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As I write this, it is summer here in Portland, Oregon but come Winter the car goes outside and I convert our single car garage into a kid play area. This flexibility is only accomplished by having lots of great organization ideas. During the spring, summer and fall my garage is normally used for keeping my car out of the rain and somewhat clean. I tend to park my car, do my car maintenance projects and store some house effects in the garage.

When I purchased our house a few years back, I knew going into it that the garage was always going to be a sore point due to the size. It was at the same time a good place to start trying to make this small space work for my needs.

The prior owner had done some pretty nice things to get started. They had sheet-rocked the walls, painted and had made some simple storage hooks for tools. Additionally they installed a ceiling storage rack. It was clean, somewhat insulated and practical, but it was not enough for my needs.

To make the garage mine, I had to do a few things that helped structure my decisions and get the right ideas for organization.  First,

Consider the Garage’s Role in Your Life

Our garage has a few main purposes in my family’s life. In the spring, the garage will sometimes serve as a dry place to get the kids out of the car. It will also be a place for vehicle maintenance. Finally it may be an impromptu play area for the kids to play and keep dry during the spring showers.

In the summer, the garage is simply too warm a place to spend a lot of time so I mainly use it for car parking and the occasional maintenance session on cooler days

In the late fall I begin to convert the garage into a play area and extended living room. Come winter, the garage is 100% play area for the kids.

To get all these uses out of the garage, the first thing you need to do is collect and:

Know your Dimensions

Regardless of your use of the garage, you will need to record the dimensions so that when you are planning your organization you will know what fits and what does not. I am a huge fan of note taking applications (like Apple Notes, Google Keep and Evernote) and will tend to store these dimensions so that I can quickly refer to them later.

My Garage

19′ Deep (228”)

12′ Wide (144”)

10’ 3” High (123”)

18” Garage Door Insets (on each side)

You want to record both in Inches and Feet. This is less important if you are on the metric system but I simply cannot convert inches to feet quickly; especially when shopping!

Once you have your purpose and some basic knowledge about your garage you are going to want to take the first step.

Remove as Much as Possible from the Side-Walls

This is going to sound counterintuitive to most garage storage recommendations, but when you have cabinets and hooks and shelves that line the walls of the garage then it makes it difficult to navigate the garage when a car is in there. It also makes it even more difficult to get car doors open, kids in/out or simply just walking next to your car.

Once you clutter the walls of your garage, it becomes very difficult to use and then quickly becomes a storage catch-all for the family.

If you are going to have wall storage along side of the sides of your car — I recommend adding storage only in places where it will not interfere with getting in and out of vehicles. If you have a car, truck or SUV, I suggest placing the storage cabinets, shelves and the like at a point higher than the roof of your tallest vehicle.

This will allow you to use your garage for all vehicles in your family and get even more use out of the space.

For those of you (like me) who are taller than your tallest vehicle, I suggest placing the cabinets and shelving 6” higher than the top of your head. This will ensure that you will not be hitting your head anytime soon. This will make it easy to get in and out of your vehicles.

It will also make it more relaxed to walk in your garage because you won’t be constantly ducking for fear of hitting your head on something really hard (– like a metal shelf and bleeding everywhere — true story).

Now that you’ve cleared out the sides of your garage the next step is to:

Go Vertical 

I have long been a champion of vertical storage but upon moving into a real small garage, I didn’t truly learn the value of going to the ceiling with all storage possibilities. For example, I have a shelving unit from Ikea that was intended to be put into the garden. It came with shelves and a hook system so that I can hang things for storage. The entire unit is only 5 feet tall, but my garage has 12 foot ceilings. So I mounted the unit about 3-feet off the ground and then put tall things on top of the unit’s top shelf and then hang items below the lower shelves using the hook system.

Top Tip : Instead of relying on sheet rock anchors, I place the unit on the foundation so that the vertical load is put onto concrete and not the sheetrock anchors. Then I use 75lb anchors to hold the system against the wall. This has worked really well especially when I cannot get a good stud to mount the system into. I currently store a lot of liquids for cleaning my vehicles and have never had an issue.

Sheetrock Anchors – 75lb everywhere. I use these on everything from shelving to pictures to anchoring bookshelves against walls. I have seen 100lb anchors, but I sincerely doubt that sheetrock and actually hold 100lbs and I just don’t trust it. And 100lb sheetrock anchors are a lot more expensive so, save yourself money and use the 75lb anchors everywhere to spread the load.

If you are considering buying storage and are looking for something new consider Ikea’s Billy line of Book Cases. They are meant to store books so they are designed for heavy loads and the go very vertical. Ikea sells a wide range of shelving options and if you are not looking for fancy-looking shelves, you can pick these up Billy Book Cases pretty inexpensively and within a weekend have a completely different looking garage. They look great and have vertical extensions that will allow you to go very high. I use these in my living room for books and when I eventually get new bookcases these will be moved into the garage and repurposed.

Now that you’re starting to think vertically the most critical step to keeping a multifunctional garage is to: 

Keep it Clean

I do my best to keep our garage a clean place. I like to treat the garage as a living room extension and consider it’s cleanliness as much as the living room. That being said, I do work on cars in my garage and that gets very dirty. 

At the end of each project I make sure to “Blow” the mess away with my blower. I will then mop the garage if it was a particularly messy session. When I mop I try to pre-treat the floor with a good spray of “All Purpose Cleaner” like Simple Green. I then let that sit for a minute and then mop. It is really amazing how well this works and then I have the confidence that the room is clean enough for my kids to go barefoot in.

Once or twice per year I will pull out all the toolboxes and storage units. I will similarly get rid of the dust and dirt then mop.  This accomplishes two things, decluttering but also making sure that I get a deep cleaning every so often to keep down on the bugs and dust.