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Hagerty Employee

5 tips for keeping your garage organized | Hagerty Media

Go into any of the top restoration or general maintenance shops around the world and you'll find they have one thing in common: their space is tidy, organized, and ready for work. This is something every home DIY enthusiast should aspire to. Having a clean and organized workspace can make you more productive and safe.
New Driver

Banker Boxes and Plastic Kit Trays
I use banker boxes to store small to medium size parts by type on storage shelves. I can write content lists on the boxes, they come in letter and legal size and are easy to open and move around. On the down size as the article states, they are good indoors only as they don't seal well.
I also use a plastic tray, about 12x24 as a kit tray. I put everything I think I'll need for a project, the parts, tools, nuts, bolts etc. in one tray so that I can conceptualize project order steps and all of the tools I'll need. I helps me identify what I don't have so that I can order it, get the kit complete and then tackle the job.
Pit Crew

I bought a restored car that came stuffed with spares and extras. It took me 3 full days, but I went through every box to consolodate, sort, combine and catalog. Everything got listed on a spread sheet with bin and box numbers. The large bins got numbers and the smaller boxes inside got reference numbers. Then I printed out a 2 lists of the contents - one is taped to the top of the box and one in inside (just incase a lid gets put on the wrong bin. I like the holders for the drills and impact wrenches, I would like to hear more about them.
Intermediate Driver

PVC pipe with notches cut into them

@Billygoat33 -- Those drill/impact holders are simple. Just a couple pieces of PVC that I notched with a hand saw and glued to the underside of a shelf. It works quite nice, and the only upgrade I want to make is to have a friend 3d print some battery holders that would put those on the underside of the shelf as well.

Love your articles Kyle! I spoke somewhat extensively about containers/boxes etc. in an earlier post, so I won't go there.
Cardboard in my shop is temporary, which is to say, the ONLY stuff I keep (which is large in size... washing machine/TV/fridge boxes etc.) are used only a few times under one of the vehicles when doing an oil change, T-case R&R, Diff gear change, etc. to keep the floor clean & necessitate an easier cleanup, then re-cycled (if clean enuff).
The listing of contents (of containers) is a MUST!
Clean-up of tools in my shop, is done EVERY time before the lights go off ! I don't care if this seems **bleep** or a waste of time (cause you will be out there tomorrow....S--T happens).
Something I have found handy (if space permits & it can be difficult doing this) is to put all the parts to 1 project in the same area of the shop (DUH). To explain, I built a 12' long heavy duty bench for 1 area in the shop (this is a "work" space). Underneath I divided it into 4 3' sections. This is my "Bike" bench. I can have (and usually do, if not more) 4 projects on the go at 1 time. The engine goes on the floor under the bench, the frame hangs from the ceiling directly overtop of that section. All other parts (varying in size) go either also under the bench, or on vertical shelfs that extend up to the frame. This keeps EVERYTHING organized & tidy.
Take the time to design & build your shop correctly the FIRST time & you will be eternally grateful you did!
Keep the excellent articles coming Kyle!

Well, well, the word that got "BLEEPED" out, must have been taken out of context. My Bad. LOL

Some important tips I use to keep my sanity:

1. Keep tools and supplies separate.
2. Always clean up before and after a project.
3. Be mindful of the tools you are using and be sure to account for them before declaring the project finished.
4. Keep the floor spotless. Dropping a nut or screw on a dirty floor will be painful in many ways.

Good luck!
New Driver

In regard to #4 "...Dropping a nut or screw on a dirty floor will be painful in many ways."
Take your brightest flashlight, lay it on the floor, and slowly sweep the area with the beam. Even the smallest E-clip or snap-ring will cast a large enough shadow to make finding it easier.
I'm not a control freak, I'm a control 'Enthusiast'.

