Garage Progress: Organizing with Zones

Our garage has moved freely through almost the entire spectrum of disorganization since we moved in two years ago.  It’s housed everything from tile deliveries to water-logged couches and provided shelter for almost every furniture painting or sanding project I’ve undertaken at this house.  It has seen it all.  This little room is a trooper.

Before - Garage during our home inspection, 2012

Before - Garage during our home inspection, 2012

Last winter, I managed to clean it up enough to be able to squeeze a car in, but the level of functionality in this space just wasn't quite cutting it.  At the heart of the issue was this: it’s really hard to stay organized when you have nowhere to put anything.

Before - Garage with kitchen cabinets, 2013

Last summer -- when we were demoing the kitchen -- I decided that I wanted to reuse the old kitchen cabinets.  Half would go in the garage for tool storage and half would go in the laundry room.  We carried them into the garage, lined them up against the wall, and there they promptly sat for a year.

Before - Garage, 2014

Fast forward to July of this year when my sister Jennifer came to visit -- the garage was a mess again and the countdown to winter was starting.  Jennifer offered to help me get the project started by assisting me in establishing the necessary infrastructure to really get organized.

After...or, eh. Progress

My plan of attack was to 1) spend as little as possible, 2) reuse as much as possible, 3) make it beautiful, and 4) employ organizational systems that would allow my husband and me to access our tools quickly and easily.  A key to accomplishing number 4 was creating “zones” within the garage.

After - Zone 1

Zone 1: Frequently Used Items

Near the door into the house, I reused previously-owned, stackable recycling bins to organize frequently used items (cleaning supplies, rags) and recreational items (sports equipment).  A wall organizer holds our broom collection, many of which were left by previous owners, and an old dry erase board provides a spot for quick notes or inspirational messages.  An upcycled flower pot becomes a go-to spot for pencils and dry erase markers.

After - Zone 2

After - Dry Erase Tool Outlines

Zone 2: Hand-Tool Storage

A large plywood wall became the perfect spot for consolidated hand-tool storage.  With my mom and sisters’ help, we purchased pre-owned sheets of peg board from a local Architectural Salvage store, Construction Junction.  I decided I wanted to paint them white (they were originally covered in heinous black and white pin stripes) to blend in with the rest of the garage and opted to try Rustoleum’s dry erase paint, knowing it would allow me to mark the location of my tools while permitting me the flexibility to move them around.  Matching storage bins at the base of the wall provided spots for extension cords and other items in need of more containment.

After - Zone 3

Zone 3: Lawn & Garden

A large nook near the rear of the space was our best option for storing larger machinery like our lawnmower and chipper, at least until we’re able to buy or build a shed.  Though it doesn’t look particularly organized, the space was carefully laid out to maximize the storage of large bulky items.  A small cabinet mounted to the wall above houses lawn-related sprays and insecticides.

After - Door to Pittsburgh Potty

The door to a small powder room (or “Pittsburgh Potty” as we call them here), painted with leftover chalkboard paint, provides a place to write down seasonal lawn or home maintenance reminders.

After - Zone 4

Zone 4: Workbench, Hardware & Large-Tool Storage

The old kitchen cabinets were transformed into a beautiful workbench with a few coats of leftover gray paint, a little gold spray paint on the original hardware, and a $5 upcycled door from Construction Junction.

After - Painted Cabinets

Jennifer helped me attach wood cleats to the existing concrete block wall so it would be easier to install the wood cabinets (it’s easier to screw into wood when you’re trying to level and position cabinets against the wall).

After - Door turned workbench

Alex and I used a circular saw to trim down a 30”x84” door which became the top of the workbench.  The far right side of the long base cabinet used to be a blind corner in our kitchen, so I decided to leave it open and use self-adhesive wallpaper from Target to pretty up the back.

After - Contents

Inside the cabinets, we’re storing all of our large power-tools and utilizing some leftover plastic drawers to hold miscellaneous hand tools, extra blades, and items not easily hung on the peg board.

After - Labels

After - Drawers

On top of the workbench, we sorted all of our miscellaneous screws and nails into easily accessible hardware organizers, all clearly labeled with typed or handwritten labels.  The boombox (which I think I’ve had since elementary school…) is a must for any garage.

