The Clutter Coach


Organizing Your Garden Shed

Cynthia EstesBy Cynthia Estes, Mountain Democrat columnist
Mountain Democrat - August, 2011
Reprinted with permission of the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, CA

I’ve figured out why my garden shed doesn’t stay organized. It must be the Garden Elf who hibernates in my shed for the winter. Every spring when I’m ready to start a new gardening season, I wonder what that mischievous shed wrecker has done.  I certainly didn’t leave it in such a mess, or did I? Whether you have one of those pesky elves or just have trouble keeping things organized, keep reading and we’ll do it together.

Put time on your side
Schedule two to three mornings for your shed project. Don’t plan anything else for those days because you’ll be tired by the time you’re done.  Allow more time than you think it will take, because it always takes twice the time you’ve planned for it.

Organizing is organizing no matter what it is
Whether you’re working with kitchen tools or garden tools, the same organizing principles apply. Organizing your shed or garage isn’t much different than organizing a closet or pantry.  
The day before you start organizing:

  • Scrounge up three large boxes for your main categories of donations, stuff to keep and stuff you’re not sure about.  You’ll also need at least eight boxes in smaller sizes, as you’ll be using them to put sort similar items together.
  •  Move both trash and recycle cans close to the garden shed.
  • Buy a wide permanent marker and some heavy duty gloves because you won’t be able to find a matching pair (blame the Garden Elf).
  • Label the three large boxes as Donate, Keep and Not Sure. Label the other boxes with the most common categories of items you want to keep. For example: garden tools, gloves, fertilizers and pesticides, sprinklers and hoses, bird feeders and seed, etc. This will help you organize it into designated zones.
  • Make sure the area around the shed, garage or basement when you will you’re your garden supplies is cleared and ready for the boxes.  Go to bed early so you’ll be ready to start bright and early the next morning.

Take it out, take it all out
. Now let’s get to work.

  • Put on your gloves and remove everything from the shed - - yes, everything. First, get rid of anything that’s trash.  Put every item into one of the labeled boxes.  Sweep out the shed and clean the shelving.                                                                                                
  • If it’s been broken for over a year, you’re never going to fix it.  Discard or recycle anything with bent, broken or missing parts.
  • Anything you haven’t used in two years and is salvageable should be donated or sold at a yard sale. Hint: If the thrift stores won’t take it, it’s junk.
  • Put similar things together and you can get donate the duplicates.  Do not ask the man in your life for his opinion. I actually did not know that we needed all five shovels, but Jim assured me that we did. It must have something to do with testosterone.
  • Toss carefully.  I threw away an insignificant small red cap, only to find out that the power washer won’t work without it. That’s what the Not Sure box is for.
  • Once you’ve purged what you no longer need, you’ll be left with pre-sorted boxes of the things you use on a regular basis.

Yes Virginia, there is a shelf life
You’ll be surprised at how many boxes, bags, containers and cans of fertilizers and pesticides that are half-opened, spilled on the floor or even banned for use in California. According to my internet research, most pesticides have a shelf life from two to five years. Fertilizers last longer, but look everything up to be safe.  From now on, buy just enough to last one season. It may cost more, but it’s more than worth it to prevent the accidental poisoning of one of your precious grandchildren or family pets. Check with your local waste management for proper disposal.

Chose your plan of attack
You wouldn’t try to re-organize your closet without a plan, so do the same for your garden shed. Depending on how much effort you want to put into this project, you might want to start by measuring the inside area of your shed and drawing a map of where you want to store different items. Once you’ve purged and pre-sorted, you can even set your boxes and tools where you think they might fit best to determine how much shelving and hanging space you’ll need. The most useful organizing principle I’ve found is to store the items you use frequently within easy reach. It sounds like a no-brainer until you realize that you’ve never done it that way. Seldom used items can go in the back or on an upper shelf. Containerize like items together.  Think vertical and use the space on the walls or door instead of storing items off the floor.  

Oh, give me a home

  • Remember pegboard? It’s inexpensive and continues to be a great way to organize. You’ll be surprised at the variety of organizing options made for pegboard systems today. You can use different sized hooks for small  garden tools and use wire baskets for gloves, hose nozzles, etc. if you don’t have a lot of wall space, put up pegboard on the inside of the door.
  • Use canning jars for storage of small items.  To save space, screw the lid to the bottom of a shelf. Use both small and large jars for the most variety.
  • Hang long tools, extension cords and hoses on the wall.  The choice of pre-made organizers is amazing. You can buy metal hooks, rubber-coated utility arms or brackets with snap-lock grips. If you’re handy, design and make your own custom holder.
  • Pruning shears of all lengths can hang from an over the door or wall mounted hanger, or on pegboard hooks for easy access.
  • Store patio furniture cushions in heavy duty extra large plastic bins with ends that snap closed to keep the Garden Elf and other critters away.
  • If you have some type of irrigation system, store everything you need to fix, repair or add to the system in a toolbox and carry it where it’s needed.
  • Store bird seed, garden soil and mulch in easy to dispense dog food bins with lids.
  • Scour the dollar and discount stores for cheap storage ideas, including a clear hanging shoe organizer for seed packets, plant markers and other small items that tend to get lost.
  • Store each unfinished project in its own labeled and closed container.
  • It’s handy to have a battery operated clock, trash can and a mesh waste basket for damp garden shoes.

A Word from a Master
If you’ve read my column, you know that my friends and family often contribute great organizing Ideas. This month, my cousin Sue McDavid, a Master Gardener extraordinaire (who also writes for the Mt. Democrat), has given me some new ideas to share with you.
Sue says…

  • You would be amazed how quickly you forget what kind of plants you bought and where you planted them! You’ll never forget again if you keep the labels from your plants, write where you planted it on the label with a permanent marker and put it in a three- ring photo album with pages you can insert. Be sure to buy extra photo pages as they may be difficult to find that size when you need them.
  • Get a five-gallon paint bucket and buy one of those garden pockets that fit inside the bucket.  It holds an amazing number of things like pruners and trowels in one place, in their own slots.  I can’t live without mine and it’s easy to carry around with me when I’m gardening.
  • Put everything back in its place when you’ve finished.   I learned the hard way when I needed to use a shovel, I would have to trek around the property to find it and by then it usually was all rusted and dirty.  
  • Thanks to the information in one of Sue’s Master Gardner columns, I got rid of all the broken pieces of clay and the Styrofoam pellets I was saving to fill the bottom of my containers. Now I only fill them with potting soil. Thanks Sue!

Let’s keep it this way…

  • Clean, sharpen and oil your garden tools before you put them away for the year.
  • Why on earth do they make garden tools green? Next time, I’m going to buy good quality brightly-colored garden tools. Or dip the green handles in a bright colored plastic dip. Or maybe I’ll get a metal detector to find all the green garden tools gobbled up by my green ivy.
  • De-clutter each time you go into your garden area, just like you would in your home
  • The right storage system is the one that works for you. If it’s easy and convenient to get and return the item you need, it’s the right system. If it’s not, try a different way until you find the one that works for you.

What are you waiting for? Go get those boxes and get started. By the way, if you follow these suggestions, I’ll guarantee that your Garden Elf will find a new home…

Cynthia Estes is a Professional Organizer, owner of Uncluttered for Life, and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Uncluttered for Life serves clients throughout Western El Dorado County. 

Call (530) 957-2975 for a free 20 minute phone consultation and estimate!