I use clear bins so that I can see what's in them. When labeling, I use masking tape for the label if the contents are likely to change anytime soon.
I like the idea of cleaning up once a week. When I worked in construction, we would always take 15 minutes to clean up at the end of the day, but I've found that doesn't work for me now. I should be able to do once a week better, especially if I start the day with cleanup instead of trying to reserve time at the end. Thanks for this one.
Also thanks for using the term "set aside time" instead of "take the time." Where people think you're going to "take" time from is a mystery to me.

A good toolbox has been great for me. Got rid of a huge section of pegboard put up by a prior owner. I made my own magnetic labels for the toolbox too, and as I use it more and more I can reorganize it to my liking and redo the label. Only handling things once is a great one too. Oh and my Dad's golden rule that got me in trouble many times, "You can use my tools, but put them back where you found them....".

Magnetic labels are a great idea.
Pit Crew

A lot of great ideas ...
I really like the PVC pipe for the hand tools!
I really dislike the TV, a huge distraction ...
I do, however, support adult beverages ...
I cover the floor, tire machine and balancer with 8 mil plastic sheeting if it might get messy, and use cardboard for protecting surfaces like bench tops, the floor and so on ...

I have my own TV in my garage. Provides background.

The TV is there for a two reasons: I ride my bicycle on a trainer in the garage in the winter, that TV makes the time on the rollers a lot more tolerable. It's also nice to put a concert or other live music on when I am cleaning up or just hanging around with friends.

The tough part is that TVs don't like being put in a dusty/dirty environment like a garage. I don't expect this one to live a long life, but it came to me for free so each day is a gift I guess.
Intermediate Driver

I bought some good used kitchen cabinets for next to nothing and painted them a "professional grey". They greatly reduce the cluttered appearance of open shelves.
My other problem is that I have too many cars and no room to work !
Intermediate Driver

I'm a big fan of storage that is on wheels. This enables moving tools, supplies and parts around to suit the job of the hour, day or whatever the time slice you're working with.
There is a rule in economics that says, "expenditures will rise to meet income." This also holds for space in my shop at least. It's really hard to say "no" to a great deal on tools, parts and even entire vehicles but one must. Selling and trading stuff exacerbates this factor.
So my contribution is: get wheels on everything and just say "no" unless you are sure that you can use, sell or trade the item within a reasonable amount of time. Failing that, get yourself a million square foot warehouse and a forklift.
Intermediate Driver

I found the most important tool in the garage is the garbage can. Use it.
Oven pans from the dollar store work great under cars that drip.

Great article!
Some additional ideas to consider: (1) Keep non-project items stored in another location. (2) If you have multiple project cars, do everything possible to keep one car road-worthy at all times. (3) Create a dedicated space for parts cleaning. (4) Sweep the shop floor at the end of each work session. This was my first job in my dad's garage when I was kid and it is the last thing I do after time in the shop. The task has a wonderful Zen quality. On more than one occasion I have discovered a solution to a problem while sweeping.
Pit Crew

Battery powered leaf blowers can replace a broom for most end of day clean up. Not only do they quickly clean the floor they can dust the work benches.

When working on projects I often found myself running back & forth to the tool boxes for various items. I needed a roll around cart bad but they were pricey. Then it hit me I had an old grill that I was saving to take to the dump. I removed the grill box & added a piece of plywood to the top. It works great. Detailing wheels can be a back breaking task. I had an old office chair the back had broke off so I removed the arms & use it to scoot along doing lower level detail work or even checking tire pressure. Like I say, "it's what you do with what you got (I use to say, that's only for those who don't have anything). Regardless of how tidy you are, if you're doing anything at all, you're going to run out of room. Build bigger or build another building.

