If there’s one thing I have learned in my life of working on cars, it’s that cleanliness and organization are simultaneously the most important and yet most overlooked factors in a project. In fact, I believe that a project’s relative success is often directly correlated with the relative levels of cleanliness and organization in the garage that houses it.
To that end, I’ve decided to share some advice to keep your garage tidy and your workflow organized. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention prevents you from wasting time looking for stuff and/or buying the same stuff twice.
Before a project even begins, clean out your work area. Make sure that your tools and fluids are organized, and make sure everything that has a home is where it belongs. Make a space for the parts you remove from the car, as well as parts you may have already started accumulating. Cheap plastic shelving that sets up and breaks down quickly is ideal for this. Hang up a whiteboard to make lists of operations. Big tasks seem much easier when broken down into smaller ones. Lastly, clean up any spills or puddles and sweep the floor.
Now that your project actually has a place to live and room to work around it, we’ll move on to the next phase: bagging and tagging. You’ll need some wire tags, a couple different sizes of Ziploc bags, a pack of note cards, and a Sharpie. When you remove hardware and small parts from one area of the car, mark that area on a notecard (for example, “Left Front Fender”) and place it in a bag along with the hardware. For larger parts, use gallon bags or tie a tag around them, labeling as you go.
If you want to be really thorough, create an Excel spreadsheet or a Google Docs sheet and catalog your parts stash. Keep a copy on your phone so that you can reference it when buying parts, hunting through the junkyard, browsing at a swap meet, or just trying to remember what you have. I really prefer Google sheets for this, as they’re free and can be accessed anywhere.
As you drive your car on the street, it invariably collects grime, and that grime gets shaken off any time the car is moved, poked, prodded, or otherwise disturbed. Over the course of longer projects, I like to do a quick sweep to keep the floors clean, locate missing hardware, and generally maintain my sanity. I’m not talking about going overboard, here — every other week or so is fine. A clean garage floor makes a huge difference in terms of making your garage look inviting and ready for action. Personally, it helps me to maintain my sanity and my motivation.
In fact, when you find yourself struggling for motivation in the midst of a project, oftentimes a light cleanup is in order. Getting the tools reorganized and all of the junk cleared out of the way does a lot to renew interest in a lagging project. It’s way easier to convince myself to slide underneath a partially disassembled car if the tools are readily available and I don’t feel like I’ll need to be hosed off just by laying down on the ground.
When the project is eventually finished, a cleanup — both of the workspace and the car itself — is necessary. For me, a project doesn’t feel truly finished until both the car and the garage are sparkling. It’s a great way to tie up loose ends and make sure nothing was forgotten in the shuffle. Best of all, you’re ready for the next project at a moment’s notice.
Maybe you don’t work like this, and that’s okay. I’m just listing what works for me. I like a clean garage, while others — a certain Hack Mechanic — employ a more…holistic approach to organization. However, if you haven’t been doing it as long or as well as he has, spending the extra time to get organized (and stay organized) is a surefire way to success, and in the long run, a major time-saver.
So what do you think? Do you like to keep your workspace clean? Do you plan on utilizing my tips? Are you already doing some of these things on your own? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you — and see your garage!