A Minimalist Moment: What’s In YOUR Garage?

I must confess that I cannot help garage snooping when I go for my strolls around the neighborhood. After all, this symbol of suburbia is the first thing you see when you approach the ubiquitous tract home, and the doors are often wide open just begging for a quick assessment as I walk by. (Don’t worry. I never leave the sidewalk, although tempted.) I’m always struck by the different levels of organization found, and the variety of stuff displayed in these showcases of lifestyle dead ends and buyer’s remorse.

I consider this particular appendage of the average suburban abode to be valuable real estate. After spending four years out in the boonies of a cold climate state garage-less, I am completely committed to using this space for what it was originally intended — horseless carriages. Who wouldn’t want to hop into a dry, relatively warm vehicle in the middle of a winter wonderland, rather than spend five hours starting, brushing, scraping and otherwise resuscitating a frozen piece of metal sitting in the driveway deep freeze? Not to mention digging out the giant igloo created by over-zealous snowplows if you are unlucky enough to park on the street.

And yet, placing one’s car “inside” seems to be a novel idea in the burbs, at least in my neck of the woods. Sometimes, there is one car residing in the 2-compartment models, with the other side piled so high that it would make the builders of the pyramids jealous. Or, the majority of the space is devoted to the enthusiastic overflow from hobbies such as camping, fishing, engine tinkering, paint-by-numbers, drumming or beer drinking. Plus, there’s signs of excessive devotion to the Church of the Everlasting Yard Work with its altar tools of lawnmowers, wheelbarrows, shovels, clippers, edgers, blowers and assorted fireworks for removal of small rodents.

Before you think I am a judgmental jerk for pointing out other people’s annexed sins, I will admit that I am just as guilty as the next suburbanite of cultivating a mess. My family does manage to fit our two cars into a small garage, but it’s a tight squeeze when you add bikes, gardening tools and a grill. We have never been able to bring in the patio furniture for the winter, so we tell ourselves the rusting table and chairs are acquiring a “vintage” patina.

We also have no real do-it-yourself equipment to speak of, which is just as well since there is no space for a workshop. And not much skill as do-it-yourselfers. My husband is an excellent housepainter, however, so we have collected a nice range of ladders and a bin full of painting supplies.

Oh, and don’t forget the gates, crates, feeders and straightjackets (for the people) necessary to care for our animal companions. You throw in suitcases, potting soil, recycling and awkwardly shaped seasonal decorations, and you’ve got overcrowding on the scale of India in your carport. Did I mention that we live in a tri-level house and all THREE attics need a contortionist to access them? A contortionist, I ain’t. Sorry.

So without further ado, here’s my list of rules to stay sane and keep my garage from overflowing to the street and clogging the sewer drain:

  1. Hang em high: Use walls and ceilings whenever possible to get stuff off the floor and onto shelves, hooks and chains. Pegboard is hard to paint but worth the storage. That’s prime space up there just waiting to be utilized.
  2. Paint it light: The use of white or any light color on the garage walls prevents the “black hole in deep space” syndrome. We have yet to implement this trick, but I have seen some very nice examples during my walks. Leftover interior paint will do nicely and not end up in the landfills.
  3. Keep it in: DO NOT, under any circumstance, leave your automobile outside. Once it’s out, like a bad teenager, it may never come back in again. You get used to the extra room, and before you know it, you’re using the ping pong table as a depository for the yard sale you will never have.
  4. Take it out: DO clear out the trash, recycling, leftover party guests and any other jetsam that gets dumped in the garage as a temporary holding cell until you get around to hauling it away in the car or dragging it out to the curb.
  5. Make it nice: My husband is very conscientious about giving our garage a thorough sweep. It’s a good thing too, since I’m lucky if I notice that the kitchen tile has changed color (and no, we haven’t replaced it recently.) I also try to keep anything edible in bins so that we don’t have to take out more unwelcome visitors (see #4).

It is my sincere hope that we can downsize to one car in the future, which will be better for the planet — not to mention our wallets. And if we’re still living here in the suburbs with the all-important suburban symbol, we can finally hold that world championship ping pong tournament we’ve always dreamed about.

Want more? Check out my other Minimalist Moments:

What Do You Give a Minimalist?

Taking On the “100 Thing Challenge”

Traveling Light

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66 thoughts on “A Minimalist Moment: What’s In YOUR Garage?