Like the power tool holders! THIS is one of the most important things to "work on" especially for us DIY folks, everything has a place and everything in its place. This could be a 10 article review of all the aspects, and to enjoy our hobby (or obsession) more, there is nothing like working in a great environment. Hey people its SPRING! After the house / basement I am doing the pole barn, where my toys lie in winter slumber. Its to bad we have 9 months of winter and 3 months of bad sledding here in TC.
New Driver

1. Lots of pegboard!
2. Over the years, I've become an expert at buying rolling heavy duty Craftsman toolcarts - if you do a quick check of Craigslist every night under TOOLS, you'll find someone about once a month who is selling a red or black 3 tiered piece in newish homeowner condition for $150, when the price should actually be about $300. My biggest haul was from a woman whose husband left her and his tools behind. A BRAND NEW 3 TIER CRAFTSMAN HEAVY DUTY TOOLCART FOR $125! Repeated the feat from a guy whose new company bought him a new set of tools and storage. I have bought over 30 of these sets over the past 5 years. Make sure the bottom rolling cart has indented sides built around a frame - a flat side is a homeowner cart - not the one you want.
Pit Crew

Horiz surfaces collect stuff, in limited space I have a old door hinged to the wall (sideways) that flips up to be a temporary 80" long workbench, folding table legs to hold it up. When you are done just fold it down so the other car can go back in. Mandatory to keep it cleared off.
Intermediate Driver

Great tips that I need to work a LOT harder on following! I swear by plastic bins, tackle boxes, and Edsal shelving. When we moved to Texas, we learned that cardboard boxes also attract scorpions.

And one more reason for "setting up the shelves so your plastic bins just fit between the varying layers" is to prevent the top of a bin from becoming another shelf. It's so frustrating to realize you need something from a bin which has half of another project stacked on top of it.

Another tip you hinted at in a caption: Your workbench is not a shelf. And yes, I need to print that out and tape it to my own workbench. I currently have several shelves with less stuff on them than my workbench has.
Advanced Driver

Great Advice to all of us. It is SO easy for things to get out of hand! I went a step farther once I began collecting an inventory of extra or spare parts for individual vehicles. With my wife's valuable assistance, I loaded each closet shelf with the spare parts--describing each, aloud, during the process. My wife dutifully noted each on a sheet of paper on her clipboard. When I had filled one shelf, we went to the next shelf--repeating the same process of enumeration and description AND the number and location of the shelf. Once we had completed the storage process, I took the clipboard information and created an Inventory Sheet on my computer. Now, when I need a part, I can access the Inventory Data, go through the list of parts and quickly locate the needed item.
New Driver

Great Kyle.
It is very close to the 5S of the Lean manufacturing learned in industrial engineering classes where 5S stands for "Seiri", "Seiton", "Seiso", "Seiketsu", "**bleep**suke", in japanese, or "Sort", "Set in order", "Shine", "Standardize", "Sustain" in english.
My grandfather used to call it "Good common Sense", or "Gros bon Sens" in french..
Advanced Driver

I disagree on one point, the big cardboard boxes when cut into a large flat piece make a quick grab absorbent mat for those impromptu leaks. They store against a wall or under the engine to get the regular leaks and when done go in the trash. It beats buying something you have to clean.
Another thing, when a going out of business sale happens, ask about the shelving and parts bins. It works for a pro shop and will work in yours too. They also often go vertical to save floor space. If your ceiling is too short you can cut it down a bit.

I rather like the pvc cordless drill holder thingies

never enuff horizontal space. I use a doz fold out pipe frame auto body stands (U no the ones w/the foam pad pipe-insulation-like bumpers on 'em, adjustment chain?). I throw a small hunka ply on to make a table. Tucked around low traffic areas of the shop, usually w/an occupied engine or transmission stand beside, I can move from project on the lift to one of these as repetitious body motion creates aches, a wait for parts is involved, frustration develops or payment schedules flag. End of job? fold up & store in a v e r y small space.
I like the "go vertical" comment. Lotsa blank wall space means shelving to me. I get mail order meds so have sorting boxes, large plastic 'jars' for fasteners and anything else I can sort for quick finds later all my parts from heavy near the bottom to tiny at the top. A dedicated step ladder returns there any time used elsewhere. After using the system - dont need labels I pretty much no where everything is (much of it is translucent or clear as well).
Last, a lill like my kitchen technique, I clean as I go. End of each project (sometimes an operation) I take a break/change of pace w/a clean up. Usually just the area but upon occasion the whole shop. I may need to think thru something or again deal w/a frustration in a project. A vigorous sweep tour around the shop is better than a beer or throwing the component thru the window (what can surface on a weekly or every other weekly basis) 8^0
Advanced Driver

