Top 10 Organizing Tips for Storage Rooms & Garages

Spring and summer are a great time for tackling larger organizing projects like the garage, storage room, attic or even multi-purposed spare bedroom. The weather is warmer, we have more free time, and it’s easier to lug our no-longer-wanted items to the curb for donation or landfill pickup. Here’s our top 10 tips from a professional home organizer on how to make the best of your time and effort when organizing storage spaces.

1. Sort at the macro level first and the micro level later.

Sort items into broader categories or at the larger scale first. Then dig deeper into one category at a time. For example, first gather all the Christmas items together, and then later once the room is sorted into larger categories, you can dive into Christmas storage and sort into more specific smaller categories like “tree decorations”, “tableware and linens”, “exterior lights and décor”, etc.

2. Be ruthless in your purging decisions.

Storage spaces become a catch-all for our belongings and we tend to be less strict on what we keep in spaces that are made for holding all of our extra stuff. Get conscious of every item and be intentional in why you’re keeping it.

There are good reasons and not-so-good reasons for keeping things. Not-so-good reasons include “this might be handy some day”, “this item was gifted to me”, and “I paid a lot of money for this”. If you haven’t used the item yet and think it might be handy in the future, get realistic with yourself and consider that you could borrow this item or go out and purchase in the slight chance that you ever require it. If an item was gifted to you, you are not obligated to keep it out of guilt. I’m certain the gifter didn’t intend to gift you guilt or fear? You were grateful for the sentiment and you value your clutter-free space and serenity more. Donate that item to someone who could actually use it. If you paid a lot of money for item, accept it an expensive lesson of the past. Today it’s costing you other things than money – space, time, a clear mind, and calm order. If you can make a few dollars from selling, consigning or trading it, do so, but essentially it is a sunk cost.

3. Store items in zones.

Storage areas usually have multi-purpose uses or at the very least hold multiple categories of items. In these situations, we recommend setting up zones. Consider this the design stage of the project and map out zones for all your categories, either on a diagram on a sheet of paper or using post-it notes in the space. Keeping like items together makes them easier to find and put away. Establishing zones also gives you limits, which helps you think twice about new purchase decisions. In a garage for example, start with what you know - store all the gardening supplies and equipment near the door to the yard, store all the boots and jackets near the entrance door, store tools near the workbench, and store seasonal vehicle tires in a hard-to-access corner out of the way because you only need them once or twice a year. Then, like fitting the pieces of a puzzle together, you can assign a home to the remaining categories.

4. Set up storage so that things are easy to put away.

If it’s difficult to return things to their designated spot, we have a tendency to toss an item nearby thinking we’ll put it away properly later - which in reality rarely happens. Our space then is very quickly out of order all over again. While this is true for adults, its certainly true for children. When assigning a home for an item, consider how the item is utilized, how often it is used, and who uses it. In a garage we suggest storing children’s toys on lower shelves or in totes without lids. We also suggest sticking masking tape to the floor to mark out a parking lot for their larger wheeled toys. This can make putting things away not only easy, but fun.

5. Leave room for additional items

We’d all like to think a space stays perfectly in order once it’s been organized, however stages of life unfold and needs change and inevitably we end up getting more stuff. The trick is to leave an empty bin or an empty half shelf knowing that it will most likely get used later. Catch yourself if ever during the process you’re asking “what can I store in this space?” and shift your mindset to recognize that room to breathe is a good thing and instead focus on the items themselves and where they should be best stored, not the space that needs filling.

6. Wait until near the end of the organizing process to buy containers and storage products.

It’s tempting to start with product purchases first, but you’ll likely end up with many pieces you

don’t need or having to shop again later for the piece you need but don’t have. Once you’ve sorted, purged and assigned homes for your belongings, you can easily see how much you’re keeping in each category, which makes it easier to know what shelving or containers you’ll need. Step 1 is to sort items into categories. Step 2 is to purge items you no longer use or need. Step 3 is to assign a home for everything. Step 4 is to containerize. Step 5 is to tweak and label. Don’t get ahead of yourself and get stalled in overwhelm.

7. Use shelving instead of stacking bins.

If you don’t own shelving and it’s not currently in your budget, then stacking is a perfect solution. However if shelving is an option, it not only makes greater use of vertical space and keeps the floor clear, but it makes it easier to access all bins instead of having to unstack and restack the pile to reach the bin at the bottom in the future. We recommend clear bins for interior storage items so you can quickly see what’s inside, and durable Rubbermaid Roughneck totes for items stored in dusty areas or spaces where you don’t want bins to crack or break under extreme temperatures.

8. Get things out of cardboard and plastic bags and into something protective and durable.

Storage spaces are often the first to see damage from water, dust, pests or simply from age. Switch cardboard boxes for plastic totes or at least store them off the floor and up onto shelves. If you have special clothing stored in thin plastic bags from the drycleaner or on hangers with that thin foam covering, get it out and into something more permanent. Bags and hangers from the drycleaner are for temporary use and can damage your clothing over time. Try garment bags, or wedding dress boxes, or even in a wooden trunk. Remember to add cedar-fresh protective hang ups, rings, cubes, or sachets to keep moths and the smell of age away.

9. Haul away your no longer wanted items right away.

A finished product brings a sense of accomplishment and peace of mind, plus you don’t want to keep looking at items you’ve decided to purge and suddenly start second-guessing your initial purging decision. If you’re feeling stuck on how to get rid of items you no longer want, consider that donation is quicker and easier than trying to sell something. If you need help or a larger vehicle to haul items away for recycling or landfill, call a local junk hauler or a professional organizer to help you clear it away.

10. Label, Label, Label

During the organizing process we think we’ll remember where we stored everything. After days or months pass, we’re no longer in the same headspace and where things are stored has fallen off our priority list. If you don’t have a label maker, a marker and masking tape will do. Labelling with the category name is best, but if you must, go ahead and list every item in the bin. When deciding what to store in a bin, think ahead to what you’ll write on the label – this helps you organize into intuitive or logical categories instead of into random unassociated groups of things.

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