Real Estate

Tips for clearing out clutter from your garage — and how to dispose of it

Take back your home parking space with this five-step plan

Placing items in properly sized containers will make it easier to find in the long run. Image courtesy Lori Krolik.

Summer is the perfect time to take back your garage. According to a UCLA study, only 25% of garages in the typical 21st-century home can be used to store cars because "they are so packed with stuff." Whether you want to store your car or actually find all your camping gear without tripping over piles, here's a plan for garage organization success:


A typical garage takes anywhere from 4-8 hours to organize. Whether you spend a Saturday or take a day off work, you need enough time to start and finish the project. An unfinished garage organization project just invites more clutter and means you to have to start from scratch the next time you return to it.


Before starting any garage organization project, be sure to have the following:

— Muscle: You're going to be lifting and moving a lot of stuff, you cannot do this alone. Find a friend, hire a day laborer or call a hauler.

— Containers: Clear bins in a variety of sizes will help immensely in the sorting and organization process. They'll also help keep your garage organized once it's finished. Have more on hand than you need and return what you don't use.

— Labels: Labeled bins and shelving give a clear indication of where you can find something as well as where it goes after it's used. You can use a label maker to make easy to read labels. But if you're more of a bare-bones type, painters tape and a sharpie work really well.

— Trash Bags: You will definitely be getting rid of a lot of junk that cannot be sold or donated. Have a good supply of trash bags on hand.

Disposal Plan

Arrange for a large pickup with your garbage service provider on a date close to your garage organization date. Contact local charities for the same time, so they can take your donated items. If that's too much prep time for you, hire a hauler or a service like Lugg or 1-800-GotJunk to take everything. This ensures the items are taken away immediately and don't linger on-site for you to have second thoughts or for them to creep back into your home.

Sort & Zone

A garage organization project cannot be done piecemeal. You'll need to pull everything out so you can see what you have and then make a decision. Designate three areas on your driveway for "trash," "donate" and "keep." As you pull things out, if you can easily decide something is trash or donate, then put it in the respective zone.

For items you want to keep, create subzones of various categories: camping, holiday, tools, recreation, luggage, mementos, sports gear, etc. As you go through old boxes and random items tossed on shelves, place like items in one of your containers. This does not have to be the final resting place, but it will keep the items together and allow you to see how much you have of certain types of things. Soon enough you may realize you have 10 tote bags. Do you really need that many or could a few be donated?

Put Things Away

After you've identified what is giveaway and what's trash and zoned what you're going to keep, you're ready to put things back. Place items in the proper size containers or on shelves (if you don't have garage shelves or your shelves are not adjustable, now is the time to plan what you need to purchase) and label as needed.

Once your garage is organized you'll be amazed at how much space you have and how easy it is to find what you need. Your car might also need a few less washes when it's parked in its proper home.

Who will take your unwanted clutter?

Here are some ways to dispose of your hazardous waste, gently used items or other unwanted clutter.

Schedule a free cleanup day: Palo Alto residents can schedule a curbside pickup to dispose of mattresses, appliances, furniture and other unwanted items for free, once per calendar year. To schedule a cleanup day, call GreenWaste of Palo Alto at 650-493-4894. Pickup will be scheduled on one of your normal collection days.

Arrange for bulky item pickup: The city will pick up appliances, furniture and other bulky items placed on the curb during your regular service day for a fee. To schedule this service, call GreenWaste of Palo Alto at 650-493-4894 one week in advance of your regular service day.

Call a charity:

Several local nonprofits will pick up donations curbside, including: Hope Services,; Ecumenical Hunger program,; Habitate for Humanity ReStore, For a full list of charities in the area and what items they will pick up, go to

Drop off household hazardous waste:

Palo Alto residents can dispose of unwanted or unused toxic household items at the Household Hazardous Waste Station, 2501 Embarcadero Way, on Saturdays, 9-11 a.m., and the first Friday of each month, 3-5 p.m. For more information, call 650-496-5910.

Locate a drop-off site:

Don't know where to bring your unwanted items? Go to, plug in your ZIP code and the database will tell you where to take them.

Lori Krolik, a certified productive environment specialist and professional organizer, can be emailed at

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