Toss & Keep, Garage Edition: How to Clean Up the Messiest Place in the House

published Feb 17, 2017
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Your garage is guaranteed to be the messiest place in the house —a place to ferret away junk and keep closed and off-limits when company comes over. It’s a holding vault for the kids’ old toys and items you borrow from neighbors and plan to return…eventually.

What do you toss*, and what do you keep? How do you organize it all so the clutter never takes over again? Here’s a handy guide to see you through the decluttering process.

* Toss, in this case, can mean passing it on to a friend or donation center, not just throwing it away.

(Image credit: Constantine Pankin)


Toss: Get rid of those rusty or broken tools. Let go of what you don’t use anymore, and any duplicate tools. If it’s in good shape, donate it or try to sell the bigger tools.

Keep: Your toolkit and any functional items. Only keep what you can and will use.

Hobby Supplies

Toss: Bulk sell or gift supplies to someone else for a hobby you never got into.

Keep: Keep items you will really use around the house, such as brushes, pens or rulers.

DIY Projects in Progress

Toss: You’re never going to finish that DIY project, are you? Give it away to someone who will pick up where you left off or toss it.

Keep: Do you love it? If you will transform the project into something usable and necessary, keep it.

Sports Equipment

Toss: Is your treadmill collecting dust? Your basketball have a hole? Let go of broken stuff you’ll never fix and bulky or complicated sports equipment you touched maybe twice since purchasing.

Keep: Is there anything here you’ll really use? It’s OK to give a second chance to the free weights or yoga mat, especially since these take up small spaces.

(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

Miscellaneous Appliances and Electronics

Toss: It’s time to let go of vintage electronics, such as VCRs and old Apple computers you can’t update. Donate duplicate appliances and toss broken ones that will only sit unused.

Keep: The ice cream maker gifted at your wedding two years ago that may be more useful now that you have kids. If you use it regularly, give it space on a shelf so you can easily find it.


Toss: If the toys have not been mentioned after being stored for months, they won’t likely be missed.

Keep: Age-appropriate games and toys children are very attached to should be kept.


Toss: Your Coca-Cola memorabilia may be interesting, but don’t become a hoarder. Lose the extras, and toss the junk.

Keep: Collectibles should be appraised and kept only for the personal, financial and aesthetic value they bring to your home.


Toss: Bulky furniture, couches with holes and ugly pieces you never fell in love with need to go.

Keep: Summer patio furniture and covers should be stored in a shed or in a large bin. Vintage finds and some family heirlooms may be reupholstered or upcycled into something useful and chic. But only keep them if you plan on doing something with them.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)


Toss: Dried up or out-of-date paint colors from before you remodeled—again. If it’s not on your walls currently, you have no use for it. You can always write down or take a picture of the color code and buy it again if you want to bring it back. When you do toss it, make sure to dispose of it properly.

Keep: Paint brushes, rollers, pans, and other tools that are in good shape and could come in handy for your next project.

Leftover Supplies

Toss: The cheap caulk or pile of leftover kitchen tiles from your remodel. If it’s from a specific remodel and can’t be applied to future projects, you have no use for it.

Keep: Save a couple of the tiles and any expensive and worthwhile supplies that you can get use out of.

Things That Expire

Toss: Batteries, oil and certain lawn care items like fertilizer have an expiration date and should be tossed once it’s met. If you’re saving that car seat for when you have another child, make sure it’s going to last.

Keep: If it’s going to stay good until you need to use it again, give it a spot but be sure to check back regularly.

Clothing and Décor

Toss: If your clothing is in the garage, it has probably been banished there for a reason. Donate the old threads and any furniture or décor that you don’t have plans to use or update any time soon.

Keep: Properly label and store snow gear or other seasonal items in bins so you can get them out when you need them.

Items Held as a Favor or Saved for Others

Toss: Has your friend promised to pick up their storage 10 times in the last five years? Give your friend a heads up, and let it all go by a deadline.

Keep: Hold on to items of sentimental value and items for those who do keep their “pick up by specific date” promises.

(Image credit: One Kings Lane)

How to Make it Happen and Keep it Organized

Don’t get discouraged. As you go through your clutter, it will be easier to decide what to toss and what to keep. Consider the following questions as you sort through these items:

  • Do I need this?
  • Do I love this, and will that change in the next year?
  • Why am I keeping this?
  • When did I use this last?
  • If I donate this or give it away, will it be useful for someone else?

After you decide what you want to keep, organizing the garage will be the key to keeping it decluttered. One Kings Lane has a great resource with some tips and tricks for getting it done. But here’s an especially important tip: Label everything: It seems like unnecessary work, but it will pay off. Every item will have a place, not a box. Then, make it all visible so clutter will have nowhere to hide. Sectioning off your garage into individual spaces for hobbies or certain types of storage will also help you stay clutter-free. Your garage will look brand new!