How to declutter a garage overwhelmed with stuff: 10 expert tips
If you’re wondering how to declutter a garage, these simple tips from organization and decluttering experts will help to break the process down
- (opens in new tab)
- (opens in new tab)
- (opens in new tab)
- Sign up to W&H Newsletter Newsletter
If figuring out how to declutter a garage is one of your New Year’s resolutions, our guide is here to help make it feel a little less overwhelming.
Decluttering and organizing a garage can be one of the trickiest home organization tasks there is, because of how much *stuff* we often tend to store in them. But to help make what can feel like a mammoth task feel easier we’ve compiled some top decluttering tips from professional experts.
The most important part of decluttering your garage is acknowledging that it won't be a quick, 15-minute job. Similarly to decluttering your home, it'll likely be a task you need to dedicate a significant number of hours to – simply due to the sheer number of items our garages tend to hold.
When figuring out how to declutter a garage, the best option is to take small, practical steps toward a clear, clean, and organized space.
To help you do just that, we spoke to the organization, decluttering, and storage experts, about the best way to declutter a garage to ensure that you have a space that is functional and useful.
How to declutter a garage: 10 organizing ideas
Whether you're decluttering a kitchen, decluttering a bathroom, or learning how to declutter a garage, it's important to bear in mind that often, a lot of the things we hoard in them – whether it's the debris of hobbies gone by, paperwork, or miscellaneous items such as Christmas decorations – they're usually not all that necessary to hang on to.
"Garages are similar to lofts/attics, in that they become a place where things get dumped because you don’t know what to do with it, or where else to put it," says decluttering expert, APDO member, and founder of Restore the Calm, Gillian Gudgeon. "I would therefore have in mind that you’ve possibly forgotten what’s in there – and most likely won’t need some of the things you come across."
1. Understand how you want the space to function
Garages perform different purposes for different people, so one of the first things to do when it comes to how to declutter a garage is to work out what you actually intend to use the space for.
“Understand what you are looking to achieve," suggests Rob Stone, managing director of GarageFlex. "Why are you decluttering? Is it to just create a more organized space, or is it to be able to park the car, or set up a home gym? This will help you focus on how much you need to clear, and the eventual space you want to create.”
2. Take everything out
You know the old adage, ‘it’ll get worse before it’s better’? Unfortunately, this rule is absolutely true when it comes to how to declutter a garage. But don't panic!
In order to be able to see all of the items you have as clearly as possible, it can – if you have the space – be helpful to empty everything out of your garage and place it in another location, perhaps your front garden, if you have one.
Kelly Hemingway, a professional organizer at Declutter with Kelly (opens in new tab), advises: “If you can, always remove everything from the garage, so you can fully see the space and start with a blank canvas.”
If you don’t have the outside space, or if the weather is bad, it'll work just as well to take all of your items out of their bags and boxes, and place them on the garage floor. Or, consider storing the items inside your home temporarily. All you need is to gain a clear view of everything you have.
3. Categorize the items
Decluttering expert Marie Bateson, Volunteers Director at APDO (opens in new tab) and owner of Cut the Clutter (opens in new tab), explains that when it comes to how to declutter a garage, sorting your items into categories can be a great way to begin getting rid of stuff.
She says, “Separate your objects by purpose before you start clearing out unwanted items.” Marie suggests separating your items into the following categories:
- Sports equipment: “It’s only convenient to have a personal sporting goods store in your garage if you actually use the equipment,” says Marie. If you don’t use it, she suggested, "recycle it if the equipment is worn or damaged, or donate it if it can still be used. Most local recreation centers gladly accept gently used equipment."
- Decorations: If you like to use the same decorations for fall, Halloween, or Christmas each year, you’ll want to keep these stored safely away. But if you have more sentimental pieces or pieces that are broken, it’s best to consider a clear-out.
- Empty boxes: “We are taught as 'good' consumers to keep packaging and papers that came with big purchases,” Marie explains, “however, if you’ve had the items for more than a year, it’s time to get rid of the boxes."
