Many garages serve as overstuffed closets rather than a place to park vehicles. Decluttering and organizing your garage can help you get a step closer to preparing for winter.

Step one is to envision your end goal. For most people, that usually involves a vehicle parked inside the garage, rather than in the driveway, with enough clearance on all sides to make the transition from garage to house a comfortable experience. Imagine all of your stored items neatly stacked and identified so that retrieval is easy.

Most garages are too full, with piles of broken furniture and other items, as well as materials for projects. Holiday items are stashed here and there, with boxes from adult children moving in and out of the house as well as items inherited from the passing of elders placed where there happens to be space. It's really incredible the stuff we can pack into our garages, which is why cleaning them out can be an overwhelming task.

For garages where there isn't much space to work in, the first task at hand is to clear out what's easy to part with. Since we often store items that we mean to donate, or that can be sent to the landfill, these are the simplest decisions to make. If your items are destined for the thrift store, take them there, or call for pick up if you have a number of items. Consider donating to homeless shelters or others in need, such as those posting requests on the Springfield Families Helping Families Facebook group page.

Habitat for Humanity ReStore will pick up bulky items to resell if in good shape. The ReStore also has a contract with the City of Springfield to offer large item pick up for items that are in bad shape. Springfield residents can get once a year pick up for as many as six items, or three items twice yearly. To reserve a time for pickup, visit the website or call 217-523-2710.

If your garage contains a lot of items that are destined for the landfill, consider renting a dumpster. This makes disposal easy. Other options are to contact a junk hauler, or request your usual trash hauler to pick up your extra items for a fee.

As items are inspected, it's easiest to sort into four categories: trash, recycling, give away and keep. For items that are kept, sorting into similar piles is ideal. It becomes clear when items in a category can be reduced. For instance, when all Christmas items have been collected, you may realize that 27 strings of lights and three artificial trees are more than are needed. A large pile of camping items may remind us that we haven't camped since the turn of the millennium and that we hate sleeping outdoors.

One of the biggest categories is often projects. This can be a reckoning for many of us. One question to ask is how much time you spend doing projects. Many of us will gladly relax with a movie rather than get out that chair in need of reupholstering. If you're the kind of person who does not work much on projects, it's good to be honest with yourself and reclaim that space in your garage. If you're the kind of person who loves to do projects, pick enough to get you through the next year and discard the rest.

Once items are pared down to what you will use on a regular or seasonal basis, it's time to organize. Heavy duty shelving can be purchased or built, with clearly labeled bins making it easy to find and access belongings when needed. Keep all like things together as you organize, with seldom-used items on top and bottom shelves and items used often within easy reach.

To keep from getting overwhelmed, set a time limit. A couple of hours on a weekend will get your garage in shape in a short time without being exhausting. Ask a friend to help, or make it a family project. Especially when first starting, if a decision is overwhelming, add a fifth pile: I don't know. As we get good at making the easy decisions (broken chair goes in the dumpster), the complicated decisions become easier.

Remember to clean as you go. Wipe down shelves, wash windows, brush away cobwebs and sweep the floor. It's advisable to use a dust mask when stirring up garage debris and to keep the area well-ventilated.

Then, pull your car into the garage, get out and stretch your arms wide in victory. Look at your meticulously lined and labeled rows of bins. Relax in the spaciousness of a garage ready for winter. Your future self will thank you.

Carey Smith is a Springfield resident and professional organizer currently on hiatus due to COVID.

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