Organizing a garage – 10 things you should never do

Organizing a garage is easy when you know how. We've asked professional organizers what to do – and more importantly, what not to do.

wall storage for various equipment and tools as an example of organizing a garage
(Image credit: The Container Store)

Organizing a garage? The garage, like the spare bedroom or downstairs storage room, can be a tough area to organize. 

It’s so often the designated drop zone that the thought of finding a place for every last item can be daunting—but achieving an organized and functioning garage is possible with the right system and garage storage idea in place.

We spoke to a handful of organization experts to get their top tips on exactly what to do—and what not to do—when organizing a garage. 

From adjusting your storage solutions to looking beyond the square footage of your garage, there's a ton of great garage organization ideas. Here’s what you’ll want to do to ensure your garage is in tip-top shape for the long run.

10 things not to do when organizing a garage

'The key to having an organized garage is to ensure every item has a place where it belongs—even garbage and recycling,' says Felice Cohen, professional organizer and author of 90 Lessons For Living Large in 90 Square Feet (...or more).

'Having the right organization and storage solutions in place will make it easy to put things away and to find them is an efficient way to keep a garage looking neat.'

1. Don’t worry about how it looks—at first.

According to Cohen, you’ll want to start by sorting ‘like’ items together—garden furniture/lawn items together, outdoor equipment (bikes, toys), beach (if applicable), paint supplies, tools, etc. 

Keep a lookout for items to be fixed (be ruthless; either put them in the car to be taken to be fixed or toss). 'In this step, we're not worried about where things go or how it looks, just group,' says Cohen.

'Once you've grouped everything (and hopefully tossed a lot), look at your largest items and where best they can fit,' suggests Cohen. 'Smaller items are easier to store and can be dealt with last.'

2. Don’t bother with different sized storage bins.

garage bins

(Image credit: The Container Store)

Heavy duty plastic totes like these from Amazon are key—but you’ll want to try to keep them the same size or only two sizes as being uniform allows you to stack them. 'Fill your storage bins only with the ‘like’ items you have already divided up,' says Cohen.

'Of course, if the items don't completely fill a tote, you can put two ‘like’ item categories in, but the aim should not be to make them too heavy. Then label the front of the totes with a label or tape and a marker.'

3. Avoid permanent shelving

'Industrial and adjustable shelves like these from Amazon are much better than permanent shelving fixtures,' says Cohen. 

One shelving unit can hold many totes and free up a lot of space—but you never know what you’ll be adding or taking from your garage and having the ability to adjust your shelving ideas based on your current needs will be extremely helpful in keeping a long term organization plan.

4. Look beyond the square footage

garage wall with hanging space for tools

(Image credit: The Container Store)

Taking advantage of vertical space will help you optimize your storage without bleeding into your car parking spot. 

For example, hanging bicycles by their front tire is a very efficient way to store them as it gets them off the floor and keeps them safe from damage. 

Hanging rakes and gardening tools are also an efficient want to store as it makes them easy to locate when you need and put away, says Cohen.

5. Don’t expect everything to be done quickly.

'Your garage organization work will go much faster if you give it a full day’s or weekend’s attention, especially when you come up with a smart plan for organizing the garage,' says Zac Houghton, CEO, Loftera

Discard everything that's in the way and make space for items that can be donated, recycled, or disposed of, as well as items that need organizing—but don’t expect to be in and out in a single afternoon or you’ll find yourself quickly overwhelmed.

6. Don’t organize without cleaning

'Be sure that the space you have to work with is clean after you’ve emptied everything out,' says Houghton. 

'Take the time to sweep the garage floor and clean up any spills that may have occurred. You may also want to check your garage's light bulbs or perform any necessary maintenance while you’re at it.'

7. Don’t keep temperature sensitive items in the garage

Houghton suggests taking the time to organize the items in your garage by category—and removing anything that might be better stored inside, like luggage or paint. 

Some examples of these categories are recycling, sports and recreational equipment, camping gear, automotive, seasonal decor, garden equipment, and tools.

8. Avoid weather-sensitive flooring

'A decent alternative to concrete as a floor covering may be found among current materials. Strong PVC tiles like these from Home Depot, for example, are formed of the material and are resistant to heat and even most chemical reactions,' shares Robin Antill, director at Leisure Buildings

'A modular rubberized coating may also be applied safely to cement, asphalt, sand, or even the ground.'

9. Not all storage units are created equal

'You should have a notion of how the inner storage system will be structured when picking the wall finishing material and other storage materials,' says Antill. 

'Cork coating, for example, has all of the advantages of an eco-friendly, humidity, and rot-resistant substance, but it cannot withstand mechanical harm. Instead, consider plywood like this type from Home Depot. It’s highly practical, long-lasting, and versatile.'

10. Don’t skimp on lighting

'Don't skimp on lighting if you want your garage to be useful and safe,' says Antill. 'Aside from enough general ceiling lighting, installing task lighting for shelves and other storage systems is also recommended.'

What is the easiest way to organize a garage?

Garages are notorious for quickly becoming havens for disorganization because of the excess we accumulate. It usually starts with very specific items—outdoor storage for tools, auto supplies, outdoor balls, toys, and lawn accessories—but somehow always seems to end up as the place to discard all the extras that don't fit inside. 

'The easiest way to start with garage organization is by starting with one group of items,' says Deirdre Meyer, co-founder of meori

'Don't overwhelm yourself or make the task too daunting—start small with your favorites. Maybe that is your camping supplies. Collect the items and get some bins to organize them, but be sure they are of quality and not a cheap, thin plastic container that will break in a year.'

How do I organize small things in my garage?

Pegboards are wildly popular for organizing small things in the garage and are a great DIY garage storage idea, as are toolboxes and shelving. But shelving should not just be a place to throw items because that ends up wasting a lot of space.

'Seek out some bins and storage containers to organize the many items in your garage and make the most of the space you have,' says Meyer. 'If you have shelving, open bins can be great, especially ones with pockets and dividers to separate different types of items, like gardening supplies and DIY materials.'

Kaitlyn McInnis

Kaitlyn is an experienced travel and lifestyle writer with a keen interest in interior decorating and home optimization. An avid traveler, she's currently splitting her time between her apartment in a century-old châteauesque building in Montreal and her cozy chalet in the woods (that she built with her own two hands... and many YouTube tutorials!). Her work has been published in Travel + Leisure, Tatler Asia, Forbes, Robb Report Singapore, and various other international publications.