- Electronics: If you’re storing old phones, CD players, or laptops, decluttering is the perfect time to consider which ones you actually still need. If you no longer use the actual device, make sure that there aren’t any important old documents or photos on it. If so, make time to transfer these over to a device you do use before getting rid.“If anything is valuable, there are many places to donate or sell," says Marie. "There are plenty of people who will enjoy the antiques or old tech items that are collecting dust!”
- Tools: Plenty of us have collected tons of tools throughout our lives, only to never use some of them again. “First sort and categorize your tools. Do you have any duplicates? If you have any old power tools you never use, do you know someone who would make use of them? Get rid of broken strimmers and lawnmowers, and thin down those nails and screws,” Marie advised.
You may have important categories of your own that you want to add, such as paperwork, gardening supplies, or craft supplies. Equally, the above categories may not apply to you – be sure to create your own groups based on the items in your garage.
4. Create three piles
Once you have sorted your items into these categories, it's time to consider where they go next. Interiors expert Ryan McDonough at My Job Quote (opens in new tab), advises sorting your items into three piles; “These piles will consist of:
- Belongings to keep
- Things to throw away
- Items to donate, sell, or give away to friends or family
“If you have quite a large garage, you may be able to create these three piles in the center of the room and work your way around the space," Ryan suggests. "However, if your garage is quite small or full of ‘things’, you may need to create these piles outside.”
He explains that by doing this, "you can actively see how much you’re getting rid of, and how much you’re planning to keep.” And if you're keeping too much, it may be necessary to be a bit more ruthless...
As Marie mentioned above, consider the quality of each item when planning what to do with them next. For example, if you have tools or sporting goods that you want to donate or sell to any community groups, double check that they actually still work before doing so.
These categories should also help you to see where you may have any duplicate items, or in rare cases, what you might actually need more of.
5. Don’t hold on to items you know you don’t need anymore
One of the most important things to bear in mind when planning how to declutter a garage, is that you must be realistic with what you keep and what you get rid of in order to really make a dent.
Many of us can be sentimental, or hold out hope that maybe *one day* we'll use that paddle-board we bought 10 years ago. But if we're being honest with ourselves, we know that many of the items we have aren't necessary.
To help you let go, Vlatka Lake, storage specialist at Space Station (opens in new tab) suggested, "A good way to approach it is to throw out anything that hasn’t been used in the past 6-12 months."
Gillian Gudgeon also suggests asking yourself a few questions; "Ask yourself, 'How often do I use it? When did I last use it? Do I get enjoyment out of it ? And what sort of condition is it in?' If the item is related to a pastime you’re no longer passionate about, for example, then it will probably consume a corner for many years to come."
6. Follow through on your plan
Once you have assigned a 'destination' to your possessions, devise an immediate plan of action for any items you no longer want to keep.
This is important, because sometimes, we do all the hard work of decluttering, only to be left with the items we no longer want languishing inside our homes (usually by our front doors) for months on end – simply because we haven't thought about where exactly to take them.
If you have created a ‘donate’ pile, schedule in a trip on your next free day to your local charity shop or charity drop-off point, ensuring you know where that is, and importantly, that they actually accept the items you want to donate.
For any broken items you want to throw away, plan in a visit to the dump or recycling center on your next day off. And for any items you want to sell, schedule a time into your diary to list them on all relevant sites, such as eBay or Facebook groups.
7. Create a clear and useful storage system
Now it’s time to deal with the items that you have decided you need (and want) to keep. To keep your garage clear and organized, and your items easily accessible, putting in place a storage system that works for you is essential.
This could take many different forms. For example, “Floating shelves are a great option, as these will give you some additional areas for storage without taking up any floor space.” Ryan said. “Cupboards, if you have the room, can also be a good idea, as these will make the room appear much less cluttered. It’s worth purchasing some small boxes for placing inside the cupboard too, as this will help you to further organize smaller items.”