  1. This is hilarious! Just did another cleanup of the garage and made better use of the pegboard. I “got real” about the never-ending yard and garden work and now the “stuff” is reduced to a reasonable number of things. It’s a one-car garage and our car fits into it. Like you, we hope to get down to one car, but it’s going to be a hard decision to make: do we dump the 11-year old Sable with 84,000 miles which is giving us the first little whispers of transmission problems, or the 12-year old Explorer with 115,000 miles with a rebuilt transmission and the ability to haul anything and drive through any level of snow? Can’t afford to replace either with anything better….So, which one deserves to have the garage?

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Hi Meg! Yes, I’ve had to seriously cut down on the garden equipment. At one time I created a 3,000 square-foot organic garden out in the country which was completely ridiculous and out of control. I also had a barn and a shed to put all the tomato cages and tools and tillers in. But no garage for the cars. That seems like a lifetime ago now. I hear you about the cars–it will be a tough choice, like choosing from one’s children. Thanks for your wonderful comment–I always love hearing from you!

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    1. suburbansatsangs

      Makes you wonder what their definition of a garage is. I imagine in South Dakota keeping your vehicle sheltered is pretty important–or at least the battery! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Love the comparison of the “vehicle left outside” to a “bad teenager”: “Once it’s out…it may never come back in again.” 🙂

    So true. Sadly, I have one out, one in … and no hope of the other’s return any time soon.

    Great post! 🙂

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Hey, at least you’ve got one in. I figure one car will miss the other’s company so we try to keep them together. 😉 I understand it’s not always possible. The bad teenager image came to mind because I’ve got one (a teenager, not necessarily bad). Thanks for commenting.

  4. This is a truly awesome post because I think of the same things when I walk or drive through newer suburban neighborhoods. You are absolutely right – all you see is a row of houses, and you have to assume the front door and house are behind the garage. I live in a warm climate, and unless some kind of HOA restricts driveway parking, I see most people park in the driveway and use the garage for storage, or to run a home-based business. I’ve never figured how people have so much stuff that it won’t fit in their 3,000 square foot house. One more tip to keep the junk in check: Rent or borrow things you don’t use often instead of buying for one project and storing forever. I venture that most of the stuff in people’s garages hasn’t been used in years.

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Thanks for the tip, Kevin. Renting or borrowing tools is a very good idea. We’re into manual labor around my house but if we get snows like the East Coast did last winter, we may need a friendly neighbor with a snowblower. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who wonders about these neighborhoods and how folks live.

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Thanks for stopping by, Ava. And for letting me know about the Freshly Pressed spot. I was wondering why so many folks were visiting!

  5. Nice list. We just recently cleaned our garage. When we moved, a lot of stuff was put in there and not touched for 3 years. It got tossed. But shelves have been anchored, new workbenches assembled and my car is finally back inside. I’d be sad if I didn’t have a garage to keep my windows from getting frosty.

    1. suburbansatsangs

      You are quite right, Brooke. The thought of scraping ice off my windows in a below-zero windchill keeps me motivated. Thanks for reading.

  6. Just saw your blog at Freshly Pressed. I was Freshly Pressed many days ago when I wrote about Tiger Woods’ Divorce of the Decade.

    Anyway, I’m a minimalist in the making. But it’s gonna take a VERY LONG time before I really can be called a minimalist. I wrote a little about this in my article: Key to Happiness & Simple Living (http://thiswritersdelight.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/keys-to-simple-living/)

    My goal in life: to end up with 2 suitcases as my only possessions (maybe add a carry-on with laptop and cosmetics) and travel around the world and write. Let the kids take all the pots and pans and all those material things I’ve accumulated over the years.

    Btw, I saw you are searching. I was too for years and finally found what I’ve been looking for. Check out my site “The Spiritual Ponderer” when you get the chance (http://thespiritualponderer.blogspot.com/)

    I like your post. Reminds me of the senselessness of putting a couple hundred dollars worth of junk inside the garage and giving up the space for a $20-40 thousand dollar vehicle! I think that’s outrageous! Sad part is, I am actually doing that very thing.

    Take care – Anna from Delaware

    1. suburbansatsangs

      The Freshly Pressed spot was a surprise! As a minimalist, I am and will continue to be a work in progress. Funny, I have always wanted to get down to two boxes of stuff myself. Why two? Beats me, but I’m still going for it. Thanks for the links–I will check them out. Oh, and I grew up near your part of the world–went to high school and college on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and hung around in the Blue Hen Mall many times. Yay tax free!

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Lol, Crystal. That’s how I pictured it as I wrote about those hobbies. Actually, it sounds like fun. Just put the cars back in after the sporting event (I assume that’s what was on TV). I appreciate your confirmation of these activities!

