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HOME IMPROVEMENT : Freeing the Garage of Garbage


No matter how much you'd like to disown your cluttered garage, you have to face the fact that it's yours, and eventually, you're going to have to do something about it. It can only hold so many bicycles, boxes of old dishes, holiday decorations, 10-year-old paint cans and whatever else you've stuffed in it.

"People often have their homes decorated and landscaped, but their garages are disaster areas," says Brad Smith, whose company, the Storage Solution in Placentia, builds custom cabinets to help create order in a chaotic garage. "It's a part of the house where people feel comfortable leaving a mess."

A few objects out of place in the garage are hardly going to hurt you; it's when you find it impossible to park your car or even walk inside that you need to consider getting your garage in order.

To reorganize your garage, remember two words: anything goes. If you don't know where to begin, start at the door. "Try to put the things you use regularly in one pile and those things you don't use as often in another," says Lonnie Roscitto of Storage Works Inc. in Costa Mesa. "You'll want to see what you need to have handy, what you don't, and what you can throw away."

Once you've separated the piles and have thrown out anything that doesn't belong in the garage, it's time to decide on a strategy. "Examine your family's lifestyle and see what you expect from your garage," says Smith.

If you use the garage as a shop to work on your car or on woodworking projects and you need a workbench, you might consider locating it in the back or near a window, if your garage has one.

Keeping the bench away from where your family normally walks will be safer, since it puts distance between your children and your tools, and it also keeps the bench from becoming a "catch-all," a fairly common problem in the modern garage. By locating a bench by a window, you're also contributing to safety by allowing more natural light inside.

Garages are generally organized with shelving and cabinets. Look around and see if you have enough of both. Sturdy, heavy-duty shelving can hold large boxes and equipment. Storage cabinets can generally be modified to contain virtually anything.

"We often have customers who will put a pole across a cabinet to turn it into a closet," says Roscitto. "They need extra room in their closets, so they'll create a closet in the garage to store their winter and summer clothing."

Even without storage cabinets, there's still a way to fit off-season clothing into the garage. Stores specializing in organization materials sell large garment bags that can hang on any pole and will protect clothes until you need them. "They zip up and they're able to keep out dust and moths," says Layne Laster of Hold Everything in Santa Ana.

If you're interested in improving not only the organization of your garage, but also how it looks to the neighbors when you open the door, you'll probably want to consider storage cabinets.

Cabinets can be built and installed for your garage to fit your needs, or you can find do-it-yourself kits at many hardware and home center stores. Cabinets can be modified to hold boxes and hang clothing, or shelving can be added to store paint cans or any other items you would rather have hidden away.

Before buying a kit, make sure you have an accurate estimate of how much space you'll need and how you'll fit your new cabinets into your garage. When estimating how high you want them, take into account that you'll probably want to install them above the floor level.

"One of the biggest mistakes we see with do-it-yourself cabinets is that people mount them right on the floor," says Smith. "When you leave some clearance, it makes it easy to keep the garage floor clean, since you can wash it off with a hose. When your cabinets are mounted on the floor, the water can ruin the wood."

For items like toys, which get lots of use and never seem to be put back where they should be, you might consider a simple toy "pen," basically a box in which children can toss play things in and dig them out later.

"We have what we call a 'sports corral'--a tall crate on casters," says Hold Everything's Laster. "It holds just about anything that usually gets thrown on the floor or on a bench, and since it's mobile it can be tucked underneath a bench."

While you may want to keep good bicycles hanging from the wall or the ceiling on hooks to protect their tires and get them out of the way, children's bikes can be parked in a corner.

"We always recommend parking children's bikes rather than hanging them on a rack," says Smith. "It may look nice to have them on the wall, but when the kids want to use them, an adult usually has to go to the trouble of taking them down."

Once your garage is tamed, you may even get the itch to have it domesticated.

"We're finding a lot of people who are interested in turning their garage into almost another room in the house," says Smith. "We've installed not just cabinets but we've finished the walls, painted the floors and added sectional doors and drop ceilings. Instead of going out to do the laundry in a dark, cluttered environment, they work in this nicer environment."

The big question once you've reorganized your garage is: Can you keep it this way?

"We don't give people any secrets about how to keep their things in order," says Roscitto. "We just show them how nice it looks when all their stuff is stored away in cabinets. When the garage is neat, you should feel a need to keep it that way."

Then again, all garages were neat, once.

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