year.
To be honest, I end up either donating or trashing almost everything. Very little is worth my time to sell.
Before moving on
It’s easy to start feeling like you’ve spent forever just moving stuff around and maybe throwing out some stuff here and there.
Once you’ve got a couple of piles completed (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 of the garden tools and my tool cases, but not any of the spare tiles or other house stuff.
I got it completely cleaned and organized 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 the rest of your garage even faster.
It’s up to you how you want to play this level. Think of it like an “open world garage cleaning.”
Level 4: The final challenge…garage organization
Whether you’re completely finished with your Level 3 purge or you’re just dipping your toes into this level to see some quick results and keep your motivation up, it doesn’t matter.
It’s time to get organized.
You could fill a book about how to organize your garage. Trust me, many people have done just that.
It’s critical that you change the way you look at (and live with) your garage if you want to make a lasting change.
In this level, we’re going to make sure that the biggest challenge areas have a plan to stay clean and organized. I’ve also started a resource page that has a few products that I can’t live without.
If you want more details, there’s going to be a more in-depth article soon, but 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, so make a commitment now to keep everything off the floor.
I took this to an extreme in my garage. Even my garage cabinets are mounted on the walls so that I can sweep or hose out 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, which 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 it’s 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 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 to this is if you do work at job sites and you 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 get rid of the duplicates which streamlined my toolbox and freed up wasted space.
Remember the goal is to make decluttering your garage as quick and painless 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 organization systems to keep your garage easy to maintain in the future.