Leave the new parts in their original boxes and store the boxes in plastic bins to keep them safe and clean. You don't want to lose the part numbers or other manufacturer info. Also put the date purchased. Save the receipts in a folder for each car so if you have to reorder or the part is defective or wrong, you can return it. Many suppliers won't take back stuff not in the original packaging or dirty packaging. I once lived at a house with a one car garage (14x20). I had stored 5 complete disassembled engines with extra parts, had Monte Carlo body parts in the garage attic, and still had space for the car, mower, bicycles, workbench, tool cabinet and air compressor so organization CAN be done with creativity.


Pit Crew

Put your tools back when you finish one project before you start the next one. Haven't lost a 10mm socket yet. 😉

It's a law of physics that no matter how big your garage, it will be too small in three years.

That's absolutely true. Even if you have a very, very large amount of square footage, it will be so full of cars, motorcycles, project vehicles, parts, supplies, and tools (but NOT daily drivers!) that you will have to seriously consider whether to purchase a small min-bike because there's no place to put it.

Don't ask me how I know this....
Pit Crew

great tips. cant tell you how many times a project gets delayed, and the i cannot remember where i put something.... One thing i always try to do is START each day with 10 minutes of organizing/tiding up and END each day with another 10 minutes putting things where they go.... you do have a place for everything, don't you???? 🙂

Main thing is to get rid of UN-needed things in the shop, get rid of parts & pieces that aren't going to be used right away or maybe never, when you find yourself stumbling on things .... it's time to clean house. You do not need 40 screwdrivers or pliers, get rid of tools you never use, these only cause time wasting, less 'hunting time' means more 'get something done' time, I never have to hunt for anything, I know where tools and supplies are and we put them back when done, then they'll be there.

It all sounds great on paper...
The reason the top restorers have immaculate garages is because someone on the payroll has that job.
I'll set time aside to organize, then i'll pick up that thing... that one that I have always been meaning to install on my car...
Advanced Driver

No way am I getting rid of cardboard. I use large pieces of cardboard to lay on when my automotive floor cushion is too narrow for the job. Smaller pieces I put under the car for oil changes, and to protect my garage floor when I transfer from drain pan to gallon jugs. I put those jugs into reassembled cardboard boxes to keep my car trunk clean when delivering the jugs of used oil to a local farm that heats with waste oil during winter. The cardboard is on hand for other uses too. I keep a clean garage that's well sealed off and I don't have a rodent problem.
"Get Rid Of The Cardboard" No way!

No matter what I do, and how much I organize, it always seems like I need a BIGGER garage!
Pit Crew

I'm sure some have seen the video of the guy who goes into his garage full of stuff all over the floor and decides to organize the mess. So he sets to work making shelves and storing everything off the floor. As he stands there proud of his work and a neat, clean garage, his wife arrives in the car and presses the garage door opener. The door opens and dumps everything off the shelves he so cleverly attached to the garage door.
Pit Crew


Doing a project start to finish is awesome but I am usually dirty and tired by the end of it so I find it good to go wash up, eat dinner, relax for the evening and then after a good nights sleep get out there and put everything away and clean up first thing in the morning. But I am retired and have that choice.
Pit Crew