After - Zone 5

After - Close Up

Zone 5: Paint Storage

The far left cabinet used to house our oven when it lived in the kitchen.  I added a back and new shelf made out of wood scraps, and then added wallpaper to match the blind corner cabinet.  To cut down on clutter, I poured paint from partially used leftover paint cans into mason jars (some large, some small).  This also allows me to easily find and access touch up paint.  In the bottom cabinet, I placed the majority of my painting supplies, as well as cans of paint that I’m still in the process of using.  In the upper cabinet, I have all of my wall repair supplies (caulk, spackle, patches, drywall tape), and well as some adhesives and tapes.

After - Bins

Along the adjacent wall (which still needs some work), ladders and bins containing drop cloths all fall within the paint zone.

Overall, establishing infrastructure with zones in mind has resulted in a much more functional, beautiful, enjoyable garage space.  I still have a couple walls left to paint but it's looking so much better in here.  How about you? What zones do you have in your garage?  How do you store your tools?

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with and was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own :)

I love furniture layouts.  I've said it before; I'll say it again.

In the professional organizing and downsizing industry, I'm privileged to draft furniture layouts for clients who are transitioning into new homes.  It's so rewarding to help them visualize their new space through the use of digital modeling.  The model facilitates the planning process and helps clients to make educated decisions on what pieces to keep and which to relinquish.

SketchUp - Living Room Layout

In the past, I've used a software program called SketchUp for modeling.  I purchased the commercial version several years ago for a freelance project (there's also a free version available).  It's an incredibly versatile program; it's precise enough for architectural drawings but easy enough for the everyman.  What I love most about SketchUp is the 3D Warehouse.  This is a place where anyone can upload or download digital models.  You can retrieve everything from models of famous landmarks to individual pieces of furniture and objects.  Some corporations even upload scale models of their own products (ie: Pella windows).  Often, I'm able to find models of furniture that closely resemble pieces that my clients already own, further enhancing their ability to visualize their own items in a new space.  My only major problem with this software was the amount of time it was taking me to build furniture layouts.  Without purchasing additional plugins, it's a very cumbersome process to add windows and doors and furniture resizing had to be done manually using a scaling tool.  To achieve a realistic appearance, it was taking me an exorbitant amount of time to complete each plan.

When I got my most recent request for a layout, I decided it was finally time to test a different program.  I looked around a bit and eventually settled on  It's easy to use, specifically intended for furniture layouts, and generates pretty sophisticated 3D renderings if you purchase a monthly plan (I purchased the Pro plan since I'm using it for commercial purposes).  It's free to try.  Here's what the process looked like for my own home:

There are a series of icons in a box on the right hand side that allow you to do basic operations like draw rooms, individual walls or surfaces, and add text and dimensions.  On the right hand side, you can search through and drag in structural elements (windows, doors, etc) or furniture pieces.  Once items are in the model, you can click on individual elements to change dimensions, colors, and materials.  Doors and windows automatically snap to walls and can be easily moved and adjusted.

The model can also be viewed in 3D.  Most adjustments have to be made in the 2D view but switching to this view helps me get a better sense of how things will realistically fit.

Upper Floors

Lower Floors

When I export the 2D plan, it looks a little cartoon-y to me.  Still, I appreciate being able to easily distinguish rooms with labels and distinctive floor materials.  I also like that this view illustrates door swings, which people sometimes forget to leave room for.

Upper Floors

Lower Floors


Aesthetically, I much prefer the 3D renderings.  I love the dynamism and dimension that the shadows create.  I adore that when I export the rendering I can choose to automatically darken the tops of the walls (used to have to do that manually in Photoshop when I was in school!) so my client can still understand where the walls are. doesn't apply labels in this view which is okay -- I can easily label them myself later (plus the items in each room are a pretty good indication of what's what).

To finalize the plans, I export a rendered image into a SketchUp-affiliated program called Layout.  Here I can label rooms or individual pieces of furniture, as well as add whatever dimensions I feel will be useful for the client to see.

