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Cleaning out the garage—Is there an art to it?

52 Over 50—Writing the year

Challenges aren't always fun. After all, this is about getting off the couch and doing something. This week’s objective is the dreaded garage clean-up. Yes, Garage Cleanse Day has arrived.

How did this happen?

I've noticed that every couple of years we find ourselves faced with doing a deep clean of the garage. It usually happens when we open the door and say, “Are we imagining things, or did the junk in the garage multiply while the lights were out?”

In our house, the clutter results from what I call Stop and Drop Syndrome. It happens when someone opens the door to the garage and deposits whatever they’re holding inside the door, in front of the workbench. The next person adds to the pile and before you know it, things are out of control—worse, a new pile is growing, branching off of the first one.

Our house population is often in flux. Someone leaves, someone comes back. If you don’t have in and out traffic, you likely don’t suffer from storing everyone else's junk. I’m grateful for the disaster zone in the garage, it’s proof of life, although, it would be nice if that life existed with a little more organization.

What does Organization 101 mean for the garage?

I have a mental image of how I want my garage to look. I just have to get my husband to buy into the same dream. That might be a tough sell. I have visuals of built-in designs with neat nooks and crannies. He pictures Rubbermaid totes. Okay, but can we label the totes and ensure the stuff in them is the same as what's on the labels?

I've convinced myself that the reason I keep the garage door closed is because I suffer from garage envy—I want the perfect garage, or nothing. Or is it I’m afraid I’ll do something that inadvertently blocks my Feng shui, and the clutter spirits follow me up the stairs? Oh wait, they’ve already done that. I guess I’m safe to proceed with the purging.

Realizing that Garage Cleanse Day is upon us, I set the mood, googling images of well-organized garages and drooling over neatly hung garden tools, rows of pristine shelving, pegboards, and closed cupboard doors. To quote Benjamin Franklin: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Or was it my mother that said that? It doesn’t matter, it’s time to formulate a plan.

Are we hoarders?

Yikes! I never thought I was. The concept sends me back to the computer to research signs and symptoms of hoarding. No, I’m not a hoarder, just a procrastinator. I breathe a sigh of relief and play a round of Candy Crush. Wait a minute, I stop playing—not a hoarder, but my garage is a disaster. People will think I’m a hoarder. Back down the stairs I go to contemplate where to start.

The principles of clean up

There are actually principles to sorting, and people who make a living telling you what to throw away. I don’t need that level of help, all I need is a box of black garbage bags and a little stamina. Why black?  Because once I throw something out, I won't be able to see it, therefore I’m not tempted to rescue it. Do I need that cracked coffee mug? It used to be my favorite, but honestly, it’s living in the garage with a petrified spider and a few pens. Chuck it!

Before I start the great clean up, I research organization. Yes research, not procrastination. I come across Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Like I said, there are principles to cleaning.

Kondo’s principles are:

  • Discard what doesn’t bring you joy

    • If the object in your hands doesn’t spark happiness, get rid of it. Hmm, that principle probably works better with clothes because the weed-eater I'm staring at doesn't spark joy, but I know we have to keep it.

  • Tidy by category instead of room

    • Sort your articles by category. In the garage that means going box to box, and finding things of the same ilk. I’m convinced that the electrical cords will enjoy a wonderful life together.

  • Fold items vertically

    • Luckily, there isn’t much folding to be found in the garage. I take a break to reorganize my dresser drawers in neat rows of folded items. I admit they look happier after it's done.

  • Show deep appreciation for your belongings.

    • Thank them for their service before you toss them. I thanked my mug and set it free.

  • Dedicate a whole day to cleaning.

    • I think this garage is going to take more than a day.

  • Shoe boxes are the best organizers

    • This fulfills my dream of pristine shelves and neatly labelled totes. Shoe boxes won’t cut it in this garage.

  • Live in the present

    • This one is harder to follow because a lot of the stuff that ends up in the garage comes complete with memories. The box in front of me is full of pictures and memorabilia. I put it back on the shelf. Delving into it will cause distractions that will put an end to garage cleaning.

My husband has another method for garage management. Kaizen, a Japanese word meaning “change for better.” Kaizen focuses on:

  • Visual order

  • Organization

  • Cleanliness

  • Standardization

Yeah, that sounds like a neat and tidy garage, complete with shelves and totes. Sign me up.

  • Sort

    • When in doubt chuck it out.

  • Set in order

    • A place for everything and everything in its place—Ben Franklin would be proud.

  • Shine

    • Cleaning and inspecting—no more petrified spiders.

  • Standardize

    • This is the organizational planning part where everyone follows the plan. Hmm, will this spell an end to Stop and Drop Syndrome?

  • Sustain

    • If you follow the rules every time, it eventually becomes a habit.

Armed with knowledge, gloves, and garbage bags, I head back down to the garage. I have one more suggestion—don’t open the bags. The sooner you get them out of the house, the faster the job is done. Happy Garage Cleanse Day.


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