I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, in the 1960s, when most houses were designed with carports, not garages. This made it very handy for my father to pursue his lifelong goal of shirking home-improvement responsibilities because of the size of the small “utility room” off of the carport. After all, there wasn’t much room left in there after he “filled” it with twelve family photos (of dogs, mostly), the worst camping gear ever invented (used once, by my count), and a vintage Skotch cooler (remember?):
Oh, and you had to leave room for the cockroaches and scorpions.
So, I never had a “real garage” until Gary and I moved into his house in Mesa, Arizona, in 1985. This is when I learned that a 2-car garage was a complete misnomer; it actually wasn’t meant for two cars at all (or any cars at all). And that this man I was living with had more hobbies than God. Even back then.
Our next house, our first in Idaho, had a splendid 2-1/2-car garage. One car fit inside it, most of the time. Not long after we moved in, while I was preparing a large dinner party for Gary’s University department, in lieu of mountains of slicing and dicing, he announced that he had to go clean the garage. I thought this was odd timing, but our marriage was young and I was reluctant to question his methods.
Little did I know that I would not hear these words again for twenty-nine years.
A lot of wives complain about their husband’s garages, and with good reason. When the door is open, the whole world can see into your house and your life. They have no other view into your home (unless they have other peculiarities, which we won’t go into), so they can easily make assumptions that may or may not be fair. The Greens are slobs. The Greens are remodeling…again. The Greens probably injure themselves on a daily basis as they navigate this vortex of clutter. And right they would be, on all counts.
It’s a deadly combination of hobbies and remodeling that leads to Garage Hell. Everything is important. Everything needs to be saved. Everything is more important than my car being in the garage.
And so, the Garage Wars began. This is not my garage, but you get the idea:
Several more houses and garages came and went. With every move, the garage was hurriedly packed, moved, and then never unpacked. Boxes piled high, ski gear fell down, floor space shrunk to an absolute minimum. It could now take minutes, not seconds, to walk from the inside door to the exterior door. It was necessary to step over, duck under, side-step, and squeeze through any number of obstacles, just to go to work every day.
Remodeling plays havoc with garages. I’m not talking about the “let’s rewire a lamp” kind of stuff. I’m talking about nine solid months of remodeling hell, using every tool you own to cut boards, fight with insulation, hang sheetrock, plumb, wire, and paint. Garages cannot recover from such abuse.
Back in the day, when we used to exchange gifts, I even tried to convince Gary that I wasn’t interested in china or platinum for our 20th anniversary; I just wanted to know where the screwdrivers were. It didn’t work.
I finally admitted defeat and resolved to put blinders on forever. And make peace with the fact that I would sustain at least one soft-tissue injury a year from just trying to walk to my car.
When we moved into our current house, it was only four years old, but the previous renters had trashed the garage quite badly. Oh, it was empty, but it was disgusting. Gary spent five days scrubbing the fancy, painted floor. It was a thing of beauty when he was done. He splurged and bought a new workbench and standup tool chest. Yes, he was going to be organized. It shouldn’t be that hard; after all this was a 3-car garage!
Here we are, five years later, and the garage is an unmitigated cluster of chaos.
Gary was out of town a while ago. I was working in my home office when something caught my eye. There it was, slithering down our entryway: A snake. WWGD? What Would Gary Do? Well, duh, he’d get it the hell out of the house. Broom! Big broom! Now! I tore into the garage, tripped over some wading boots, caught myself on wire storage rack, twisted my ankle in the process, now why was I here, again? Oh yeah, the broom. Where the hell is it? How can I not find something THAT big?
Yes, I eventually found it and, yes, I got the snake out of the house. But not without power swearing at the garage and taking a quick photo of the little darling before I swept his sorry ass out of the house. After all, that’s what Gary would do.
Some people don’t mind spending half their lives looking for misplaced items; others, not so much. I guess it all comes down to whether you get the organizational gene or not. As I say this, I know Gary will grab center-stage to tell you about the time that we were in mid-house-move and I put the tickets to the upcoming Itzaak Perlman concert someplace really clever. And they were never seen again.
And yes, because I know you worry about such things, we did get to see the concert. But the tickets? Well, that’s my curse; I put things in really clever places and then forget how clever I was. So, occasionally, I don’t know where something is. But most often, I do. It’s true; you can trust me.
Just to be clear, chaos is not confined to the garage. For example, it also is in the mud room closet, where decades of camping, backpacking, and canning equipment are heaped. A month ago, the planets aligned, I had a day off, and we decided to attack the mud room closet. Several hours later, we emerged victorious. We even took our glasses of wine into it later on that evening to toast our good work and just stand there in the organized space. We felt calm overtake us — the peace that comes with knowing where your shit is.
This was HUGE.
A week later, I was standing next to our garden shed, while Gary unlocked and raised the door. I was stunned. IT HAD BEEN ORGANIZED. Who was this man?
Until lately, we’ve had awful smoke in the air from nearby wildfires, so Gary hasn’t been interested in fishing. For once, he was hanging out at home while I worked long hours and came home to collapse every night. He had a lot of time on his hands.
“Does Scott want our food dehydrator?” “Do you know anyone who might want our French Fry cutter?” These questions seemed to come out of nowhere, but in fact, I finally realized what was happening: Gary was ramping up to clean the garage.
I pretended not to notice, went back to reading Marie Kondo’s wonderful book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and smiled.
“Do you know what window this goes to?” Gary held up a window screen from our last house and waggled it in my face. No, honey, that won’t fit any window in this house. He put in in the trash can. I was stunned.
Little by little, day by day, I saw progress. Granted, I still had to park my car outside, but I could see the possibility that it might be parkable inside before the first snowfall. I had hope.
But I said NOTHING. Unlike me, you say…and you would be right.
A week later, I drove home after a long day at work, pushed the garage door opener, and heard the angels sing. The floor sparkled (I didn’t know it was a light beige). There was a large space available for my filthy Subaru! Suddenly, I felt guilty parking such a dirty car in such a clean space. For a moment, I considered not parking in there at all and eating dinner in the garage instead. After all, the garage was now cleaner than our house. My bad.
I talked to one of Gary’s friends on the phone the other day and told him that, after all these years, Gary had cleaned the garage.
There was a moment of silence and then Dave said: “Is he OK?”
So, no matter what they say, people CAN change. We all can change, improve, experiment, fail, and try again. It might take years for the first domino to fall, but, man, when it happens, it’s a beautiful thing.
Big things have started in garages, like Apple, Microsoft, and the late, great, Hewlett-Packard Company. Garage bands even thrive in garages. I have a good friend whose garage is so clean she entertains large groups of friends in it. I like her anyway. Another friend has hers carpeted and parks her perfectly-detailed VW Diesel Bug on it. She and husband never remodeled or had hobbies. Case closed.
But I like our life better. Our garage, by our standards, is SUPERB. I no longer visibly shudder every morning and every night as I dare to find my car.
What’s that noise? Wait, no, what? I gotta go…Gary is detailing his truck.
I hear the angels singing again!
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.