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?

Filing Solutions

It's March 25th and there's snow on the ground in Pittsburgh.  My frustration is quelled only by the fact that Punxsutawney Phil is within reasonable driving distance (should I feel the need to seek revenge on his handlers for their empty promises of an early spring.) On the bright side, I am warm and at home thanks to my recent decision to take a "sabbatical" from work and focus on home renovations for a few months.  I consider this time my equivalent of backpacking across Europe.  I'm about 4 weeks into unemployment so far and thoroughly enjoying it.  I've been busy painting, reupholstering, shopping, and planning for a kitchen renovation -- all of which I hope to share in due time.

In the spirit of spring (though it is nowhere to be found), and spring cleaning in particular, I wanted to share a small project I completed back in the fall.

Organizing is one my life's greatest pleasures.  It had been about 2.5 years since I had revisited our household filing system.  When we were housesitting last year, I had all of our files crammed into two mismatched filing cases -- one that had been mine and one that had been Alex's.  Last year we also inherited lots of furniture from my mom's house, including some of my paternal grandfather's army trunks.  When we moved, I decided it was time to revamp and consolidate everything into one filing cabinet.

I was inspired by this all-in-one office idea from Martha Stewart which utilized a trunk similar in size to my grandfather's.


Image credit:

I decided to make my own version using some of the office supplies we already had, including Alex's metal mesh file case that we had already been using.  Lucky for me, Target still sold the same case and I was able to buy a duplicate.  I also supplemented with a roll of cork, some labels, and a box of manila folders (made of recycled paper).

This is what the trunk looked like to start:

For file storage, I simply inserted the two metal mesh filing boxes into the trunk.  I also utilized a metal mesh letter holder to hold longer legal size folders.  A layer of cork hot glued to the inside provides extra storage for notes, photos, etc.

My filing system consists of recycled hanging folders organized into major sections (with color tabs) like property, finances, etc.  The hanging files themselves are for minor categories( ie: student loans -- located within finance section) and manila folders are for individual accounts (ie: one particular student loan lender).

When closed, the trunk fits neatly under our entry table turned sofa table.  I like the vintage appearance of the trunk and the sentimental value of my grandparents' names painted on the top.  If I were to change one thing, it may be to eventually add casters onto the bottom.  At the moment, we just drag it out across the carpet to access the files.  That's all for now.  Happy spring, and stay warm out there!

Two steps forward, one step back

This week, our house is in shambles.  It looks a little better than when I filmed this silly video a few weeks ago, but still not as organized as I would like it to be.  Part of it is because our new windows and doors are being installed this week (!) and we had to move a bunch of our stuff out of the way (including all of our curtains -- it's like a fishbowl in here!).  Otherwise, I blame several factors: 1) Though unpacking has been my only official responsibility up until today, I've had to spend some time wrapping up work for Habitat, applying for jobs, interviewing, and doing all of the laundry/cooking/cleaning because Alex is still helping out his former employer in the evenings.

2) It's hard to unpack things when you don't have anywhere to put them.  My sister and I had to spend the better part of a week assembling bookcases so I actually had somewhere to put all of our books.  I had to wait for Alex to help me hang shelves in our dining room and kitchen before I could put much away in there.  Then there are situations like the one with our sewing room bookcase (one we already owned).  I made Alex help me shuffle some furniture around in his limited free time so that I could move a bookcase into our sewing room and load it up.  Around 10:30 pm, we realized that it we wouldn't be able to fit it through the door in one piece.  Alex was too tired to help me take it apart so we had to shove it in the dining room temporarily.  It's been there for nearly a week now.  Two steps forward, one step back.

3) I had to pack up our things in Virginia so quickly that I didn't have time to sort or organize anything.  That and our movers didn't take the time to figure out my labeling system and put boxes in random locations all over the house.  Everything is everywhere.

4) Every time I start to organize something, it ends up getting piled back up again.  Namely, papers.  I've been working on overhauling our personal files for several weeks now.  I've made pretty significant progress but it seems I can never quite get things filed before I have to move them out of the way.  This time, I had to quickly clean off the basement floor for the window installers and all of my to-be-filed piles ended up shoved together in paper bags.  Two steps forward, one step back.

It will get done eventually I suppose.

In the good news category, we have a new front door!  Now I just need to find the time to paint it before it gets too cold.

Also, I started a part-time job today as an Interior Design Assistant at a Furniture Store.  Good enough for now (two steps forward, one step back).  Hooray for seeing other human beings!