What was built to fit two cars but cannot fit two cars? American garages.
Nearly half of Americans admitted to being unable to park their car in their garage, according to an online survey of more than 1,000 people by SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based online broker for storage and moving companies.
It’s even worse for families, with three out of five parents saying they’ve been unable to park their car in the garage.
“So many garages have become black holes, the modern-day equivalent of the elephant burial ground,” said Peter Walsh, a professional organizer and consultant for SpareFoot. “Things you don’t want to deal with get tossed in the garage, and very quickly garages become unusable, which is crazy when you consider the car is the second most valuable possession besides your house.”
The native Australian and author of the New York Times best-selling book “It’s All Too Much” has simplified the daunting task of cleaning the garage based on three fundamental steps.
—Assess value: Deciding what is no longer needed, used or valued is the hardest step in decluttering the garage. If it hasn’t been used in a couple of years, it probably never will be. Ditch it.
More problematic is the “memory clutter.”
“That’s the stuff that reminds us of an important person or achievement, and the sense of letting go dishonors the memory,” Walsh said. He recommends identifying those singular, epitomizing objects, “the ones that mean the absolute most” and raising them up to a more dignified place inside the home rather than the box in the garage. For years, a granddaughter held onto boxes of her deceased grandma’s stuff, until Walsh helped her identify those items that meant the most. She framed the recipes of her grandma’s favorite dishes and hung it in the kitchen along with some pictures and mementos.
—Allocate space: Walsh recommends creating specific zones for similar stuff and allocating a certain amount of space. Let’s say you have 10 bins of holiday decorations, then all those bins go on the overhead shelves, for example. If there gets to be more stuff than can fit in those 10 bins, then something in those bins has to go to make room for the new stuff. The idea behind zones is to know where things live, where to find them, and most importantly, how to put them back.
“Establishing zones establishes order,” Walsh says. He encourages parents to kneel down from a kid’s height to see if they’re able to put away their own things. Unsurprisingly, he recommends labeling the zones.
—Avoid floor creep: “Flat surfaces such as the top of the desk, countertop, floor of the garage are not for storage,” Walsh warns. Use vertical space wisely. Once-a-year items should be stored at the top; more regular stuff should be at eye level using hooks, pegboard, shelves — whatever it takes to keep stuff off the floor.
Mostly, get used to getting rid of stuff.
“We’re led to believe that if we buy the right stuff, we can acquire the life we want,” Walsh said, citing all the milestones where the ritual is to give someone something. “There is not one single ritual marked by taking stuff out of our home.”
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