Last summer we bought a shed to alleviate some of our garage storage woes/messes (more on that here). It was love at first sight, but alas – it remained empty for months as I sat paralyzed, unable to pinpoint the “perfect” way to organize it. I didn’t want to let my baby down by not letting her live up to her full potential. Listeners of our podcast have heard me mention it time and time again (me saying the word “shed” might as well be a drinking game at this point). But once I let go of the idea of getting it perfect and just steered myself towards solving my storage problems one-by-one, we were finally able to help our empty shed
fulfill its destiny become the storage workhorse I always knew it could be.
The reason I was having trouble getting started was because I couldn’t figure out how many functions I wanted to cram in there. Is it mostly workspace and tool storage? Do I put garden and outdoor tools in there too? And if so, how much space is all of that stuff gonna take up? I didn’t want to move so much in there that we couldn’t comfortably work, and I was getting nowhere trying to floor plan it. Ultimately I told myself: prioritize the functions you want it to serve & the problems you want it to solve – then just work down the list until it’s full enough. Whatever didn’t make it could just stay in the garage. Sounds simple, and it was. And it was actionable, so I was finally doing something.
Solution #1: Workbench & Pegboard
If nothing else, I wanted to add a work table. We had one in our last workshop, but for the last 3.5 years here we’ve just been working on the garage floor (#glamorous). Also, by shifting most of our woodworking to the shed, we’d no longer deal with having sawdust coating every last surface in the garage every time we cut something in there (the bikes, the kids’ scooters, the car, etc). So the very first thing I did was buy this workbench from Home Depot.
The price was right ($77!) and it is easily movable/collapsible, in case I want to arrange things differently down the line. That was another key to unlock my indecision: creating flexibility. It makes you worry a lot less if you know you can change or undo something down the line. But so far: no regrets. It’s been great and we like where we set it up: centered on the longest wall, right across from the doors. Consider it a focal point of sorts.
You can also see I bought some clear 12-gallon storage bins that fit nicely underneath it (like these), and discovered some pegboard panels leftover from our second book that would fit perfectly behind the bench once they were cut down and hung (see below). Booyah, free storage. My garage hoarding does pay off sometimes!
I loved having tools on pegboards in my old workshop. Call it cliché, but they really are a visually appealing and (more importantly) very functional way to store this kind of stuff. Plus, it’s a huuuuge improvement over where we’d been grabbing many of our tools lately: random drawers here and there, not to mention several “who-knows-what’s-in-the-bottom-of-that” bins that were never unpacked since we moved to this house back in 2013. We just sort of stirred them with our arms to find stuff. Like nail and screw soup.
By reusing my old pegboard hooks and clips (as well as referencing some of the old pics) I was able to get most of our small-to-medium sized tools organized there. I even used some of the space above the pegboards to stash sanding blocks, tubs of wood filler, and other un-hangables.
Most of what’s out here is stuff that we will primarily use in the shed (and we still have some duplicate screwdrivers and such in our kitchen for quick access). We also made a small picture-hanging box (sort of like a small tackle box that we filled with nails, ook hooks, screws, and anchors) which makes more sense to keep inside than out in the shed.
The clear storage bins underneath are sorted by project – tiling supplies in one, lawn irrigation stuff another, and painting stuff in a third. The fourth is still empty (room to grow!). And, although the clear bins aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as solid colored ones might be, I like that we can quickly see what’s inside without having to rely on labels (which I’ve found I rarely keep updated). Function over form in here, fo sho.
Solution #2: Scrap Wood Storage
One of the main contributors to our garage looking disgusting (besides the thin layer of sawdust on everything) was all the scrap wood strewn around. I refuse to show you a wide shot of our former garage grossness, but here are a couple of corners to give you a taste. There were plenty of contributors to the chaos, but the scrap wood was getting to the point where it was too hard to access or sift through, so I was rarely checking it thoroughly before starting a new project. It had officially become more refuse than resource.