Something I do to stay organized is I keep a set of clip boards on the wall for each car above my desk area. Repairs or parts needed, claim tickets for outsourced work, and "last driven" mileage goes on the board. Keeping the project schedules organized help keep the garage organized. The boards keep me from starting a project without having everything in place. They create a place where I can plan and think through a project, make notes, collect info, plan costs, and then record the work when done. The biggest trick for me in keeping the garage in good shape is knowing I have what I need to get the job done berfore I tear the place apart looking for a part or tool in mid stream. And if you have more than one hobby car, it really helps to track the dates and miles driven to be sure everything is getting enough regular drive time to stay healthy (including me). Also, if you know you are going to drive, you don't pile crap in the way. I don't mind spending 30 minutes a pop to keep order in the garage on a regular basis since garage time is good time no matter what I'm doing in there.
Intermediate Driver

I bought several older file cabinets to store various items, such as polishes and waxes, rags and towels, and things that need to be store vertically. The file cabinets are fairly narrow and can fit in spots that are too narrow for wider cabinets (I also have several of these). The file cabinets were purchased at local thrift stores for about $20 each. Each drawer is labeled on the outside, and the pull-out sliding drawers make it easy to find things.


I also like the horizontal magnetic strips for attaching hand-tools to the inside of the built-in wood/formica cabinet doors. Available at Harbor Freight.

Pit Crew

Thanks for the practical tips. It's nice to see a normal garage. Not the typical ad garage with nothing out and nothing dirty. Just fancy cars and fancy cabinets. So why do you think about overhead storage. Shelves hanging from ceiling? And what about auto stacker? Like for a golf cart and motorcycles under a small car.

So many good ideas all around. So much camaraderie! I apologize in advance for bringing some negativity to the topic, but I'd like to know if anyone else shares this disorganization pet peeve with me: You're working with someone who needs a tool from you. You direct them to the location (bin/shelf/drawer etc) and they replace it, in spite of any labeling that may be present, to an adjacent location. When questioned they assure you they returned it. Time passes, you never see it again and assume they've stolen it and lied about it. With maniacal laughter reverberating through your garage you conceive and execute a diabolical long term scheme to reduce that person's life to a hollow shell of what it once was. The wound long since healed and feeling that all has been righted in the world you happen to go into that adjacent location for something else and stumble upon...damn it's been there all along. Oops.

My father had an 8 foot long cabinet with close to 100 drawers in it, along with other storage places. When we were cleaning it out after he past away I was surprised to find that there were several instances of him having two or three of the same rarely used tool stored in different locations. It finally dawned on me that he would buy a tool, store it in a drawer and then either forget that he had it or not be able to find it, and then go out and buy another. Not sure what the lesson is - maybe keep a list of your tools?
Pit Crew

...and this is where my OCD really shines,
I can't/don't do clutter.
A place for everything and everything in its place.
New Driver

As a full-time mechanic, I use restaurant-style "Bus Trays" with lids to clean & store oily bits like transmission, diff, & engine parts. They are a little pricier but harder to break & designed to carry lots of weight. Plus they stack really well. I also use plastic restaurant "to-go trays" with clear lids to sort & store hardware within the bus-trays. You can write on the lids with a sharpie or grease pencil, and just wipe it off when done. Very handy for interior work too like when I R&R modern dash assemblies.
I'm not a control freak, I'm a control 'Enthusiast'.
New Driver

I agree with all here. I have a rule that I never do more than one thing to a project at a time. This way the car is still drivable and not in a zillion pieces. Also it is not as much work and I seem to get more done that way. Complete the operation and it is not as intimidating that way. I Always clean up after each session, tools floor, parts. I use plastic tote bins and have a rule that once a year i go through everything and eliminate anything I feel I don't need anymore. Also if you sell the stuff use the cash to buy what you need. Everything is spotless so I don't even get dirty working, always use the throwaway gloves, take care of your hands, She will appreciate it too. I use a leaf blower and blow out my shop weekly, 30x40. Lastly, when I buy bolts, etc. I buy in bulk, way more than I need. It saves many trips to the store in the middle of a job. At swapmeets I buy lots of hardware in bulk and they will sell it much cheaper if you offer to take it all at once. Besides, your buddies will love you for being a free hardware store for them...