For bigger, bulkier items, he also suggests, “Hooks and racks can be placed on the wall to store larger items such as bicycles, ladders, and lawnmowers. This will also help you to free up a lot of space on the floor.”
Kelly also suggests using "large plastic storage boxes", which she says are "perfect for the garage, to help keep all your items from getting wet, damp, or damaged." This is a great option for paperwork or sentimental items.
If space in your garage is really limited, Vlatka also advised, "One trend taking TikTok by storm is using your garage roof as storage space." There are plenty of ceiling storage solutions available at local hardware and storage stores – in order to ensure yours is fitted safely, and to the spec you need, we’d always advise consulting the professionals.
8. Store your items depending on how often you use them
In order to make using your garage, and everything in it, as easy as possible in future, a clever trick is to make sure that you store your items according to how regularly you need them.
Vlatka explained, “Aim to store the things you need or use the least in the less accessible spaces, like up high on shelves.” Then, store things you need often in easier-to-access spaces.
This might mean storing bicycle helmets you use regularly in shelves that are level with your height – and those seldom-used (but necessary) gardening tools in a higher, off-the-ground spot.
9. Label everything
Lots of us love to get the labels out as we organize our kitchens, so why not do the same for our garages? Vlatka suggests, “Once you’ve found a home for the belongings you are holding on to, make sure that you label boxes and drawers, as this will help you in the future when searching for a specific item."
Labeling can take whatever form you want it to – if you think it would be helpful, go super specific and add a label to each shelf of your cupboard. If not, a label for each area generally can do the trick just as well. Why not take inspiration from the categories listed above? The key thing is to do whatever will work best for how you plan to use your garage space.
10. Remember that you *can* declutter in smaller chunks
While it can be incredibly satisfying to get the job done in one fell swoop, don’t put pressure on yourself to declutter your garage in one go if that is just not realistic for you.
“The garage is a massive space, so if you don’t have time to take on a full-scale decluttering project, start small and clear one area at a time,” advises Rob.
Vlatka agrees, saying, “Give yourself an hour a day, for example, to declutter your space, as this will help it not feel like such a massive task.” And if that doesn’t work for you, why not try 10 minutes a day?
Decluttering successfully is all about getting it done in a way that feels right for you – if you try and force yourself to finish the job quickly, you’ll likely feel even more overwhelmed and put it off more.
How can I declutter my garage quickly?
- Call in friends and family to help out to get the job done faster.
- Focus on just a few of the main things in your garage – perhaps the bigger items. "When you get rid of these items, you’ll likely find that there is already a lot more space in your garage," explains Ryan.
- Declutter in smaller chunks of time – spending just five minutes on decluttering every day (rather than hours in one day) can make a real difference over time.
- If you truly don't have time, call an organization service.
Where do I start decluttering the garage?
- Come up with a plan about what you want the space to look like.
- Consider how you need the space to function – will it still be a storage space, or do you need a study, or a home gym?
- Be sure to grab bin bags and cardboard boxes to store any items to donate, or items to get rid of, in.
- Plan in exactly when you will declutter, and stick to it. Gillian said, "I would recommend booking this time out, so that you don’t half-complete the task."
How do I organize my garage with too much stuff?
- Remember that many of the most organized spaces started out with too much clutter!
- Work through the garage in smaller increments – focus on one category at a time, if it helps.
- Make sure to get rid of any rubbish or items to throw away that day – you don't want items intended for the trash to keep cluttering up your space.
- Set a timer for decluttering; having a deadline can help if you're feeling overwhelmed.
- Get family and friends involved, as they'll likely have less of an emotional attachment to your items, and can help you make faster decisions.
How do you clean an overwhelming garage?
- Set aside time for cleaning after you've removed your items initially, and before you start putting items you are keeping, back, Gillian says.
- Place all broken items or rubbish in trash bags, and dispose of them the very same day.
- Wipe down any items you are keeping with a clean, slightly damp cloth.
- Be sure to remove any dirt from outdoor items, such as bikes or skateboards.
Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on womanandhome.com.