  7. Glad to hear I’m not the only garage snooper! We don’t really live in a cookie-cutter house area now, but I truly miss my old garage with its two (empty!) car bays and the nice workshop behind it where the lawnmower and bikes went – every time I have to scrape ice off my window and shovel the driveway these days, I miss it even more. (in case you’re wondering, we don’t actually have a garage here – this old house has a “shed” of sorts that doesn’t fit a modern car)

    I hear the voice of experience in your post – giant igloo indeed – gotta love the hardworking snowplow guys 🙂 Grats on freshly pressed!

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Thanks, and welcome to the garage snooper club. Glad I’m not the only one, too. I’m just curious about how others live and this gives me a glimpse into their lives. Yes, a nice workshop is worth its weight in gold. Older homes are lovely but many are without the modern garage. I’m appreciating mine while it lasts.

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Yes, I know that it’s not always possible. Wish we could just wave a magic wand and materialize one for you. Thanks so much for your comment.

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Oh yes, I know all about OCD. I actually enjoy alphabetizing my CDs (hmmmm, maybe another post there). Good for you on the garage. Closets? Well, all in good time. 🙂

  8. In NJ my garage was for storage, when I moved I swore my new 3 car garage would be for cars & it is! What an improvement! I love driving my car in every day! The garage is organized and my car is sheltered! Ahh, to being organized! It’s never to late to learn!!

    evelyngarone.com

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Hi Evie! Wow, a 3-car model. I bet you’re not in danger of scraping the side of the car or popping off the side-view mirror. Sounds wonderful!

  9. Sunflowerdiva

    I’m often scared when I go into my friends’ garages. Maybe I’ll show a few of them this post and gently hint that they could organize their garages!

    1. suburbansatsangs

      A friend of mine was injured by a box falling on him in his garage (just a flesh wound, he’ll be okay). 😉 Those places can be a hazard. Mine, unfortunately is full of spiders. While I like spiders outside, I’m not so crazy about them hatching all over the lawnmower. At least they seem to be slowing down for the winter. By the way, I like your name sunflowerdiva.

  10. I totally identify with your post! We just moved to a suburban neighborhood, and now have a three-car garage for our two cars. But the house is built in an area with a high water table, so we don’t have a basement for storage space. The third-car slot will, ideally, house some shelves for storing our things. But right now, all three slots are full of packed boxes, and both cars are in the driveway! *laugh*

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Thanks for sharing. You certainly have a free pass for a while since you’ve just moved. All bets are off until those boxes are unpacked. I don’t have a basement, and the attics, well, I won’t go there again. Everything has to be in closets or the garage. At least I can see all of it.

  11. Scott

    I normally keep my garage organized, but I don’t have many belongings that I keep in it.

    I use a tent-garage (because I’m always moving and I’m not a homeowner), which is pretty big, but all I have room for is a vehicle, some foldable chairs, and some tools.

    I love the “Keep it in”. I can relate to that, haha.

    Enjoyed the article. Keep it up

    1. suburbansatsangs

      I appreciate your comment, Scott. The tent-garage is very intriguing. I’ve not heard of such a thing but it seems like a good solution.

  12. Laughing….thanks for the great post. My husband bought a motorcycle and my only criteria was that it had to take the place of his car, not mine in the garage.

    He spends the winter mornings scraping the windows, heating the car, and getting snow in his shoes on the way out (we live in Toronto), but says it is worth every day of summer with the bike. Men.

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Wow, that’s true dedication to the bike. And in Toronto, no less. My hat’s off to your husband, but I can’t think of any possession I’d do all that for. Thanks for your comment!

  13. EF

    Hi! Thanks for sharing. I particularly love your point “keep it in”, which rings true even outside the garage context. I don’t have a car (I live in Hong Kong, most people don’t have cars because everywhere’s accessible), but at home, sometimes when you take something out of the closet, it won’t go back in because the empty space it left behind will have been filled by stuff.

    This is my first visit to your blog and I really love your writing style! Have subscribed. I am an aspiring minimalist, and other bloggers’ experience is always inspiring. I just clicked to your page “Awesome Blogs”, do you read Zen Habits too? because I find it very helpful too 🙂 (http://zenhabits.net)

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Thanks for connecting all the way from Hong Kong. I wish I had better access to public transportation like you do–maybe someday. Your point about the closet is very true. I guess one could call the garage a BIG closet. Good luck with your minimalist adventures. I, too, enjoy reading about other minimalists and I’m familiar with Zen Habits. Leo’s great! I’ll have to add it to my list.

  14. I love your post. It always makes erks me when I see someone take down a beautiful old house in my old neighborhood of 1920s bungalows so they can put up one that looms over the lot and with the most prominent feature being a two car garage fronting the street. But… then the cars are not parked in it. If people are not going to use it for cars, then design something less obnoxious rather than announce welcome to my garage and then house.

