As we start to roll into the New Year, it’s time for the annual cleaning and greening of the garage.  The garage is something that is often overlooked as an area of the house where you can go green.  It’s also been the traditional dumping ground of various areas of clutter.  “Put it in the garage and I’ll deal with it later.” is a common theme at my house.  But there are a lot of benefits to spending some time over the weekend turning your garage into an eco-friendly space for both you and your family.  If you find yourself walking over mounds of “to be donated” items or dreading your next archaeological journey into the garage to find something that was put in there sometime this year (or last year) here’s a couple of quick tips to help start off the new year right.

Declutter What You Don’t Need

This should be obvious, but get rid of what you don’t need or no longer use.  For me, putting things in the garage for storage until later is like buying things on a credit card.  Eventually you need to pay it off.  Take the time before the new year to pay down your clutter debt by going through the piles and figuring out what needs to be stored, donated, or finally tossed.  For me, i find that this is a technique that works extremely well:

  • Put out three bins labeled: keep, donate, and toss.
  • Start going through the piles.  Spend 30 minutes doing this.
  • After 30 minutes,  review what you’ve got in the bins
    • Keep: Now find a spot for what you want to hang on to
    • Donate: load the bin in the back of the car, get it out of the garage and to a place that can use it
    • Toss: If it’s beyond help, make sure you dispose of these items properly.
      • Recycle what you can
      • Properly dispose of those toxic items (i.e. paint, used motor oil, batteries, etc.)

I know there are various declutter programs and processes out there that say put it all in a big pile.  But lets face it, that’s a major chore and when you’ve got kids sometimes you’re going to keep putting it off over and over because it’s too big of a time commitment.  The garage isn’t going anywhere though (that’s what got us here in the first place!) so for me, 30 minutes of sorting and 30 minutes of dealing with the bins helps me to keep on top.  After all, everyone can find an hour during the weekend, right?  If i find myself with a couple more hours than I anticipated for the weekend, just rinse and repeat, but always keep it to 30 minute cycles.

Be Energy Efficient

This is an interesting one, but most people where I live tend to have attached garages to their homes.  The doors from the house to the garage wear over time, or maybe aren’t always as insulated as they could be, so take the time to check the insulation here and make sure it’s properly sealed and that if you have a self-closing hinge that it’s actually working properly.  Better yet, check the outside garage door as well. if your outer door isn’t insulated, consider replacing it as well with a properly insulated garage door in order to keep the extreme heat and cold from invading your garage space as well as your home.

Also review the lighting in the garage.  Are you using incandescent or CFLs?  Now might be a good time to swap them out for some LED lamps.  LEDs are usually twice as efficient and last four times as long as CFLs.  They also don’t contain toxic materials like mercury, which makes them safer to dispose of when they do need to be replaced.

Look to replace your traditional garage light switches with more modern motion sensing switches.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked into the garage to go grab something real quick, go back into the house to finish whatever I was working on, and forget to turn off the light until after

Rid Yourself of Toxic Chemicals

This is another big one with my family.  We’re really good about making sure our daily cleaning supplies are non-toxic.  But once it’s out in the garage, a lot of times we fall into the old trap of, “Out of sight, out of mind.”  This year during the annual greening of the garage, we’ll be taking a close look at a lot of the chemicals, glues, paints and other items that we’ve stored in there over the years to pull out what we no longer need, what’s expired, or what we can replace with something more organic.


Paints are another area to focus in on.  We’ve got paint cans in the garage from years ago.  Normally if you properly store latex paint it can last for up to 10 years.  The garage is not however the best place to store paint as it can be subject to some pretty extreme temperature fluctuations.  I’m guessing at this point it’s probably all gone bad.  so we’ll be disposing of the paints we’ve stored there for the last 6 years, “just in case we might need more of this paint some day.”  Instead we’ll be taking some pictures of the labels on the cans along with the color mixes that were used to create that specific shade and taping them up in the cabinet where we’ve been storing these paints.  So, just in case we do need to get this exact shade again, we’ll have the records easily at hand to be able to run down to the hardware store and have them mix up a fresh batch for us.

If you do want to hand onto the paints you’ve stored in the garage, just make sure that you….

  • Do not use paint that is moldy.
  • Do not use paint that has frozen (which can happen in colder climates when stored in the garage)
  • Do not use latex paint produced before August 1990 as it may contain mercury.
  • Probably not necessary to say this, but do not use paint produced before 1977 because it may contain lead.

So that’s the plan for this year’s annual greening and cleaning of the garage.