So with my workspace set – I turned my attention to making sensible scrap wood storage in the shed. I started by hauling all of it OUT of the garage and INTO the shed (I also set a general rule for myself – once anything came into the shed, it didn’t get to go back to the garage). You can see here that I had amassed quite the diverse collection.
I turned to Pinterest for ideas for scrap wood storage or organizers, but most of what I saw was either very elaborate (it spins! it folds out! it makes coffee! – okay, maybe not that last one) or alarmingly tidy. Am I the only one with wood that doesn’t nicely match? So I decided to just improvise a bit. After all, my main goal was to put it all in one place, in a way that I could sort through it all without everything falling on me or my pocket sized wife (we might never find her). Oh, and I also wanted to use as much scrap wood as possible to actually build it. I had to grab a few new 2×4″s for enough stability, but I really resisted the urge to buy more lumber to corral my existing lumber.
Here’s where I ended up, and then I’ll show you how I got there. I realize all the wood-on-wood tones don’t make this super easy to decipher, but in person it’s gloriously simple.
To create the flat storage area at the base, I cut some 2 x 4″s into two matching boxes. My sizes were determined by the space where I was putting it (the corner beyond the side window), but you can adjust the lengths based on your needs.
I used my pocket hole jig to attach the pieces and form the two flat rectangles, and then broke out my nailer to secure some thin plywood scraps over the top to create the bottom platform.
Using more 2 x 4″s, I cut and screwed several short “posts” along the side and back edges of the bottom platform (again using pocket holes). The front stayed open so I could slide my pieces in that way.
Then I secured the other platform on top of the posts by screwing directly through it into each post.
Next I nailed a thicker 1/2″ piece of scrap plywood on top. The heftier top shelf not only added support to the structure, it also would better withstand the weight of all of the wood that would be resting on it eventually.
Then I cut 8 three-foot pieces of 2 x 4″ and used pocket holes to secure them to the base. I steadied each post and gave the whole structure more stability by nailing a frame around the top and bottom perimeter, leaving the top front open so I could easily lean pieces inside each open cubby. But the bottom front piece is important to keep the leaned wood from slipping out, so don’t leave that out.
You can also see from this angle that I added extra back & side pieces to the far right compartment (which would store the smallest pieces of wood) to keep things from falling through the sides. I also left a gap on the right side of the organizer where I could slide in large flat pieces against the wall.
Here’s that after again. It’s a bit fuller than I wish it was, but now that I can find pieces more easily than before (it’s all in one spot! it’s organized by length!) I’ve already found myself making fewer runs to the store and relying more on leftover scraps.
The only thing I might still add is a small basket or bucket mounted to the wall so I can toss in small leftover blocks of wood. I find those handy to have around for things like propping up an item that we’re painting or spray painting so it doesn’t get stuck to the tarp or cardboard underneath. Also, I clearly have a problem not throwing any wood away. The first step is admitting you have a problem.
Solution #3: Heavy Duty Shelving
Not only did I want to get some of our bigger tools (table saw, tile saw, wet vac, etc) out of the way in the garage – we also wanted to move those into the shed because that’s where many of them will actually get used! So next up on the to-do list was some heavy duty shelving. You know, something that would stand up to the weight of bigger tools (more than your typical plastic or wire garage shelf). Here’s where I ended up.
This is just on the left side of the same window that is to the left of the scrap wood holder, so this whole side of the shed is now maximized with storage. I was able to build the entire thing out of leftover plywood and new 2 x 4″ boards. I started by cutting 4 pairs of matching 2 x 4″s, measured to fill the wall between the corner and the window.
Using a level and a tape measure, I used long screws (into studs!) to hang one board from each pair against the wall. Your shelves are ultimately going to rest on top of these boards. You can see the spacing I chose below, but it’s really up to you – I would just warn against not leaving yourself enough TALL shelf space (the two lower shelves are so helpful for larger items).
Next – and this is going to sound weird – you loosely attach the other half of the each pair directly over the boards already in the wall, making sure to line everything up perfectly.
I used two screws per board, and you don’t have to drive your screws all the way in, just enough to hold everything together for the next few minutes. The attaching thing is just temporary.