    1. suburbansatsangs

      I love those bungalows. I used to live in a Craftsman-style one in the country. Unfortunately, there was no garage and no closets, but we made do because we treasured that house. It’s heartbreaking to see all the waste that goes on in a lot of new construction. Hopefully, that will change down the road. Thanks for commenting, Julie.

  15. I love this blog, your writing style is immaculate, and encourages me to write better. “vintage patina” haha. So good.

    I completely agree with you, do not put your car outside, or it will never get back in. My folks used to park the cars outside for the summer? I wonder how you feel about that. We had bikes that we’d keep in there for the summer, then lock them up out back during the winter so the vehicles could go in.. Worked well for us I think.

    1. suburbansatsangs

      I think your family’s solution was a good one. Seasonal switches can work if folks actually do it. So many times, the cars just stay out all year (kind of like leaving the holiday decorations up). I’m finding out through the comments that there are so many scenarios out there (LOL). Thanks for your insight!

  16. You have an excellent command of the language and the writing is very good, enjoyed this piece.

    “you’re using the ping pong table as a depository for the yard sale you will never have.”

    My wife has a 30X50 barn she keeps her stuff in, the grandkids call it Grandma’s store. She swears she is going to hold a garage sale and rid herself of some of it “one of these days.”

    It has been five years.

    Have a good weekend.

    BCO

    1. suburbansatsangs

      I’ve enjoyed your comment. You have quite a command of the language yourself! Ah, those storage barns are quite tempting. My dad has a bank barn, shop and numerous outbuildings, and guess what? You can’t even walk into them. (He’s saving it all just in case he needs a part to fix other parts.) I’m hoping I haven’t inherited that particular trait.

      1. My Dad, 92 years old, same thing. I ask him, “Why don’t you get rid of some of this stuff?” and he always replies ….. “It is too valuable to sell, and it isn’t worth a dime.”

        Go figure?

        BCO

  17. It's just a web site man!

    I am in Florida, and the use of a garage as something other than a garage is rampant here. The other interesting thing is how many people here open their garages in the morning, leave them open all day then close them at night. It is like they are purposely displaying their junk, to say “hey look I have more junk than you!”.

    I have found that going back to using my garage for my car served two purposes. For one, safety. Unless they actually see me pulling in, no one knows if I am home or not. That means burglars have to guess. I like that. Second, using the garage for my car means I do not have the luxury of buying something with the attitude that it can go in the garage. That means I don’t hoard anything. If it doesn’t fit in the house, it gets sold, thrown away or given away. Great post!

    http://ginzotalk.wordpress.com

    1. suburbansatsangs

      You bring up some good points. My neighbors used to keep their garages open all day until a string of robberies stopped that practice. I don’t like to leave my door open because we seem to be a critter mecca. We had a chipmunk trashing the place this summer when he got caught in the garage. He started chewing his way out of the seal on the garage door. I appreciate your input!

  18. Amen sister! 🙂 I am always amazed at how so many people in my neighborhood are satisfied with parking their cars outside the garage. To me it’s like buying a nice pair of glasses and not having a case to keep them in. You know if you leave them out of the case something bad is ultimately going to happen – they’ll get stepped on, dropped, scratched, etc.!

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Welcome! Another member for the garage-snooping club. No attics or basements, eh? I can only imagine how interesting it must get in California garages. Thanks for reading.

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Thanks so much for commenting Everyday Minimalist! I love your blog, and check in frequently for inspiration. I come from a family of hoarders (farmers, no less) and my parents have every barn, shed and even a trailer filled to the brim (just in case). Returning for a visit keeps me motivated!

  19. Nik Nik

    We cleared our garage out recently, and now can fit one car in. I still notice my feeling of pride when I open the door; firstly there’s actually a car in the garage, and then there’s real space around it!

    Shelves made a huge difference, and now a little pegboard is required as the finishing touch.

    Thanks for a great post.

  20. Pingback: A Minimalist Moment: What’s In YOUR Garage? « Suburban Satsangs | Optimize Minimalism

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  22. My ‘garage’ is currently my guest room…no guests can stay over because it is overrun with stuff! This year is about me eliminating all of that *stuff* and now we plan to move. Sooo..the one year plan has become the 6 month plan. Ahh! I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. 🙂

    1. suburbansatsangs

      Good luck with the move preparation. We’re contemplating a move ourselves in the not-so-distant future, and hope to unload a lot of the “stuff.” Thanks for stopping by.

  23. Pingback: The Downsizing Dozen: Make It Stick | Suburban Satsangs

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