Altogether, I'm so pleased with my decision to switch to  I love the results and most of all, the time I save.  Anyone need a furniture layout? :)

7 Steps to Downsize on a Deadline

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with one of my favorite professional organizers, the talented Vickie Dellaquila, about the extreme challenges that confront our clients who are downsizing on a deadline.  Downsizing is stressful regardless of the circumstances but when the timeline is tight (due to financial issues, foreclosure, health problems, or otherwise), the situation can be downright paralyzing. 

3 years ago, due to circumstances far beyond our control, our family was facing foreclosure.  After a year on the market, our efforts to sell had proved unsuccessful. My parents’ home of 30+ years was about to be repossessed by the bank.  Within about a week’s time, we had to downsize from a 4 bedroom/4 bath 2,000+ sf home to a 2 bedroom apartment.  If you’re facing a similar situation -- I’m so very sorry.  I know from personal experience that it is not an easy process.  Everyone has to start somewhere, though -- here’s my advice on how to get things started.

First, a few disclaimers: 1) Because we had had our home on the market for some time, my mom and sisters had already gone through a few rounds of purging and a couple moving sales before we got notice from the bank that it was time to leave. 2) Downsizing is most effectively accomplished when you have time to make sound, well thought out decisions.  If you have the time, take it.

Dining Room c. 2006

Dining Room c. 2006

Purged Dining Room - Staged for Sale

Purged Dining Room - Staged for Sale

Here are my recommendations.

Step 1: Set a date.  Figure out when the last day is you’ll have access to your property and plan to move at least 3 days before so you have time to purge the leftovers.  Request time off, book your movers (weekdays are cheaper) or reserve your U-Haul, arrange for a charity to pick-up donations, reserve a junk hauler if needed, and rally your friends and family.

Step 2:  If you have already identified a place to move to, go take measurements.  Use a tool like to figure out what furniture will realistically fit in the space and tag each piece with post-it notes or painter’s tape.  Use a consistent color.  Go through your necessities and start pulling household essentials (a list like this is a good place to start).  I like to consolidate “keep” items into one room or one corner of each room so I can gain a visual understanding of how much I’m keeping.  When you’re ready -- if you’re packing yourself -- box up your items, mark boxes with the same color post-it/painter’s tape, and label the contents.

Step 3:  Once you have everything you need packed to move (if you still have time), start going through room by room and identify what can be donated, what can be sold, what can be trashed, and what needs to be kept in the family.  Designate a post-it/tape color for each family member and mark large items.  Pack anything that needs to be shipped.  When we moved, I had one room designated for “sell” items, one room designated for “keep,” and trash was bagged and placed on our carport.

Purged Living Room - Staged for Sale

Purged Living Room - Staged for Sale

Downsized Living Room

Downsized Living Room

Step 4:  Move into your new place.  Get what’s most important (what you pulled out in step 2) out of the house and to a safe place.  If you’re facing bank repossession like we were, it’s important to make sure you have what you need before the bank changes the locks.  Having your furniture and boxes color coded will help you and your movers identify what goes and what doesn’t.  Shut doors to rooms they don’t need to go into.  In your new place, don’t worry about unpacking a lot initially.  Find your toothbrush and toilet paper and go focus your energies on getting the rest of your possessions cleared out.

Step 5:  Pack/ship/load/distribute items that need to be kept in the family.  These may be heirlooms, family photos, your grown son’s favorite childhood toy, or other items that are important to your family’s history but you can no longer have the space to accommodate.  If no one in the family is interested in the item, it’s time to part with it.

Items for our Yard Sale

Items for our Yard Sale

Step 6: Have a yard sale/estate sale/auction.  Sell as much as you can.  You may not have time to have things appropriately appraised but if you’re in a situation like ours, any extra funds are helpful.

Step 7: Box up any leftovers from the sale and have a charity pick them up.  Anything that isn’t appropriate for a charity (soiled furniture, general trash) can be taken by a junk hauler.

If you have sufficient funds, you may find the need to move things into storage so you have a more appropriate time to sort and make decisions.  Professional Organizers are also incredible resources for those going through the downsizing process at any speed - consider bringing one in if you can.