Clean the Garage

HAVE YOU GIVEN up parking in the garage? Or do you squeeze the car in, with just enough room to open the door before a box falls on your head? Consider the good things that happen when you can park in the garage:

Convenience in loading and unloading groceries, etc.

The car and its contents are safer from thieves.

The car stays cooler in the summer, less foggy/icy in the winter, and its paint job is better preserved.

Originally designed to store cars, the garage often holds everything but. Instead, it easily becomes a catch-all for sporting gear, gardening tools, memorabilia, holiday decorations, recycling, laundry items and more.

Here is a plan for organizing your garage so you can park in it again.

Getting started. Since everyone in the house uses the garage, all should help organize it. (They'll also be able to retrieve items since they know where they're stored.)

Set aside a full day for the makeover (some garages may take longer).

Give yourself a deadline by scheduling an extra pickup by the garbage company (they do two, free of charge, per year, in most areas).

Dive in and sort down to the essentials. Assemble your organization tools: large garbage bags, cardboard boxes, pens to label boxes (or a snazzy label maker), packing tape, a box cutter, rubber bands, bungee cords, dust rags, ladder or step stool and a broom.

Pick a small area and start sorting there. As you sort, pitch trash into a garbage bag. Put items to be repaired in a "repair" box -- but only after you've considered getting rid of them first (some charities accept items in need of repair). Put unused items still in good condition in a "donation" box. Put anything you're not sure about in a "not sure" box and reconsider them later.

Organize what's left. Now that you've pared back your garage contents, designate storage areas. Place like with like, meaning all sports gear in one area, all pool supplies in another, and so on. A bonus: This eliminates duplicate purchases such as the three bags of fertilizer that you found buried under the dog's old bed.

Store things closer to their point of use. Pool supplies or gardening supplies are better located in a backyard shed, or at least to the back of the garage.

At this point, and not before, consider buying containers since you now know what sizes and how many you'll need. Clear containers are especially helpful because you can see the contents, but always label boxes and be specific -- instead of just "Taxes," for example, write "2001 Taxes."

Make the most of space. Think vertical to stretch the confines of your garage. Wall space above car level is waiting to be used. Walls alongside the cars can be lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves or cabinets.

Think off the floor. Use heavy-duty wall or ceiling-mounted hooks to store bikes, big tools, outdoor chairs and sports equipment. This makes them easy to see.

Think horizontal. Install a loft like platform near the ceiling for off-season or rarely used items such as holiday decorations or baby items.

Use pegboards to hang hammers, screwdrivers and other small tools to which you need easy access.

Use what you have. If you are storing a dresser, store items in the drawers. Likewise, an old table can serve as a workbench.

Keep it that way. Now that it's tidy, maintain the garage with a few minutes of daily clean-up. You might find you still need an annual reorganization, but it will be far less painful.

One caveat. Remember, the garage is subject to heat, cold, dampness, dirt, dust and critters. Consider books, photos and anything precious at risk in the garage. Plastic storage bins help keep things safer and in good condition.

Clearing house. The garage is a prime place for ongoing, temporary storage of incoming and outgoing items: library books, store returns, borrowed gadgets, etc. At my home, the dryer top is the "staging area." There, things are out of sight from the main house, but not out of mind.

Safety tips. Install an automatic motion-sensing light in the garage -- a boon when your hands are full. Also, keep an extra set of house keys in a secret spot in the garage. And if the garage has windows, keep valuables out of sight or close the blinds when you are away.

Painless parking. To prevent pulling in too far, or not far enough, mark the "perfectly parked" point with either a hanging tennis ball that touches the windshield when it's time to stop or by marking a wall where it meets the side mirror.

In Your Garage:

-Dedicate specific areas for gardening equipment, tools, toys and athletic equipment.

-Use containers, racks, baskets and hooks to keep garage contents off the floor for safety and easy access.

-Child-proof your garage by storing chemicals and dangerous items in cabinets with locking doors.