Several months ago my wife Diane got an unexpected notification on her phone. Surprising, it was a message from our doorbell, informing us that several cars in the area had just been broken into by people looking for garage door remotes. We decided to check out our own car and sure enough, someone had gotten into it and rifled through the storage compartment. Luckily there wasn’t any damage and our hidden remote was still safe. After this incident, however, we decided to start parking our car in the garage.
Fortunately, I had reformed old habits and cleaned up and organized the garage. Now there was now enough room to park one car, which was monumental for me. About 65% of Americans have a garage and according to the National Association of Professional Organizers, one-half of homeowners identified it as the most disorganized area of the house. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy found that, just like my garage, one-third of two-car garages only have enough room to house one vehicle.
Garage clutter accumulates because it is a convenient place to stash unused items and keep them out of sight, without actually throwing them away. It is an insidious process and as the clutter slowly builds up, it eventually becomes a task that is too daunting to address. Instead of throwing things away we think “but I might need it someday” and that kind of thinking leads to what’s been called “aspirational clutter.”
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that the garage is the purgatory where unwanted items are banished to complete the trashification process. He claims that once demoted to the garage, no item has ever made it back in to the house. He also points out that the word ”garage” sounds a lot like “garbage.” Coincidence? I think not. He also says that once you’re put in the same room that contains the garbage can, let’s face it — it’s only a matter of time.
To be truly organized, the rule of thumb is that unless something has sentimental value, if you have not used it in the past three years you should probably get rid of it. I don’t believe , however, that this rule applies to really good cardboard boxes from Amazon. Also, it is usually necessary invest in several expensive and difficult-to-assemble storage devices.
When humans lived in caves, they often used smaller caves for storage. Even back then having an area solely devoted to storage was like having a three-car garage today. As people began to gather additional possessions, separate structures were built. Primitive sheds were fabricated from wood and animal skins, reeds and bones, and even snow and ice.
When animals were domesticated, corrals and pens were fashioned to contain them and these evolved into stables and carriage houses. John Brinckerhoff Jackson was a pioneer in the field of cultural landscape design who wrote a classic essay titled, “The Domestication of the Garage.” It is an eloquent description of how the carriage house transformed into the modern “family garage.”
Originally garages were separate structures, set off from the main residence. Over time, however, the garage slowly sidled up to the house and eventually became a part of it. Jackson said that garages expanded to accommodate two cars, as well as “a deep freeze, a washer and dryer, and even a hot water unit and a hobby work bench — to say nothing of broken lawn furniture, skis, and tangles of garden hose.”
I grew up in Illinois where detached garages were still common. We had a concrete block garage that was strictly my father’s domain. I suppose it was a prototypical man cave. It seemed like a cross between a bar and a hardware store.
He never parked our car in the garage because it was always too full of things he collected. Occasionally he would clear it out enough to squeeze a car in there in order to replace clutches, which were constantly burning out on our vehicles. He blamed my mother for riding the clutch and my older brother for popping the clutch when he would peal out to impress some girl. It never occurred to him that he wasn’t installing the clutches correctly. I distinctly remember him having a box of leftover springs and bolts after one of his clutch jobs. Burning out clutches must be hereditary in our family because later, when I owned an MG Midget, I replaced four clutches before I got rid of the car.
My father was also an inveterate hoarder of boards, used nails, tools, and electrical hardware. When the garage finally filled up, he built a storage shed alongside it. I thought the shed was terrific and would make an ideal clubhouse for me and my friends. It had a dirt floor and one tiny window that wouldn’t open. When the door was closed there was no ventilation. There was an old rug in the shed, which was constantly damp. I tried to convince my friends to play in my “clubhouse,” but the mold and mildew were so toxic that after a few minutes, you were unable to breathe and ran out coughing. Reluctantly abandoning my “clubhouse” I spent more time in the garage, often doing incredibly dangerous things like playing with power tools, melting lead to make toy soldiers and the occasional lead quarter, and fooling around with high voltage electrical devices and my father’s drill press.
Our garage was the scene of a number of memorable events, like the time I found all my Christmas presents in a back room, where my father hid his liquor bottles. There was also the time when I was in high school and my friends and I cut the top off my older brother’s car.
My brother once constructed a spear gun out in the garage, using plans from a Popular Mechanics magazine. Evidently the spring mechanism he used was too strong and the gun went off accidentally, narrowly missing one of his friends and completely piercing the garage door. Not one to be deterred, he later built a cannon, again using plans from Popular Mechanics, which must have had excellent liability insurance.
As for me, I once put a bent nail in the vice to straighten it out. I hit the top of the nail with a hammer to see it spark and the head of the nail flew out and struck me square in the throat. It didn’t hurt much and fortunately didn’t hit any arteries. When my pediatrician saw the X-ray at the hospital emergency room, he asked my mother who shot me. He wasn’t able to get the nail out, so they just left it in, where I suppose it remains to this day commemorating my garage adventures.