Next, you’re going to add vertical 2 x 4″ supports that rest on the floor and are cut to go no higher than your top board. I started with three, but as you saw in the final photo – I ended up removing the middle post. You’ll want to screw these posts tightly into the outer horizontal pieces (make sure your screws aren’t so crazy long that they go into the back pieces too). And again, use your level to keep them straight.
Now you can remove those “temporary” screws and the whole front portion of your shelving system will pull away from the wall in one glorious piece. Sorry I don’t have a photo of this but it was like MAGIC. You’re basically cloning the back frame exactly so that when you pull it off the front frame, the horizontal shelf supports will be perfectly lined up. So then you just have to add some side pieces that will create the depth you need for the shelves and it all gets attached again.
When you’re done with that part – it should look a little something like this.
Next, I added some leftover 1/2″ plywood pieces to the top with nails. That’s when I realized it was feeling EXTREMELY steady and I could remove that middle post (which would ultimately make it easier to slide large objects onto the shelves).
I’ll admit I didn’t really “plan” what was going to fit on there when I built it, but it turned out to be great for lots of our boxed tools, random painting supplies, various saws, etc. This thing is so dang sturdy you could invite a few dozen kids to climb all over it. Or fill it with tons of heavy tools, which is what I did. Sorry, kids.
Ana White, who gave us the idea for this project, actually has a great video that shows this process in action (and on a much bigger scale!) in case you were wondering how to implement it for a space like a garage.
Solution #4: Small Part Organization
With most of my large and medium sized tools out of the garage and into the shed, I turned my attention to the tiny stuff: screws, nails, etc. The mason jars I had used on a shelf in my last workshop had been much less efficient in the drawers where they lived in this house’s garage. We couldn’t see what was in anything from above, so we were constantly lifting up jar after jar to find the right anchors or screws.
I brought all of the drawers into the shed so I could see my stash all in one place. Not knowing exactly how I’d divvy everything up, I bought three styles of small part organizers from the store (slide-out, tip-out, portable). They were each less than $20 (they’re just plastic) and offered slightly different size and configuration options (spoiler alert: I ended up returning the one laying on the floor because I just didn’t need it).
There’s not really any magic to how I sorted things, so I’ll spare you that part. I just kept screws near screws, nails near nails, etc. I didn’t label anything because, again, I’ve found that I don’t keep up with labels (or as I once heard someone say: “I’m a Millennial, I don’t like labels.“). The real magic here was taking the time to mount these on the wall.
They come with keyhole cut-outs on the back that make them ready-to-hang, so I found an otherwise pretty useless skinny section of the wall and hung them on top of one another. I’ll warn you that the plastic covers on the bottom one are a little janky. You can see I already chipped off the top corner of one, but it doesn’t really affect my day-to-day use of them.
I also like the small gray compartments because they can be removed all the way, so we can take the appropriate container of screws over to our workspace if need be.
I wouldn’t call the shed “done” yet because the entire other wall across from my shelving & scrap storage is still basically empty – well, except for our miter saw, the stand for our wet saw, and some sawhorses. But I’m actually planning to keep it pretty empty for a little while. It’s not because our garage is suddenly perfect (it’s still far from presentable thanks to the future beach house furniture that’s slowly taking up residence there). No, it’s just that I’m finding it’s nice to have flexible work space in the shed, rather than cramming every corner with storage.
I probably will add a few other areas/functions sooner or later since there’s room, but I’m not in a rush. This has already solved a lot of our top priority problems in the garage (no more sawdust covering everything!), so the shed is definitely earning its keep. Especially considering I’ve basically only had to buy a workbench, some plastic containers, and a few 2 x 4″ boards to make it functional.
And the moral of the story? Doing something is better than doing nothing, even if it means you have to let go of making everything picture perfect and just focus on making it function – especially when it comes to hardworking spaces like a shed, garage, or even a mudroom. You don’t have to solve everything all at once, but even just by starting with something that’s flexible and not too expensive will help you find your momentum. In other words: carpe shed diem!
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