brown moving boxes stacked haphazardly in an poorly lit unfinished basement

How to give yourself a fighting chance to get the garage decluttered and organized

It’s 95 degrees in the garage and it’s dimly lit, dusty and dirty. But today’s the day you’re going to organize the garage so let’s have at it. Grab the nearest box and open it.

Take out the handful of papers on top and set them aside. Root around in the box. Open another box and then another in hopes of finding something that’ll be easy to deal with.

Nothing looks easy.

Check your phone. Wipe the sweat that’s dripping down the back of your neck. The hell with this. Head back into the house. You’ll deal with this later.

Decluttering can be overwhelming, which is why there’s so much clutter in our homes.

READ MORE >>> How to stop organizing overwhelm

Tackling the garage clutter while you’re in the garage makes everything worse. Give yourself a fighting chance by taking a box at a time into the coolness of your air-conditioned living room. Gather the trash can and a bin for the recycling, get something cool to drink and set your timer for twenty minutes.

READ MORE >>> How to declutter and organize

Open the box.

Take out the top item and while the timer ticks away, look carefully at this thing. What is it?

Something useful?

Where does it go?

Something useful for someone else?

Take it to the donation station.

Something you can throw away?

Toss it in the trash.

Something you can put away?

Put it where it goes.

Something you need to decide about???

Okay, that’s what we’re here for.

It’s time to make a decision about this thing. Is it worth holding onto or not? What would be the tragic consequence of getting it out of your house and would that really be so tragic after all?

Take the full twenty minutes if need be to decide what the next step is for this thing. When the timer rings you might have only dealt with one or two items but that’s a massive improvement on no items.

Pat yourself on the back and take a break. The box can go back in the garage for tomorrow. Slow and steady will win this race and feeling good about handling even a fraction of the clutter is so much more motivating than feeling bad about how much is left.

by Lucy Kelly


  1. I love every bit of this post. I advise clients (OK, sometimes I have to CONVINCE them) not to organize a garage on a hot day. It’s dangerous to one’s health and counterproductive. I love your suggestions (particularly when it’s one person working on his or her own) to remove the box from the garage and examine the contents in a different environment. (I do this even when I’m with clients in person, especially with garages, attics, and overly cluttered rooms. It’s so much easier to focus on JUST ONE BOX.)

    Your approach improves mood, improves focus, and improves the entire experience. In a perfect world, speed should not be of the essence in downsizing a garage; instead, making it painless makes it much more likely the project will be completed, and without tears!

  2. Garages are tough because they’re large and filthy. We want them large and we can’t help the dirt.
    You always offer great step-by-step guidance for doing a project, which is so helpful. I’ve used a kitchen timer or the timer on the phone for clients, to set a specific amount of minutes to work on a task. What’s terrific about this is when the bell goes off you get to stop. 20 minutes is ideal because it’s tangible and you have a finite amount of time. It’s such good motivation.

  3. Timers are wonderful tools to have at your disposal. I agree that slow and steady wins the race. On any given day I’d much rather be the tortoise than the hare. Making 1 or 2 thoughtful decisions is so much better than making a bunch of decisions you may come to regret.

  4. Love the “setting the timer” idea to get though overwhelming projects. Soon we will be into the perfect weather for organizing the garage. I think garages are so rewarding, and fall is the perfect time to clear out the junk so you can pull your car in all winter long!

  5. When I was working with clients, the garage always took time. Primarily because, other things were stored there that needed to be removed first before we could get to the garage stuff. I like that you mentioned “Take the full twenty minutes if need be to decide what the next step is for this thing.” Stopping and thinking it through really does help.

  6. Garages (and basements) are some of the trickiest areas to organize. Well, it’s not so much the organizing part that’s a challenge is the EDITING that can be tough. I love how you give permission to go at a pace that makes sense. If it takes longer, let it take longer. You’ve set up the process with some excellent questions to get going. One suggestion I’d add is that it might make sense to make “routing” piles as you go rather than route each thing as you work. Then when the 20 minutes end, you can put the piles in the appropriate spots.


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