How to clean and organize your shed
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How to clean and organize your shed

Jul 04, 2023

Many sheds are catchalls, simple structures intended to store gardening supplies, lawncare equipment, outdoor furniture and that oversized custom-built cornhole set you bought on Etsy and only used once. They may start out organized, but over time many descend into chaos and clutter. As these systems break down, the filth and grime build up and it becomes an eyesore inside and out. But figuring out a game plan for cleaning it up can feel overwhelming. So, you let it marinate in its disarray, dirtiness and disrepair, telling yourself again and again, “I’ll get to it someday.”

With the calendar still full of sunny days, fall is a great time to “carpe shedem” and tackle this long-overdue project, which will probably only take a weekend or two to complete, depending on how much work there is to do and whether you have a helper. Here are nine simple steps to help you transform your grungy shack packed with bric-a-brac into a well-organized, functional space.

If cleaning the space feels overwhelming, Meghan Jackson, owner of Joyful Spaces, an organizing business based in Colorado Springs, recommends partnering with a friend. “Offer to exchange helping each other out,” she says. “Having another person will also bring a whole other set of ideas and suggestions to the process, and it’s just a little more fun doing such an arduous task.”

The rise of the pandemic shed

“The first step is to get everything out, so you can see what you have,” says Amy Bloomer, owner of the organizing company Let Your Space Bloom in Lutherville, Md. “This is almost always the most uncomfortable and overwhelming part of the process, but it’s the most necessary.”

Group everything into piles of related items, such as yard tools, gardening supplies and lawn games. “This makes it easier to make decisions about what you need, what you want to replace and what to dispose of,” says Jackson. “You have to be honest about your needs now and if you can really see yourself using the item in the future, and you’ll also see if you have duplicates of anything.”

Bloomer advises donating anything in good condition to a nearby thrift store or charitable organization to give it a second life helping someone in need and keep it from clogging up a landfill.

Bloomer’s tool of choice for cleaning sheds is a leaf blower, because “it’ll get out all the creepy crawlies in all the corners.” Then give the space a vacuum or brisk sweeping, dust the shelves, scrub the floor and clean the windows. Moving outdoors, power wash or pressure wash the exterior. Make sure to check under awnings and in other crannies to remove empty nests, squirrel stashes, or blown leaves.

If you plan to use the structure year-round you should insulate the building to regulate moisture and create a temperature-controlled environment. Jay Shafer, author of “The Small House Book” and a tiny house designer, recommends lining the structure between its studs with one- to three-inch thick polyisocyanurate (also called simply polyiso) foam board. “It will create a vapor barrier,” he says, “so you don’t have to worry about mold.” If you’d like to put in a heater or air conditioning, lighting or power outlets, be safe and hire a professional electrician.

The quickest way to make an old structure look new is to give it a fresh coat of paint inside and out. Bloomer suggests painting the interior a light, bright color. This will make the small space look larger, while allowing items stored in the shed to stand out, even in corners or on shelves. The exterior can be brushed with a color that blends into the natural environment, making it feel like an organic part of your landscape. Bloomer suggests adding personality and pizazz by painting the door a poppier, eye-catching color. Or paint the whole structure a vibrant shade if you want it to stand out.

There are some items that must be stored on the floor, such as lawn mowers, grills and patio furniture. Everything else should go on the wall. For tools that can be hung, Bloomer recommends the customizable Rubbermaid FastTrack rail system. Use adjustable shelving for everything else. Narrow shelves are good for smaller items, such as seeds and sprays. But for bulkier things, such as a seed spreader or bins of seasonal goods, wider shelves are best. Bloomer prefers Seville’s steel wire shelving or Origami racks for everyday storage, and either Husky or Gladiator heavy-duty shelving for heavier items. Consider storing smaller, related items in stackable bins. “Labels are really helpful, because they quickly remind you of how you organized everything,” says Jackson.

Two items commonly stored in sheds should be moved indoors: batteries and paint. “Batteries degrade more quickly if they’re not in a climate-controlled environment,” says Jackson. “And paint goes bad if it freezes.”

Jeanie Stiles, co-author of “Sheds: The Do-It-Yourself Guide for Backyard Builders,” suggests building an awning on one side of the shed. Underneath it, you can place trash cans and recycling bins, stack firewood and install a wall-mounted bike rack.

To prevent things from getting out of hand again, do a yearly cleanup. “Don’t worry, it’s easier to clean a shed if it’s organized,” says Jackson, who adds that organization systems will need to evolve over time. You will need to adjust things, for example, when your kid gets older and gets a bigger bike or you buy new lawn furniture that needs to be stored during cold weather. She also advises doing a mini-purge every couple of years. “Scan your shelves to see if there’s anything you no longer need or want in there,” she says. “And toss out anything that’s past its expiration date, such as seeds or pesticides.”