How to organize your shed in 7 easy steps
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Recent shelter-in-place orders have given many of us time to look around more critically than usual at our living spaces. Cooped up indoors, you may have attacked clutter with a vengeance, sorting through junk drawers and curating closets in an effort to organize.
But, have you had a moment to cast an eye beyond the walls of your house to your yard? Is your little shed with geranium-filled window boxes as adorable inside as it looks on the outside? Probably not.
Sheds aren’t meant to be trendy, pretty, or decorated to the hilt. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be neat and tidy. Simplify your process and reduce the stress of trying to find your Phillips head when you need it, by organizing your shed with the same care you’d take when using the KonMari method in your home.
Whether you tackle the project yourself or hire someone to help (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals has 3,500 members and is very helpful with referrals), you should follow some basic guidelines. Many are similar to those suggested for indoor organization, with some outdoors-only caveats.
“If an item is meant to be used outdoors, it can be stored in an outdoor shed,” says Lisa Mark, a certified professional organizer and owner of The Time Butler, which has been serving the San Francisco Bay Area for 16 years. “Gardening tools, planters, outdoor toys, and entertaining items—anything that is proven to withstand the elements, like temperature fluctuations.”
Now that you know what can go into your shed, let’s discuss how.
1. Pull everything out of your tool shed
Resist the temptation to just go into the shed and move things around. It’s much easier to remove the entire contents and put everything in a “staging” area in your yard. Sweep out dirt and cobwebs, and even consider painting the inside of the shed bright white to make up for the lack of sunlight.
2. Keep, donate, recycle, or toss
Separate the contents of your tool shed into piles, and be honest with yourself when deciding what you really need to keep.
“If you haven't used a tool, container, or other item in the past five years, get rid of it,” says C.L. Fornari, Cape Cod-based creative gardening expert and author of eight books on the subject. “It's unlikely to be used moving forward, and such things only clutter the shed and make other items less accessible.”
Fornari’s advice begs another question to ask yourself: Can you move around unimpeded within your shed? If the answer is no, keep reading.
3. Sort like thing with like thing
Once you have a "keep" pile, sort its contents using categories like gardening, holiday, outdoor toys, picnic paraphernalia, and the like. Fit what you can into stackable clear plastic bins so that you can see what’s inside. Use bins with a weather-tight seal (look for buckle latches) to keep contents clean and dry. It’s a good idea to label each bin so that after you remove and use an item, you can return it to its rightful container.
4. Use of vertical space in shed organization
Shelving, either handmade or purchased, is a must. Many sheds have exposed studs, and in the dead space between studs, you can easily install DIY plywood shelves for optimal, one-row-deep storage.
Or, buy metal or heavy-duty plastic shelving units that fit the height and width of your shed.
Use shed wall space for peg-board systems (masonite, metal, or plastic depending on your needs and budget). These offer the flexibility to customize a layout of hooks and allow you to free up valuable storage space on the floor and shelves.
Alternatively, consider using a magnetic bar for tools like screwdrivers, hammers, and small handsaws. For lighter items, like coiled-up extension cords and rope, think about hanging them from something as simple as a wooden dowel.
Utility hooks, available in a wide range of sizes and easy to install, are your friend. Their high load-bearing weight makes them ideal for getting heavy tools and pieces of gardening equipment—rakes, shovels, etc.—off the floor. A shed’s rafters are a good place to store an infrequently used ladder.
5. Create zones in your tool shed
When possible, designate certain areas of the shed (even if it’s only a shelf) for each category of item and keep the most frequently used things closest to the door and readily accessible.
Don’t overlook the inside of the door and the exterior walls as zones. Hang hooks on the doors to organize your most commonly used smaller tools. This way, all you need to do is open the door to get to what you need most.
For a clever hack, avid gardener Ginger McEachern of Natick, Massachusetts, suggests hanging things, including work gloves, on the tines of an old rake. If an item, like a snow shovel, can withstand weather, consider hanging it on the outside of the shed to free up more inside space.
6. Don’t use a shed for broad storage
As tempting as it is to store paint in a shed, don’t do it. Extreme heat and extreme cold can alter paint formulas and make them unusable.
Although the jury is still out on where to most safely store gasoline and propane, Mark recommends erring on the side of caution and keeping these flammable liquids in a locked cabinet in a garage, if possible.
Garden expert Fornari warns against storing soft materials, such as landscape fabric, floating row cover, or even a roll of paper towels, in a shed. “These become material for mouse nests in the off season,” she says. “If they have to be placed in a shed, use a plastic bin with a tight lid, and put branches of mint on top before the container is sealed in order to further discourage rodents.”
7. Last but not least: maintenance
Now that you’ve put so much thought, time and energy into organizing your shed, do your best to keep it that way. Every time you use a tool or remove another item from the shed, return it to the exact same spot you took it from.
The next time you’re looking for it, you’ll be glad you did!
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