Garages are for cars. Did you know that? Weird, huh? That's like someone claiming that dining tables were originally designed for eating meals. It's bananas. About two-thirds of people who have a garage don't park their car inside it, and 90% say they only would if someone had tried to steal their car. It's funny that other than the house itself, most people's most valuable possession is their car, and yet we leave them outside while making room for boxes of old high school yearbooks and holiday decorations we bought for 99 cents. In our case, there are two reasons we don't park in the garage: 1. Someone carpeted it, and 2. We no longer have a car. That's a post for a different day. Let's go back to the process of packing and moving all the junk from a garage, since it's a near-universal conundrum.
Why do we have so much stuff and not enough room for it? What is it about garages that makes them like the Bermuda Triangle of clutter?
Garages are not fun places to work most of the time. Usually they are not insulated, which means they are too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. Usually they are very dim. Usually they have lots of holes to the outside, which you can plainly see if you stand in your garage during daylight with the doors closed and the lights turned off. That means bugs, spiders, and sometimes bigger and creepier things. These are reasons not to go in the garage at all, much less to use it as a fabulous workspace. If you wonder whatever happened to your former passion for a neglected hobby, the poor ergonomics of your garage may be to blame. It's definitely one of the major reasons any given garage is a mess. Who would want to go out there, for even an hour, and when would they do it?
There is never a good time for space clearing. It's never going to be fun and you're never going to be in the mood. It's just a question of having a pressing reason to do it by a certain deadline - such as relocating.
Every garage is a tangle. Ours is like many - a combination space. It had:
A laundry area
Old paints and brushes
Winter storage (coats, scarves, gloves, etc)
Bicycles and a unicycle and a tub of motorcycle gear
Lots of shelving units of different styles and materials
Stuff the previous tenants and the owner left here
Boxes of memorabilia
Yard sale/eBay stuff
Empty shipping boxes
Empty product boxes we planned to reuse
Stuff that didn't fit in the house (like a too-big dry erase board)
Artwork we weren't decorating with in this house
Stuff we didn't know what to do with
Stuff that needed repairs
Materials that We Might Need One Day
Stuff we didn't know how to get rid of
I see the garage as a Man Cave, even though I can and do use shop tools, fix things, build things, and do garagey-type stuff. I just never had my own personal garage until after my husband and I got married, and I'm used to doing my projects on the back porch or wherever. My husband is an engineer and ex-logger - think TOOLS and lots of them - and he has a lot of gear-intensive hobbies like hockey that demand storage space. I figured I would give him the garage as a hands-off interference-free zone. That's why I had no sympathy when it came time to sort the garage. Have fun with that, babe! [runs off chortling]
I told him I would do the kitchen. I'm sweet that way.
The first thing we did was to hold a one-day yard sale. There was zero traffic for most of the day. We only sold maybe 1/3 of what we put out, and we only made $146. That was it for us. We had already tried and failed to sell a bunch of stuff on eBay, even for 99 cents. We decided that it simply wasn't worth any more of our time to try to extract a few dollars from the things we had left. We made up our minds to donate everything to a charity rummage sale, and we did that in two trips. These included a few items we had already moved as many as six times, without using them, and we know we won't be missing them. Little emotion here other than relief, and feeling silly that we hadn't done it sooner.
The second thing was to make some strategic decisions, like so:
Are we going to have a garage in our next place? In perpetuity?
What about a storage unit? For how long? Where?
How are we going to spend our time at the new place? After that?
What hobbies are important to us now, versus 10 or 20 years ago?
We're moving to the beach (spoilers) and almost none of the listings we have seen include garages. It also turns out that the nearest storage facilities are in other towns entirely. Also, (more spoilers) we just got rid of our car. So if we kept too much stuff, we would find ourselves in the position of having to pay $200-$300 a month to store things, take a cab to go to the next town (and back) to get stuff (assuming it would fit in a cab), and do it again to put it back. The prices were shocking. When we listed off what we thought we might not be able to fit in a small home, it seemed dumb to pay to store it.
Backpacking gear (fits in a closet, because we carry it all on our backs)
Tools (what if a pipe bursts late at night?)
Guest bedding (for those prices, we'll get you a hotel)
Stuff we never use - what, with our vacation money? I think not
Due to our major lifestyle policy changes and strategic decisions, we knew we could get rid of whole categories of things. Gardening tools. Automotive repair tools. Shop tools. The ladder. Materials for things we "might make one day" that we never did in our last eight years together. We estimated the replacement prices for these items, some of which we sold, and realized that it wasn't a big deal to us to buy a new one if we needed to. It would be less expensive to replace ALL OF IT than to rent a storage unit for one year. Six months, actually.
Storage units are emotional decisions, not logistical decisions, and almost never financial decisions.
We looked at our hobbies and our new region, and realized there were certain things we would probably do more often. My husband has a wetsuit I've never known him to wear once, but he used to, and now it's plausible that he will again. It still fits. We have bikes that we haven't ridden together in a long time, but now that we are car-free they are suddenly relevant. The dog has a floaty vest that my dad got him, and suddenly that seems like a really key item to have. Thanks, Dad!
The poor hubby set to work. I helped to come in from time to time and bring mental bandwidth. There were some decisions that felt a bit overwhelming. Decision fatigue leads almost immediately to physical fatigue, and sorting through MISC (the dreaded misc) can feel like trudging through waist-deep molasses. We got through it, though, and found that we had enough room to set up a staging area for our moving boxes. It took about three hours.
Imagine having less in the garage than you do in your house. Imagine being able to use your garage space - for any purpose at all.
Imagine if you actually DID all the aspirational activities that are represented by the clutter in your garage.
Imagine if your honey-do list no longer included 'clean the garage' and you could just sleep in every weekend and go to the park instead. Or the beach!
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.