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The garage cleanout: A spring cleaning guide

Photo by Rubbermaid Products

Since moving to Burlington last fall, I haven’t dared step foot inside the chaos that is currently my garage. We had a lot of stuff, and not everything fit in the house. So it went into the garage. And there it sat…until now.

I’ve been procrastinating cleaning out my garage for a while now, because it just seems so overwhelming. It’s hard enough to remember everything that’s in my garage at this point, much less the best way to organize it.

So I did a little research to put together this step-by-step guide to help me when it’s finally warm enough to tackle my garage cleanout. It got me so optimistic, I decided it was worth sharing with you.

Start with a plan

The most important part of a garage cleanout happens before you start. Take some time upfront to think about your game plan and save yourself a headache down the line.

1. Carve out enough time

Choose at least two free days, like a weekend, so that it doesn’t become an even bigger mess with everything sitting out too long.

Remember to check the weather! Nothing dampens a garage cleanout project like a torrential downpour or a surprise spring nor’easter.

2. Think through your categories

Write down the different types of things you’ll be storing in your garage, and what they are used for.

Things like:

  • Sports equipment
  • Auto supplies
  • Woodworking tools
  • Automotive tools
  • Lawn & garden equipment, etc.

3. Draft a floor plan

Put together a general idea of how you want it all to fit back together. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Put in some detail, but don’t plan out every square inch. Give yourself room to be flexible as the project unfolds. Things always change! As you’re planning where to store items, keep the category and frequency of use in mind.

Category (type of use)

Sports equipment is going to be used outside, so you might want to store it closer to the door. If you have a collection of automotive tools and auto fluids, you’ll probably be using these around the same time. It might be easier to store them close to each other.

Frequency of use

Things that you use on a daily or weekly basis should be stored in a convenient, easy-to-find spot. Items that you only use once or twice a year can be stored in a less accessible place, like a high shelf.

Recycling, reuse, and waste

If you use your garage as a staging area for trash or recycling, make a plan for it! In addition to a trash can and recycling cart, here are some additional items to create storage space for. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of space! For some items, a small pail should do it.

Three containers labeled to sort scrap metal, batteries, and electronics.Clothes (and other donatables)
There are dozens of local organizations and reuse stores that want your unwanted things.

Food scraps
For drop-off composting at CSWD Drop-Off Centers or Green Mountain Compost.

Scrap metal
Screws, nails, wire hangers, saw blades, metal caps & lids, pots & pans, and more!

Batteries & electronics
Most consumer batteries (like alkaline or car batteries) are accepted at CSWD Drop-Off Centers separately for special recycling.

Light bulbs
Mercury-containing bulbs (like fluorescent tubes, or CFL bulbs) are banned from the trash. You can drop them off at CSWD facilities, but they must be stored separately.

Plastic bags & film
Many local stores have takeback programs to recycle plastic bags and plastic wrap or film.

Hazardous bottles
Things like unwanted chemicals and pesticides, used motor oil, household cleaners, and other hazardous waste. (The Depot also takes batteries, electronics, and light bulbs, but you probably want to store these separately from chemicals.)

Oily rags
These can spontaneously combust; they should be stored separately in an airtight metal can before dropping them off at the Environmental Depot. Learn more about disposal options.

4. Get it organized

Now that you have a blank slate, how do you put it back together?

Designate spaces

As you move everything back into the garage, be sure to keep all of your groups together. Sports equipment might be in one section, automotive tools in another, etc.

If you have children using the garage, consider giving them a certain area where they can keep their things that won’t interfere with your layout. A set of gym or school lockers works great! (I’ve seen several sets at reuse stores around Chittenden County…)

Ladders and garden tools hang on the wall of an organized garage.
Photo by Elliott Cable

Go vertical

There’s tons of unused space in on the upper walls and ceilings of garages. Install some shelving for storage in these areas. Get creative!

Keep it open

Smart shelvingon your garage walls will allow for plenty of room to get things off of the floor and into a plain view.

Tip: Putting your open shelving in a corner saves even more space in your garage. Check out this DIY project to build corner shelves.

Adding a pegboard to your garage walls is another great storage solution to seeing all of your things openly and visibly. Pegboards work especially well for your displaying hand tools.

5. Clean up

When all you’re left with is a tennis racket you don’t use, some half-empty jugs of auto fluid you no longer own, and a few broken tools…how do you get rid of them?

Reuse what you can

Do you have some stuff that you aren’t quite ready to get rid of, but aren’t sure exactly what to do with? Pinterest is a great place to find visual inspiration for reuse projects. Just type in the name of the item along with “reuse.”

Sell or donate

If you don’t see any use for them yourself, donate or sell them to someone who can use them. See our comprehensive list of local donation organizations.

Bring us the hazards

Bring hazardous waste to the CSWD Environmental Depot in South Burlington. Things like automotive fluids, fertilizers, cleaners, and old paint need special handling. That’s why we built this year-round facility that can handle them!

Recycle as much as possible

Recycling is about more than just what goes in your blue bin. We have special recycling programs for many items at our Drop-Off Centers. Check out our complete A-Z list to see where everything goes. Or give our hotline a call at (802) 872-8111 and let us know what you have.

We can help you find recycling options for just about anything!


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